Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Forced Hiatus

I'm sorry to do this, especially the day after I started the new Rex Morgan feature, but I have to go off grid for the next couple of days. I will very likely not be updating this until the end of the week, so no more crosswords. Sigh. I'll explain why when I come back.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 9/1/2009

5! (Wow, that's a bunch!)

Also, 1 question mark and 2 ellipses!

And, the new feature.... The Rex Morgan All-Time Total! Watch as we keep a running count of all punctuation in Rex Morgan! Which mark will win at the end of the month...or the year? We will see!


Exclamation marks: 5

Question marks: 1

Ellipses: 2

Crosswords of the Day, 9/1/2009

Two very simple, straightforward, kinda dull puzzles today. Let's do it.

The NYT had a lame but different kind of theme today. The core entry was BY HOOK OR BY CROOK. The other theme entries could, very loosely in most cases, be defined as a hook or as a crook. SHEPHERD'S CANE was by far the worst theme entry, but the rest weren't much better. The surrounding fill was also quite dull, but CHOP SHOP did make its way in there, which is original. But still, second lame puzzle in as many days for the NYT, which is concerning to me. Even though, it wasn't as bad as yesterday; not many are. **, bordering on **1/2.

The LAT was much better than the NYT, though still not very good. The theme seemed really scattered until the very end, when it was revealed to be that the word WILD could precede all of the first words in the theme phrases. The theme entries were so scattered, and not that interesting except for CAT BURGLAR, that the reveal didn't feel like a great payoff. Still, this was a smooth puzzle and had some nice fill like GET REAL and CASH COW. ***.

Winner: The LAT, without much contest. The NYT's quality so far has been really low this week.

Best clue: Man, there really wasn't anything particularly clever or memorable today. I liked "Birdie beater?" for EAGLE.

Worst clue: Also from the LAT we have "Heart and soul" for ALL. Ick.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/31/2009


Also, 3 ellipses and 1 question mark!

Stay tuned; tomorrow, a new feature will be debuted on the Rex Morgan posts!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/31/2009

It's been a while since I can remember having very dramatic reactions to Monday puzzles from the LAT and the NYT, but I sure did today. One was wonderful, the other was horrible. Oh yeah, there was also a really weird BEQ today. Let's get to it.

The NYT was the horrible one. Fred Piscop, the constructor, usually does harder puzzles than what is expected for a Monday puzzle (and in general very good ones too, I should add), and man, did it show today. The theme was completely uninspired (it was just three phrases that started with homophones of the word "for"), and the entries themselves were mostly convoluted. For example, one of them, I'm not kidding here, was FORE AND AFT SAILS. Also, the surrounding fill was a combination of boring AND stuffy. When you have words like LAMINA, MOIRES, and WHIST on a Monday, your puzzles has major issues. This was just icky to do, and had absolutely no payoff of any kind. *.

The LAT, by comparison, was terrific today. Constructing easy puzzles that are also smooth to fill in and have original answers is considered to be one of the hardest things to do for a puzzle constructor, and this puzzle by Norma Steinberg pulls it off as well as any Monday I've ever seen. The theme was very simple but cute (the clues were all "Magician's deception" and the answers were nice answers like SMOKE AND MIRRORS and SLEIGHT OF HAND), and the surrounding fill was great. When you have fill like THONGS, EMOTICON, GRITS, and LONE STAR in your puzzle, AND it's a Monday, you know you're golden. I was honestly surprised to discover I solved this in under 3:30, since it felt longer because I was enjoying it so much, but that only makes it better, because it was perfectly clued to a normal Monday level. ****1/2.

The BEQ was decent, but a very personal puzzle. It was BEQ's wedding anniversary today, so he constructed a tribute puzzle to his wife Liz. I say to and not for because she doesn't really do crossword puzzles. So this was a bizarre hodgepodge of a puzzle, with three random rebus squares that contained the letters LIZ in them, and there were lots of little personal references to her lost on everyone but BEQ and one of his friends who posted on the forums about them. The puzzle itself wasn't great; there was a lot of crosswordese, oddly enough, and not a lot of good fill. The best things were the entries with the LIZ rebus squares, which contained things as diverse as HORSE TRANQUILIZER and LOUNGE LIZARD. **1/2.

Winner: The LAT, by a long shot. One of the best Monday puzzles I've ever done.

Best clue: The second I read this clue, I both instantly knew what the answer was and had a strong feeling it would be the best clue of the day. "Brief briefs?" for THONGS is hysterical and yet a perfectly easy clue. The LAT actually has a bunch of great cluing in it, along with ILE and LIE being directly next to each other in the grid and a bonus theme entry. Again, terrific puzzle.

Worst clue: Lots of candidates from the NYT today. "Mensa-eligible" for SMART might be the worst though, only because it seems really really off. I've never thought of people in Mensa as inherently smart, just really good at logic puzzles and standardized tests. :)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Crosswords of the Day, 8/30/2009

Oh man, was this a crazy day in crossword land. Two of the most complicated puzzles I've seen in ages, on the same day. I honestly didn't have much fun solving either one, but I deeply appreciate both of them, and I kind of wish I hadn't solved the NYT as late as I did, since I was tired and got frustrated more easily than I should have. Also, and I feel really bad about this, but I'm writing this in a state of utter exhaustion, and don't clearly remember good and bad clues from these, so no best and worst clue today. Anyhow...

