June 24th, 2009


From Square One

I first met Dean Olsher at the 2004 ACPT, when he interviewed me for his public radio show (which I had heard), "The Next Big Thing." He was back in 2005 to compete, part of his research for a book he was writing on crosswords. We stayed in touch, and he joined my team at the Haystack Hunt and even stayed in our Puzzle Palace at Sundance, as well as attending more ACPTs. He never did make it to an NPL convention (but there's still time - Baltimore July 9-12!).

"The Next Big Thing" is unfortunately no longer around, but the book is now a reality. "From Square One" is about crosswords. And more than crosswords. But also about crosswords. It's thoughtful and it's different.

Browsing the book giveaway shelf at the Times a few months ago, I found two advance reading copies of the book. Ooh! I took both, and gave the extra to jon88. Dean was about to submit his final corrections and wanted our notes. One of Jon's ended up as a book-jacket blurb, while I procrastinated and never got around to finishing my comments.

The book release party was held last week at a Brooklyn apartment (a stop away from the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott) with a huge, wraparound terrace. It was unseasonably cold out there and I kept my raincoat on, looking like a bag lady who had mistakenly wandered in. lunchboy plays a prominent role in the book (I'm in it a teeny bit), and was one of the few people I knew at the event. I once again exhibited my complete lack of social skills, feeling too shy to talk to strangers and probably missing out on meeting some interesting and intelligent people.

Dean gave a short speech and thanked various people, among them novelist Meg Wolitzer who he said was there. Where? Francis and I rushed over and asked Dean to point her out, and we introduced ourselves. She's a puzzle/Scrabble person, I've read some of her books, and I remembered her participating in a blog discussion. In the small world department, I just found out she's a high school friend of Mrs. Tex (Denise). Then some people who'd seen "Wordplay" came over, so I was spared having to use my nonexistent social skills.

Tonight Dean gave a reading at the 82nd/Broadway B&N. Given the location, I had to get an H&H bagel (fresh out of the oven, plain) first. Jon, Dan Feyer, and jeffurrynpl also attended (Quiz was also supposed to be there. Yoo hoo! Quiz? No Quiz. That's our Quiz). A woman sitting nearby said she'd been in the NPL in the '70s, and asked if I was Mangie.

But this entry is not about me, it's about Dean. Go read his book.

(no subject)

If I didn't live in New York, I couldn't do most of the things I do. Recent activity:

Dinner at BBQ with hahathor and Ed (and 2 of her friends). This would normally be done in Boston, but they were visiting.

Benefit 85th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall for Theodore Bikel. Given the age of the honoree and the fact that during the first half of the concert, the performers addressed their remarks to a faraway box, I assumed Bikel was sitting in a wheelchair in a lap robe, frail, smiling weakly at the praise. He came out after intermission and I couldn't have been more wrong: the man is robust and deep-voiced, singing with his recent (third) bride at the piano. The program was packed with klezmer, '60s folk (Peter and Paul - Mary's been ill, Tom Paxton, Arlo Guthrie, David Amram), song, music, merriment, which I watched from a great 4th row seat. Alan Alda emceed. We sang along to "Puff" and "Those Were the Days." Special evening.

"The Proposal" at Lincoln Square the day before it opened, through Time Out NY. I wasn't expecting anything profound and very much enjoyed this fluffy Sandra Bullock romantic comedy (NOT the one about a crossword constructor). Bah humbug to the 48% Rotten Tomatoes score. Guest J laughed a lot, too. We continued the tour of Ollies branches begun at "Up" and went across the street for dinner afterward.

The documentary "Secrecy" at the Harvard Club, through Harvardwood, an organization for alums working in entertainment. This was my first Harvardwood event, after 3 years of membership. It was an oldish crowd; the event was was also open to regular Harvard Club members. This got me thinking about the possibility of joining (that grad degree makes me eligible), though a look at the dues made me doubt it would be worth it. Besides, I feel no connection to the school; after all, they rejected me as an undergrad. Columbia also has a club (open to Barnard grads) shared with Princeton, for similar dues, but it's probably not my kind of thing. Back to the movie - it deftly explores the question of where to draw the line between the public's need to know and national security concerns. Director Robb Moss took time out from his Father's Day to lead a discussion afterward.

I had time to kill after the movie, so caught "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past." This did even worse than "The Proposal" on Rotten Tomatoes - 28%. While there was an excess of horndog attitude and a gratuitous Barnard joke, this was engaging and often funny.

Next stop, Melvin Van Peebles' "Unmitigated Truth: Life, a Lavatory, Loves, and Ladies" (see review). I'm not sure what to make of this quirky show, held in a tiny theater, that is true to its title when the star sits in a "lavatory" singing about swirling turds. Some people left at intermission, but I stuck around, leaving with the final catchy song on replay in my head.

"Cheri" - SAG/WGA screening (thanks, neighbor J!). I liked this Belle Epoque tale of a high-class French courtesan a tad past her prime, and her relationship with the young son of her colleague. Gorgeously photographed.

Nice way to start the day

This morning's e-mail included the good news that the program that creates files for the interactive Java Acrostic is working again. Just when we needed it the most, the program failed last week (apparently due to system upgrades that were incompatible with this old but functional HyperCard stack). This did not affect the 6/21 Acrostic, which was already up, but could have meant the future loss of the interactive option which is needed more than ever if there's no print Acrostic.

Big thanks to M and K... oh, let's give full credit... Mike and Keith!

(I still have to make sure this actually works throughout the production process, but am optimistic.)