|In what has become a lovely yearly habit for me, I recently attended the 2017 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament out in Stamford, CT. With it being my 4th year, I now know my way around the tournament and hotel, have met some great people that I always look forward to seeing year after year, and have some helpful data to see the progress my solving skills are making. But overall, I just have a lot of fun.
First, the progress: This year, I finished 336th out of 619, putting me in the 54th percentile, my second best showing. Besides one stupid error (which cost me about 20 places in the rankings), I don't feel bad. The puzzles were decidedly harder this year. As usual, puzzle 5 destroyed me with a super complicated double theme. Puzzle 3, supposedly an easier one, left me somewhat flummoxed with names of elements I've never heard of. Puzzles 1, 4, and 6 I aced and had just 1 square wrong on each of 2 and 7. So, overall, I'm not displeased—room to improve but still a strong enough showing.
But the real fun of the tournament, for me at least, was the talent show. Since my first trip to the ACPT, I've been brewing this act combining my love of juggling and love of crosswords. This year, after poking at it here and there over the years, it all came together and I had a chance to present it. It was a hit, with people really appreciating the nerdiness as much as the talent. I'm excited to work out the kinks and get a few more run throughs to really solidify it. Then the hope is to add it to our upcoming summer shows. I'm sure the reception won't be nearly as great as it was with a room full of hardcore crossworders, but hopefully it will stand on its own. See for yourself!
Thanks to all who made the ACPT such a fun and successful event! Hope to see you all again next year!
|Thursday March 30 2017||File under: crosswords, video, juggling|
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|This year, Della and I had the pleasure of once again being in the Bellingham Circus Guild's My Circus Valentine show. The show turned out super great, with 5 sold out, standing room only shows. The cast was amazing, the acts were fun, and the total vibe of the space and show were just magical. Every year, the producer does such an amazing job all around and we feel lucky to be a part.
If you missed the fun, I've included a video of me and Della's act. It was conceived of on a long bus ride in Costa Rica and hashed out in many long hard hours of rehearsal. During the process of creation, Della and I swear we'll never do it again, being that it puts too much strain on our relationship. But in the end, after we share it with the audience and feel their positive reaction, we forget about the struggle and are happy with what we've created. Anyway, we hope you enjoy it too!
Every year, there is also a photo booth at the show. Della and I find time between shows to sneak in and get a few shots. So, in the interest of posterity, I include them here. Try not to throw up on yourself due to our cuteness.
|Thursday February 23 2017||File under: juggling, holidays|
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|Recently, I had one of my crosswords published in the Orange County Register family of papers down in Southern California, my 9th-ish puzzle publication to date. While the paper doesn't have the circulation of the NYT or WSJ therefore not quite the prestige (or payday) of having a puzzle published, I still feel proud and honored to have a puzzle featured.
We have all heard how tough the newspaper publishing industry is these days. Perhaps because of that, most papers run only syndicated puzzles from one of a very few syndicates, meaning the market for crossword constructors is rather small. The Orange County Register bucks this trend and publishes its own puzzle weekly. It is a great counterpoint to the highly competitive other venues from a constructor's point of view. Additionally, working with the editor, David Steinberg, was really great. All around, just a great thing they've got going there.
One of my favorite parts of getting a puzzle published is framing it up for my ever-growing crossword wall. Since puzzle creation isn't much of a money maker (making up only 3.3% of my yearly income last year (details here)), it is having these reminders of my accomplishment that helps keep me cranking at the rather tedious process of making puzzles. And while the wall is filling up, I've still got enough space to keep striving to get more puzzles published. I've got my hopes high for the upcoming year. As always, stay tuned here for any developments.
Oh, and if you want to do my latest puzzle and don't live in the OCR distribution area, download a copy here to print at home. It also features a neat bio and picture, a real neat personal touch!.
|Saturday February 11 2017||File under: crosswords|
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|They say money is a taboo subject. And while I see that, I'm somewhat inclined to disagree. I love talking about money and actually find exchanging ideas on the subject to be insightful. So it is with that spirit that I present my latest data collecting project.
For the past 3 or so years, I've been taking data on my various jobs the same way I take data on my sleeping around, which is to say meticulously. I've recently taken all the data and categorized it and entered it into a database for easy analysis. The result? Well, for one, I got this fancy pie chart representing my income streams for 2016. I've left off amounts because 1) that starts to creep over that taboo line and 2) you never know where lurks the tax man. (Note for the tax man: you're wasting your time. Small potatoes doesn't even begin to describe it.)
