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01 October 2015 @ 02:58 pm
Goals: I have not yet given up on my goals for 2015, but I haven’t done a hell of a lot regarding them, either. I did a little bit more afghan square knitting and a little more Bible reading (like maybe about 4 pages).

I did sort out some genealogical info and, more importantly, partially figure out how I want to file various papers related to that. I have a tree up on geni.com, though I am not really impressed with it as a tool. But a start is a start, right?

I also did 3 Volksmarch events. There would have been more, but the weather has not really cooperated.

It wasn’t quite so explicit a goal, but I’ve also made a dent in the chaos that is my house. Given the crappy weather forecast for the weekend, I am expecting further progress then.

Admirable Restraint: Nobody is allowed to bring electronics (cell phones, tablets, even fitness bands) into our suite at work. So we have this big red box at the front desk for people to put their stuff in. I guess that there was too much stuff for just one box, so this week a second big red box appeared.

I have managed to resist the temptation to go out and buy several small red boxes to scatter around the two big ones.

Strange Theory re: Ear Worms: Songs with titles referencing the names of celebrities are particularly likely to infect me. It is possible that mere lyrics involving celebrities are sufficient. The infectiousness has no correlation with how much I do or don’t like the celebrity. This may also explain why I went around singing "David Duchovny, why don’t you love me?" for much of 1999.
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30 September 2015 @ 10:27 am
I think that seeing a movie every other week is about average, so this quarter was still slightly below average, but so it goes. I’m doing this today because I have my book club tonight, so I can be reasonably sure I won’t be seeing anything else this month.

  1. The Last of Sheila: It was co-written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins and the story involves a puzzle game. So it’s no wonder that this mystery film has something of a cult following in the puzzle community. Overall, I found it absorbing enough, though there’s nothing terribly surprising if you’re familiar enough with the mystery genre. The 1970’s clothing and hair styles (especially on the men) are also pretty amusing. If this is the sort of thing you'd enjoy, you've probably already watched it.

  2. Still Alice: I saw this discussed somewhere as a movie for adults and that seems a fair call. If you’re not familiar with it, Juliane Moore gave an excellent performance as a woman stricken with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Her family copes surprisingly well and the film avoids the hysterics that I think my family would go into under the circumstances. Frightening and articulate, I highly recommend this to adults.

  3. Sex Tape: The thing about United’s on-demand entertainment is that sometimes you’re on a flight that’s not really long enough to watch most movies, so you end up watching something only because it suits the distance from, say, IAH to IAD. The premise of this movie – a couple makes a porno on an ipad to stir up their passion level and he accidentally synchs it to the cloud – isn’t inherently a horrible premise for a movie. But their machinations to get it back, which include stealing ipads he has given to various people, are just dumb. This isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen (that would be Disco Beaver From Outer Space, still execrable after all these years) but I watched it to the end only because I found it hard to believe it could continue to be so stupid. Don’t make the same mistake.

  4. Famous Nathan: Once in a while, I see a movie somewhere other than an airplane or my living room. In this case, the Washington DC Jewish Community Center was screening yet another entry in a category that is less limited than you might expect – namely, documentaries about Jewish food. This one is about Nathan Handwerker, of Coney Island hot dog fame. It’s really less about the food (though New Yorkers will smile at seeing signs for things like the chow mein on a bun) than about the family, with the collapse of the empire as Nathan’s sons disagree on the future of the business and create yet another family rift. (There are lots of past ones, some more hinted at than others.) I think anyone who has tried to understand the stories of their immigrant ancestors will enjoy this film, which was made by Nathan’s grandson. (And, yes, the JCC had a hot dog truck out front before the film.)

  5. Man on Wire: I recently bit on a discount offer for Amazon Prime, and this was one of several tempting options from their on-demand streaming. It’s a documentary about Philippe Petit and his 1974 tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. (By the way, I watched this without knowing that there is a new film, The Walk now out on the same subject.) Much of the film’s emphasis is on the planning, which was complex and definitely worthy of a heist story, and I thought that provided a good balance to the drama of the actual high-wire act. I was, frankly, mesmerized. Highly recommended.