The NYT had an impossible to explain in one sentence theme. I think the best way to do this is to link to Orange's blog where all of the entries are explained. This almost felt like a cryptic crossword. The forums were completely split about this puzzle; some loved it while others found it to be convoluted. Unfortunately, I have to go with the camp that didn't like it, mainly because the way the excised letters linked to the eventual answers seemed really tenuous most of the time. This could not have been easy to make, and it definitely required some good mental gymnastics to figure out, but the payoff was definitely not worth it. **/12, bordering on *** for how hard this must have been to construct.

The syndicated LAT (the normal LAT was by Sylvia Bursztyn, whose puzzles I refuse to do) had a much less complicated theme, but one where I had no idea what was going on for practically the entire puzzle. Basically, the theme was "organ transplanting." There would be an entry like FELT CONDOLENCES (which had the great clue "Pool hall's 'better luck next time'?"), which has had the word "HEART" taken out of the normal phrase it was based on. Then there would be an entry like JAIL HEARTBREAKS, where the "HEART" from the first entry has been "transplanted" into the second entry. Complicated? Uh, YEAH. :) However, unlike the NYT, these were all really smooth, even if I had no idea what the heck was going on until I stared at it for a while after I finished. This was a fun puzzle. ***, bordering on ***1/2.

Winner: The LAT. Just a smoother experience overall, although quite difficult.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/29/2009


Also, 1 question mark, and a new record, 4 ellipses!!! Unbelievable!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/29/2009

This is being written to the lovely sounds of Stellastarr's My Coco, just for reference.

Well, here we go. I think this is the first time I've done the NYT Saturday in under ten minutes, and I did the LAT in about eight. Now, I am very good at crosswords, and have been doing them for a long time now, but these times I'm posting aren't just indicative of my skill; both puzzles are really easy today. In fact, a number of people on the forums think the NYT puzzle from yesterday was harder than today's, which I completely agree with. These are close to perfect Saturday puzzles to start off with, as there is very tricky cluing and hard references, but they are both very accessible. This was also true of yesterday's NYT puzzle. Interesting.

The NYT was a lot of fun today. Lots of unique fill, hard cluing, and nice long answers. My favorite clue was in this puzzle, so I'll save that one for later. But I should note that this puzzle includes everything from the Dreyfuss Affair to Yankees baseball, and throws in Italian numbers and Shakespeare for good measure. This is why it gets a lot of fun when you get to Saturday-level puzzles; anything is game, and you tend to learn things. ****.

The LAT was also themeless, but seemed extremely easy to me. The long Across answers were practically all gimmes, like TOM SAWYER, which was straightforwardly clued "1876 Twain hero," and "Long distance messages?" for SMOKE SIGNALS. I got these and most of the other long across answers right away with no pre-existing letters, so the puzzle kinda got dull. There wasn't really any other memorable fill. ***.

Winner: The NYT. It was just of a much higher quality level, and way more fun to solve. It was also a very diverse puzzle subject-wise, which I always love.

Best clue: This is certainly one of the more out there clues. From the NYT we get "Creator of the stuff of legends?" for... MAP MAKER! Wow, man. I actually figured this out pretty quickly, but that doesn't make me appreciate this any less. How do you come up with a clue like that?!

Worst clue: Nothing specific again, but there were some semi-awkward phrases peppered through the NYT, like SKATEBOARD TRICK and CELL PHONE TOWERS, which just stand out as relatively stiff compared to the other great fill. Yeah, I'm really stretching today. :)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/28/2009


Prepare yourself! There were also 2 question marks AND 2 ellipses! All 2s today! Unbelievable!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/28/2009

Three puzzles, two decent ones, one terrific one. Here we go.

The NYT was the terrific one. David Quarfoot always puts together really original puzzles, and this one was no exception. It was a themeless, and it had just loads of great clues and fill. You know when 1-Across is FREE TIBET that you're in for a good time. Parts of this were much harder than others, but I actually think this puzzle is perfect for people who feel like they might want to try higher difficulty puzzles but feel intimidated by them. This puzzle has a nice mixture of really hard stuff and pretty easy stuff, so you can get to the hard stuff with some letters already there, which should help. And the hard stuff here is quite hard, but not impossible like some puzzles can be. ****, bordering on ****1/2.

The LAT was kind of meh. The theme was taking phrases that start with an "S" and removing that S to create new, wacky phrases. So we get things like TRIKE ZONE or TRESS FRACTURE. Yeah, not the greatest theme. There was nothing really bad about this puzzle, but it really felt lackluster. I wish I had more to comment on, but this wasn't a memorable puzzle. **1/2.

The BEQ was his now weekly really hard themeless. As usual, some tremendous fill here, but the whole thing wasn't as exciting as these themelesses can be. Probably the best clue/fill was "Face plants?" for BOTOX INJECTIONS. Definitely not one of his better puzzles though. ***.

Winner: The NYT, by a long shot. One of the best themelesses I've done in a while.

Best clue: This is a tie in the NYT. These are both terrific.. "Swiftly done?" is the clue for SATIRIC, which is just excellent wordplay. I don't usually find crossword clues legitimately clever anymore, but this one was. The other is "Transmission blocker?" for, get ready, SAFE SEX! I'm honestly stunned this made the NYT, but it's a perfect misleading clue, and great original fill.

Worst clue: Today is funny. I don't have one clue or fill that stood out as particularly bad today, but there were a lot of annoying little things in the puzzles today, like plural clues cluing answers that are really borderline plural, or clues for one answer that had words that appeared in a different answer in the same puzzle. At least we didn't have weird alternate spellings, which are maybe my biggest pet peeve.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/27/2009


Also, 2 question marks and, get ready, 3 ellipses! Same number of ellipses and exclamation marks today! Whoa!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/27/2009

Quick write-ups tonight; I'm tired, have a long day coming up tomorrow, and still need to go on my marathon training run.

