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This is one of those catch-up posts. What can I say? I do a lot of stuff.

Celebrity Death Watch: Arthur Anderson was the voice of Lucky the Leprechaun, telling us about cereal being magically delicious. Doris Roberts was a character actress, who I first took notice of when she played a guest role on St. Elsewhere. Ben-Zion Gold was the rabbi at Harvard Hillel during my years at the superior institution up the street.

You don’t need me to tell you about Prince. And you’d be better off asking somebody else about him, anyway, since his music wasn’t really my thing. Billy Paul, who sang "Me and Mrs. Jones," was more to my taste. But the musician whose death I really want to highlight is Papa Wemba. He was a major figure in the world of Afropop, which is very much my thing. If you can listen to his music without dancing, you may want to consult a doctor to make sure you aren't dead yourself.

Made in Space: As I mentioned previously, the theme of this year’s MIT Club of Washington seminar series was space. This talk was not actually part of the series, but many of the same people were there. The speaker was Andrew Rush, the President of Made in Space, which has demonstrated (in a very limited way) additive manufacturing in space. For example, they used a 3-D printer to produce a tool on the International Space Station. Their plans are a lot more ambitious. I grasp the benefit of not needing things to survive the launch environment, but he didn’t address having the manufacturing equipment survive the space environment. For example, what are the impacts to electronics of energetic charged particles? And he didn’t really talk about the economics at all, since certain components (mostly electronics) would need to be stockpiled in the manufacturing facility. Still, it was an interesting talk. And, as a bonus, one of the people there was someone I was very friendly with as an undergrad and hadn’t seen in close to 36 years!

Book Club: The major reason to belong to a book club is to force yourself to read books you might not choose otherwise. This session’s book was Minaret by Leila Aboulela. It was an interesting book, with a somewhat unsatisfying ending. It would have been helpful to know a little more about Sudanese culture – and clothing, as I had to google what a "tobe" is. (It turns out to be more like a sari than like a burka, which is what I had been envisioning. One thing I continue to find amazing is other people’s limited views of the world. That is, except for the Tajik woman in the group. Of course, they probably think my view of the world is weird - e.g. my scale of how much a country is likely to be a basket case based on what colonial power dominated it.

Speaking of the Basket Case Scale: The worst colonialists were the Belgians. It isn’t clear that there’s an adequate sample size, but I wouldn’t want more countries to be as screwed up as the Congo is.

The Dutch were horrible colonialists, but, fortunately, were usually kicked out by the French or British before they could do too much damage. There are, however, no excuses for the basket cases they made of Indonesia and New York City.

Former Portuguese colonies are, in general, doomed to an eternity of civil war. The only mitigation is that they tend to have great music.

Former French colonies are also doomed to be basket cases. On the plus side, the French are sometimes willing to come back in and help them out. And they tend to have good bread and good coffee.

Former English colonies are a mixed bag. They tend to have some level of democratic government, but may have lasting ethnic tensions. Quality of food and music is more variable.

Former German colonies seem to end up with suspiciously long serving leaders, but, again, it isn’t clear if the sample size is adequate to judge. On the plus side, they tend to have good roads.

Surprisingly, former Spanish colonies may be the most functional. Admittedly, the lifetime of a President for Life may be measured in days, but the periods between junta rule are often reasonably free politically.

Innovation Reception: I had an MIT-related reception to go to on Monday night, which was kind of a pain in the neck since, being Passover, I couldn’t eat much of the food. (They did have some raw veggies.) The talk was fairly interesting, with an emphasis on nano-technology. I have to admit to a certain level of skepticism about the emphasis on nano, largely because of my experience with the technology valley of death. That is, the overwhelming majority of technologies fail to make it from research to operations (or, in this case, commercial viability). Academics are always way too optimistic about this, but it affects the riskiness of technology investments.

Pierre Bensusan: My very favorite musician on the planet playing at a place just a couple of miles from my home? Of course, I was going to be there. I’ve seen Pierre perform live numerous times and I continue to be blown away by his guitar virtuosity.