25 September 2015 @ 03:01 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: I know one is supposed to identify Jeremy Tarcher as a publisher (primarily of self-help books), but to me his significance will always be as the husband of Shari Lewis (and, hence, the step-father of Lamb Chop). Until reading his obituary, I had not realized that he was also the brother of trashy novelist Judith Krantz. (I mean that her novels are trashy. I’m sure she is a perfectly lovely person.)

Al Seckel was a collector of and author of books about optical illusions. Back when the giant redwoods were saplings and I was an undergraduate, I took a series of biomedical engineering classes, one of which involved sensory and motor systems. Aside from getting to play with some intelligent prostheses (remember the Boston arm?), we had problem sets that involved predicting what an optical illusion would look like, essentially by taking its convolution with a model of the human visual system. I still think that was one of the coolest engineering classes I took at MIT. (The coolest class I took overall, however, was Evil and Decadence in Literature, but that’s another matter.)

And then there’s Yogi Berra. True, he played for (and managed) the Source of All Evil in the Universe. At least he also managed the Mets. Aside from being notable as a catcher, he was (of course) well-known as a folksy and humorous philosopher. I cannot tell you how many times (admittedly as a Red Sox fan), I have taken comfort from knowing "it ain’t over till it’s over." And, like Yogi, on weekends I often "take a two hour nap from one to four."

Yom Kippur: Wednesday was Yom Kippur. It was also (part of) the Pope’s visit to Washington. I considered just going to Shoreshim (which is in Reston, so well away from any potential chaos), but I was reasonably sure I would be disappointed in their abbreviations to the services. So I bit the bullet and went downtown to Fabrangen.

(I should interject that I had a similar situation some years ago. Pope John Paul II visited Boston during Yom Kippur in 1979. I don’t remember any particular impact on the area around the Vilna Shul on Beacon Hill, other than the joking about saying "Gut Yontif, Pontiff.")

Anyway, it turned out that the metro was not the nightmare everyone feared it would be. Not that it was perfect, as they are still dealing with some track issues that will probably have the Orange Line (and Blue and Silver) with fewer trains than scheduled for the rest of our natural lives. (I think they said about 6 weeks, but they said that the weekend track work they have been doing for the past decade would take a year.) But I got there reasonably close to the beginning of services, which is, as Jewish time goes, early. (Note, however, that they were starting late, because of the Pope’s visit.)

So… let’s see. Mostly closer to traditional service than Shoreshim. A bit too much showiness in some singing, e.g. rounds, which are a hard thing to do for those of us who are not inherently musical. Leaders for some sections were too chatty, but that’s kind of okay on Yom Kippur because it’s not like you’re trying to get out of there to get to a meal. Some of the things people said did resonate with me, e.g. the image of Japanese pottery in which cracks are filled in with gold to create a beautiful new object. And a poem (in the lead-in to Yizkor) that had to do with ironing underwear. My favorite part of the service was an addition to "Al Chet" (the list of sins we ask forgiveness for) which was written by members of the congregation. My least favorite was that they used a Reconstructionist machzor mostly, but not completely, leading to a lot of page-flipping to an additional book. (This is a common problem, by the way, but it still drives me nuts. It’s hard enough for Little Miss Short Attention Span here to pay attention to where we are without us suddenly being 100 pages away.) No musical instruments, at least, though there were microphones. And they have the entire congregation bless one another, instead of having the priestly blessing, so lose both tradition and drama. (I am more comfortable with skipping it altogether, actually, but really I want it done correctly, i.e. traditionally.) I left at Mincha, since I can’t lose on Jeopardy again by not knowing Noah. And I needed a nap.

Overall, I’d say it was a reasonably satisfying and reasonably meaningful service.

