|Today is a big day in my world—like really big. Today is the day my first crossword gets published in the New York Times. This is like getting drafted by your favorite NBA team (but with way less money). Or winning the lottery (but with way less money). Or performing on stage at Carnegie Hall (but, again, with way less money). This is a dream come true, an accomplishment that I've diligently worked towards and finally achieved.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. All the mushy stuff aside, it's still pretty neat. It was over 3.5 years ago that I first submitted a puzzle to the NYT (post here). Since then, I've gotten puzzles in various other publications (L.A. Times, Chronicle of Higher Ed (twice!), Uptown Puzzle Club) and learned lots in the process (through the help of some really great editors). This puzzle was maybe my fourth NYT submission (and actually a reworking of a previously submitted theme) and an idea I've been stoked on for a long time. So 11 months after I printed it out and sent it in, here we are.
Crossword folks always want the juicy details of what crossword creation and getting published is like. And while they might not be at all juicy, here are a few details. NYT pays $300 for a daily crossword. (Others generally pay less.) This crossword probably took me 40+ hours to create (accounting for making the rejected first version and the totally reworked second version, cluing, printing, communicating, etc.). That works out to less than minimum wage. The editor has final say on the grid and clues. Will Shortz (the NYT puzzle editor) changed one square in the grid and about 80% of the clues. That's his job, to tweak clues to account for difficulty, audience, style, etc. And I get that. But some of the clues I liked better before (ex: mine: Great Scott! vs. his: Scott in 1857 news* or mine: Glass with glasses vs. his: Part of a financial portfolio (for short)*. It's kind of funny, not really understanding all the clues to your own puzzle. But that's the way the game works, and as I get more savvy, I'm sure my clues will be tweaked less and less.
Another really neat thing about this experience is all the attention my puzzle gets out in the blogosphere. I'm writing this the night before it comes out and I've already read 4 reviews, all of which were more good than bad (xwordinfo.com, NYTs Word Play blog, Diary of a Crossword Fiend, and Rex Parker). I was actually pretty nervous about these reviews as my last puzzle (in the Chronicle of Higher Ed) got somewhat panned in its review, but I was really pleased with how this one was received. (I think it helped that many of the reviewers are constructors themselves so can appreciate the difficulty of the theme.)
So now you want to do the puzzle, eh? What, you mean you weren't waiting for Starbucks to open so you could pick up your copy of the NYT? That's okay. You can download the PDF of the puzzle here (but I do encourage you to support those who make the puzzles possibly by buying a paper every now and again). The puzzle will also run in syndicated version in about 5 weeks, so you can catch a copy of it then too.
|Wednesday June 1 2016||File under: crosswords|
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|Arrrrrggg! I'm a pirate— or at least I play one in the Bellingham Circus Guild's new production, Something Wonderful. The show tells of a boy taken through a magical world of sea creatures, ship wrecks, dreams, and more. The show is more highly produced than any I've been a part of so far which makes it really exciting. The costumes are top notch and the professionalism regarding timelines, rehearsals, and contracts has been very refreshing.|
Last week, we had our first showing, on the big stage at Western Washington University. The huge stage with all the necessary contraptions, lights, staff, and more made it feel all the more big deal. The show went great, except for a couple drops by the pirates (opening night jitters, I guess). This upcoming weekend, we have a 3 show run at the Cirque Lab in Bellingham. There are tickets still available. The shows are going to be so fun!
The pirates do a juggling bit that involves 2-highs, complicated moving patterns, and a neat little passing the bottle routine. I also got roped into doing a little black suit puppetry as well, a new one for my resume.
While the amount of time spent on this, between rehearsals, teching, etc. has been more than I've been used to in the past (and makes the hourly wage far lower than minimum wage), the experience has been helpful and even fun. I'm proud of the show and I'm excited that it might get staged again in the future, maybe even at bigger venues! In the meantime, I look forward to the run this weekend. I hope to see you there!
|Tuesday May 17 2016||File under: circus, juggling|
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|One of the more common questions I've gotten about my experience of winning on Wheel of Fortune has to do with taxes. People want to know how much of the $50,150 I get to actually keep. To this point, I've just been able to share what I've known (which isn't much) and defer until I get my 2015 taxes done (since my winnings check didn't come until 2015, though my episode aired in 2014). Well, tax time has come and gone. Now I have a clearer picture of the whole Wheel/Tax thing.
First let it be said that I don't know much about this tax stuff. So if you're an IRS agent, please understand that I tried my best to get it right. I hired a well-respected tax guy and didn't try to cut any corners. I played by the book. But even you've gotta admit that that book isn't so easy to follow. So if there's an error, please understand that it is an honest one. Let's talk about it.
