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21 September 2018 @ 03:13 pm
It’s time to do some of the catching up. Let’s start with a trip to New York in August, just before I went on my real vacation.

Lollapuzzoola 11: I’ve said before that Lollapuzzola is my favorite crossword tournament. It’s smaller than the ACPT and less pop-culture heavy than the Indie 500. Historically, the puzzles have been just a little bit wilder in their themes, although I thought that this year’s were actually pretty much on the normal side. Even without cell phones going off or people imitating cats, I still had a good time.

The travel was mildly stressful, as there was some sort of Yellow Line delay and I got to Union Station just as my train to New York was boarding. Still, the train is definitely the best way to make the DC to NYC trip and it’s not like I actually missed it. I stayed at the Renaissance on West 35th Street, which is convenient to Penn Station and proved to be quieter than most of the other New York hotels I’ve tried. (My favorite is still the Library Hotel, but it is hard to get a good rate there, so it’s splurgy. I also love the Algonquin, which is a good use of Marriott points.)

They’d moved locations this year to Riverside Church, which is across the street from Grant’s Tomb, aka one of the New York City tourist attractions I have never actually gone to. It’s up near Columbia University and it had been over 40 years since I’d been over that way. It’s changed less than one might expect, though there are more chain restaurants on Broadway than there were back in the mid-1970’s when I went to a Saturday science program for high school students at Columbia.

Puzzle 1 was by Aimee Lucido. The theme was easy to figure out, though I think someone could have solved the puzzle without really grasping it. I solved it cleanly in 12:16. That’s slower than the top solvers, but still reasonably respectable.

Puzzle 2 by Erik Agard and Yacob Yonas didn’t go quite as well for me. I didn’t completely grasp the theme. The "aha" moment struck about 5 minutes after I turned the puzzle in. That wouldn’t have made much of a difference – but there was a crossing clue I didn’t know the answer to. Had I completely understood what was going on (or, at least, read the theme clue a bit more carefully), I wouldn’t have had an error. I had a decent time (11:59) and, frankly, I doubt that taking another minute or two would actually have helped. So much for the goal of solving cleanly.

Puzzle 3 by Patti Varol went better. I enjoyed the theme (which I understood) and solved it cleanly in 13:05. I think the lunch break followed that, during which I went with several people over to Sweet Green, a salad chain that has good food but annoys me on the grounds that they don’t take cash. My willingness to go with the group is based on my usual prioritization of sociability over at least some of my persnicketiness.

I didn’t think that Jeff Chen’s Puzzle 4 was particularly interesting, though I solved it cleanly. It took me 23:39, which was also reasonable.

Puzzle 5, by Paolo Pasco, had the sort of theme that I always enjoy (and which I figured out reasonably easily). I solved it cleanly in 23:59, which, while respectable, was a tad slower than I should have been.

I ended up finishing 112th out of 253. That’s the 55.7th percentile. (If someone happened to see what I said on facebook, I only just now realized how to look only at the individual competitors and not include the pair solvers.)

To keep up the history, that isn’t quite my best showing at Lollapuzzoola, but it’s decent. I would, however, have preferred to have solved cleanly, instead of having that error in puzzle 2.

2012 – 42.6
2013 – 44.6
2014 – 57.6
2015 – 51.0
2016 – 59.1
2017 – 53.7
2018 – 55.7

I had the traditional pizza for dinner. And then I took the subway back downtown for my equally traditional theatre-going.

SpongeBob SquarePants: I had chosen to see SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical on the grounds that: 1) it had gotten pretty good reviews and 2) it was closing in September. The plot involves the town of Bikini Bottom in a crisis, involving a volcano that is about to erupt. SpongeBob enlists the aid of a squirrel scientist named Sandy Cheeks and his best friend, Patrick (a sea star) to save the day.