I’ll also note that there is a part of me that expects to hear the High Holiday liturgy in my grandfather’s voice, since he was generally hired to do that at our shul when I was growing up. And then, it’s been a lot of years, and I can’t really remember his voice all that well. I actually remember it best on something entirely non-liturgical. I used to play the piano for him to sing Yiddish songs to, because my brother was too showy and impatient to accompany other people when we were kids. (I assume he has gotten past that, since he plays in bands and does sing-alongs.) So I think particularly of Grandpa whenever I hear the song "Papirossen." Somewhere I have a recording of him. I need to find that.
22 September 2015 @ 01:58 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Candida Royalle was a porn star. Jack Larson played Jimmy Olsen in the 1950’s Superman television series and later became a playwright. Moses Malone was a basketball player. Max Beauvoir was a biochemist who became a high-ranking Voudou priest in Haiti. Herschel Silverman was a beat poet. Jackie Collins wrote trashy novels, the most successful of which was Hollywood Wives. Daniel Thompson invented the bagel machine, leading to the proliferation of the bland, soft, bagel-shaped rolls which destroy the name of that noble treat. Robert Simon founded Reston, Virginia, a planned community where I have been known to spend time (some of which is mentioned below.)

Two pitchers the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League died on the same date, September 13th. Jane Jacobs played almost all of her career for Racine, while and Emma Bergmann moved around teams a bit more, but most notably pitched no-hitter for Muskegon in 1947.

Unetaneh Tokef 1: I should have mentioned an insight I had on Rosh Hashanah. I usually think of Unetaneh Tokef (the most dramatic prayer in the High Holiday services) in terms of the physical fate of people, i.e. "who will die by fire and who by water" and so on. But it does also refer to psychological states. "Who will be serene and who will be tormented" is another aspect of the possibilities for the year. I’m not sure why I never noticed that before, but I find it oddly reassuring at a time when so many people I know are dealing with various types of mental struggles (their own and other people's).

Unetaneh Tokef 2: I keep playing with science fiction and fantasy ideas for people’s fates. Stuff like "who by aliens and who by dragon’s fire." I am sure somebody must have written this poem already.

New Story: In retrospect, signing up for a show without actually having a story on the theme may not have been a great idea. The show in question was a Better Said Than Done benefit for the Nature House in Reston. I figured I could come up with something on "Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire," in the course of several weeks. Well, I did, but it was somewhat pointless and not as funny as most of my stories. More significantly, I was stressing out over it and tweaking things until the last minute. Overall, it went okay, but it wasn’t as much fun as it should have been. On the other hand, it was a good challenge.

Pricy Beer: I had dinner with flyertalk friends at Fireworks Pizza last night. I continue to find their beer list intimidating. They have something called Tart of Darkness which goes for $44 for a 25 ounce bottle. I went for the Evil Twin Imperial Doughnut Break at $10.75 for a 10 ounce draft. Which is still more than my pizza (the tartufo, which is mushroomy goodness) cost. The beer was interesting, with almond and coffee flavors and a very slight sweetness. I would drink it again.

Presidential Candidates: Oy.

Who Buys This Shit?: There is someone on Etsy selling glitter pills that are supposed to turn your poop all sparkly. This cannot be healthy for either you or your plumbing.

Other Stuff: Knitting group was Sunday, also in Reston, and was (as always) fun. My calendar is a complete mess, but I need to find time to schedule a couple of other things. My house is also a mess and I need time to work on that, too. Plus ca change …
Last Week’s Entertainment: I went to see a documentary (Famous Nathan about Nathan Handwerker and his hot dog emporium) at the DCJCC Tuesday night. I’ll have more to say about that when I do my quarterly movie wrap-up.

Then, on Wednesday night, I went to the opening show of the new season of The Grapevine, which has moved more conveniently to Busboys and Poets in Takoma. I’d comment on it still being in darkest Maryland, but actually it is on the DC side of the line. And, most importantly, it’s easily metroable. There were two storytellers, followed by an open mike. The first teller was Shirleta Settles, who I had not heard of before. She did a folk tale, with excellent voices and strong singing, and was very animated and entertaining. She was followed by Jon Spelman, who did a couple of excerpts from The Prostate Diaries. One of those was quite timely since it had to do with his experiences on the Camino del Santiago, which fossilfreakca had just started on. He did a good job of making the excerpts make sense while telling something less than half of the whole piece. As for the open mike, I told "Two Foolish Old People," a badly mistitled Mongolian story.

