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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Monday
Mar162009

IN WHICH 72 ACROSS TURNS INTO A DIFFERENT STORY

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"One More Thing"

 

by ANDREW ZORNOZA


Last weekend, Zack Kushner climbed the mountain of life and stood at the top. His crossword puzzle, "One More Thing," appeared in the NYT: the Sunday edition. How did he get there? What follows is an interview with Mr. Kushner. . . .

Really a fun puzzle Zack. Are you a cruciverbalist, constructor or other?


Thanks. I'm going to go with cruciverbalist, but they're really the same thing. Cruciverbalist just sounds better at parties. According to the definition, anyone who "enjoys crosswords" is a cruciverbalist, but in its normal usage (as if anyone uses the word normally) it means a constructor of crossword puzzles, or more literally, a "crosser of words."

How does it feel knowing that thousands of people all across the globe are poring over your work?


Odd. To be honest, it hasn't really sunk in yet. It was such a long journey to get this puzzle published that having it actually sitting in front of me in the Sunday Magazine is just, well, odd. Also, being in Australia, most of the reactions are coming from far away. I don't have much chance of seeing someone at the next table working on it. I started constructing with the goal of publishing a Sunday Times crossword, and now I've done it. I suppose I'll have to find a new goal, now. . . .

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Many writers feel the pull of their profession at a young age. Of course, we all start as readers. How did the transformation from solver to creator happen to you?


With love, of course! I'd been solving puzzles for a long time, but the first puzzle I ever constructed was for my then-girlfriend, now-wife. It was an interesting experience sitting on the other side of the desk, but not one I immediately found addictive. My favorite clue/answer was: "The worst kind of souvenir? / EBOLA". It wasn't until Wordplay came out in '06 that I got it into my head to create a puzzle I could sell. It took me a year of hacking around until I really got the basics of cruciverbalism and another year until I put together a puzzle that met the NY Times standards.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzkBLlw6Azg&feature=related]

Can you give us some idea of your journey to the New York Times?


Outside of the puzzle I just mentioned, my next attempt was pretty ghastly. I tried to do a rebus puzzle using Greek letters. I wasn't quite clear on all the rules of puzzle making and ended up with something that was unprofessional at best. Too many black squares, bad "fill" (the words in the puzzle that aren't theme answers), etc. It was only after I finished it that I saw how unacceptable it was and so I shelved it and started again. My next attempt wasn't as shoddy, a puzzle that included the names of the Rat Pack in the theme answers (i.e. SITS IN A TRANCE). This one I actually sent in, waited a few months, then got the rejection email. In retrospect, my theme answers weren't quality; while SITS IN A TRANCE makes sense, it's not really "in the language." If it's not a recognizable phrase, it won't please editors. FALLS IN A TRANCE, for example, would be better, but still not as good as FALLS INTO A TRANCE. Try doing a Google search of all three terms in quotes and you'll see what I mean. The more hits returned, the more common the phrase, the more "in the language."

large-crossword-puzzle

Sometime around this point, I realized I was an idiot for not using the specialized software available to cruciverbalists. Software that helps you create a grid, keep symmetry, clue, and most importantly, fill. I use Crossword Compiler but there are others. I also joined the cruciverb.com mailing list and started to soak up the knowledge.

Two years after first having a real go, I met with success. I've sold three puzzles so far: one to the LA Times, one to Simon & Schuster for Mega Crosswords 8, and this one to the NY Times.I'm securely in the novice-professional category. All are Sunday puzzles, which means they're 21x21 instead of the weekday normal 15x15.

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You've mentioned your Grandfather as an early influence. He would certainly be proud.


I used to watch him do the Times puzzles in ink, and that always impressed me. It's hard to imagine how he would have reacted to seeing my puzzle in the Sunday Times. He was a quiet man, not overly affectionate. He probably would have made a few jokes about it, hugged me, and told everyone he met on the street.