The story is fairly idiotic, but I do like that things are saved via science – and by a female scientist at that. The score consisted of a series of singles by a number of pop artists and was fairly forgettable. As for the performances, Ethan Slater was good in the title role, but I thought that Gavin Lee as Squidward really stole the show. Overall, this is really geared towards families with young children and would probably appeal more to people who love, say, The Lion King, which I also described as a show where I walked out humming the costumes.

I took a relatively early train home. I still had time to walk up West 35th Street and photograph the plaque which marks Nero Wolfe’s home, though there is no longer a brownstone there.


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20 September 2018 @ 11:35 am
The theme for week 38 (September 17-23) is Unusual Source. Newspapers aren’t unusual per se, but one normally looks for newspaper stories about people in the locations where they lived. I’ve got two examples where I’ve found newspaper stories about relatives in unexpected places.

My third cousin once removed, Abraham Krengel, came to the U.S. in 1947 at the age of 8. HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) settled the family in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. I know that at least some of them (including him) were later in New York. But I found a newspaper article, showing a picture of him lighting Chanukah candles a year or two later – in a newspaper from Hillsborough, Ohio.

Somewhat less surprising was that the best source I found for the list of people killed in the crash of the Congressional Limited in 1943, which included my great-aunt, Mary Lehrman (originally Mariasha Chlebatzka), was a Chicago newspaper, even though the crash was in Pennsylvania. It’s not surprising because it was a huge story, with 79 people killed, and there were stories in a lot of major newspapers. What is, perhaps, surprising, however, is that the Washington and New York papers didn’t have as complete a list.

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17 September 2018 @ 04:55 pm
I still haven’t had time to catch up, because I’ve been busy doing things. Here’s what the past several days have looked like.

Storytelling, Part 1: The Grapevine Wednesday night was the season opener for The Grapevine, a very good storytelling series at Busboys and Poets in Takoma. I can’t quite whine about it being in darkest Maryland because it is still just within the D.C. line.

Anyway, this month’s featured tellers were Milbre Burch and Len Cabral. I’ve known Milbre for many years, since we both lived in the Los Angeles area in the 1990’s, and it is always delightful to see her. I was glad to have a chance to catch up with her a bit. And, of course, to hear her tell. Her program was a selection of folk tales from banned lands, i.e. those subject to the immigration restrictions of our current administration. I thought that was a really cool idea for a theme. There was a good mix of stories and she told elegantly and entertainingly, as always. Len’s stories included some from his Cape Verdean heritage. His telling was far more physical, with a lot of voices. Overall, this was a good illustration of the range of traditional storytelling and a very entertaining evening.

Storytelling, Part 2: Voices in the Glen Story Swap: Saturday night was our monthly story swap. It was in darkest Maryland, so I was grateful for carpooling. There was a particularly big turn-out and another wide range of stories. In honor of having just heard Milbre, I told "Be Nice," which I first learned from her.

One Day University: I went to One Day University on Sunday. This is always a good use of a half-day.

The first talk was Is That Really Art? Understanding and Appreciating Modern Painting by Tina Rivers-Ryan. She focused on four artists / styles – Pablo Picasso (cubism), Alexander Rodchenko (constructivism), Jackson Pollack, (abstract expressionism), and Andy Warhol (pop). Her basic point was that one has to understand the language of painting in order to assess its quality. I thought the section on Rodchenko was particularly interesting, largely because he was the one of the four I was least familiar with. I also appreciated her plug for taking advantage of docent tours as a way to learn about art. But I am still completely cold towards Pollack’s work.

The second talk was by Robert Watson from Lynn University on Our Broken Two-Party System: Can American Politics Be Fixed? He was very entertaining, but I found his conclusions depressing. On the other hand, we did survive the 1850’s when Preston Brooks beat Charles Sumner to a pulp on the Senate floor in response to an anti-slavery speech. I also appreciated Watson’s point that after 1901 the parties essentially switched positions, largely in response to Theodore Roosevelt. Another good point was the lack of friendships across parties that results from the ease of air travel allowing congresscritters to spend much of their time in their home districts, so they socialize with one another less. Unfortunately, he didn’t really have any suggestions on what to do about the rise of extremism and fact-free politics. Well - he did have one suggestion. Namely, subscribe to your local newspaper.