Speaking of Storytelling: I am part of the Better Said Than Done fundraiser for the Reston Nature Center this coming Saturday night (September 19th). The show is at 8 p.m. and doors open at 7:30. We had rehearsal on Sunday afternoon and the show (which has a theme of "Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire") is going to be hot, hot, hot! You should come if you are anywhere in the general vicinity.

Rosh Hashanah: I went to services at Shoreshim in Reston. Overall, I’d say I’m looking for something more traditional. In particular, I would have preferred a more complete Torah reading , rather than just the first Aliyah. I also prefer not to have musical instruments (though I can actually make an argument for including them) and very much prefer not having microphones (though that is a losing cause for the most part). On the plus side, the drosh (sermon) was both brief and relevant and the shofar blowing set a high standard.

I Despair for Our Future: The internet is exploding today with the story of Ahmed Mohammed, a 9th-grader in Irving, Texas, who was hauled off from school in handcuffs because a teacher and some cops were too dumb to be able to tell that his homemade clock wasn’t anything like a bomb. I’m proposing supporting him with a Bring Your Clock to Work Day.

At the same time, there’s an 11-year-old kid in Virginia who is serving out a year suspension (having to go to some special school as a result) for having what someone believed looked like a marijuana leaf in his backpack. Except it was actually a Japanese maple leaf. He (or someone else) may have joked that it was pot, but sheesh.

I suspect that if I were a kid nowadays, I’d end up in juvie over something similarly dumb.
08 September 2015 @ 02:13 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Judy Carne was the "Sock It to Me" girl on Laugh-In, and apparently had a rather traumatic life of addiction after the show. Jean Darling was an actress, starting as a child star in the Our Gang series in the silent movie era, with her career peaking when she played Carrie in the original Broadway cast of Carousel. She also had over 50 mystery stories published. Martin Milner was a television actor, best known for Route 66 and Adam 12. For some reason, I seem to remember that either he or Kent McCord visited my school when I was in 5th or 6th grade, but it’s all very vague.

Birthday: I turned 57 on Friday. So when exactly am I going to feel like I’m an adult?

Travel and Weather: The other thing I was doing on Friday (in addition to working and aging) was flying to Albuquerque. I had a rather shorter connection in Denver than I would have preferred, so when I saw that there were weather holds in my area, I called up United and changed to an earlier flight (via Houston) with a longer layover. That meant a taxi to the airport, which worked fine, but was pricy. We boarded more or less on time, then got held because another plane in line to take off had smoke in the cockpit. And then came the weather. In the end, my hour and a half layover at IAH turned into about a 6 minute connect time. I did make the connection, but it was stressful.

I also had a bit of a complication when I arrived. Picking up the rental car was straightforward enough. And I could see the hotel. Figuring out where to turn to actually get to it was another matter. It didn’t help that the rental car people had said (incorrectly) I needed to turn before the freeway. So it took me, um, about 45 minutes to drive maybe a bit over a mile.

Old Town / Downtown Albuquerque: I started my weekend by doing a volksmarch in Old Town and downtown Albuquerque. I’d actually done an earlier iteration of this walk several years ago, but they have rerouted it, presumably to highlight some of the newer downtown architecture. It is also possible that they didn’t reroute it, but I have a lousy memory. Anyway, there was a point where I ran into a group being led on a tour by a couple of people from the historical society, who insisted I needed to check out the interior of the Kimo Theatre, which they described as "Pueblo deco." That is, it is art deco with Pueblo themes. It is, indeed, worth a look. I also went through the Holocaust Museum because it was there. Most of what they have are photos, but there are a few artifacts. The museum also addresses various other genocides, though it misses some (e.g. nothing about Cambodia). All in all, it was a good walk, though the section between Old Town and downtown is fairly bland.

