Ilivetolearn's Blog

July 31, 2013

a whirlwind tour of post-Africa, August 2012 to August 2013

Filed under: crossword puzzles,food/groceries,semi-retirement — ilivetolearn @ 11:32 pm

Highlights of the fall and winter of 2012-3 include:

A canning party in Yardley, during which we put up preserved lemons, tomato chutney, and preserved figs, all in huge quantities:

canningA fun evening at the Watershed Fest:

4 at fest

The seventeenth (!) not-quite-annual wreathmaking party:

wreathAnd a reunion of my freshman-year roommates, forty-whatever years later (part of a huge mini-reunion of the class of “75)


I made my usual sojourn to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in March, and as usual had a great time but was somewhat bummed out to do worse than last year (oh well, we can’t always improve). This was mitigated by my entry into a local tournament sponsored by Marbles (the Brain Store) in April, at which I came in third and had a chance to do the final puzzle on the board up in front  of everyone. I won’t say how many contestants there were, but it was more than four.


We also added two new pets to the family: another little guinea pig, finally named Chipotle:

chipotleAnd a chinchilla, just now named Godzilla:


So far, the summer has been spent enjoying friends and family at Mattituck, making nine flavors of jam, driving the girls to and from their jobs (Handy Pantry and King Kullen), and doing lots and lots of reading. What could be better?

March 29, 2012

ACPT time again

Filed under: crossword puzzles,on the road — ilivetolearn @ 7:56 pm

Well, it’s about time I wrote about the actual tournament rather than just my prep for it. The crossword pattern on my nails (last post) has gone the way of all lacquers, long since dissolved in acetone. However, my hands did make it into a few photostreams; go to,  look at the Don Christensen collection titled “Sunday Talent Show and Awards,” and scroll to the end. Tada! The digits, digitalized. May they someday grasp a trophy. Better work on my handwriting as I will never win, place, or show in any other category.

The puzzles were huge fun. I swore that they were harder (or at least trickier) than last year’s, but I see from the ACPT results page that a higher percentage of competitors finished all 7 without errors than in 2011. (37 out of 592 this year and 34 out of 655 last year.) I fear I will *never* join this rarefied group. I only had three perfect puzzles; two had one-letter goofs of which I was not aware until I saw the scanned copies, and two had multi-letter goofs I knew about the minute I handed them in. On the notorious #5, I took it as a victory that this year the judges marked my wrong squares in yellow highlighter rather than my correct squares in blue highlighter. I am definitely gaining on #5.

And I did manage to squeak from Division D (bottom 60%) into Division C by finishing 229th. So my progression is: 428, 315, 269, 229. What’s the next number in this series? We’ll have to wait until 3/10/13 to find out.

Non-puzzle highlights included the traditional walk across the Brooklyn Bridge–this year it happened to be St. Patrick’s Day, so there were hordes of tourists and New Yorkers of ALL ethnic varieties wearing outlandish shades of lime and chartreuse and in various stages of inebriation. Even this year’s bride having a photo shoot on the bridge got into the spirit of the holiday:

I think her bag was probably loaded not only with cosmetics and perhaps a frilly garter or other marital accoutrement, but also with a padlock. It’s a newish trend for people in love to clip a lock onto a random part of the bridge and throw the key into the East River:

Many have names and dates written in permanent marker. The idea originated in Rome, where readers of Federico Moccia’s novel Ho Voglia di Te (I Want You, more literally I Have a Desire for You, or more idiomatically I Fancy You), and I assume also viewers of the 2007 movie made from same, are attaching security hardware to ancient spans like the Ponte Sant’Angelo or the Ponte Milvio:

Somehow the till-the-end-of-time symbolism of a 129-year-old bridge pales in comparison to one built in 207 BC, but local couples have to make do.

