The New York Times Crosswords

New York Times crosswordThis is about crossword puzzles and people who do them.

Maybe you hate crosswords but do them anyway. Might be,  you don’t even fit the crosswords profile. You’d be lucky.

Still, you’d be voluntarily depriving yourself of the vicarious companionship of crossword-fan celebrities like Bill Clinton, Ken Burns and Jon Stewart.

Maybe you don’t care for a little adult language. This whole article may not be your cup of tea. Disclaimer: it’s about crosswords, fergawdsakes. Listen, there are actually some good articles on this site, or, you could just change the channel.

While we’re waiting for the room to clear, you two folks could move up here to the front row seats, and I won’t have to shout.

On September 1, PBS ran “Wordplay”, an “Independent Lens” TV special on crossword addicts – and the New York Times crossword puzzle in particular. We met the legendary Will Shortz, New York Times Crossword Editor, and Merl Reagle, one of the most distinguished of many notable crossword “constructors”.
Continue reading

3,234 total views, 2 views today

Can’t You See I’m on the Phone?

  • Last Sunday, I was queued up at the TSA security portal at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport. Ahead of me, a young lady tried to barge through the walk-thru metal detector, cell phone cradled to her ear. Security stopped her. She gave him a really annoyed look. Without waiting to see the outcome, I made an end-run around her and passed through. She could still be there, for all I know.
  • In other news, we today received an apologetic email from our web host provider. It seems they had a brief loss of service at 2pm MDT, after a power failure, during which a backup generator failed to come on line automatically. As it happens, at that exact time (4PM PDT), WE had a 1.5 hour power failure in Castro Valley, California, while I was online, so I did not notice. I called Pacific Gas and Electric to get details, but their automated voice response system could not match up my phone number or utility account number to any known outage in the area. On a little battery-powered portable radio, I tuned in KCBS, which serves most of Northern California, to discover there had been a power outage that blocked traffic on Castro Valley Boulevard. Perhaps PG&E knew, but their telephone didn’t. Or, perhaps they get their outage reports from KCBS like everybody else.

1,071 total views, 2 views today

Heat Wave

I remember the year it snowed in the Oakland hills – 1976. I remember the Week of Thunderstorms, when the SF Bay Area had more or less continuous heat lightning and thunder for a straight week. This was in the late 1990’s – I don’t remember the exact year. This little exercise of my faculties establishes two things. We don’t have a lot of extreme weather in this area. And I don’t remember those few very well.

This week, the SF Bay Area experienced record three-digit temperatures and some Severe Weather Alerts. Yes, we do get heat waves, but they’re unusual in May. No, citizens of Phoenix, you would not have found anything remarkable about this week, here up north, but it’s rare to find days when it’s hotter up here than down there.

Air conditioners are rare up here, so the trick is the old one used in homes of thick adobe walls in the old Southwest: open up all the doors and windows at night, and seal in the cold air by closing everything up during the day. Even so, I found myself working late “on call” at home the other night. It was still 86 in the computer room.

The heat wave is about over. Opening the apartment to the night air got the place down to 70 degrees. Early this morning, there is a slight breeze running through the apartment. I had to go and toss on a T-shirt. They’re calling for a high of 82 today. I can certainly welcome that!

746 total views, no views today

Story of Red Line Charlie

MTA.jpg MTA system ... Click image for larger file.

Yeah? Oh hi, good to see you. You want to come in?

Naw, Charlie stepped out. But that was a while ago. You want to wait for him?

I see. No, he don’t like me asking, you know? But today’s Tuesday. Probably went to see his sister. You could try in an hour or two. If you’re in the area.

Oh yeah hi. No, he’s not back yet. I don’t know, but supper’s in an hour and he damn sure doesn’t like to be late for that. He had a dime in his pocket. Where could he go for a dime?

He coulda taken any line. He always starts on the Red Line – Kendall Station. But he likes to visit his sister on Tuesday, OK? She’s in Charlestown. Or he might have gone to see his cousin. Transferred to Jamaica Plain. Or maybe he just went for a ride.