The NYT was a crazy puzzle featuring a theme I'm not even sure I can explain well, so I defer to Rex Parker's writeup today. Let's just say that this really was an odd puzzle to solve; it felt incredibly scattered, and many of the answers were very very short and curt. I didn't dislike this puzzle, but it wasn't very fun to solve; I can't imagine the average solver would have finished this, not because of the difficulty, but because it felt more like work than like a fun time. **1/2, and that 1/2 * is for the incredible amount of difficulty the constructor must have gone through to make this thing.

The LAT was very cute. It had a wacky theme where there were clues that worked like "lofty bills?" for HIGH FIVES, where the fives are referring to five dollar "bills." But then it had a bonus one, where the clue was "Hated bills [that appropriately spoil this puzzle's symmetry]?" The answer was TERRIBLE TWOS, which is cute, but I couldn't figure out the symmetry thing until I noticed that that particular theme entry had a white square where it should have had a black square if the grid was completely symmetrical. What a bizarre concept! Unlike the NYT, though, the theme didn't deter the fun of solving the puzzle, and there were some great entries in this one. ***1/2.

Winner: LAT, by a mile. However, I have to give credit for the NYT for the construction feat, even if it wasn't fun to solve.

Best clue: There weren't really any great clues today, but the LAT had a bunch of nice entries. My favorite was probably "Swinger in a box?" for HITTER, but this puzzle also had HOLY COW for "Jeepers!" and RICOLA for "Swiss cough drop," and "Word spoken with a headslap" for DOH.

Worst clue: Also from the LAT comes "It's pd. monthly" for ELEC. Ick to the pd. abbreviation, and ick to the answer, which I guess works for the electric bill, but still. This felt really really forced.

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/26/2009


Also, 1 question mark and 2 ellipses!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/26/2009

All right, let's do this. Four puzzles today. Total time I spent solving them: 21 minutes, roughly. Yeah, I had a damn good day. :) It also helped that one of them had me set a personal solving record.

The NYT was a good, solid Wednesday level puzzle. The theme was kind of weird; the answers were all fill in the blanks that completed a phrase that ended with "please." For example, a clue would be "_____, please (announcer's request)" for YOUR ATTENTION. There was one really bad theme entry (______, please (diner's request)" for CHOPSTICKS), and a bunch of solid but kind of standard and boring fill, so this gets *** from me.

The LAT was, like the NYT, a solid, good quality puzzle. The theme was tied together by the phrase COURT BUSINESS, and all the theme entries were common phrases that have court actions in them, such as SLOW MOTION and CLINICAL TRIAL. This seemed easy to me, but it seemed to frustrate a lot of the commenters on the blogs, and Orange, whom I mentioned yesterday, really didn't explain the theme correctly for some reason, suggesting it threw her a bit too. Again, solid but not exactly exciting fill and a bad theme entry (the awkward phrase LOSS OF HEARING) give this another ***.

The Onion had an hysterical theme, one of my favorites in a while. Every theme phrase had the letters "SHIT" in a row, but of course not as a separate word, and therefore every theme entry was literally full of shit! :) There were phrases like LET'S HIT THE ROAD, SUSHI TRAY, and my favorite, ENGLISH-ITALIAN as in a dictionary. There was also some excellent fill in this one, including my favorite clue of the day. **** bordering on ****1/2. Just as a note, this was by Matt Gaffney, who I love when he's not making impossible weekly contest puzzles. :)

The BEQ is where I set my speed solving record. After an absolutely brutal puzzle on Monday, BEQ went the opposite route and offered an insanely easy puzzle today. He noted that it was a puzzle made for non-puzzlers. Well, regardless, it was a fun puzzle that flowed really well, had some nice entries like MOJITO and NAUGHTY BY NATURE, and led to me solving the whole thing in 3:02, which beats my previous best time by about thirty seconds. It was actually a lot of fun to solve, and I was shocked to see my time when I finished. ***1/2.

Winner: The Onion. One of the better puzzles I've done in a while, and a theme I can't believe ran in a major publication.

Best clue: From the Onion we have "Good or bad thing to catch, depending on the context" for...CRABS!!! Clues like this make me wish The Onion had a daily crossword.

Worst clue: There wasn't any really offensive stuff today, but one I disliked was from the NYT. The clue was "Postpone yet again" for RETABLE. It just seems really awkward.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Maybe the greatest reenactment of all time. It's next to impossible to tell the difference between this staging and the real thing.

Crosswords of the Day, 8/25/2009

Sorry for how late this is. I'm a bit sick, and ended up napping for four hours today! So my whole normal rhythm is totally off. But I did do the puzzles, and here we go.

The NYT had something that is relatively rare; a lackluster theme but some excellent fill surrounding it. The theme was bizarre; it took the phrase HYBRID VEHICLES and used it to inspire strange phrases like SUBURBAN MALIBU. This really didn't work at all, and it was an odd solving experience in general. But there was some great cluing and fill in this, which I'll mention later. ***, but bordering on **1/2.

The LAT was a really excellent puzzle. It was inspired by the fact that it's the 70th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz opening today. The theme answers had the following opening words: OVER, THE, and RAINBOW, and the unifying theme answer was DOROTHY GALE. Huge credit for the theme answer RAINBOW BRITE, which was just great. The reason this puzzle was so great is hard to describe here, but the whole thing just felt incredibly smooth and fun to do, with absolutely no bad fill. **** easily, and really closer to ****1/2.

Winner: The LAT. One of the smoothest and most fun puzzles I've solved in a while.