Maybe one of the Saturday vendors at the next ACPT can make a killing hawking padlocks with this inscription:



March 16, 2012

this year’s crossword nerdiness

Filed under: crossword puzzles — ilivetolearn @ 12:16 pm

I am about to go back to Brooklyn for my fourth outing at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and I am psyching myself up with…crossword nail art. Yes, I confess to being a nail polish junkie. At last count there were 127 bottles of the stuff cluttering up a shelf in my closet. I have very little use for makeup (used to wear it to make myself look older; time took care of that) because I don’t see it. I’m not catching my reflection as I pass mirrors and thinking, “Yes, the concealer and blusher are doing their jobs and enhancing my appearance!” but I do look at my fingers and think, “What a cheery peach,” or “Isn’t it cool the way that color looks purple from one angle and green from the other?”

Nail lacquer has definitely gotten more interesting in recent years, with a broader spectrum and more iridescent finishes. And with two teenagers sharing my obsession, our in-house collection has branched out into wilder hues. And now decals too! But instead of springing for the set of ready-made crossword decals on eBay (for God’s sake, they were only $2.07), I went for the DIY approach. You can find a YouTube tutorial on anything these days. And the result:

Here’s a close-up:

The really astute observer will even recognize the puzzle (maybe after holding a mirror up to it): NYT, Wednesday, March 14th. Hope the tournament officials don’t think I’m cheating.

March 25, 2011

ACPT 2011

Filed under: crossword puzzles,sewing/knitting — ilivetolearn @ 5:54 pm

My third outing to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was this past weekend. As usual, it was a blast. Since I had finished in the 400s the first year, and in the 300s last year, my goal was to get into the 200s. Success! I was at 269 Sunday evening, then 270 for the early part of the week, now back to 269. Surprising, since scoring changes in the past have only made my rank worse. I still can’t break into the top 40% it seems (there were 655 competitors, so I’m guessing 262 is the cutoff)…maybe that’s a goal for next year. I despair of finishing in the 100s anytime soon, unless Puzzle 5 happens to be right in my wheelhouse, as the bloggers would say–let’s see a puzzle that rewards those of us who know twill from toile and melton from moire and serge from selvage! Not likely, unless I construct it myself.

Last year I suffered from a couple of silly mistakes, so this year I did a lot more checking before handing them in. And STILL I left a blank, on puzzle 7. Oy. Otherwise I would have had 5 perfect puzzles, one error on number 6, and one total clusterf**k.

But as everyone agrees, the best part of the tournament is the fascinating people, the commiserating, the joking, the thought-provoking conversation. For part of Saturday I happened to sit between two left-handers. We speculated that the percentage of lefties in the room was probably greater than in the population at large, and I agreed (Margo is a lefty and I feel attuned to living in a right-handed world) that even with a second copy of each puzzle, so they wouldn’t have to obscure the clues while filling in the grid, they were at a disadvantage. How hard would it be to print up a mirrored subset of each puzzle, grid on the left and clues on the right?

Another contestant (also left-handed) had been sitting at our table but moved over a section. When I observed that he had scored an empty seat between two attractive young ladies, my gallant neighbor said, “In my opinion all women are attractive.” I thought he must be in the diplomatic corps. We had a great discussion of opera and made amazing progress on #5 as a team (with his extra copy) after they had taken away our dismal official mostly-blank versions.

The biggest laugh riot I had was on the way home. My family had tagged along with me to the city to do cultural things while I puzzled, and they decided to try their hands at Puzzle #1 (which took me 6 minutes). Bill, Evan, and Margo labored for over 2 hours, with generous hints from me, while I drove. A typical exchange was:

Evan: One down: Like many a fast-food order.
Bill: Crappy.
(later, with the first three letters in place, they were guessing “toga?”)

Bill: How about 14 across: Like a big brother.
Evan: Crappy.

Can’t end without a photo. Here is my concession to the nerdiness of crossword-themed apparel, whipped together the Thursday and Friday before the tournament, of which I was inordinately proud, and which ony two people actually commented on:

the left-brain side:

the right-brain side:

And now it is a very long wait until March 16, 2012.