The final talk was on How the 1960s Shaped American Politics Today by Leonard Steinhorn of American University. He really started with the 1950’s and the post-war prosperity and suburbanization of the American dream. (Hmm, what about the Korean War?) However, the good times really only worked for straight, white, Christian men. That led to the civil rights movement(s) and, combined with the Vietnam war protests, led to huge societal changes. Which led to the backlash by people who think life is a zero-sum game. On a more positive note, he pointed out that millennials are, in general, inclusive. For example, he claimed that even his Trump-supporting students are accepting of sexuality and gender differences.

Overall, it was a stimulating morning.

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14 September 2018 @ 11:50 am
The theme for week 37 (September 10-16) is Closest to Your Birthday.

I’m not really sure whose birthday is/was closest to mine. My best guess is my father. My birthday is September 4th. My father’s birthday was officially September 15, 1929, but he always said it was actually September 1, 1930. At some point during the Shoah (probably a selection at Dachau), he lied about his age and lied about the date to make it harder to disprove via whatever records might still exist.

He always celebrated both dates.

Also, I should do a better job of documenting information so I don’t struggle to answer questions like this one.

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14 September 2018 @ 11:16 am
The theme for Week 36 (September 3-9) was Work.

My maternal grandfather, Simon Lubowsky, owned a jewelry store in the Bronx. He was mostly a watchmaker, though on his passenger manifest when he came to the U.S. he described himself as a silversmith. I think a lot of the walk-in business was related to watch repairs, but I’m not really sure. Back in those days of mechanical watches, they needed to be cleaned regularly and we believe that the chemicals he used in cleaning them were what caused the leukemia he died of.

He also sold both fine and costume jewelry and he always had displays of personalized jewelry In the window. When my mother was growing up, all of the personalized jewelry always had her name. As I was his first granddaughter, I got pride of place for about 8 years. I have never completely forgiven my cousin, Ellen, for sharing the spotlight with me after that.

I guess he did well, but owning your own business is a huge constraint on your time. He had enough flexibility that he could close the store and take us to the Bronx Zoo, but it was hard for him to take vacations. What finally got him to retire, however, was a couple of robberies.

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12 September 2018 @ 03:03 pm
I will get back to catching up on vacation (and pre-vacation) things, but I don’t want to fall further behind, so here is what I’ve done since I’ve gotten back.

Celebrity Death Watch: V.S Naipaul was a Nobel laureate in literature. Mark Baker was a (primarily) theatre actor, best known for playing Candide in the 1974 production of the Bernstein musical. Morgana King was a jazz singer and actress. She actually died in late March, but I didn’t see her obituary until mid-August. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of India from 1998 to 2004. Kofi Annan was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997-2006. Barbara Harris was an actress, both on Broadway (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and The Apple Tree among others) and film (Nashville, Freaky Friday, etc.) Ed King played guitar with Strawberry Alarm Clock and Lynyrd Skynard and wrote the song, "Sweet Home Alabama." Martin Shubik was an economist whose work included analysis of the best pastrami sandwich in New York. Robin Leach hosted Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Princeton Lyman was a diplomat, credited with helping to end apartheid in South Africa. Marie Severin was a comic book artist. Paul Taylor was an influential modern dance choreographer. Peter Corris wrote crime novels. Susan Brown was a soap opera actress. Vanessa Marquez was an actress, best known for playing a nurse on E.R. Gloria Jean was an actress and singer, who appeared in several 1940’s and 1950’s films. Carole Shelley was an actress, whose roles included playing one of the Pigeon sisters in The Odd Couple. Randy Weston was a jazz pianist and composer. Christopher Lawford was the son of actor Pater Lawford and a nephew of JFK, who also became an actor and wrote a memoir about his struggles with drug addiction. Bill Dailey wa a character actor, known for appearing in I Dream of Jeannie and The Bob Newhart Show. Burt Reynolds was a television and movie actor, best known for Deliverance. Richard DeVos co-founded Amway. Mac Miller was a rapper. Sam Cornish was Boston’s first poet laureate.