Passover: I have been somewhat unenthusiastic about Passover this year. The only significant cooking achievement was a frittata with asparagus and mushrooms from the farmer’s market. And, frankly, that is as much a shopping achievement as a cooking one.
This is the other half of my recent genealogy updates.

The Lite Yizkor Book: I had been thinking about it for a while, and I finally decided to go ahead and inquire about getting the two chapters of the Lite (i.e. Lithuania) Yizkor book that my grandfather wrote translated. (For those who missed it when I mentioned it previously, the two chapters were "lchanan the Shoemaker"and "he Jewish Opera Studio."

The price for translation came in as something I thought would make a reasonable charitable donation, so I went ahead and funded that, with some additional money, potentially towards the chapter on Jewish artists in Lithuania. I’m not sure what the timeline will be, but I know the coordinator has already contacted the translator they use.

BRUSKIN / BIKSON / KHVOLES: There was a big update to the Litvak SIG databases recently, so I thought it was worth rerunning various searches. This proved to be quite useful and, in fact, cleared up a couple of major mysteries regarding my great-grandmother.

I had previously found the birth record for my grandfather, Leib NODEL, in Vilnius in 1906, as well as the death record of his father, Pinkhas NODEL in 1909. This new search turned up the record of his marriage on 9 November 1905) to Tzivia BIKSON, the daughter of Khatzkel BRUSKIN. Pinkhas was 42 years old and Tzivia was 29. Most significantly, the comments section said "ivorce and widow." And, indeed, a search for her turned up her first marriage to Shlomo BIKSON on 20 December 1895 and his death from typhoid fever in Vilnius on 4 December 1901. They had a son, Isaak, who was born in Vilnius on 10 August 1896. I also found a passport registration record that shows Zvija and Schloma BIKSOHN living in Riga in 1900.

The only problem is that my father thought his grandmother’s maiden name was CHVOLES. But I’ve resolved that mystery, too. See, Khatzkel BRUSKIN (who was from Polotsk, in what is now Belarus) had several other children. And one of them is a daughter, Khava Leia, who married Movsha KHVOLES. Bingo! It gets even better, though, because there is a birth record for their son, Rafail KHVOLES, born in Vilnius on 25 April 1913. Looking up the biography of the artist, Raphael CHVOLES, gives me fairly high confidence that they are the same person. Who, you ask? Only one of the most famous Lithuanian Jewish artists, who I now have evidence was my grandfather’s first cousin. That matters because, of course, my grandmother’s first cousin was another Lithuanian Jewish artist, Chaim Meyer FEINSTEIN (to use the more common spelling). I have to wonder if the two artists knew each other.

Going back to the children of Khatzkel BRUSKIN, in addition to Tzivia (my great-grandmother) and Khava Leia, there were at least three sons. Another daughter, Nakhama Liba, died in Vilnius on 11 August 1902 at age 6.5 of lung inflammation. And it appears there was yet another daughter, Tzirka-Dveira, who died in Daugavpils on 11 January 1888 at the age of 6 months.

Izrail was born on 24 February 1894. Except that there is also a record of his birth on 21 March 1892 in Daugavpils, Latvia. Of course, it is possible that there was another child given that name who didn’t survive. That Latvian record does fill in two blanks, however. It tells me that Khatzkel’s father was Rafail and that his wife was Rokha-Frieda Girshovna ILGOVSKI. (That is, her father’s name was Girsh.) Izrail married Sheina YOSEM, whose father was Benjamin, on 1 January 1915 in Vilnius. They had a son named Peisakh, who was born 14 September 1915 (nice timing on that, by the way). They had two more sons – Khatskel (born in 1919) and Girsh (born in 1922). They emigrated to Argentina (Iszrael in 1923 on the Atlanta, Sziena and three children on the Wilns in 1924.) Izrail was a (house) painter. I haven’t dug deeply into the Argentinian records, yet.