March 5, 2011

happy national grammar day

Filed under: crossword puzzles,Margo's life rules,names/language — ilivetolearn @ 12:24 am

Every year at this time I become even more of a word nerd, as I gear up for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. And to the girls’ chagrin, I also ramp up my Grammar Police activities. I recently cringed when Margo came home with an English test for me to sign. The only thing marked wrong was this sentence, which the students were to punctuate correctly:

Girls who have red hair are very lucky.

Margo (the redhead), of course, had left it as is. No, according to the teacher. It should be:

Girls, who have red hair, are very lucky.

This is because the rule is to “separate the interrupter with commas.” Never mind that the meaning of the sentence has now changed from “redheaded girls are lucky” to “all girls have red hair and are lucky.” I think the teacher didn’t want to confuse the students with a longer sentence, but the length of the sentence is the point if you’re trying to improve its flow by the use of commas. A simple re-write of the example would have fixed the problem:

Irish girls, who are apt to have red hair and creamy complexions, are very lucky.

Maybe once Margo has graduated in June, I’ll suggest this for next year’s test. That would be after we go through this special session offered by the administration:

“The presentation by the Head of the Upper School will focus on 3 related topics:  ERB results, high school acceptances, and exist interviews with parents of graduates…”

I told Margo maybe I should go to see if I’m still alive. This may be a case of Spell Check Run Amok. Which brings me to Margo’s favorite new game of finding pairs of words always used together. Run amok (but “amok” does appear freestanding in crosswords) and wreak havoc (she said I was cheating by bringing up “Cry ‘havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war,” accusing me with “Is that Shakespeare?”) are her current favorites.

And for my parting shot, here is a sign put up by a different set of grammar-challenged educators at the elementary school all my kids attended in nearly consecutive years from 1990 to 2005:

Have they never heard of adverbs? And this is at a school with “Grammar” in its name!


March 1, 2010

back to Brooklyn for the ACPT

Filed under: crossword puzzles,knitting,on the road — ilivetolearn @ 6:37 pm

My second outing at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was last weekend (Feb. 20-21) and man, was it fun. I skipped the Friday and Saturday evening events in favor of socializing with the friends who were putting me up in my old Upper West Side neighborhood. I’m sure I missed some laughs and brain expansion (a heady combination) but it was a kick to be sitting with Eric and Melissa while checking out my scanned puzzles and finding out where I stood after puzzle 6.

My 365 days of practice definitely paid off and I went up 115 in the rankings, from 428 (my final 2009 number, after several downgradings due to other solvers reporting scoring errors) to 313. This year’s scoring must have been less glitchy, because that number has held constant in the 8 days since the finals.  So I am solidly in the middle of the pack of 643 competitors. Didn’t made it into the C division, which by my calculations would be #257 and up. Oh, well, maybe next year.

Despite my resolution to check over each puzzle carefully and the clock be damned, I turned in #1 and #2 with one error each in my rush to get credit for full minutes off the time limit. #3, #4, #6, and #7 were perfect, and #5 was…well…not quite the total wash-out it could have been because the judges took pity on me and gave me credit for a correct answer I had ineptly tried to erase.

Highlights: spending lots of time with John and Jody, friends of a friend; having lunch with them and a Senior competitor who has been to 18 tournaments and once won the Best Handwriting award; seeing my old classmate again and conspiring about which members of our college circle we would convince to come next year; watching the finals and chatting with the proud mom of David Plotkin, a first-time competitor who was 2nd in the C finals and 28th overall (at age 20); talking knitting–mitered squares, socks, felting–with other solvers (maybe we should have a separate table next year).

Random observations: some great constructors are only mediocre solvers; some great solvers are not speed demons (one of the 60 who were error-free for all 7 puzzles finished at 153); some people with vast stores of knowledge are not that good at tricky clues; and some of the wrong answers are so funny I think the solvers wrote them on purpose.

Tradition I hope to continue annually, weather permitting:

a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, perhaps with a glimpse of:

happy gesticulating couple. What is this hand saying?