Adobe Wonderland: After my morning walk (and a stop for lunch), I drove up to Santa Fe. I stopped by the visitor information center and picked up the map for the Capital volksmarch (which I would do the next day). Then I drove over to Kakawa Chocolate House, which had been highly recommended by friends. The rose almond elixir was a spicy blend of chocolate, almond, rose, and chili – quite tasty, though a bit chunky as hot chocolate goes. I also bought a couple of chocolates to eat for dessert later that evening. Then I drove to my hotel and took a nap before getting dinner (and eating those chocolates).

In the morning, I did the Capital walk, which took in most of central Santa Fe, including the capitol and Canyon Road, as well as the Plaza. I’m not really a fan of adobe and things were rather too crowded, but it was still a pleasant walk. I also appreciated that the directions pointed out a few details I might not otherwise have noted – e.g. the plaque to Billy the Kid across from Burro Alley. And, especially, the triangle with the tetragrammaton carved into an arch over the door of the cathedral.

There were a couple of art shows and a large crafts fair, possibly in connection with the upcoming Fiesta. I wasn’t intending to buy anything, but I saw a salt cellar I couldn’t resist. It’s shaped like a bathtub, with the shower head forming the spoon. I also got a bowl of cashew mole for lunch (and sopapillas, of course). And I decided it was hot enough out by then that I needed to go back to Kakawa and try their ice cream. I went for the citrus pistachio, which I thought would be more refreshing than chocolate.

I drove back to Albuquerque, where I had a light supper and a nice conversation with slymongoose . My flights home (again, via IAH) were fine, with no weather drama. All in all, ir made for a nice weekend excursion.
02 September 2015 @ 04:16 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Kyle Jean-Baptiste was a theatre actor. Wayne Dyer wrote self-help books. Marvin Mandel was a former governor of Maryland, whose tenure in office was marred by his conviction (later overturned) for mail fraud and racketeering. Personally, I think the more interesting scandal is the one in which his wife refused to move out of the governor’s mansion when he took up with another woman and filed for divorce.

Wes Craven was a film director, best known for horror films (e.g. Nightmare on Elm Street). Oddly, he died of natural causes, though brain cancer is a pretty horrible death as I understand it.

The death I most want to highlight is that of Oliver Sacks. To say he was a neurologist and a writer is inadequate. His writing spanned a range of topics, but I think the key is that he always focused on the humanity,, whether writing about neurology, travel, or his family. I was privileged to hear him give a talk at Sixth and I, as well as to read several of his books, which were always informative and highly readable. His death was no surprise but was still a major loss.

Kin Davis: For anybody who has been living in a cave for the past couple of weeks, Ms. Davis is the court clerk in Kentucky who is refusing to issue marriage licenses because she has religious objections to same sex marriage. My take on this is that if one has religious objections to doing one’s job, the only proper response is to resign from that job.

I do want to note, however, that I am disturbed by the people who are citing her hypocrisy because she has been married 4 times. Her statement is that she converted after the divorces and I find no reason to doubt that, especially since this was apparently due to a deathbed wish. Her past is not relevant to the current situation and I believe it is not appropriate to harp on it.

And, of course, the people who are criticizing her based on her appearance (and, specifically, her hair – apparently her church does not permit women to cut their hair) are also way out of bounds. The point is that she does not meet one of the basic job requirements (that is, willingness to comply with the law on issuing marriage licenses) and should, therefore, not be in the job.

Plymouth (Michigan) Volksmarch: I have to admit that I had not actually heard of Plymouth, Michigan until a couple of weeks ago. I was flying into Detroit for a trip to Toledo and had time to kill during the day, so looked for nearby Volksmarch events that would satisfy some of the special programs I am trying to complete. It was an easy drive to Plymouth and the walk proved quite pleasant. The downtown area has a number of attractive historic houses (as well as some interesting specialty shops, though there is the creeping chainification that one finds everywhere nowadays), while the second half of the walk followed a path along the Rouge River and around what they called a lake, but I would consider a pond. I wouldn’t say there was anything essential from a tourist perspective, but it was a good way to spend my time.