I haven’t found a birth record for Abram Leiba, but there’s an internal passport record indicating he was born in 1881 in Daugavpils. I did find that he married Malka IUTAL, the daughter of Movsha Leizer in Kaunas in 1906. They had three sons, Meir (born 9 December 1907), Moisei Leizer (born 8 December 1911), and Rafail (born in 1917). As of 1932, Meyer was a student, Moisey Leyzer a shoemaker, and Rafail a printer. I suspect that Abram Leiba was the man who my father described by saying his father had a prosperous uncle, who lived in a very modern, circular house in Kaunas. I have a list of names my father wrote down (for an unknown reason) that includes a man named Alter, the son of Yichatzkel (which is the Hebrew name for Khatskel), and his two sons, Moshe and Meir. Therefore, I believe Abram Leiba would have normally been called Alter, which is a name that might have been added to a man’s name if he were ill. That sort of thing tricks the Angel of Death, who isn’t as bright as you might think he should be.

I’ve found a birth record in Daugavpils of yet another son, Khaim-Mordukh on 19 December 1878. There are scans of the Latvian archive data, so I should be able to download it and see if it tells me more. I should also note that the surname in that record is spelled BRUSKIND. As you might have already noticed, spelling (especially in Latin characters) in Eastern European records is, uh, fluid.

By the way, if anybody is wondering about the international borders, both Daugavpiis (Lativa) and Polotsk (Belarus) were in Vitebsk guberniya and were at various times part of Lithuania. Vilnius (Vilna in Yiddish) was part of Poland during the post-World War I period of independent Lithuania. It looks like the NODEL family was from Dusetos, Lithuania and the BRUSKIN family from Polotsk, Belarus, but both ended up in Daugavpiis, which is more or less midway between Vilnius and Polotsk, at various times. All of this gives me an interesting itinerary for a heritage trip I am tentatively planning for the summer of 2017.
20 April 2016 @ 01:15 pm
And here’s the genealogy update I promised. Actually, the first of two. It was getting long, so I decided to separate out the stuff on Mom’s side of the family from the stuff on Dad’s side.

SCHWARTZBARD 1 – Tracing Back: Back around October, a researcher contacted me (via the JewishGen Family Finder, JGFF) asking about SZWARCBORT (one of many alternate spellings) from Ostrow Mazowiecka. This led to me finally getting around to getting my great-grandfather’s birth certificate translated then being able to find the record for his parent’s marriage. Hercek SZWARCBORT and Sura Dwejra MASLO were married in 1867 in Ostrow Mazowiecka. And then, the other researcher filled in a lot of other information.

Sura Dvejra’s birth was registered in 1852 (though she was probably born earlier than that) in Zareby Koscielne. Her father was Abram Berek MASLO, but I don’t have any information about her mother. Abram Berek’s parents were Ick MASLO and Ruchla Jankelowna GASIOR, who was from Andrzejwo. Ick’s father was also Abraham ad his mother is unknown. Ruchla’s father was Jankel Abramowicz GASIOR, who died in 1854 in Ostrow Mazowiecka. Her mother was Dwejra GASIAK, who died in 1845. Dwejra’s father was Julek Jlko GASIAK, who died in 1839 in Nur and her mother was Ryfka AYZYKOWNA (i.e. daughter of Isaac). Julek’s father was Szajko.

Hercek was born in 1847 in Ostrow Mazowiecka. His father was Wolf SZWARCBORD and his mother was Guta Rywa ROYZENFELD. All I have on Guta Rywa is that her paren’ts were Herck ROYZENFELD and Eydla. Wolf, however, married 4 times (Guta Rywa was his second wife), so his tree has a lot of branches. Wulf’s parents were Aron SZWARCBORD and Etka MOSZKOWNA. I suspect the latter is a patronymic, not an actual surname, especially as it appears that her father was Moszk ABRAMOWICZ (again, a patronymic, meaning his father was Abram). Aron’s father was Leyb JAKUBOWICZ (another patronymic, meaning his father was Jakub). Wulf appears to have been from the town of Wesewo.

