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”.
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All In A Day’s Work

  • Somebody posted a spam comment to my site. The text: “Genial post and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you as your information.”
  • Good news for those of us still unemployed. Vanguard Week in Review, with the encouraging header Uncertainty abounds as job losses mount , says: “Most of the other economic news that came out this week was also negative, as factory orders fell, the manufacturing sector lost momentum, and personal income was flat.”
  • History (Channel) repeats itself. Concerning the feature WWII in HD, “For over two years  we scoured the world for color World War II film. Some of this footage has never been seen before” … except at 10AM this morning, last week, last month and tomorrow.
  • Mute Awards 2010: Staples, for its “shouting” ad WOW, THAT’S A LOW PRICE! I’m not the only one who hated it. As Jami Bernard writes in a blog post Ad Rant, “In one of the Staples ads, a dorky guy in a deserted aisle of the office supply and electronics store leans toward an item to read its price …”

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Bric-A-Brac

  • Site Outage Reminder: our web host provider is taking our site offline for a four-hour outage, sometime Sunday evening or the early hours of Monday morning.
  • Gasoline Taxes: according to the American Petroleum Institute, Californians pay the highest gasoline tax per gallon of any state in the nation, above even Hawaii and New York. In cents per gallon (selected states):  CA- 48.6, HI-45.1, ME-31.0, MA-23.5, AZ-19.0, MO-17.3, WYO-14.0.
  • Due Diligence: There’s a reason why professional pollsters don’t hire drunks in internet chat rooms to conduct their polls. The next time you receive an e-mail poll, petition or “statement”, you can certainly chuck it into the junk mail or trash. But what if you think you approve? Unless you make a habit of doing everything others tell you to do, don’t just “SEND THIS ON TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW”. Research it yourself. Are the claims true? To debunk urban myths,  www.snopes.com is a good place to start. Don’t embarrass yourself by unwittingly forwarding internet trash mail!
  • Dark matter: Yep, astrophysicists think the Hubble Space Telescope has photographed it, and they think they know what it may be. You’ve seen photos of those squiggly lines in “bubble chambers” – the impact area of high energy particle colliders, cyclotrons and atom-smashers? This high-energy shower of subatomic sparks doesn’t just evaporate. Accumulated over the 13.7 billion year lifespan of our universe, from all of the collisions and supernovas that ever existed, we may have found the “smoking gun” responsible for an expanding universe.

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The Dream

I had a great but strange dream last night, in which I was writing a book or screenplay along the lines of a Dan Brown at 10 Downing Street. But also I was playing the role of principal Agent, not as an actor reciting his lines, but more like watching myself in real life. I remember realizing that the Prime Minister would only give me about three minutes of explanations before he started beating me up over the “Australia Fiasco”, and why me? “You know,” they told me, “the PM doesn’t take kindly to being told the mission was an utter failure, let alone that we let the press got wind of it.”

In the dream I noted this was a great script line (or so it seemed at the time). As in all great dreams, I seemed to be utterly lacking authorship or control over the direction the plot was taking: I was just recording what was happening to me, like the fearless and unbelieving spectator, as my future spooled out in real time onto the vast wraparound cinema of life …

Finally in my dream I heard the dread ring of one of those special “hot line” phones, and they rang the PM through to me, and of course it would be me who had to take that call, though I had no idea at all what went wrong or why it should be I to take the blame for it. This would surely be the first and last time I would speak with a PM in my mercifully brief career in Her Majesty’s service. Then I realized it was my 4:45AM early wake-up alarm that I’d set for this morning’s drive to Phoenix …

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More Camembert

Waiting for my flight at the airport, I caught a distinct whiff of Camembert cheese, of all things. You might have caught my earlier post on Camembert last month. I love Camembert, though, I’ll admit,  it sure can get ripe.

In a simultaneous development, the cutest little toddler you ever saw was tottering around on her own two feet close to her parents. Mommy laughed and said to Daddy, “Goodness! (sniff) she needs to be changed!”

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Pocket Combs

Shopping receipt imageAttention, men! Got a hole in your hip pocket? Lose that pocket comb again? I know I get sick of it. I will drive to the store just to avoid the unfamiliar feeling of being without a comb (though I seldom actually use one). I always try to keep a spare in a desk drawer.

A friend of mine obviously decided to end this situation once and for all. He packed some post-Thanksgiving ham and pumpkin pie in a small paper bag for me to take home. There was a receipt in the bottom of the bag. When I took the food out, I happened to read the receipt – a story without words.

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Camembert

Camembert is a soft ripened French cheese that becomes stronger in flavor as it ages. It is not as strong as Roquefort, which at its best brings to mind off-prime baby diapers. Camembert is similar to Brie in flavor and consistency, but has been aged considerably longer — in deference to the true afficiando. You can think of Camembert as Brie on steroids.

Camembert has becoming increasingly difficult to find in the local SF Bay area. I usually have to settle for Brie. I once asked a food clerk at our local upscale market if they carried Camembert.  I received the stare that told me the clerk was wondering exactly why I would want women’s lingerie and why I came for it in this store.

In Phoenix, no one seems to even carry Brie. It is almost like the old gag about looking for the Velveeta in the Gourmet Cheeses section.