Best clue: For some reason, I love this clue from the NYT. "What it takes not to say 'You've put on a little weight'" for TACT. It's just a perfect clue, and kind of funny to boot.

Worst clue: Pretty much any of the NYT theme entries would apply here. Maybe my least favorite is the clue "Start of a stampede (think Ford)" for MUSTANG ESCAPE. See why this was annoying to solve?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/24/2009


Also, 3 question marks and 1 ellipsis! Same number of exclamation marks and question marks today!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/24/2009

OK, back to doing crosswords, although I'm still exhausted (I had ANOTHER family function to go to today), so this will still be relatively short.

The NYT was very good today. It had a simple theme of two word phrases where the first word started with D and the second with Q. So everything from DON QUIXOTE to DAIRY QUEEN was included. There were a couple of questionable things in this puzzle, but it flowed well, seemed perfectly suited to a Monday level of difficulty, and had no bad theme entries. ***1/2.

The LAT was kind of odd today. It was by a guy who really sounds like he has a fake name (Norfleet Pruden!!!), but apparently he's real, at least according to the xword blogs. The theme was different phrases that were all clued "Scope of a thorough search." So we get things like HIGH AND LOW, INSIDE AND OUT, and FAR AND WIDE. At first, I didn't like this puzzle at all, especially the INSIDE AND OUT answer, but as it went on, I liked it more and more. But it did seem hard for some reason, and interestingly, Orange, the queen of the crossword blogging world and an insanely fast speed solver, felt the same way. ***.

The BEQ today was a puzzle from a regional crossword tournament held this past weekend, Lollapuzzoola. And let's just say it was INSANELY hard. It was one of the final crosswords in the tournament, and man, it was ubelievably difficult. I wasn't prepared at all for the challenge, and got crushed by it. The theme was also really difficult to figure out; it took the phrase TRANSFER RNA literally, by taking the letters RNA out of two theme entries to create new weird phrases, and putting the letters RNA into two other theme entries to create new weird phrases. The puzzle was just brutal, and I can't really say I enjoyed it, or the theme, but I appreciated it quite a bit, and there was really no bad fill. ***.

Winner: The NYT, both for the puzzle quality and my level of enjoyment.

Best clue: I hate to do this, but I really don't have one from today. There really wasn't anything overly clever or even particularly interesting today, except for maybe the word BAROQUE in the NYT. Sorry.

Worst clue: The INSIDE AND OUT theme entry from the LAT rubs me the wrong way for some reason; it just seems awkward, but it could easily be me. There was a clue from the NYT that makes no sense to me though. It was "One who's well off" and the answer was...HAVE. Um... If someone can explain this one to me, I'd appreciate it, cause it seems horrible to me as it is.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Back in Action

Sorry for the lack of updates this weekend; I was a groomsman in a wedding and didn't have good/consistent internet access. This was actually an amazing weekend; I ran thirteen miles, got accepted to graduate school, drove probably close to 200 miles, took part in a tremendous wedding and made about 17 new friends as a result, and got approximately, during the whole weekend, about 4 hours of really solid sleep. Man. :)

Everything should be back to normal on Monday.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Crosswords of the Day, 8/20/2009

The next several days are going to be short and sweet, as I am a groomsman in my cousin's wedding, AND I'm running thirteen miles, the longest I've ever run at once, all on the same day. So I'm going to be doing the crosswords, but won't have a lot of time to write them up. Both crosswords were good, although one suited my tastes more than the other.

The NYT was, as usual from Elizabeth Gorski, an amazing construction feat (there were rebus clues that were numbers, and if you connected them in order, you got a parallelogram). However, a parallelogram just in and of itself doesn't excite me all that much, to be honest. Also, some of the fill was really iffy, although others were excellent. So I have to give this ***, but I didn't really enjoy solving it all that much.

The LAT had a neat theme today. The unifying theme was "Middle Earth," as in the Tolkien creation, and every theme entry had the word "EARTH" hidden roughly in the middle of it. The two best ones were CL(EAR TH)E AIR and BEATRIC(E ARTH)UR. Great theme and no noticeably bad fill gives this one ***1/2, bordering on ****.

Winner: The LAT. Today really came down to how much I enjoyed solving the two puzzles; both were of very high quality.

Best clue: I have to go with one from the NYT. "Eight producers?" for ICE SKATERS is a great clue, and a perfect misleading clue, since you have no idea what it could be to start with, yet it's utterly fair when you figure it out.

Worst clue: As mentioned before, the NYT had some really iffy fill today, but I'll just go with some of the rebuses. "Like the symmetry of a starfish" for FIVE FOLD seems very odd to me, but not nearly as bad as "Time for potty training, maybe" for AGE TWO. Not good.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/19/2009


Also, Two ellipses and no question marks!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/19/2009

Ah, Wednesday. Four puzzle day. And today, three were great, one incredibly lame. Can you guess which one was lame? Well?

It was the NYT. Absolutely lame puzzle today, maybe the stupidest theme I've seen in months. The idea was that there were randomly circled letters throughout the theme entries, and that the randomly circled letters could be put together to spell THE SECRET GARDEN. Now, c'mon. What is the point of just randomly circling letters (note that they weren't consecutive at all, just scattered throughout the theme answers)? It just seems insanely lazy, not to mention annoying to solve, since none of the theme entries related to each other in any way, and most were boring (GARAGE DOOR OPENER, anyone?). And, as Rex Parker pointed out on his blog today, if the theme is supposedly that it's a "secret," why would you circle letters in the first place; that's kinda giving away the secret. As is often the case when the theme is bad, the surrounding fill was completely uneventful as well, save for THE DEAD and I guess TWIN-PAC. *, and that's being generous.