That’s a whole lot of begats, but the bottom line is that it gives me at least some information back to the early 1700’s. And it provides hundreds of cousins of various degrees. So, again, the JGFF proved very useful.

SCHWARTZBARD 2 – Chaim Wulf and his family: The other big area of progress on the SCHWARTZBARD side has to do with my great-grandfather’s brother and his family. Chaim Wulf SCHWARTZBARD went by Hyman in the U.S. The big breakthrough came thanks to a Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington assisted research program. My assigned maven located a death certificate for him. This was for the death of a U.S. citizen abroad (in this case, in Israel) in 1959 and had the names of the various people who were notified, who turned out to be his children. Some of those were findable on immigration records and census records and so on. The short version is that he and his wife Estera Bliuma nee BERKSZTEJN (who went by Ester in the U.S.) married in Ostrow Mazowiecka in 1893. He came to the U.S. in 1909 and she followed in 1920, along with 4 children – Itka (born 1901 or 1902), Herschel (born 1906), Rifka (born 1908 or 1909), and Simche (born 1909 or 1910). By the way, this is also pretty good evidence that my great-grandfather’s sister, Itka, had died by 1901 or so, since Ashkenazim don’t name children after living relatives.

The children listed on Hyman’s death record are Mrs. Yetta RADLEY, Mrs. Ray GINSBERG, Mr. Harry SCHWARTZBARD, Mr. Sam SCHWARTZABRD, Mrs. Simcha BART, Mr. Harold BART, and Mrs. Rose SKLAR.

I can match up Yetta with Itka from the immigration record. Her middle name was Muriel. She was born 23 March 190 and married Samuel ROTHENBERG, who was from London, England, on 6 October 1923. She was naturalized on 26 November 1937. They later (6 April 1946) changed their surname to RADLEY. It appears that they had three children. A couple of those children may still be living, so I will not give details publicly. Yetta died in Los Angeles on 15 November 1985.

At least in the 1940 census, the RPOTHENBERG family lived with Yetta’s brother, Harry SCHWARTZBARD, who I believe was originally named Aharon and may have come over earlier than his mother and siblings. Harry was unmarried and was a doctor according to that census. It appears that he was three years older than Yetta. But her age is incorrect on the census, so it’s hard to say. Harry did later marry Sophie LEVINE and they had at least four children.

I can also match up Ray GINSBERG with Rifka from the immigration record. She married Al GINSBERG and had at least two children. I have a photograph of a rather elegant woman in a fur coat, which is labeled "Cousin Ray." I suspect this may be her.

Rose married a man named Joseph SCHLAREFSKY in Philadelphia in 1933. They later changed their surname to SKLAR. Both of their sons, Norman and Leon, are deceased. Norman was married to Blanche (whose maiden name was possibly SPERO) and they had two children. Leon was married to Suzanne (maiden name unknown) and I don’t know of any children.

I think Harold BART (or BARD according to some records) must be the Herschel of the immigration records. He married a woman named Henrietta and they had three children.

Simcha is a bit of a mystery. He appears to have sometimes used the first name Sol and sometimes shortened the surname to BART or BARD. Mildred LEVINE and he married Mildred LEVINE in Manhattan on 11 June 1932. It appears that he might have predeceased his father since the notification of Hyman’s death was sent to Mrs., not Mr., SImcha BART, but it is also possible that was an error on the part of the clerk making the notification.

Finally, I don’t have any information about Sam’s immigration. I do know he married a woman named Dora (shown as Dorothy on one record) and they had at least three children. In the 1940 census, he listed his occupation as a garage attendant. And I found his World War II registration card, in which he uses Samuel, not just Sam. He owned Everlite Garage Services Station in Broolyn. According to the card, he was born on 11 March 1894. He died 14 March 1959 in Dade County, Florida (i.e. Miami-ish) and is buried in King David Cemetery in Putnam Valley, NY. Dora died July 18, 1968.
18 April 2016 @ 02:26 pm
Last week was pretty busy because I can’t resist going to interesting things even if I’m exhausted. Genealogy catch-up to follow sooner or later.