Toledo – the Corporal Klinger Tour: For those who remember M*A*S*H, Corporal Klinger (played by Jamie Farr) was from Toledo (as was Farr). That led to some ad libs that immortalized a couple of Toledo institutions to those of us of a certain generation – namely, Tony Packo’s Café and the Toledo Mud Hens, the AAA minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. I love baseball, so when I saw plans for a Flyertalk Do that would involve both of those, I figured it was worth the trip. I flew to Detroit late Friday night, spent Saturday morning doing the volksmarch mentioned above, then drove to Toledo. It’s an easy drive, but there was a lot of road work. Anyway, I went to my hotel, rested a bit, then headed downtown.

We were actually not at the original Tony Packo’s, but at the branch by the ballpark. The food is Hungarian and runs to things like chili dogs and dumplings and such. Not exactly light fare, nor are what they call dumplings what I think of by that name (i.e. not like either knaidlach or Czech bread dumplings, but more pasta-ish), but the food was tasty enough (especially some sort of potato side dish) and the atmosphere was great. The Great Lakes IPA was more bitter than I prefer, so was just okay. There was, of course, plenty of flyertalkish talk, i.e. frequent flyer miles and tricks associated therewith.

We walked across the street to the ballpark and found our seats. And rain. Fortunately, the delay was not very long and the game was on. It was an exciting one, with some decidedly questionable calls (in my opinion). After being behind for most of the game, the Mud Hens did win in the end. By the way, we had very good seats (in the club section) and I thought it was a nice little ballpark. I liked that they had everyone sing the national anthem, instead of treating it as a performance piece. (People were, alas, considerably more pathetic for the 7th inning stretch. My treatise on the relationship between the decline of Western civilization and the failure of people to sing along is available on request.) Anyway, the fans seemed reasonably into the game and I thought it was worth the trip.

I had vague plans to do another volksmarch on Sunday morning, but the weather was dreary and I was tired, so I just had a late and lazy morning. For complicated reasons (less money, more miles), my flight home was via EWR so I got to spend some time rereading the index to Dante’s Inferno to figure out which circle of hell Newark Terminal A is.

Speaking of Transportation: If you change the route of a shuttle bus and, in the process, eliminate a stop that has been in use for at least 10 years, it might be helpful to put up a sign at that stop to let people know.
Celebrity Death Watch: Yvonne Craig was an actress, most famous for playing Batgirl. Melody Patterson played Wrangler Jane on F Troop.

The death I most want to note is that of Merl Reagle. He was the first crossword constructor who I was ever aware of as a constructor. His penchant for puns and wordplay made his puzzles immediately recognizable – and infinitely more pleasurable than the earlier style which relied entirely on knowledge of obscure words. It’s hard to imagine what Sundays will be like without Merl’s puzzle in the Washington Post magazine section.

Del Campo: I went out to a restaurant week dinner with flyertalk folks at Del Campo. Organizing the reservation was annoying, because people drop out last minute and we went from 6 people to 10 to 8 to 6 – and then one didn’t show up. I do understand people having to travel last minute, but I really hate no shows.

Anyway, the deal is a three course dinner for $35. The restaurant had a reasonable menu – 3 choices each for appetizer and main, 2 for dessert. The mushroom empanadas were good, but didn’t blow me away. For the main, I got the short rib, which also came with chorizo and a marrow bone, as well as a surprisingly bland potato puree, with its only sign of the promised jalapenos in its color. The meat was quite tasty, however, and was the highlight of the meal. I chose the carrot cake for dessert and it was okay, but not nearly as good as my own. I also got a cocktail called a gin joint, which had grilled grapefruit juice and smoked simple syrup (as well as more normal things, like gin). It was interesting enough, but a bit sweeter than I would have preferred. Overall, I’d give the place a B to B+. I’ll also note that the service was very good, but it was awfully noisy so I felt like we were shouting at one another all evening.