Yeah. All the time. Sure, he could have gotten on the wrong train. Why you think we don’t own a car? Look, I’ll tell him you were by. Thanks for asking after him. See you later.

Oh, hi, ‘morning, say listen, I’d ask you in but I haven’t even made the coffee yet, you know? No, he ain’t returned. Hell no, but he woulda called unless he’s still on the dang train. Is that even possible, do you know? He could be underneath the street on the ‘T’ right now, for all any of us know.

Listen, do me a favor, it’s on my mind. Usually I go down to Government Center, Green Line on Scollay Square, to hand him a sandwich through the train window. He likes that, likes it when he knows people are watching out for him. But I didn’t, because I didn’t know which damn line he’d be on.

So would you mind checking up on us this afternoon? With him not returning and all, you know. I can’t just call Missing Persons. First thing, they’d ask did we argue or something. Hell yes, we argued. We always argue, but he always comes back, don’t he?

You don’t mind? Oh, thanks. I’ll see if I can reach his sister on the horn. And if he’s not there, maybe she knows if that good for nothing cousin got a phone number yet. Thanks again.

Thanks for coming back. No, I mean it, it’s sure good to see someone, you know? I’ve been worried sick. No, I still ain’t heard a thing. I just don’t know what coulda happened to him. And I called the MTA. There’s nothing to stop him from riding that damn train until the cows come home. My sister’s coming over to spend the night. Unless he comes home, of course, and boy will he sure catch it!

Good of you to drop by again. No, not a thing. I know, it’s been a whole week! Listen, he don’t owe you any money, does he? Oh, well that’s nice of you. He don’t have many friends. Missing Persons says they will let us know if they get anything, but he’s not certifiable, and not a threat to anyone, so there’s just so much they can do. We ain’t learned nothing about him, disappeared without a trace, rent’s due, and I’ve just got this feeling it’s different this time … and they raised the fare on the goddam MTA. You know? What if he never returned?


Did he ever return,

No he never returned

And his fate is still unlearn’d

He may ride forever

‘neath the streets of Boston

He’s the man who never returned.

Kingston Trio, circa 1959

746 total views, 1 views today

Hardworking Farm Boy

You’ve all seen the ad. But what was the story? Is it true what they say about love?

The Rosetta Stone ad

Dear Mamma Mia,

This is a picture of the boy I was telling you about. One look and I knew he must be mine.

But only if he learns to speak Italiano! Oh Mamma, I know there are so many differences between us! He is a simple farm boy from Kansas. I am an Italian supermodel. Oh Mamma, I know he is not even the most handsome of catches – he has that dumb but determined look, that cute “I can’t believe I just stepped in that cow pie” expression I adore so much.

I could make this work. I would give up the supermodel business and raise his family. I would take care of the books. I would attend the 4H events and root for our children. I would even give up our villa in Lido. Oh, forgive me, Mamma, but you and Papa are already set for life. Of course you could keep the chauffeur and our Gulfstream … and you could come and visit your grandchildren in Kansas.

But he knows he would have just one chance to impress me. If he can get his Master’s at Harvard, he can surely do this one small thing for me. And I know he will. Then, somehow, we will make our future come together with his down-to-earth American know-how. In America, you know, even a man of the soil can provide a respectable living for his family.

I even learned his name the other day. I think it is cute. You know how the poor in America are given to overly-fancy names? Mamma, can you believe, he calls himself Archer Daniel Midland … get this, the third.

All my love to you and Papa,


1,185 total views, no views today

Complaining About The Heat

If you don’t like the heat, the popular adage says, stay out of the kitchen. In this case, the weather in Northern California really has turned hot (by California standards). Right here in the East Bay, we’ve had 88 degree temps in the afternoon for two days straight, with nights getting down to about 70 (same as Phoenix).