The Grapevine: This month’s featured storytellers were Jo Radner from Maine and Regi Carpenter from upstate New York. I’ve heard Jo tell several times before and she had a fun, eclectic set. She started with a riff on Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater’s wife, followed that with a Nepali folktale about a pumpkin who marries a princess, and then told her pie story, which is one I’ve heard before and was happy to hear again. Regi told pieces about her childhood, including one about a favorite teacher, which made me nostalgic for Mrs. Meyers, my elementary school music teacher. All in all, a lovely evening.

Saudi Embassy: Thursday night was an MIT Club of DC event at the Saudi embassy. There was time when I first arrived to check out the public areas of the building, which had walls lined with photos of impressive modern skyscrapers, scale models of significant buildings (presumably mosques and palaces, though they weren’t labeled) and two display cases of traditional clothing. Then we were ushered into the auditorium, where the presentation started with a 20 or so minute film about the history of Saudi Arabia and its more recent attempts at modernizing. Aside from the propaganda that painted things as more modern than we would normally believe, one thing I gathered was that it did not really exist as a country until the 1932. I suppose I should have known that, but I didn’t. Anyway the film was followed by a Q&A with the ambassador. Since he spoke off the record, I won’t comment on specific things he said, but I thought he was long-winded and slightly evasive. Eventually we got to go into dinner, which was good, but not spectacular. (In particular, I thought some of the dishes had excessive sweet spices, e.g. stuff like cinnamon.) At least they had tables and chairs. Too often these events mean balancing a plate and a wine glass while standing. Of course, they didn’t serve alcohol, so there weren’t wine glasses involved, though there were other beverages.

The Flick:This Pulitzer winning play by Annie Baker has to do with three people who work at a movie theatre in Massachusetts in the last days of film (versus digital) projection. Sam and Avery clean the theatre, work the box office, and sell refreshments, while Rose is the projectionist. The point is the relationships between the three, of course, with the setting and background helping with explication. The scenes are divided with movie clips, but you would have to be a real movie geek to recognize more than a few of them, especially since the tiny projection is impossible to see. And the connections of specific movies to the actions of the play were not especially obvious to me. Frankly, I felt that the film clips mostly made this very long play (nearly 3 ½ hours) longer for no really good reason. There were some interesting moments, but I was not surprised that at least a quarter of the audience didn’t return after the intermission (which was two hours in). Since it was Signature, the acting was excellent and I want to particularly commend Thaddeus McCants as Avery. But, overall, the whole thing would have worked better for me if it were half the length.

Story Swap:The Voices in the Glen story swap was Saturday night. There were a lot of listeners, including a few who had never been to a storytelling event before. There was a good mix of stories and everyone seemed to enjoy it. My contribution was my father’s version of the Crossing of the Red Sea, complete with environmental impact statement.

Speaking of Storytelling:Remember the story contest I was shilling just a bit ago? Well, I made the top 10! Anybody in or around DC who wants to come, the final show is Saturday May 28th at 6:30 p.m. at Jammin' Java in Vienna. Of course, I need to come up with a shiny new story for it, but I already have two ideas. (Well, actually, three ideas, no, make that four, but I have narrowed it down to the top two.)
15 April 2016 @ 01:19 pm
I have, as usual, been too busy doing things to write much about them. I'll have things to say about storytelling and about theatre (well, after tonight, when I am seeing a play at Signature) and dinner / propaganda at the Saudi Embassy. I also have some long genealogy updates to write, including a very exciting find on my father's side of the family. (The short version is that I've verified a very speculative connection from some years ago. And identified a few more people from a list of names that my father had written for some unknown purpose.)

But, first, a few things that have amused me recently.