Stoshvzihl Rrwvhuw: I happened to read a science fiction short story recently, which reminded me of why I don’t read a lot of certain types of science fiction. Namely, there is actually nothing wrong with a character being named Tim or Mary or the like. And, if you are going to invent some alien species, you are actually allowed to use a normal combination of vowels and consonants in its name.

When I Rule the World: There should be sensors at the entrance to metro stations which detect excessive fragrance and soak the offender with water and (unscented) soap.

Also, people should not be allowed to chew juicy fruit gum in the office.

The Height of Absurdity: I thought that the toaster I saw in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog which imprints your toast with a selfie was going to win this category. But I was in Bed Bath & Beyond recently (a store which I have deeply mixed feelings about, primarily because of its missing commas) and I saw a device intended to cook ramen noodles in half the time. In much of the world, that dish is known as "two minute noodles." Are people really that bloody impatient?
18 August 2015 @ 01:48 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Susan Sheridan played Trillian in the radio version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Frank Gifford was a football player turned broadcaster. Julian Bond was a civil rights activist.

Superfoods: I keep seeing these articles that list superfoods you should be eating for optimal health. Just once, I wish one of those lists would have, say, gelato and cheetos on it, instead of kale and broccoli. Just saying.

Last Weekend: I was actually in town, but things were pretty routine. There was a story swap on Saturday night (at which I screwed up on telling "Shrewd Simon Short" because it seems that one can’t just resume telling a 450+ word tongue twister after a few years), knitting group on Sunday, less progress on household stuff than I intended (or need to get done).

If I Ruled the World – Political Edition: Aside from my usual proclamations (mandatory pockets in women’s clothing, nap rooms available in all workplaces), I would disallow anybody from the presidency who campaigned more than one year prior to election day. I admit that would get rid of some people I like (not that Martin O’Malley was getting any traction anyway), but it would spare me from having to listen to a lot of anti-science, anti-woman, and anti-immigration rhetoric for a few more months.

Addictions: I was pleased to read that coffee seems to prevent recurrences of colon cancer and will, of course, interpret this as coffee preventing all cancers all the time. (Actually, I have always figured that my most likely cause of death is third-world taxi driver.)

Dear Other Dimensional Beings: Thank you for returning two single black socks (not related to each other, but partnered to socks already in the missing mates bin.) But did you really have to take the superglue in exchange?
11 August 2015 @ 03:54 pm
This past weekend included a Saturday in August, so it was time for Lollapuzzoola 8. This is my favorite crossword tournament, because the puzzles are just that much crazier. I will keep things spoiler free here, since there are still folks solving at home.

I can write about the gimmick of the first puzzle (by Patrick Blindauer), since it is right there in the instructions. Namely, there was a sound effect to signal "stop," requiring everyone to put down their pencils until the next sound effect let us "go." The puzzle itself was not particularly difficult, but the stop and go aspect slowed things down a bit.

Puzzle 2, by Anna Schechtman, was my favorite of the day. The theme was tricky enough to be interesting, without being impossibly difficult. While I enjoyed puzzle 3 (by Mike Nothnagel), I thought it was possible for somebody to solve it without completely grasping one aspect of the theme. I’ll note that I managed to solve the first 3 puzzles cleanly, which is always a big part of my goal.

I went out to lunch with a group of folks. Or, more precisely, we got take-out (sushi, in my case) from a nearby store and came back to the room to eat it. Lunch was followed by an entertaining, punny group game by Francis Heaney.

And then came the reckoning. Puzzle 4 at Lollapuzzoola is the equivalent of Puzzle 5 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. It’s the puzzle that separates those who are big fish in their small ponds from the leviathans of the puzzle world. Joon Pahk’s puzzle was subtle and clever and proved that I am, comparatively, a minnow. (In addition to a challenging theme, I completely failed to make a dent in the middle left part of the grid. And that was with the use of 2 google tickets to get answers.)