When I asked at my local Trader Joe’s they other day, they told me they consider it a Christmas item, and a shipment had just come in. I did the mature, grown-up thing, purchasing two rounds. It ages quickly, you know, so it must be eaten promptly. Mine has a pull-by date of 11-17-2008. A half a round a day will guarantee people will keep their distance for the better part of a week.

Burp.

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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.

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Figures of Speech

There’s an unremarkable little one inch ad placed in the New Yorker: “Fear of public speaking? Gone. Quickly. Guaranteed”. On a close read, there is something remarkable: “Executive programs now $2,497”.

If I or my company were footing the tab for this sort of seminar, I’d have a lot more on my mind than rhetorical nervousness. At this price, who wants to go to the boss and say, “Guess what? We’re getting our money back on that course you sent me to.”

I took a public speaking class in college. I was terrified of speaking before groups of any size. That was the topic of my first classroom speech. I was nervous as hell, but the topic resonated with my classmates. I learned two things: (1) Know your topic so you don’t have to fake enthusiasm (2) Like cold showers, public speaking isn’t so bad if you just wade in and do it.

Today’s ramble concerns the name of the course’s website: ConfidentlySpeaking.com”. Clever, that. What other stock phrases could we turn into a $2,497 executive course?

  • “Confidentially Speaking” – for CIA management
  • “Figures of Speech” – for Jenny Craig executives
  • “Strictly Speaking” – for pedagogues and prison wardens
  • “So to Speak” – remedial speech therapy

Speaking of which, this last on dips close to the bottom of the barrel. We don’t make fun of people with speech impediments. Grown-up folks don’t, anyway. At a much younger age, I did. At the time, I hastened to point out I was making fun of the person, not the impediment. Ah, the mindless cruelty of youth. Actually, it turns out I can develop a mild stammer when my engine of excitability is flooded with overenthusiasm. Always could flood the engine. Others were just too grown up to point it out.

But you can’t sell widgets by communicating nervousness.

The sales seminar is America’s ever-popular panacea for folks with foot-in-mouth disease. Think Dale Carnegie. Think Zig Ziglar. At worst, the sales seminar teaches the aggressive and pushy the fine art of manipulativeness without the necessity of ever having to say anything too specific. This is like preying on the disarmed before they have any inkling what’s really going on here. 

At best, sales seminars teach courtesy, tact, and the art of perfecting a genuine rapport with the listener. This is like my two modest points on knowing your subject and projecting your enthusiasm, with the added kicker that it’s not all about me, it’s all about you. Wouldn’t you say that’s an ability that’s literally priceless? What will it take for you to sign up for this opportunity right now?

I managed a garden shop and a paint department in one of my previous lifetimes – my early years in the retail business. A fellow named Ward, a little older and more experienced, ran the Women’s Fashions department. He did very well. Both our departments posted admirable sales figures every year, but I worked my tail off every day, while Ward drifted around the store being nice to everybody. I asked Ward how a nice fellow like him ended up merchandising fashions. He told me that you don’t have to know anything about a product to be successful in sales.

How true. I ran a successful department by learning the paint industry better than most “professionals.” Ward did the same thing by being a nice guy who was intensely interested in every customer and coworker as people. I had technical skills. Ward had people skills.

Of the lever, Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth.” Better he should have taken a cue from Demosthenes, who was said to have practiced the perfection of the oratory art by learning to speak with pebbles in his mouth. The Archimedes archtype only moves the world, briefly, before the laws of celestial mechanics swing it back into its original orbit. The Demosthenes archtype persists in persuasive oratory until the world swings over to his side.

Politicians have always known this. It’s not what you do, it’s what you have to say about it. The noblest deed in the world pales in comparison with others’ estimation of its worth. NASA, take heed: rhetoric rules. And you can say that again.

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Week in Review

  • Naizulam Vazerbeium, please call back and leave a message. We know it was you because our answering machine annunciator said so. Or was it Vaiuleranium Luzainnermon? Your call is important to us.
  • US Rep. Tom Lantos’ passing was memorialized this week. A WWII resistance fighter who emigrated to the US in 1947, Lantos worked tirelessly as a champion of human rights. Much to the chagrin of conservative detractors, he saw gays and lesbians as humans who also have rights. His voting record won a perfect 0% from the hatemongering front group Family Research Council  — good enough for us.
  • American Airlines grounded their entire fleet of aging MD-80’s, joining the ranks of other major US airlines in the limelight for flying aircraft that might be shunned by self-respecting Third World nations. No, it wasn’t the jackscrew problem this time, it was wiring harnesses. Meanwhile, a Texas consortium is negotiating to purchase the entire fleet of MD-80 fuselages for conversion to industrial rotisserie cookers.
  • US Airways wasn’t one of those airlines. They had their own publicity problems with a pilot whose loaded handgun discharged in the cockpit of a flight on final approach to landing.
  • This could actually be seen as good news for US Air, as it will help the public forget the incident with recently merged America West where one of their pilots was busted for flying while intoxicated.
  • Tata Motors bought Jaguar and Land Rover from ailing Ford Motor Company for a song, at 1/3 the purchase price of what Ford paid to acquire the prestige British manufacturers some years back. You might think this is funny unless you know that Tata is one of the fastest rising industrial stars in India, one of the fastest growing economies in the world. There is, then, no truth to the rumor the vehicles will be converted to scooters or pedal cars, nor will they be rebranded as Jagutata and Land Rotata.

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