  1. I got an email asking for volunteers for the USA STEM Festival. Among the volunteer jobs, they requested "sign language interrupters."

  2. We are now back to the time of year when the Crystal City Business Improvement District tries to convince those of us who work here that it isn't an entirely soulless office environment, surrounded by soulless condos. (I have a few friends who live in those condos, but they do so largely because they like plane spotting from their beds. Don't ask.)

    Anyway, that includes Food Truck Thursdays. It's not like there is a shortage of places to eat around here, but it is a nice change of pace and, as long as it isn't pouring rain out, I'll go walk over and see what's on hand. There's a very popular Vietnamese one - rice plates, noodles, and banh mi, all of which come with a choice of chicken or pork. The catch is that the truck has a sign painted on it claiming it is halal.

    My father always said the person who invented kosher shrimp would make a fortune. He did not live long enough to see the invention of Mendel's It's Not Shrimp. I do not, alas, think Mendel made a fortune.

  3. Another production of the Crystal City BID is a Farmer's Market, held on Tuesday afternoons. Just now I was out running a lunchtime errand and I overheard two women who had just noticed the sign for it. One of them turned to the other and said, "Oh, I should go and get grapes there on Tuesday." Uh, the only fruit selection at a farmer's market in Northern Virginia in April is limited to apples (admittedly, several varieties of them) and maybe a few Asian pears. Grapes are not in season until maybe late July.

By the way, the farmer's market had a lot of ramps this past week. I would have bought some, but I realized I have absolutely no idea what one does with them. Maybe I will research that by this coming Tuesday.
12 April 2016 @ 03:49 pm
I think I have managed to promote this everywhere except here, mostly because I was trying not to be too annoying with the shameless self-promotion.

But one of my stories is in the running for Best of Show 2016 and I'd love it if you would consider voting for me. The story is one I think is pretty good, all about a summer camp raft hike and desert island book choices and macramé and being a 13 year old girl. People have laughed when I've told it.

To vote, you go to the contest website and scroll down to my name (Miriam Nadel). click on the box, enter your email address and hit submit. You can only vote once, but I've hit up a lot of people so I hope that will get me to the finals. Of course, the finals means having to create a new story and I have no idea where I will find the time for that, but that's the price one pays for being a creative genius, right?

Voting closes April 15, so this is all you'll hear about it. (Unless you are connected to me somewhere else, in which case, you probably already heard about it.)
11 April 2016 @ 03:36 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Merle Haggard was a country singer. Rachel Johnson was the last native of St. Kilda.

Car Annoyance #1: Neptune has now had two incidents of running a bit roughly and rattling, followed by the engine coolant temperature light flashing on and off a few times, after which everything sounds fine. The annoying part is that the mechanic couldn’t reproduce this behavior so can’t fix it. Oh, well, I suppose you’re entitled to a few rattles at that age. (22 car years is about 140 human years, right?)

Car Annoyance #2: I made the service appointment on-line and got a confirmation email. But, when I got to the mechanic, they had no record of the appointment and told me, "oh, the on-line system hasn’t sent us an update in over two months." And exactly how was I supposed to know that? On top of which, they didn’t have the right person there to do one of the things I brought Neptune in for, so I need to make another appointment for the wheel alignment.

Another Internet Annoyance: I had a discount code for some theatre tickets and finally found a date that would work with the friend who wanted to come along. It took me way too many attempts to find the little checkbox that would activate the discount code and let me buy tickets at the relevant price. And, of course, the annoying Ticketmaster service fees and "convenience fee" add 25% or so to the ticket price.

Household Annoyance: I believe the papers in my house are multiplying when I am not looking. Can one of my neighbors check out any mysterious rustling sounds when I’m not home?

Credit Card Annoyance: Yet another fraud incident, leading to having to get a card replaced. It seems this happens at least every few years. I have a faint suspicion that this may be linked to having used the card in question at a restaurant. At least it isn’t one that I have recurring payments linked to.