The LAT, by contrast, was very good. The theme entries were all phrases that had musical artists at the end of them, like TICKLED PINK, FROG PRINCE, and CROWN JEWEL. These were tied together by the entry CLOSING ACTS, which is what each musical artist is doing by being at the end of each phrase. Clever theme, two Z's, and no bad fill whatsoever in a puzzle make for a good time. ****.

The BEQ was a lot of fun today, even though it was very hard to parse out the theme until the end. The entry C-SPAN was the unifier. Basically, all the theme entries were two word phrases, and the last letters of the first word and the first letters of the second word spelled out a sea when they were put together. In other words, a sea "spanned" the entire phrase. For example, HIGHER EDUCATION has the RED Sea, and my favorite, MARA LIASSON has the ARAL Sea. As usual in BEQ puzzles, there was some wonderful cluing, like "Walk-ons e.g." for NO NAMES and one that tickled me for some reason was "12, 13 and 14 in a series" for NOP. ****.

The Onion today was terrific. The theme was multi-layered, as it often is with The Onion. The basic idea was that the word TAG was added to phrases to create new, wacky phrases. For example, "Missing primrose with a ransom note, for example?" was GARDEN HOSTAGE. What made this cool was the unifying entry, which was GRAFFITI. In other words, the theme entries were "tagged." Love it. But what made this puzzle truly great was the surrounding fill, which was really smooth and surprising. I particularly enjoyed "Wang creation" for DRESS, and also my favorite clue of the day, which I'll mention below. ****1/2.

Winner: Except for the NYT, the puzzles were excellent today, but I have to give the edge to The Onion for its wonderful fill.

Favorite clue: From the Onion we get "Film genre that often takes place in one room" for PORNO. Brilliant, and it utterly confused me for a while, but when I got it, hilarity ensued.

Worst clue: I dunno, there weren't really any noticeably bad fill/clues. Again, the theme entries for the NYT were all really boring, and thus really annoying to answer, but the cluing/fill was OK today. Just stay far away from the NYT, and you'll be good. :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

911 Bad for Cell Phones

This is a very good and actually pretty important article.

This truly hit home for me with the murder trial I recently served on the jury for, where the 911 call was made from a cell phone. I can't tell you how friggin long it took the operator to take down the info for where they were located instead of just being able to route it based on the land line. In comparison, there was recently a fire at my house, and when we called 911 from my landline, the firefighters showed up in something like five minutes.

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/18/2009


Also, one question mark and two ellipses!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/18/2009

Today was quite a pleasant day in crossword land. Both puzzles were good today, although I definitely preferred one over the other.

The NYT had an always welcome food/drink theme, specifically deserts that start with fruit names, like BANANA SPLIT or LEMON CREAM. Even though this was again a theme that was basically a list of things, food items, especially sweets, are always fun and more importantly, totally recognizable and uncontroversial. I actually loved solving this puzzle; it all flowed really well, there was absolutely no bad fill, and it had a brilliant clue/fill that I'll get into later. **** bordering on ****1/2.

The LAT was decent but unexciting. It had completely unrelated phrases where the first words of each phrase could be preceded by the word BABY to make a new phrase. So we get phrases like BLUES MUSIC and SPLIT HAIRS. The SPLIT HAIRS answer utterly confused me, and it was particularly frustrating since it was the one in the upper left, which one usually solves first. Now that I've researched it, I discovered that the baby split is a bowling terminology, but I had definitely never heard of this before. Oh well. The rest of the puzzle was totally fine, but unmemorable. ***.

Winner: The NYT. One of my favorite puzzles in a while, mainly because I was totally on the constructor's wavelength, and because of the upcoming clue/fill.

Best clue: One of my favorite crossword moments ever here. From the NYT, we get "Scientist who experienced a great fall?" for ISSAC NEWTON. Wonderful clue. But here's where it gets amazing. A completely unrelated entry intersects ISSAC NEWTON, namely APPLE CRUMBLE, and specifically, APPLE intersects ISSAC NEWTON. Love it! And as a bonus, guess what also intersects ISSAC NEWTON? ICARUS, relating to the great fall part of the clue! Man. :)

Worst clue: I've got nothing today. Both were bad fill free. I mean, the LAT had BLUES MUSIC for "B.B. King's genre" which is kind of awkward, but totally fine. And the NYT had TERPS, a word I'd never heard of and that feels obscure for a Tuesday. But both of these are not big deals at all.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Upside Down Dogs

Excellent stuff. Make sure to check out the boxers for the best pics.

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/17/2009


Also, two question marks and one ellipsis!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/17/2009

Back after a hiatus, and I get hit with two pretty lame puzzles and one pretty fun one. Believe it or not, the BEQ was one of the lame ones today!

The NYT theme was just full names of actors that played The Joker in Batman movies. Yup, that's it. The only really clever thing about this was that the names of the actors were clued by the year the movie that they were in came out, such as "2008" for HEATH LEDGER. Not only was this a totally blah theme, but they didn't even have my second favorite Joker, Mark Hamill, from the cartoon (although admittedly, that wasn't a movie). Oh, wait a second, CESAR ROMERO was the TV show, so they could have done the cartoon. Sigh. The fill was also very lackluster. ** bordering on *1/2.