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How much of a personal expression is a single puzzle? Can you bend the clues to express more than a simple theme? Or does the puzzle have a mind of its own?


The way that a puzzle shows its personality is in the theme answers/clues and in the words you choose for the fill. For example, I liked the word CARJACK and worked to keep that in the fill. Someone else might have liked the name of an opera star or a baseball player. While the clues you choose do reflect your personality, it's important to remember that the editor will change a mess of them. In my NY Times puzzle, the editor changed about half my clues including a bunch of theme clues.

crossword_puzzle_tower

 

Can you take me through some of these? How about 23 Across: Rachael Ray activity eliciting oohs and aahs?


I got some grief in the crossword puzzle blogs for this clue, even though it wasn't one I wrote. My original clue was "Thrilling grilling?" Apparently people aren't too fond of Rachael Ray, but I've no idea who she is. . . .

30 Across: Pantywaist


WUSS just sort of fit the bill in this corner. My original clue was "97-pound weakling."

45 Across: Spacesuit worry


I liked this one too. Finally one of my original clues! TEAR can mean so many things and cluing a word like that is sometimes dull. You end up choosing between one of 100 standard clues (there's a database of clues that have been published which you can pull from). In this case, I had a bit of brainstorm and found an original way to clue a standard word.

38 Down: "I don't get no respect" to Rodney Dangerfield


A fun answer. A nice Yiddish word to get in the puzzle!

pi-mai-lao

above, the novice-professional Cruciverbalist soaking up the knowledge

 

Will Shortz has said his favorite crossword clue of all-time is "it might turn into a different story." The answer being "SPIRALSTAIRCASE.” Your favorite all-time clue?


Well, I certainly haven't seen all of them, but one I recall is "Pole vault units" / ZLOTYS. I like the fun wordplay there. It's the same kind of thing I was trying to do with "Ones concealing their aims" / SNIPERS.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWOd3_XfWKo&feature=related]

You live in Australia. I was told that Aussie children wear ice-cream containers on their heads to protect themselves from the attacks of magpies. True?


Hah! I haven't seen that, but I'd believe it. My wife says as a child she used to have to carry an umbrella to protect herself from dive-bombing birds.

daisies-crossword

Any taboos in your puzzle making?


Nope. I try to avoid crappy fill, like all cruciverbalists, but constructing a puzzle is very difficult and I've always been stuck with one or two words I wish I could have avoided (like REGRAB, ugh).

Last question. Scrabble. Are you formidable?


It's all relative, I guess. I play a bunch and I'm good, but I'm not competitive and haven't memorized all those weird words one needs to be a true Scrabble ninja.

I prefer to have fun with it.

zk

Zack Kushner is a transplanted American in Oz. When he is not creating puzzles for the enjoyment of thousands, he pilots the helm of xZackly Copywriting.

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KUSHNER'S PLAYLIST

“Smells Like Content” — The Books (mp3)

“New England” — Jonathan Richman(m4a)

"Take me to the Basement" (mp3)

Andrew Zornoza is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is the author of the photo-novel "Where I Stay," (Tarpaulin Sky Press 2009). His stories have been published in Confrontation, Porcupine Literary Arts, Capgun, SleepingFish and elsewhere, with work forthcoming in Gastronomica and H.O.W. His latest story is available here. You can e-mail him at azornoza at gmail.com. He lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

 

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PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Jennifer Beals’ taste in photography.

The web exposes all.

Inability to comment on anything of substance.

jude-law-crossword-puzzle

John Cage: He said, “I’ve decided to commit suicide.” She said, “I think it’s a good idea. Why don’t you do it?”