I hope you don’t need me to tell you about Aretha Franklin. She was one of the greatest singers of all time and a truly iconic American voice. I’m usually not keen on people being dubbed royalty of some genre, but I will make an exception for the Queen of Soul.

Khaira Arby was a Malian singer. I heard her perform at the Festival Au Desert in 2011 and met her briefly in the market in Timbuktu while I was there. She was apparently the first Malian woman to start a career under her own name. She was also an activist for women’s rights and an advocate against female genital mutilation.

I assume I don’t need to tell you about John McCain. He was an interesting politician, something of a maverick among Republicans. While I often disagreed with him, I do think he had a lot of integrity. In an era of bad behavior, he seemed able to be a gentleman most of the time, which deserves credit in and of itself. He also scored on my ghoul pool list (and almost everyone else’s, alas.)

Neil Simon was a playwright, whose work focused on New York and the Jewish-American experience. He received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer. His plays were a good example of my theory that funny and serious are not antonyms.

Please Don’t Analyze This Dream: I don’t remember the context, but there were a bunch of soldiers wearing triangular green-painted (or maybe enameled) metallic masks that I referred to as "Turkish death masks."

Passion: I saw Passion at Signature Theatre on Saturday. This is one of the more difficult Sondheim musicals, largely because Fosca is a fundamentally unlikeable character, stalking Giorgio, a sensitive man who has the heart of a poet in a soldier’s body. It’s an uncomfortable view of love, accompanied by emotional (and only sporadically humorous lyrics, mostly relating to the other soldiers’ reactions to Giorgio). Despite all that, Signature did an excellent job with it. Claybourne Elder was a convincing Giorgio. And Natascia Diaz made Fosca a little bit sympathetic. Overall, I thought it was worth seeing, but though I will never love the show the way I do most of Sondheim’s others.

Gelato Festival DC: On Sunday, I ignored the chill and rain and went off to the city for Gealto Festival DC. The idea is that you buy a wristband (for $30 plus fees) and get to taste all the gelato you want. There were several gelato makers competing, with flavors designed for the festival.

Crusty Fantasy from Gelato Gourment in Weston, FL was a mixture of caramel, cashews and rice krispies. The name is terrible, but the flavor was reasonably good.

Blue Majik from Gelato’oh Brick & Motor in Philadelphia was pineapple flavored with a blue coloring from algae. It supposedly also had ginger and apple juices, but I couldn’t detect them. I liked the idea of a sugar-free sorbetto, but it didn’t quite work for me, largely because the texture was not as smooth as is ideal.

Apurimac from local DC shop Pitango Gelato was a very intense chocolate. I know some people will doubt this is possible, but I thought it was actually too intense and I ate only a couple of spoonfuls.

Trinacrium from uGOgelato in Miami was my favorite. It was a mixture of pistachio and almonds, with a spray of orange. This was absolutely delicious – a lovely combination, with great flavors and texture. I was clearly not the only person who thought so, as it won the competition.

American Dream from Gelato Bliss in Hagerstown, MD had salted peanuts swirled with a coca-cola reduction. This was better than I expected from that description, but not something I wanted more of.

Butter Pecan from Marinucci’s in Reston, VA was disappointing. They apparently used European butter instead of cream, which gave it a weird mouth feel to me. This was another one where I didn’t eat more than a couple of spoonfuls.

Cheesecake with Cherries from Mike’s Gelato in Columbia, MD was exactly what it sounds like. It wasn’t bad, but I am just not crazy about cherries, so had just a small taste.

Nocciola Chocake from Zerogradi Gelateria in Ambler, PA was hazelnut gelato with chocolate sauce and chocolate cake crumbs. I liked this, but would have liked it better if there were more chocolate flavor.