A Minor Work Annoyance: It is actually possible to send out a meeting announcement more than an hour before the meeting. It is even possible to send out a meeting announcement before the day of the meeting.

Baseball Annoyance: Not only have the Nationals added yet another racing president, it’s Hoover.
06 April 2016 @ 04:04 pm
Last weekend saw me traveling up to Stamford, CT for my 4th attempt at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT). The travel was slightly tedious as, inevitably, the train up was delayed. And I am not sure it was physically possible for it to move any slower from New York through New Rochelle. In the end, it was probably 40 minutes late, which is about what one expects of Amtrak.

Anyway, I checked into the hotel in plenty of time for the evening activity, which was an Escape Room designed by Eric Berlin. Really, it was mostly a set of crossword and variety puzzles, done in teams of two or three. The major trick was that you had to go back to some of the characters you had already interacted with in order to get a second item from them. My team escaped successfully and I had fun in the process.

That was followed by a wine and cheese reception. That’s mostly an opportunity to say hello to various people who I see infrequently. It was late enough, however, that I suspect any conversations I had were at least somewhat incoherent.

But it’s the tournament itself that I need to write about. First, a brief note on types of puzzle themes. There are, of course, themeless puzzles, but the ACPT ones tend not to be. There are some puzzles where the theme just involves certain letters, words, phrases, or synonyms being repeated, often inside longer words or phrases. There are others where there is some type of word play (e.g. adding or deleting a letter or anagramming part of a phrase) to create a pun in the answer. There are rebuses, where a symbol or word is filled in for a single box of the grid. And there are puzzles that rely on entering words in some complex way, rather than straight across from left to right and/or up and down. (I am probably missing some categories of themes.) I tend to find the word play type of theme to be the most fun and those are often the easiest for me.

Puzzle 1, by Kristian House, was sort of in between the first two types and was straightforward enough. I still don’t know how the top competitors can finish so quickly as I don’t think I could fill in random letters into a grid as fast as they write. I had a brief moment of fear over Puzzle 2 when I heard it was by Patrick Blindauer (and when I remembered that I had made errors on Puzzle 2 every other time I competed). But it was easy enough (in the first theme category) and I solved it cleanly. Notably, I had run across the answer to 8D in the clues for another puzzle just a few days earlier, so I didn’t get hung up on the random vowel choice that might have otherwise caused me to go astray. I was happy to hear Puzzle 3 was by Mike Shenk, because I probably do more puzzles by him than by anyone else, thanks to the Wall Street Journal puzzle page not being blocked at work. It fell into the wordplay theme style and I breezed through it. In fact, I was briefly in 104th place at the end of it.

I used the lunch break mostly to take a walk around the nearby mall, where I was saddened to discover that the Barnes and Noble there was substandard. That means that they did not have useful guidebooks for any of my upcoming international travel. (I am only allowed to buy new books as part of purchases that include guidebooks, so this meant I didn’t spend money. This is not a personal rule that I am normally so good at adhering to, but early in the month I try to do better.)

Anyway, back at the tournament, Puzzle 4 was by Zhouqin Burnikel. I don’t think my rundown of themes really had a category for this one, but it was the sort where some of the answers are sort of definitions for their clues. I solved it cleanly, but was a bit slow and sank to 133rd place. But I was not to remain at those lofty heights, as the dreaded Puzzle 5 lurked. And, indeed, Patrick Berry came up with a difficult puzzle (of my last theme category). At least this time I figured out what was going on, but I did so just a bit too late to finish, with several squares left blank in the middle of the right side. I’m not sure quite how far I sank in the standings, since I didn’t look again until after Puzzle 6 (a straightforward one, with minor wordplay, by Joel Fagliano) had been scored and I was 172nd at that point.