My big shiny number at the end of the show was $50,150—$41,200 in cash and a trip to Hawaii valued at $8,950. But the actual value of the trip was much lower than that. Looking at actual airfare, hotel costs, perks, spending cash, etc., the trip was $4,600. I don't fault Wheel at all for the overvaluation. Had I had to fly from the East Coast at a different time of the year, the numbers might have been much closer. So it was only because of the details of my situation that the valuation was off as much as it was. And to their credit, in the post win interview, they even pointed out that I only had to pay tax on the actual value of the trip, rather than the assessed value.
So that brings us down to $45,800 actually won. Then there are the expenses that it took to win that: hotel, flights, parking, meals, etc. You don't have to pay tax on that. All those deductions came to $800, so leaves the taxable amount at $45,000. That's my net.
Here's where I wish I could just say "and tax on $45,000 is $X" and we'd be done. But winnings are just a part of one's income. And with our progressive federal income tax, the percentage of tax you pay is based on how much you earned. So had I won this money in a year where I made a different amount of money, I might have had to pay a different amount of tax on it. Luckily for me, I'm what the government calls a "worthless lackabout", so my meager income puts me in the lower tax brackets.
So taking my tax bracket into consideration and the taxable net from the show, my tax guy figures I paid about $5,860 in federal income tax on the Wheel winnings*. And since the money was earned in California, there's gotta be California state income tax as well. That came to $1,788*. So where does that leave us?
Overall, this is much much better than I was expecting. I was thinking I would be walking about with more like $30,000 after taxes. And while a portion of that $37,102 was in the value of the trip to Hawaii (i.e. not cash), the post tax cash portion of the winnings is still nothing to sneeze at. Yep, while it is sad to say goodbye to the last bit of excitement associated with my Wheel experience, it is nice to have the tax question no longer hanging over my head. And as long as no auditors come knocking on my door, I'm a happy dude.
|Saturday April 23 2016||File under: wheel|
|Earlier this month, I had a crossword published in the Chronicle of Higher Education (my fifth published puzzle for anyone that's counting). While it was my second puzzle with CHE (the first being Pi Row Technics last Pi Day (covered here)), it was my first with them to actually get printed (since the previous one coincided with an online only publication).
The publication of this puzzle coincided perfectly with the crossword tournament. It was neat, when chatting with people, to mention "Did you see today's CHE puzzle? Yeah, I did that." (No one had, but that's okay.) It was also neat to shake hands with the editor (best. editor. evar.) and discuss the review* .
Since I am still relatively new at this crossword publishing thing, the novelty of having something I made be printed for millions—okay, hundreds—to solve hasn't worn off (and possibly never will). To this end, I wanted to track down a copy to frame for my wall and save for posterity. This task proved much more difficult than you might think. Visits and calls to university book stores, news and magazine stands, and university libraries all turned up empty. While it was a fun exercise in pre-internet sleuthing, it was a bit of a let down, not only because I wanted to see my handy work in print, but also knowing that there are so few copies out there for people to solve*. I ended up getting a university library (one of the few to carry it) to set aside a copy that they can give me instead of throwing away at the end of the month. Luckily, after all the running around, the magazine itself sent me a couple copies so I've at least got the wall hanging copy worked out.
With all this analysis, I can only imagine you're now ready to have a crack at the puzzle yourself. Download the PDF of "Code of Silence" here. Or if you want the .puz file, go to the Chronicle's Crossword Page. I hope you enjoy!
|Tuesday April 12 2016||File under: crosswords|
|I recently attended the American Crossword Puzzle tournament in Stamford, CT. It was my third adventure in surrounding myself with all the wonderful crossword madness and once again, it was great! I continue to meet the big names in the crossword world which makes me feel all the more invested and inspired. This time I talked my dad into having a go at the tourney as well. It was fun to see this glimpse into the subculture of crosswording through his eyes.
The tournament consists of 7 puzzles* varying in size and difficulty. The puzzle that stands out every year is the dreaded Puzzle 5, a puzzle so notorious it generates tributes and parodies that dominate the talent show and can change the standings drastically. In years past, I've fallen victim, ending with a grid that is more empty than filled and walking away questioning my crossword chops. This year, however, I'm so proud to report, that I nailed it: a completely full grid and not a single error!
It's hard to understate this personal achievement. The gal sitting in front of me, someone who has attended the tournament for more than 10 years, said completing puzzle 5, much less doing so perfectly, was a life goal of hers (which she also attained this year). The puzzle had a very tricky theme than involved words making multiple 90° turns and using parts of words backwards—it was a really well crafty, witty puzzle.
The improved performance on Puzzle 5, combined with the fact I had only 3 squares wrong in the whole tournament, boosted me in the standings, helping me finish almost 100 places higher this year than last, at 287/576, putting me squarely in the middle of the pack (50th percentile (vs. 61st from 2015 and 64th in 2014)). Not that my primary goal at the tourney is high achievement (I really go with business in mind to expand my crossword constructing empire (kind of)), but doing well always feels good.