The LAT was by far the most enjoyable puzzle, although kind of odd. The theme was basically phrases that have two words in them that end in -OOK. For example, BY HOOK OR BY CROOK. The theme wasn't utterly consistent, since two of the three of them had the -OOK words begin and end the phrase and the one mentioned above doesn't. But it wasn't nearly as annoying as that kind of thing can be. Pleasant theme, decent fill, and an interesting little bonus; there were no three letter words! Only four letters and above. This isn't as impressive as a puzzle I did once where there were actually no abbreviations at all, but still, a nice touch. ***1/2.

The BEQ, which is always a very difficult themeless on Monday, was remarkably bad by BEQ standards. BEQ's puzzle also had no three letter words in it, but unlike the LAT, this created answers like ALIEN TO, SVELTEST, and even TONE ARM, which are all really lame for BEQ. Now, because this is BEQ, there was some fantastic stuff thrown in there, like ROID RAGE, LADY GAGA, and, believe it or not, ARANXTA as in Sanchez Vicario the tennis player. But in general, it was a really unpleasant and awkward puzzle. **.

Best puzzle: The LAT. Lackluster NYT and atypically bad BEQ make a decent but unspectacular LAT the clear winner.

Best clue: Oddly enough, even though it was my least favorite puzzle, both my favorite clue and my least favorite clue come from the BEQ today. "Spinal Tap classic with the lines 'Getting out my pitchfork/Poking your hay'" for SEX FARM is inspired fill.

Worst clue: There are several I could choose from BEQ's. I think my least favorite is "Guide step by step" for INSTILL. Ick, ick, ick. This is what I mean by this puzzle being atypically bad for BEQ; the cluing is like this throughout. Oh well.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back on Monday

All right, well, I'm back on a functional computer (finally!), but am both exhausted and have a full day tomorrow. Normal posting will resume on Monday.

I've been doing Patrick Berry crosswords from his fantastic book "Crossword Puzzle Challenges For Dummies" and have been having a great time. The book is actually half puzzles (70 to be exact) and half a terrific guide on how to construct crosswords. It is widely considered to be the best guide out there for how to construct a good crossword puzzle. I've never seen this book sold in stores, but it is readily available from Amazon.

Anyhow, see you on Monday!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hiatus For A Week

To make a long story short, I'm working on a computer this week that doesn't have a lot of capabilities, and in fact, it took forever to even get Blogger up and running. So, the crossword thing is going to have to take a hiatus until next Sunday. I probably won't be blogging much either, unless something major happens. See you on Sunday!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Rex Morgan, M.D. Exclamation Mark Count: 8/8/09


Also, one question mark and two ellipses! Standard day!

Crosswords of the Day: 8/8/09

Ah, Saturdays. People are always amazed when they find out that I do Saturday crosswords, but really, they're not that much harder than Fridays once you get used to the extremely misleading cluing and often obscure but gettable references. Sure, there are occasionally impossible Saturdays (one that contained tons of Russian names AND obscure scientific references leaps to mind), but that really is rare.

Today featured two decent puzzles. I'm going to make this quick today. I liked the NYT much more than the LAT today; the LAT was just dull to do, and a wee bit too easy. The NYT had some great fill today, including four adjacent squares of Z's! I've never seen that before. LAT gets **, NYT gets ***1/2.

Winner: NYT, easily.

Best clue: The NYT had some really solid fill. One clue that stood out to me was "He said 'You are free and that is why you are lost'" for FRANZ KAFKA. Very cool quote. Another one is from the LAT and was "'Freestyle' performer, perhaps" for RAPPER. Like it a lot, but not as much as the Kafka clue.

Worst clue: From the LAT today comes "Up in the air" for UNSET. Unset?! Icky word.

Geekologie Links

One of my new favorite websites is Geekologie, which tends to update all the time, has really funny writing, and tends to have a nice variety of links, almost all of which are quite high quality. Here are a couple of great ones from today:

The Most Romantic Letter Of All Time: If you can handle bad language/immaturity, the exchange between a troll and some guy who calls him out in the comments is not only a truly epic smackdown, but close to as geeky as it gets.

Dell Shipping Options: This is great stuff. Man. :)

Rex Morgan, M.D. Exclamation Mark Count: 8/7/09


Also, one question mark and one ellipsis!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Crosswords of the Day: 8/7/09

All right, three puzzles today. Rare day where I disliked both the LAT and NYT puzzles; usually, I like both or at least one over the other. But today, both were either boring (the NYT, with a shockingly blase themeless) or lackluster (the LAT, with a pretty lame theme and not great fill). BEQ's, on the other hand, was terrific. I know it may seem like BEQ almost always wins the day on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, but I think that speaks more for how mediocre the LAT and NYT have been recently than how great a constructor BEQ is. I've been solving for about a year and a half now, and the last couple of months have been the worst I can remember in terms of quality and memorable puzzles between both the NYT and the LAT. I truly miss the New York Sun, which tended to have absolutely brilliant and innovative puzzles on a consistent basis.

The NYT was a themeless by Manny Nosowsky, one of the great constructors who has something like 200 published puzzles, and which tend to be themeless, full of snappy fill and often clever cluing. Well, not this time. There was nothing glaringly bad in this, but certainly nothing memorable. The clues were extremely straightforward, and even when they tried to be clever, they fell flat (for example, the clue "People in control of their faculties?" for DONS. I mean, it's cute, but truly not up to Nosowsky cleverness standards). **, bordering on **1/2.

The LAT was quite lackluster today. It had a theme that could have potential, but that potential sure wasn't realized in this puzzle. The theme was adding the letters TER after common phrases to create new phrases. When by far the best theme answer you've got is LIT CRITTER for "Drunk-as-a-skunk skunk?" you know your theme isn't that great. The fill was also quite unmemorable. **.