There were also a few non-competitors:

PreGel apparently sells a gelato base to shops, rather than selling commercially. I tried two of their flavors – hazelnut and cannoli. The hazelnut was excellent, but then it’s a flavor that I tend to like a lot. The cannoli was good, but would have benefited from more crunch.

Bella Gelateria (not clear where they are) had some sort of caramel and coffee flavor. This was just okay. There was nothing wrong with it, but it seemed pretty ordinary.

Moorenko’s from Silver Spring, MD had two flavors. The burnt caramel and pear with walnuts was quite good, but could have used more pear flavor relative to the other ingredients. Their ginger, however, was sublime, with large chunks of fresh ginger in it. If this had been a competitor, I would probably have voted for it over the Trinacrium. Best of all, they said it’s available at a couple of local grocery stores!

Rosh Hashanah: I went to the traditional service at Sixth and I. On the plus side, I like the cantor, who is reasonably inclusive, versus some who think they’re performing as operatic soloists. On the minus side, the siddur they use has absolutely terrible English translations. And if I notice that, with my lack of Hebrew fluency, they must be really bad. I was also suffering a bit from difficulty focusing, which I will attribute to jet lag. At the very least, I got to spend time with a couple of friends who I see all too infrequently.

Happy 5779 everyone!

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07 September 2018 @ 02:04 pm
The theme for Week 35 (August 27-Sept. 2) was Back to School.

I have believed for a long time that my father, a proud alumnus of City College of New York (or, as it was generally referred to in our house, the Harvard of the Proletariat) was the first member of my family to graduate from university. Dad got a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in 1961.

During my recent trip, I discovered that Meir Bruskin, my great-grandmother’s nephew (i.e. my first cousin twice removed), had at least been a student at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania in the mid 1920’s. There is more research I need to do there, but he may have beat Dad out in the education sweepstakes.

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07 September 2018 @ 01:19 pm
The theme for Week 34 (August 20-26): was Non-Population.

Non-population census records refer to information other than population statistics. There were various social statistics schedules (e.g. mortality), as well as agriculture and manufacturing censuses along with the census records for years from 1850-1880 in the U.S. There were also manufacturing schedules for 1820.

As far as I know, none of my family was in the U.S. during those years, so those don’t do me any good. There was a 1935 Census of Business, which might have some information. Unfortunately, these do not appear to be available anywhere on-line. (Please tell me if I am wrong about that.) So this is not really a prompt that I have much to say about, at least until I have a lot of free time to spend at the National Archives.

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07 September 2018 @ 01:11 pm
I got back from vacation yesterday. Quick summary is:

Part of a day in Zurich - museum going.

On to Latvia. A fair amount to see in Riga including Jewish sites and a lot of Art Nouveau architecture. A couple of excursions, with the highlight being Kuldiga. On to Daugavpils (aka Dvinsk), which has family connections.

Next, to Lithuania. Zarasai, Dusetos, Panevezys, Kedainiai, Josvainiai. A couple of days in Kaunas, including time at the archives and some interesting genealogy research. Vilnius, via Trakai. Center of Europe.

Flight to Minsk. A few days in Belarus, including excursion to Polatsk and Vitebsk. Less success with family research, but did commune with Marc Chagall.

Long flight home. Much to catch up on. Including here.

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19 August 2018 @ 09:10 pm
Quick trip to New York for the weekend.

Primary purpose was Lollapuzzoola. New location near Columbia University. I had not been up that way in over 40 years.

I finished 139th out of 315. It had been 124 out of 317 but they updated other people’s scores and got rid of either duplicates or no shows.

Went to see SpongeBob Squarepants: the Musical. Idiotic but well done for what it is.

Walked up West 35th this morning to take photo of plaque marking Nero Wolfe’s house. No longer a brownstone there. No orchids in park next to it.

Leaving on vacation tomorrow. Details in a few weeks.

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