Similarly to the Sleeping Around Data Project, this bean counting has led to some great analysis. Some obvious noteable trends over the past 3 years of data: web and labor income are down while juggling and trivia income are up. Also, I can see the breakdown of housesitting by client which can cross reference with the Sleeping Around data nicely. Basically, there are a bunch of numbers that I really like looking at.
Many years ago, a friend asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I responded that I didn't want any job that accounted for more than a quarter of my total earnings, so as to avoid burnout and maintain variety in my life. Now, some 16 years later, it seems that that's pretty much where I am. Pretty dang neat!
|Friday January 20 2017||File under: stats|
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|Back in September, I posted about my initial foray into the world of being a film extra. For two days, I went in, sat through an hour of make up, sat around for hours doing nothing but observing what there was to see, and then did my thing. You can read all about the experience here. Well, in a film-to-screen time that beats out my Wheel experience, my episode aired in December.
I knew from the filming that my screen time was going to be very limited and chances were you wouldn't be able to see my face. I was right on both accounts. Below, you can see the clip. I've stretched the clip to include a bit of context. Keep an eye on the roadside zombie. That's me!
Okay, not so impressive for a first go. There are continuity issues and my acting could use a bit of improvement. But it's a start, a start that hopefully turns into something more. As I mentioned before, being an extra in a movie (where you can see my face and in a movie that people would actually have heard of) is a my current life goal.
While waiting around to film scene, I was also able to impromptu provide hands for another scene from another episode. Even going frame by frame, it was hard to identify me. I did, however, manage this screen shot. If a hand on screen for .35 seconds ever screamed destined for greatness, it's here.
As my resume grows (as I truly hope it will), I'll keep posting about it here, so stay tuned! In the meantime, feel free to watch this clip over and over and over again. Or, heck, go check out Z-Nation and watch from the beginning!
|Saturday January 7 2017||File under: extra, video|
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Money is one of the reasons often cited by people who want to travel more but don't. While I understand this, I also like to offer up some of the details of my trips to let them know that travel can be done on the cheap and still be very rewarding. Della and I just had an awesome trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua—23 days of beaches, exotic animals, good food, new culture, and lots of time together—for just under $2000, flights and all!*
As part of our daily journaling (to keep track of what we did, where we stayed, etc.), we also captured what we spent and on what. Just as a fun exercise*, I threw all that data into a spreadsheet to see what came out. And as always, data proves to be fun!
So, excluding flights, but including everything else, we spent $1,521. That breaks down to about $66/day. I split expenses into lodging, food, internal transportation, ice cream, and other (a category that included national park entrance fees, visa fees, souvenirs, zip lining, etc.).
While it wouldn't be fair to say that we traveled like kings, we also didn't only go for the cheapest options. We almost always got a private room (vs. dorms), had occasion to take a taxi a time or two, ate out almost exclusively, and didn't forgo much in the way of activities. Basically, we traveled much like we live here at home—on the cheap, but not stupid cheap.
As for flights, I benefited from a friend working in the industry and got my flight for just the cost of taxes and fees ($68 total) (THANKS MINDY!!). For Della, we found two cheap one way flights in and out of Liberia, a small city in the north of Costa Rica (cheaper than flying in and out of San Jose). Her flights came to $400.
So yeah, $2000 total for the both of us for a wonderful adventure to a foreign land seems pretty dang reasonable. In fact, comparing it back to some of the previous "Financial Breakdown" posts I've done (here, here, and here), it ranks as just about the cheapest trip I've ever taken! Whatever the details, I hope this helps to show that travel doesn't have to be super expensive. All you need is a spirit for adventure, a little patience and know-how, and the world can be your oyster!
|Tuesday January 3 2017||File under: travel|
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(Drinking a homemade batido while evening happens around us on the boardwarlk
At the beginning of a trip, I always want to do stuff—explore, zip-line, be proactive to feast on the culture and place I am in. At the end of a trip, however, I find myself more looking to chill out. With the end of this trip drawing near, chilling out is exactly what Della and I have on our agenda. We're in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, the perfect town for just hanging out. Our days involve walking the beach, searching the streets for loose change*, eating, and chilling on the boardwalk while the sun goes down (as seen in super high speed above).
Occasionally, we'll take a break from chilling to visit a monument, get a geocache, or something else proactive. But mostly, it's time to bathe in the good life before returning to the real world back home (not that the real world ain't pretty damn good in its own right).