Fortunately, there is puzzle 5 to redeem the day. I found Doug Peterson’s contribution pretty straightforward. But its theme was the sort of thing you might well find in a conventional puzzle venue, so it was less exciting.

While we waited for results, there was another punny group game. There was also a meta-puzzle suite, which I would say was more of a mini-extravaganza. My table didn’t get hung up on the puzzles, but had difficulty with the idea that we needed a team name.

The finals featured a puzzle by Kevin Der. The local division clues (i.e. for humans) were challenging enough. The express division clues (i.e. for the top solvers) were impossible. In fact, for a while it looked like none of the 3 finalists would finish, but Frances Heaney pulled it out at the last minute. Trip Payne was oh so close, however, and it was really painful to watch him fill in the last couple of letters, erase them, fill them in again, erase them – and run out of time. I will admit that it took me damn long after seeing the correct answer to figure out what the clue meant. There was a recent list circulating of the trickiest crossword clues ever and I think 35A in this puzzle would almost certainly qualify.

I needed to rush off at that point, so didn’t stay for the awards. If you really care, I finished 95th out of 194 contestants. That puts me at the 51.0th percentile. For comparison, I was at the 42.6th percentile in 2012 and 44.6th percentile in 2013. So last year, when I finished at the 57.6th percentile, was an anomaly (albeit a positive one), and I can think that I’ve been improving, be it ever so slowly.

The reason I needed to rush was to get to a flyertalk wine dinner at Virage down in the East Village. I’m not really much of a wine person, but this sounded like fun and it never hurts to learn a bit. The basic idea was 11 people, 15 bottles of wine, and a lot of food. It started with bruschetta accompanied by what I think was the house rose, which was definitely the least memorable wine of the evening. We moved on through various appetizers (a chopped salad, tuna ceviche, a delicious and unusual combination of figs with goat cheese and olives, fried calamari, fried artichokes, lamb meatballs), accompanied by three different bubblies. My favorite was the NV Krug Champagne Brut Grand Cruvee, but the 1996 Pierre Paillard Champagne Brut Millesime Grand Cru (of which we had a magnum) and the 2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut Rose Vintage Reserve were also eminently drinkable. Somewhere around the calamari, we moved on to the white wines, with a 2013 Schollum Project La Severita di Bruto Farina sauvignon blanc and a 2013 Grand Boulay Sancerre La Cote. The latter was my contribution, though it was from our host’s cellar, and I was quite pleased with it. There was a viognier (2007 Domaine Yves Culleron Condrieu Les Challets) and two chardonnays (2013 Fisher Vineyards Chardonnay Mountain Estate and 2013 Fisher Vineyards Chardonnay Whitney’s Vineyard) to take us through the lobster bolognese pasta course. The chardonnays were decidedly oaky and really not my thing, as it feels to me like drinking trees.

The reds came out with the main course, for which I chose the lamb kebab, served with rice, salad, and hummus. This was also excellent - and I didn’t hear anybody complaining about their choices. We had one syrah (2008 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Lauerbach Hill), which I liked quite a lot. And then there were four cabernets. The 2008 Lewelling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon was the last of them, though still decent. I liked the 2008 EMH Cabernet Sauvignon Black Cat better. The final two – 2008 Black Sears Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Estate and 2008 Outpost Cabernet Sauvignon True Vineyard – were quite similar, though I preferred the Outpost a bit.

The dessert choice was an easy one. I can’t resist fresh berries and that was one of the options. They were served with cream. And, of course, wine. In this case NV Pride Mountain Vineyards Mistelle de Viognier. That was fine, though I doubt that I will ever prefer dessert wines to liqueurs.

There was also, of course, plenty of lively conversation – primarily about wine and travel. So it was a lovely evening, overall, and well worth the minor exhaustion the next day. Thanks so much to Erez for his organizing the whole thing.