April 6, 2009

more Crossword/Jeopardy congruence

Filed under: crossword puzzles,on the road — ilivetolearn @ 3:36 pm

One of my last official acts on US soil last Thursday (the 2nd) before flying to Europe was doing that day’s Times puzzle, which I found perfect for pre-boarding boredom: absorbing, challenging but not frustrating, full of clues that made me rack my brains and answers that made me smile. Little did I know that if I had watched Jeopardy the night before, instead of going to the meeting I was unfortunately in charge of, I would have been told the theme (words, names, or phrases that begin with G and end with X) and a good number of the themed answers. My favorite was “gag reflex,” which was clued as “palate-raising response.” But then the puzzle would have killed far fewer of those airport minutes that seem to stretch for hours.
Now I am having severe puzzle withdrawal symptoms, but only palate-pleasing responses.

April 5, 2009

Crossword/Jeopardy congruence

Filed under: crossword puzzles,on the road — ilivetolearn @ 11:49 am

Right before the end of March, Margo and I were watching Jeopardy; when they announced that the final category was 19th Century Construction I said, “I bet the answer is the Eiffel Tower.” (Just as when the category is People in the Bible you know one of the answers will be Bathsheba.) And I was right, though I wouldn’t have known the answer from the clue, which had to do with Eiffel’s originally planned location: Barcelona. Then several days later,  the Sunday Times crossword puzzle had the Eiffel Tower as its theme, complete with nine squares where the letters ET had to be squeezed in…and in connect-the-dots fashion, those nine made a little sketch of the thing itself. Was this just coincidence? I wondered as I went straight to Wiki. No, in fact, we Jeopardy/Times crossword fans were unknowingly celebrating the anniversary of the tower’s completion:  March 31, 1889.

I would have liked to catch a glimpse of the tower on my layover in Paris a couple of days ago (en route to Bologna) but it was too cloudy. I am spending almost two weeks with Elliot, and have left strict instructions with Margo to cut out and save all the Times puzzles while I am gone.

March 13, 2009

across, down, knit, purl

Filed under: crossword puzzles,sewing/knitting — ilivetolearn @ 6:14 pm

There may be a large overlap between puzzle solvers and Star Wars/Star Trek fans (I’m in a different circle in that Venn diagram) but I found common ground with knitters while I was at the tournament. Several stopped by to comment on my felted bag,

bagand one saw that I was knitting socks and asked me to come to her table and give a mini-tutorial on the magic loop method.

socksWe congratulated ourselves on having a constructive way to use the “relaxed” minutes between the crosswords, since puzzles 1 through 7 took only 20 to 45 minutes, depending on difficulty. Other competitors might leave the tournament with a cash award, a new game, a bottle of sake (one of Friday evening’s prizes), some additional arcane knowledge, or fond memories…but she and I would also leave with new handmade garments!

One of the things I like about knitting is how easily it lends itself to multi-tasking. I can knit while conversing, while watching TV, while reading (OK, listening to a book), while seeing a movie (the cinema projects have to be truly idiot-proof; I have not yet indulged in light-up needles), while driving (yes, officer, only at red lights), while queueing, but not while doing puzzles. More’s the pity.

March 11, 2009

more thoughts on the crossword world

Filed under: crossword puzzles — ilivetolearn @ 2:35 pm

Well, yes, my life has actually changed since the ACPT. I never used to bother doing the Monday to Wednesday puzzles and now I do them all–there’s always something to learn, or something funny, or just the thrill of having seen the constructor of the puzzle in person. (I never paid much attention to the bylines before.) I’m not obsessively timing myself, but if I do go back in 2010 all this practice will redound to the good.

It was a kick being in a room with so many smart people. My neighbor at the Saturday table managed to work into the conversation that he had been a Jeopardy champion; I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. The general level of discourse reminded me of my favorite dining-hall moments of college–in fact, I ran into a ’75 classmate, who was there with his dad. Very sweet.

And now I’m addicted to KenKen too. Thanks, Will Shortz.

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