Saturday night started with going out to dinner with a group of Losers, i.e.people who are aficionados of the Washington Post Style Invitational. That was reasonably entertaining. The official evening activities started with a game based on the TV show Idiot Test. This was fairly amusing, though it took a bit long to get to the four semifinalists. Then came a rundown on the performance of Dr. Fill (a computer program that is good at normal puzzles, but had trouble with Puzzle 5.) That went on far longer than it needed to. It was followed by a moving tribute to the late Merl Reagle.

Puzzle 7 on Sunday was by Lynn Lempel and another one where the theme involved word play. I did well enough at it, though wasn’t so fast as to make up for my Puzzle 5 failure. My final ranking was 171st.

I will spare you commentary on the Talent Show, since much of the humor relies on inside jokes. The finals were exciting and I was very pleased that Howard Barkin pulled out an upset victory over defending 6-time champion Dan Feyer. Why so pleased? Well, aside from Howard being super nice, my years of Red Sox fandom always have me rooting for the underdog.

Comparing with my previous attempts, I was happy with that result:

2009 – 265 / 654 (55th percentile)
2012 – 241 / 594 (59th percentile)
2014 – 202 / 580 (65th percentile)
2016 – 171 / 576 (70th percentile)

But I still want to finish Puzzle 5 some day.

By the way, my travel home could have been horrible, since an Amtrak train had partially derailed outside of Philadelphia. But my train was actually the first southbound one to go through that area and was only about a half hour late. The metro ride home, however, did feature a unique screw-up as some idiot lit some newspapers on fire in the first car. They were going to pull the train out of service, but figured out they could just isolate that car. After putting the fire out, that is.
The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament deserves its own write-up, so here is the other stuff I’ve been up to.

Celebrity Death Watch: Ken Howard was an actor and served as president of SAG. His most significant role, in my opinion, was as Thomas Jefferson in 1776. Joe Garagiola was a baseball player turned sportscaster. Garry Shandling was a comedian. Winston Mosely killed Kitty Genovese.

Patty Duke was an actress whose TV show was a big influence on my youth. Specifically, I wanted to be the sophisticated cousin, Cathy, who had lived most everywhere.

Weather Whining: It is April. It is not supposed to be this cold. They are even talking about some snow potential for this coming weekend.

Ballet – Hamlet: I went with a friend to see the Washington Ballet production of Hamlet on Thursday night. Given that this was to a score by Philip Glass, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was too modern in style for my tastes. (The choreography is by Stephen Mills). I do think Brooklyn Mack, who danced the lead, is an excellent dancer, but that wasn’t enough to make up for the whole thing being somewhat incoherent. Admittedly, about all I remembered of the plot (which I read back in high school) is that everyone gets stabbed. Well, that, and (thanks to Adam McNaughton) "Hamlet, Hamlet, acting balmy. Hamlet, Hamlet, loves his mommy." At the end, I turned to my friend and said, "I was wrong. Some people get poisoned instead."

Bottom line is that maybe I am a lowbrow Patty, not a highbrow Cathy, after all.
04 April 2016 @ 03:23 pm
I keep thinking I've gotten things done, but then I look at what I planned and I'm not so sure.

  • Re: travelogues, the major progress I've made is getting a new computer. The reason this is significant is that writing on the old one was becoming more and more challenging for a number of reasons. However, I've also taken another major trip.

  • I've worked some on one afghan, but I am way behind.

  • I've read just a few more pages of the Bible.

  • I've deleted a lot of email from 2 of my accounts. The third account is, alas, free of progress. On the other hand, the ones I have worked on are still around inbox=5000, so there is a lot more to go.'

  • I've done nothing about digitizing LPs and tapes.

  • I also haven't done any volksmarch events, largely due to winter weather and travel. But I did buy new walking shoes.

  • I have made significant progress towards my million mile status on United and now have under 7300 miles to go.

  • As for papers at home, I'm making very slow progress. I believe that I've cleared out all of the ones that were lurking near the entryway. I expect to get a fair amount done in the next couple of weeks, though, between cleaning for Pesach and being deep in the heart of taxes.

Bottom line is that travel-related goals are the easiest ones to motivate myself to work on.