So, without further ado, back to chilling. Someone pass me that batido!
|Tuesday December 20 2016||File under: travel, Nicaragua|
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|Ometepe is an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua consisting of two volcanos, one extinct and one not-so-extinct. It is also a bit of a tourist mecca, owing to its chilled out vibe, its beautiful scenery, and its cheap cheap cost of travel. So while it wasn't on our original itinerary, we had a few days to spare and decided to head out and have a look for ourselves. Between a couple of lazy days of catch up computer work and reading in hammocks, we rented a scooter and had a bit of an adventure!
Driving in a foreign country is always an adventure in itself. Because Ometepe has more bikes than cars and really only 2 intersections, it could have been much worse. The cow traffic jams, bursts of weather, and surprise speed bumps, however, kept us on our toes. Luckily, all that Scoot Scoot time made me an expert Scooter-er, so we felt about as comfortable as could be expected.
Our first stop was a search for a geocache. I feel obliged to get a cache in every country I visit*, which sometimes is a hassle but this time turned out to be great. It took us to an out of the way National Park that held ancient petroglyphs. We snagged the cache and then wondered around the completely deserted park for a while before meandering back down towards civilization.
To dodge an incoming squall, we ducked into a little restaurant in a not-even-a-town only to find it to be a Southern Californian's dream. Farm-to-table is a term that is kicked around all the time, but this place was serious: coconut milk hand made from trees on the property, lettuce and tomatoes from their garden, fresh pasta hand made with egg from their chickens, beef from the neighbor's grass-fed cow, and coffee from local (like within 100 yards) beans roasted over a sustainable wood fire. Finish it off with tiny cacao num nums (grown on property sweetened with honey from their land) and you might as well be a millionaire in Santa Barbara. Just about the only thing not hyper-local was the beer Della treated herself to, the first of the trip. Bill total on this splurge of a meal with dessert, drinks, and stuff-you-to-the-gills goodness for two: $15.00.
With the squall past and darkness not far off, we decided to head back, but figured we had enough time to go the long way 'round to complete our circumnavigation of the Concepcion volcano. What we didn't count on was 1) the main highway turned to rutted dirt road for 8km and 2) the sky would open up and dump on us. But despite all that, we loved seeing the even less populated parts of the island and even were treated to a nice howler monkey show.
Once back to town, safe and dry, we moseyed to our now favorite dinner place for our usual fare. Amazing chicken, beans and rice, smashed fried plantains, and a salad served by the sweetest little lady totaling $6 with tip (for both of us!). Totally the right price for an awesome meal and a great way to wind down our little Ometepe adventure day.
If you ever find yourself in Nicaragua with a few days to kill, I can't think of a better way to do it than checking out Ometepe!
|Tuesday December 13 2016||File under: travel, Nicaragua|
|From the moment our plane touched down in Liberia, Costa Rica and the pilot had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting a giant iguana, this trip has been about animals. Costa Rica is a great place for animals! You can't seem to go 10 miles without seeing a National Park. It makes for some convenient tourist-ing, that's for sure.
I don't know if you knew this, but Della likes animals. I mean, she really likes them. Like really likes them. So this has been great being able to see all the animals through her eyes. Everything is so cute from the gecko to the howler monkey and pretty much everything in between*.
And while we haven't been able to get a photo of her with every animal we've seen, we thought it might be fun to try. So, without further ado, here're a few picture of Della with animals in Costa Rica. (Be sure to read the caption for the story.)
It's not only the native and wild animals that are of interest.
|Friday December 9 2016||File under: travel, Costa Rica|
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Hear the words "Pura Vida" and you know you're in Costa Rica. It's pretty much their mantra. You hear it from the cashier at the mini-mart, you hear it from your waiter, you hear it from a passing local on the street. It means "pure life" or something along those lines, at least for a literal translation. But it means so much more.
After only a week here, I know I haven't grasped the full meaning, but I'm starting to get it. It means no worries, enjoy yourself, welcome, isn't this amazing?, namaste, and so much more. Over the next couple weeks, I look forward to learning more about Pura Vida from the super friendly locals and the lovely vibe that this place permeates.
Besides our lexicographical endeavors, Della and I have been up to pretty much what you might expect folks in Costa Rica to be up to: ziplining*, frolicking in the ocean and on the beaches, seeing lots of good wildlife, and just taking in the good life. Pretty standard, really. But since a picture is worth a bunch of words, here are a few snaps from week 1.
|Sunday December 4 2016||File under: travel, Costa Rica|
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