Jeff investigates Horace Engdahl and American hegemony

Karen and Tina both wonder what love has to do with it

Monday
Feb162009

In Which America Loves That Kid

mcculk

Killing Themselves To Laugh

by Julia McCloy

A year ago a friend tackled me in a snowball fight. It was all fun and games, but I tore my ACL and pretty much made salsa out of my knee. I spent a couple of months on crutches. Not only did I look pathetic, but I sounded pathetic too. I made these horrible crutch noises any time I entered a room. Like I was constantly hitting the rim of a snare drum gently and out of time. I had just cut my blonde hair very short and that paired with my small frame gave me the appearance of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. And America loves that kid. No one wanted to see him on crutches dressed like a 31 year old woman. Which is the way I dress since I am both 31 and a woman. And not in fact Macaulay Culkin. I got a lot of attention. I got a lot of questions.

People I didn’t know constantly asked me how I hurt myself. If there were anything positive that came out of my torn- up knee, it was jokes that I could make out of my appearance. So when people asked me how I hurt myself, I would lean my weight onto the tan rubber at the top of my crutches and I would look at them straight in the face, then I’d say “My boyfriend found out I was pregnant… he pushed me down the stairs.” Then I would shrug my shoulders, look down, and crutch slowly away.

luc2

I did this to be funny. But I had a specific audience I was playing to. It was my friends whom I would tell the story to later. I chose to make myself look either demented or more pathetic (or both) for a laugh that I wouldn’t even get to have until I was balancing uneasily on a barstool or with a phone pressed hard against my face. My audience is my friends. I want their appreciation and I am more than happy to freak out a few people to get it. Appreciation in the form of laughter is pretty close to love. I want either/or. Appreciation or laughter. I am willing to feel pain for the cause too.

rib

I am not the only one who feels this way either. Gilda Radner famously broke her rib in rehearsals for SNL by running again and again into a closed closet door, because that what her character was supposed to do. Radner then had her rib taped and proceeded to perform in the show.

lucy

Lucille Ball was once knocked unconscious during the taping of The Lucy Show. She was wearing roller skates and was instructed to skate under a table as men lifted the table into the air. She didn’t duck low enough and hit the table straight on. With her head. When she came to she told the screenwriters, “It was my fault; I mistimed it. You just keep writing ‘em, I’ll do ‘em, don’t worry. That is what we do here.”

Ball continued with these shenanigans through her life and made a Times critic uncomfortable with her physical antics in the1980s when she returned to TV. The critic claimed (and correctly) that viewers were more likely to “wince than giggle. When the person slipping on a banana peel turns out to be elderly, the threat of a truly serious injury overwhelms the joke.” We like our old people mellow, fully insured, and wearing foam caps that say, “I don’t give a shit. I am retired.” We also like it when we are pretty sure they don’t know that they are wearing this hat. Because they are wearing it during church.

rr444

There is a place in a joke where the joke teller puts the audience at risk. It can be at the onset, the end, or the whole damn thing. If humor is just the presence and then the release of anxiety, then the joke teller must gauge how much anxiety your mere existence causes in order to gauge what kind of potential your joke has. Old people scare Americans. Real bad. And not just because we saw a whole lot of them making out with aliens in Cocoon. Although that certainly didn’t help.

laffff

But the elderly are not the only people who scare us gentle Americans. Foreigners and men who wrestle women (or play with gender roles) are the hell out of us too. Andy Kaufman proved that again and again. He was happy to put people in both physical and emotional peril to make a joke. In turn he endeared himself to an army of annoying twenty something males who love to ruin parties by loudly explaining to everyone in earshot that “you have to be smart to get Kaufman. If you don’t get him maybe you’re not smart enough, or know about WHAT IS FUNNY. But whatever it is, if you understood humor then you would think he was funny.” I don’t think he is funny and I have received this lecture several times. Eventually I just starting roofie-ing myself at the onset of the lecture at parties with hopes that I would forget the whole lecture ordeal. If I woke up with my underwear on –well, that was just a bonus.