The BEQ had another hysterical theme today. The theme was taking common phrases and rethinking them as names of incredibly lame superheroes. I'll save my favorite for my clue/answer of the day, but an example of this is GOSSIP GIRL for the clue "Superhero who can't keep her mouth shut?" Also, the fill was pretty good today, including "Exactly!" for SPOT ON. ****.

Winner: BEQ, by a country mile. Thank goodness for BEQ's puzzles in the doldrums of this summer.

Favorite clue: Have to go with themes today. Hands-down my favorite is from BEQ's. "Masked aveneger who's a total wuss?" for MAMA'S BOY. I laughed out loud at that one, and am still very much amused by it.

Worst clue: From the LAT comes "Reason to bring in a relief pitcher?" for FALLING STARTER. Falling?! Doesn't work. It would probably be decent if it was "failing" starter. I solved that one and immediately recoiled.

Note: I might solve Matt Gaffney's puzzle this week too, as it's apparently a kind of companion puzzle to BEQ's puzzle, at least as far as one theme entry goes. I actually LOVE Matt Gaffney's puzzles in general, but his free weekly contest puzzles tend to be INSANELY hard, at least for me. The puzzles have a hidden puzzle within them, and they tend to be brilliant and innovative, but again, it's usually too much work for me. We'll see.

F*ck Yeah: Animals With Casts

This is why I love the Internet.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rex Morgan, M.D. Exclamation Mark Count: 8/6/09


Also, one question mark and one ellipsis! And a rare bolded word, the word prefer!

Crosswords of the Day: 8/6/09

Today featured a very rare feat: Dan Naddor constructed both the NYT and the LAT puzzles today! They were also both very good, although I definitely preferred one to the other.

The NYT had a semi-bizarre theme today. It featured common misspellings/mispronunciations of words, and was funny but quite difficult, if only because the spellings could really be anything. For example, there were things like SUPPOSABLY instead of supposedly. I enjoyed it, but wasn't that wild about the experience. However, for some inexpliciable reason, on the most popular NYT crossword blog, Rex Parker's, the commenters were incredibly venomous towards the puzzle, including several calling it their least favorite puzzle in YEARS. Um, what? C'mon now people. What was funny is that one of the commenters pointed out that Rex had put down the puzzle, and that a lot of the negative comments seemed to be reactionary agreements to Rex's opinion, and the negative comments stopped being as vehement almost immediately after. Hmmm.... :) ***1/2.

The LAT had a great theme that revolved around slangy synonyms for male pals. So there was everything from BUDDY HOLLY to MAN EATING to DUDE RANCH. There were an incredible SEVEN theme entries counting the explanatory one, which is just amazing. It was also a smooth puzzle with a lot of great fill. This is an easy ****, and maybe even ****1/2. Very impressive puzzle.

Winner: The LAT. Very good puzzle today.

Best clue: Virgil described its "roar of frightful ruin" for ETNA. I can't tell if it's sad or not that I instantly got this without any letters. Great, very different clue.

Worst clue: Nothing particularly bad today either; Dan Naddor knows what he's doing. However, there was a weird pair of clues in the NYT that read "Informal byes" and "informal bye." The answers, respectively, were CIAOS and ADIOS. I don't think of ADIOS as informal; I mean, what else would you say that was more formal and didn't sound awkward? It's the equivalent of "Goodbye" in English, which certainly isn't informal. Not necessarily bad, but just odd.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/5/2009


Also, 2 question marks and one ellipsis!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/5/2009

Wednesdays are always tiring, as I typically do FOUR crosswords. Today's crosswords ranged from meh to very good.

The NYT was by far the weakest to me, with an odd, dated theme and some really strange fill. I have to give them credit for having, in the same puzzle AND in the NYT no less, BENNIFER, EROTICA, and HOTTIE. **.

The LAT was better; the theme was a cute MONKEY related one, and the fill was totally pleasant throughout. Not a very memorable puzzle, but a fun one. ***.

BEQ's puzzle had a terrific theme today. It was taking authors with last names that also double as adjectives/verbs/nouns and pairs them with famous novels that they should have written based on their last names. So we get the clue ...Death of a Salesman? for STEPHEN HAWKING. They were all very cute, but the one that made me laugh out loud, and instantly made this one brilliant but unpublishable, was The Joy of Sex? for E. E. CUMMINGS. Unfortuntately, the fill surrounding the themes wasn't that great in this one, so I have to give this ****, even though this is a clear ***** theme for me.

The Onion was also really clever today. It revolved around GUITAR HERO, and specifically how one can easily slip a button over where they are supposed to press to play the correct note. Therefore, it took phrases with a color in their names that is also one of the colors on the Guitar Hero guitar, and changed the color in the phrase to reflect someone messing up. For example, Greensleeves becomes REDSLEEVES. Believe me, it was more enjoyable to solve than it was to read that explanation. ***1/2.

Winner: BEQ. Best theme of the week so far, and it made me laugh out loud, which is rare.

Best clue: The Onion had some really great clues today, like "Magic partner?" for KAREEM and "Whence Heart-Shaped Box and Pennyroyal Tea?" for IN UTERO. However, I have to point out another clue I heard today as well. One of the answers in the NYT today was GHOST WRITER; the clue for it was pretty lackluster. One of the frequent commenters on the blogs, and a prolific constructor himself, Joon Pahk, pointed out a clue he once saw for GHOST WRITER from Patrick Berry that he loved that I'd never seen. It was "One that takes cash but not credit?" Sheer brilliance. That easily goes into my favorite clues of all time.