So now, to my crossword resume, amongst the various published puzzles I've had, I can add a completed puzzle 5. I'll take it.
|Tuesday April 5 2016||File under: games, crosswords|
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|We all can agree that Pi Day is the best holiday ever. It combines nerdiery and dessert and can be celebrated in the simplest possible way. I've documented 7 previous instances on this here blog (see archive) of me celebrating in one way or another (creating a crossword, getting a [different (and much better)] crossword published, testing my pi memory, and, of course, baking pies). The only 2 Pi Days I've missed posting on since the blog began were when I was travelling (Japan and Belize/Guatemala). So I can hardly let this Pi Day pass by.
This year, we didn't do anything too special, just baked a couple of pies: quiche for breakfast and an apple/rhubarb pie for dessert. The carved apple "π DAY" was a nice touch. But just because we didn't go all out celebrating doesn't mean we didn't appreciate the holiday in all its glory. 3.14 cheers for Pi Day!
|Monday March 14 2016||File under: holidays, food|
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|A couple years ago, I did an end of the year letter that I sent out to folks I don't cross paths with digitally very often (or ever). It was a "this is what's up in my life" letter, akin to Christmas letters that people often do. (You can read it here.) Well, it was fun then so I thought I'd try it again, this time with me and Della's year in review. It turned out pretty fun (in no small part because we have pretty fun lives, IMHO) so I wanted to share. I'm guessing that none of this will be news to you, as you probably read about it all on the blog (which is probably why I didn't send you a paper copy), but hopefully you'll enjoy it nonetheless.
|Monday February 22 2016||File under: misc|
One of the great purposes of this blog has been to serve as a digital scrapbook for my future self. I know that 90-year old me will love sitting in my hover bean bag chair looking through the fun exploits of his former self. It is with that thought that I started my Minor Media Mentions series, snippets of when I've made newspapers, etc. Two such snippets recently showed up. The first is from the Sunday Bellingham Herald dated 1/31/16 about the Talent Show at Mount Baker Theater we were in (blurb and video here). The other is from the super fancy Bellingham Alive magazine from December 2015. The article has nothing to do with us, but it's a pretty fun picture of the street show we did at the Bellingham Night Market.
|Tuesday February 2 2016||File under: juggling, circus|
|Della and I recently had the privilege of performing on stage at the Mount Baker Theater in Bellinghm as part of the Be In The Show community Talent Show. It was a neat event put on by the Dance Studio and served as a fund raiser for Blue Skies for Children, a great charity. Super big props to the folks that put it together. It was well attended, super tight (27 acts in less than 2 hours), and better organized than any event I've ever seen.
For those who don't know the Mount Baker Theater, it is the venue in Bellingham, hosting the biggest names that come through town. To have my 5 minutes in the spotlight on stage there might easily be the highlight of my performing career. Seeing backstage, the green room setups, and looking out at the beautiful hall was quite a treat. And the way it was so well organized made me feel like this is how it must be for a real rockstar. They even put us as the closing act, which only added to the rockstar feel. We had a few drops, but overall, not a bad showing.
Della convinced her intern to get some video for us. Enjoy!
|Saturday January 30 2016||File under: juggling, circus|
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|After spending 3 weeks across 5 countries in the Middle East, Della and I find ourselves in the decidely non-Middle Eastern city of Budapest...AND IT'S AWESOME! (This is not to say that the time in the Middle East wasn't great, because it was, but there's just something about a good old European city.)
The city itself is a treasure enough. Like any guide book will tell you, there are beautiful buildings, the Danube River (and its spectacular bridges), statues, and of course the city's thermal springs fed baths. After a visit to these baths*, we could see why they are so popular, esp. after Della and I nearly froze our buns off sightseeing our way around town.
But what made our visit to Budapest so much better was having wonderful hosts, Horge and Isabel. They housed us, fed us*, showed us the city and taught us everything we could possibly want to know with one exception...
Me: Hey, do you know if there is a circus in town?
Isabel: Uh, I think there was an Italian circus that came through a while ago, but probably not currently.
Budapest International Circus Festival Poster: On now...and tomorrow's the last day!
Click, beep, boop, bop, click
Me: Arlight, Della, we've got tickets to a 3.5 hour awesome circus show tomorrow
So, on our last day of our whirlwind 10+ country semi-unsuccessful-but-still-totally-awesome-winter-dodging adventure, we unexpectedly found ourselves enjoying a world class circus show with full bellies and full hearts. (It served as a nice bookend together with the world class Big Apple Circus we saw on our very first day of this adventure.)
Our brief stop in Budapest was just what good travel should be: new sights and experiences, good good people, and a little bit of magic*. Super thanks to Horge and Isabel for making our time great (and for being the reason to stop through). And thanks to Lady Luck for providing excitement along the way!
|Thursday January 21 2016||File under: travel, Europe|
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