Now I have to wait until after 7PM to open the windows and doors to cool the apartment down. The unit will keep its cool air that way for most of the day. Few people bother with air conditioners in this most temperate part of the Bay.

I’ve been complaining all month about the cold June weather pattern. It’s got something to do with the Humboldt Current and cooling fog coming in over the bay from the Pacific, and it’s been that way as long as I can remember. And I”ve been complaining about it as long as I can remember. Now, dang, it’s hot! Some folks just are never happy when they get what they ask for.

754 total views, 1 views today

Roast Beef on French, Dip

In the ’70’s three of us used to go into the local Hofbrau after a night on the town. We would always order roast beef on french, and you could have the bread dipped, so we would always order it this way:

“Roast Beef on French, Dip”.

Our server would smile and prepare our order, then think about it, then glare at us with dawning recognition, watching us to see if he was being insulted. We would always keep a straight face until we paid for our orders and a pitcher of beer. Then we would laugh uproariously at our table at our great humor.

Nowadays we know it is unthinkably rude to gratuitously insult your server by calling him a “dip”. But there’s no law that says he can’t gratuitously insult himself.

For lunch today I ordered an egg salad sandwich at our local deli.

When it was my turn to order, I said, “Egg salad sandwich on sliced sourdough with leaf lettuce and mayo.”

He grabbed a couple of slices of bread, spread mayo on them, and asked, “would you like everything with that?”

“No thanks”, I said, “just mayo and leaf lettuce, thanks.”

He spread egg salad mix generously on both slices. While he was breaking up the leaf lettuce, he stopped, frowning. “Mustard?” he asked.

“No thanks”, I said expansively, “I’m sticking with just mayo and leaf lettuce today, thanks.” He positioned the lettuce on the egg salad mix and then stopped again, puzzled. “Would you like tomatoes on that?”

659 total views, no views today

Charlie Dunn

Charlie Dunn

There really was a Charlie Dunn. Chances are, if you ever heard of him at all, you know him through the enchanting 1960’s Jerry Jeff Walker song, “Charlie Dunn”. I know the song from Jerry Jeff’s first album, which sadly I don’t have. I believe it was named simply “Jerry Jeff Walker.”

You can find a bio on Dunn at, complete with lyrics to the song.

I looked all this up on Google after finding out there was a real Dunn in The New Yorker, of all places. It is buried in an article about singer and songwriter Lyle Lovett, by Alec Wilkinson (Profiles, “HOMEBOY, The world of Lyle Lovett”, The New Yorker, March 1, 2004).

Wilkinson writes that Lovett’s boots are made in Austin, Texas, by a man named Lee Miller:
Continue reading

920 total views, no views today


I used the word ‘Machiavellian’ in an email. Back came the response:

Q: How in the hell did you spell Machiavellian?

A: I was one of those irksome kids who took to spelling naturally. Four years of high school Latin and a voracious reading habit helped. But, no spelling bees. You can still trip me up on the trick words and totally obscure use-me-only-for-spelling-bee words.

I’m above average on crossword puzzles but no Expert medals here. Crossword words are not spelling bee words.

And the answer is: I just happened to know ‘Machiavelli’.

893 total views, no views today

It Don’t Matter

It was 1982. We’d just landed the biggest job yet, two of us, all the interior and exterior paint, stain and varnish for a commercial restaurant and bar venture. It turned out that the general contractor went belly up, and we’d never get paid, and that this would be the straw that broke the camel’s back for our tiny painting company. But we didn’t know that.

One of the investors drove an old Cadillac. It sported a bumper sticker that read, “It Don’t Matter”. It took me a couple of weeks, but I finally managed to catch up with him.

“Hey, Gary”, I asked — “What’s the deal with the clever bumper sticker, bad grammar and all: what does it mean?”

“It don’t matter”, came the reply.

“No”, I said, “What I’m getting at is the phrase it don’t matter itself – what is it supposed to mean?”

And Gary laughed and said, No, I still didn’t get it. “It doesn’t matter what it means. It don’t matter!”

663 total views, no views today