The above sentence never happened. I have never roofied myself and generally I know where my underwear is. But it is a joke I am willing to make. It falls into the spectrum I am willing to joke about. Very little falls outside of this spectrum, including physical stunts. I want people to laugh at me. And I am more than willing to tape up a jammed finger or make a stranger grimace to get it. Before you judge me, I would ask you to ask yourself what is the craziest thing you ever did for a person that you had a crush on (have you ever written bad poetry, snuck into some place you are not supposed to be). Whatever it is probably much more humiliating than I have ever done. It is probably much funnier as well.

Julia McCloy is a contributor to This Recording. She lives in Memphis.

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"The Prince of Parties" - Flight of the Conchords (mp3)

"A Kiss Is Not A Contract" - Flight of the Conchords (mp3)

"Au Revoir" - Flight of the Conchords (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Champion fruit juice.

Tiny little organisms.

Double-mint gum.

luc1

Tuesday
Feb032009

In Which Everything Is Trending Up

2009 Old and New Trends

by Rachel B. Glaser

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POLITICAL TRENDS

The word "Obama" has not run out, now more then ever, the word has a glow on it, its learned to draw itself 3-D, it makes me think of a superstar rookie, a new kind of a food, it makes me think of stores that put O-Rama after, like Sound-O-Rama, Crafts-O-Rama, Pets-O-Rama, Obama doesn't sound like a word with an end. The -ama can go on and on, you might spell it Barack Obama4, if you are a math guy, a physics gal, an alien proficient in Microsoft Word.

rach1

LOCAL TRENDS

Back on Earth, winter has got everyone gloomy. Everyone is losing a job, or else involved in long conversations about change in their own life -- location, attitude, careers. My dog gets bored and starts eating sticks. Award show airs after award show, I watch them all and cry from my own private depths. Tears are the tiny citizens of my insides, heaved in minor drama to the outside.

CINEMATIC TRENDS

Previews have become stylized editing accomplishments in the short, short film genre. Look for the short film The Preview of Duplicity, starring Julia Roberts and that guy, and for a wild cross genre piece, The Preview of Tyler Perry's Madea Goes To Jail, which leaves theater-goers in disbelief.

perry2398

HOME TV TRENDS

A distracted cat might walk over the VCR/DVD/TV remotes and create a vertical zig-zag pattern on the screen, known only as Digital Bamboo.

VISUAL TRENDS

The video effect of taking still photographs and slowly moving the background or the subject, which has secretly been split into two layers, gives the now "moving" image a phony sort of life. I first saw this effect in the 2007 NBA Playoff commercials and appreciated it in that context, but the practice is spreading rapidly and last night I saw the effect being used in a documentary on the channel 13 or somewhere.

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VERBAL TRENDS

An ancient conversational gimmick making a comeback, has one person mimic what their companion has said in a voice more annoying or high pitched than the original.

To reply in deadpan fashion to questions asked by your parents.

When asked the time, to say the incorrect time, mixing up the numbers by mistake.

When visiting big cities, to comment in a blasé way to your friends about strangers passing in the opposite direction, with any remorse eased by the quickly accelerating two-way gap.

PHYSICAL TRENDS

A high five feels long gone forgotten and nowadays when someone initiates this act, the receiver of the five might waver uncertainly, before striking the hand with five, or getting slapped with five.

In colder regions, there is an added foot clap above the pavement, sneaker to sneaker, boot to boot, upon entering an automobile in the snow.

Sleeping with a pillow between one's knees to aid correct alignment and give the sleeper life luck.

Tossing trash in the trash can in an abstract game winning shot in a parallel place.

No one has slid down a banister in a very long time.

blog_highfive

FRIENDSHIP TRENDS

The half-assed hug, missed calls, lots of fun, general sense of understanding, miraculously long history, loyalty, restaurant made food, lending, owing, and reminding about money, digging up of old photos, asking about one's parents, one's boyfriend's parents, one's girlfriend's job, not very much liking a friend's pet, being jealous of a friend's pet, linking to old classmate's naked blogs, comparing breast size by touch, visiting one's sick horse, complaining about friends to girlfriend/boyfriend, complaining about girlfriend/boyfriend to friends in same day, playing voicemails on speaker phone while feeling a shiver of fear, waiting, being late for, dancing with, dancing around, trying to rev up the motivation to dance, arguing good naturedly and loudly down the street.

Rachel B. Glaser is the senior contributor to This Recording. She lives in Massachusetts, where she works in MS Paint and MS Word. Her blog is here.

rach2

"Wooden Nickels" - Eels (mp3)

"A Daisy Through Concrete" - Eels (mp3)

"Estate Sale" - Eels (mp3)

"Tiger in My Tank" - Eels (mp3)

rach9

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Molly came back with an all-too-real Science Corner.

We dissed Long Island mothers.

What white people smell like.

Sunday
Jan112009

In Which For One To Live The Other Must Be Relocated To A Loving Home

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Cat's a Jerk, Son

by Georgia Hardstark

I never thought of myself as someone who would say "thanks, but no thanks" to a cat. Although I think dogs are swell and everything, I've always had a cat, and can't really imagine myself without one. In fact, I'm fairly certain I have the very best one right now in the form of a crossed-eyed Siamese named Elvis. I'm the kind of person who lacks the self control to not shout "kitty!!!" every time I see a stray cat, and have found myself on my knees, peering under cars in vain attempts at capturing said strays on more occasions than I'd like to admit.

Sadly, it seems as if I have met the exception to this rule. The exception's name is Curtis, and he's a fucking jerk. When my last (and I mean "last" in "most previous" and "last ever", hopefully) roommate and his cat Curtis moved in with me and Elvis, I had dreams of our respective cats becoming close friends, and fantasies of what it would be like to have one cat to cuddle while the other one was giving me the cold shoulder. While Curtis can be quite cuddly when he wants to be, he spends more of his time doing the following:


  • biting me

  • biting Elvis

  • chasing Elvis

  • chewing through expensive electrical cables

  • digging through the cat box for NO FUCKING REASON

  • eating enormous amounts of food (which I pay for)

  • clawing everything but his scratching post

  • trying to jump up to the top shelf of my closet which results in things coming crashing down on top of him every single time but which he still insists on attempting

  • trying to escape the house EVERY time the front door opens and being successful about half of those times

  • being a general nuisance


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Curtis!

When I moved into my apartment about a month ago I offered to take Curtis with me since my former-roommate was never home, and I was worried about Curtis's well-being. It was to be a temporary thing, until my former-roommate got settled, but I secretly hoped that Curtis would settle in with me and Elvis and that we'd become a happy family. Nope. Didn't happen.

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I just don't get it. While Elvis has the patience and demeanor of a dignified animal, Curtis is wild-eyed and disobedient. I don't think he knows his own name, and shouts of "NO!" don't even cause him to flinch. He walks underfoot constantly, demands attention and then pays you back by biting the shit out of you, seems to think that my putting on black pants or tights is his cue to rub all over my legs thereby leaving white fur all over me, and thinks that his being locked out of a room is a mistake that can only be remedied by yowling and loudly throwing himself against the door.

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What's funny is that about a year ago, Elvis was doing similarly wild things, and I thought that companion would solve these problems. "He's bored and lonely," I figured.

Elvis u used to b so centered

Well his problems have been solved, except now he's a shell of the cat he used to be. Though he was once a chatterbox who you seriously couldn't get to shut up, typical of Siamese cats, it's now almost impossible to illicit a peep out of him. He sits quietly and never greets me at the door like he used to. He cuddles with me less, too, which sucks.

So tonight I'm bringing Curtis back to my former roommate, whose plan is to find him a home where he can be loved and hopefully trained. I'll honestly be so relieved when he's gone.

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Update: Curtis has found a new home with Former Roommate's friend. The friend seems very nice and patient, and has a young kitty for Curtis to play with and cat-toys in every room of his (beautiful) house. Plus, I have a suspicion that Curtis hates humans of the female variety, and prefers men, so this is a good fit.

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Also, Elvis is back to his old self.

Georgia Hardstark is the contributing editor to This Recording. She lives in Los Angeles, and blogs here.

"Immolate Yourself" - Telefon Tel Aviv (mp3)

"Young Atlantis" - A.C. Newman (mp3)

"A Meeting By The River" - Ry Cooder & V.M. Bhatt (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Will used Cesare Pavese as a catapult.

Alex brings the Creeley/Olson correspondence to the masses.

Will takes Gertrude Stein out for a spin.

Friday
Nov072008

In Which We Go West Young Man And Grow Up With The Country

Go West

by Robert Rutherford

Horace Greeley the then editor of The New York Tribune, supposedly coined the phrase "Go West, young man" in a 1965 editorial. Others maintain that John Babson Lane Soule originated the phrase in a 1851 Terre Haute Express editorial and that it was originally "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country."

The Soule camp, a minority, insists the 14 year head start he had more than establishes him as the originator of the term. The Greeley camp asks for proof, because although there are a number of secondary sources that point to the article dating from no earlier than 1890, there are is no primary evidence, nor can the article itself be found to exist. The argument rages on today.

Here's the thing: No young man, gone west or otherwise, can be reasonable expected to give a shit. This may fly in some cloistered east coast literary salon (do those exist?), but way out left in the vast suck of Southern California, we've gone West, by land and by river and by pool. We're already here, and debating the origin of the phrase is like driving in LA: a lot of work for a terminally useless result.

[Call] Go West, Young Man

[Response] I'm Ghost, I'm Gone

This frontier has always been one more of imagination than reality. The Asiatics who walked across the Bering land bridge (La Brea Tar Pits) were first, Spain tied for second as Mexico established its independence, then Les Etats-Unis walked west and annexed most of California, leaving that little dangle Baja to the drug lords and drug fueled frat boys, and aped Europe at the edge. It was all Mexico anyway. To "grow up with the country" presumes the one that was there before it had not reached adolescence.

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This music video and the archaic computer game Oregon Trail summed up the quintessential experience for many Americans. The West has become an idea of cultural hegemony, which splayed itself out across the globe in myriad directions. All foods, one cafeteria. Cultural rebirth through economic migration was the theme, and it has remained relevant along the trail: Hawaii, Japan,  South Korea (Korean BBQ and Koreatown), Israel, China etc. These export markets all became metaphoric American frontiers if not actual ones. The west has run out of new material (Point Break Live) and alcohol is welcome at the viewing parties in the graveyard (Film Screenings at the Forever Hollywood Cemetery).

And now, like a collapsed star or black hole the steady flow out has doubled back in on itself. It may not yet reversed course enough so that the water flows uphill as so often predicted in the dystopias of our films. But if there's nothing but cultural detritus here in the good 'ol USA...as it was on the way out, California will be the case study on the trail back in.

Will the west become lawless? Will we return to vigilante justice? Will superheroes come to save us? Will the new frontier draw a divisive line in the sand right at the old one? What happens when decades of pushing west folds back in on itself? The not-so-far East may very well become the cultural exporter – America the market, Cali the forefront – and the world's attention may yet come back to California Frontier.

I'm going, going, back, back to Cali, Cali

I'm going, going, back, back to Cali, Cali

I'm going, going, back, back to Cali, Cali

I'm going, going, back, back to Cali, Cali

LA: Welcome to the crumbling and regenerating future Alex.

NYC: You'll be back.

Robert Rutherford is the senior contributor to This Recording. He lives in Los Angeles.


"My Life, Your Entertainment" - T.I. (mp3)

"No Matter What" - T.I. (mp3)

"Whatever You Like" - T.I. (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

We gave you a groups of links that you shall never forget for all your days on earth.

Our dating correspondent told you the sad tale of a New Hampshire hottie.

Diane Williams is the genius of the western world.