Worst clue: Gotta be honest here. There wasn't anything that stood out to me as particularly bad today, although "Out of order, in a way" for SWAPPED doesn't seem quite right.

The Twin Village

This is just eerie. Also, what is up with that picture?

John Quincy Adams predicted Twitter!

Man, is this great. Who would have thought that JQ was such a visionary?

Here's a link to the actual Twitter feed.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/4/2009

3! Back to normal after a crazy day yesterday!

Also, two question marks and two ellipses!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/4/2009

This is going to be short and sweet.

The NYT had a cute but kind of weird theme that featured OBAMA backwards in phrases, like dreAMABOut. It was for Obama's birthday, but of course, having his name backwards doesn't seem like a great tribute or anything. Oh well. **1/2 stars for an OK theme and some kind of strange fill, including my least favorite of the day.

The LAT had a very pleasant baseball theme that actually took me a while to figure out for some strange reason. I had to get almost all of the answers on the left side of the theme before I broke it and then sped through it. Just a pleasant, not particularly noteworthy in any way. ***1/2.

Winner: The LAT. It had a better theme and was totally fun to do. Also, it was randomly challenging for me to figure out, which was a pleasant surprise.

Favorite clue: This is really pushing it, as there really wasn't great fill today. I mean, I guess JAMPACK for "Fill to capacity and then some" from the NYT is good. That's about as exciting as it gets.

Least favorite clue: This one's easy. This is also from the NYT. "Street caution near a school." Get ready. SLO. Yes, I spelled that right; it's without the W. My only response is...uh, no. That's just not right. :)

How Racist Are You?

As one commenter pointed out, this is heavily geared towards white people. Still, it is quite provocative and interesting.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/3/2009

This is a banner day, a record! Not four, not five, but SIX EXCLAMATION MARKS! Unbelievable! It doesn't get better than this!

Also, THREE ellipses and only one question mark!

What a day!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/3/2009

This was, with the exception of BEQ's, the most boring day of crosswords I've had in a long while. Both the NYT and the LAT were insanely dull today. Mondays aren't usually deep or anything, due to the clues being overly easy and the fill being pretty basic. But there is an art to making easy yet engaging crosswords with clever themes. Both the NYT and the LAT had either boring or lame themes, and the fill/cluing was very dry in both.

I actually don't even remember the LAT anymore, and the NYT I only remember because of how lame the theme was. The clues were all words that are homophones, specifically MAZE, MAIZE and MAYS. OK, that's fine. But the answers were impossibly lame; for example, Maize? as a clue had the answer PALE YELLOW COLOR. You've gotta be kidding me. Both puzzles get ** from me, maybe even *1/2.

BEQ's, on the other hand, was a typical great themeless puzzle from him. It was a weird blend of totally gettable and very difficult. But it was extremely smooth, and really fun to solve. ****.

Favorite clue: BEQ's puzzle had a fantastic clue/answer in it. Lemon aid? was the clue. The answer... CASH FOR CLUNKERS!!! This is one of the best kinds of clue/answers: topical, fresh, very clever, yet totally gettable. Great stuff.

Least favorite clue: I heavily disliked the answers for the theme entries in the NYT, but it's not really fair to highlight those, as those are inevitably going to be the most forced anyways. There was one in the NYT I remember as being highly annoying, which was the clue Viscous for GLUEY. Gluey?!?!? Sigh.

Winner: BEQ by a long shot. To be honest, this particular contest every week won't be won by anyone other than BEQ too often, considering he's doing hard, sophisticated puzzles on Mondays and he's such a great constructor.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Crosswords of the Day, 8/2/2009

(I've decided to do spoilers on the crossword themes in these posts if I think the theme warrants discussion. It's getting frustrating running around the themes without really discussing them properly.)

All right, my first Sunday crossword roundup! I usually just do the NYT/syndicated LAT puzzle on Sunday, but occasionally I will also do the exclusive LAT puzzle. It used to be done by Sylvia Burstzyn, who is my least favorite constructor, but she has been on a long hiatus, and instead, one of my favorite constructors, Merl Reagle, took her place. I didn't get to his puzzle today, but I likely will next week.

I have to be honest, I don't typically enjoy Sundays only because of how long it takes to do the over sized puzzles. When a Sunday puzzle is mediocre, it can really really feel like a slog, since it usually takes me at least 15 to 20 minutes to polish off a Sunday. Fortunately, today had good quality puzzles throughout.

The NYT's theme was kind of unbelievable; it was a rebus puzzle (multiple letters in one square) that had Greek letters as its rebus squares. The difficulty of this was that the Greek letters were paired together in triplets that represented frats. So if you don't know Greek letters or couldn't get the answers that intersected the Greek letters, you were effectively screwed at getting some of the answers. Needless to say, I know Greek letters and was able to get all of the theme entries, so I had a great time. One of my favorite Sundays in a while. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, considering it was Patrick Berry, probably the greatest constructor working today in terms of consistency, high quality, and innovation. ****1/2.

The LAT was...OK. It was an "add a letter to a normal phrase to create a new, goofy phrase" theme, which are almost always hit and miss. This one was adding a Y to phrases to create new phrases. The best one by far was GOOD COPY BAD COPY, which really is great. But there were really iffy ones, like OPEN PITY MINING, and one that didn't follow the rules, which was AY THERE'S THE RUBY. Apparently, that first Y wasn't supposed to be specially added, since A by itself doesn't mean anything. There are no other arbitrary Y's in the rest of the theme entries. This is the kind of thing that irks me to no end, and something that the aforementioned Burstzyn used to do ALL the time. ***.

Favorite clue: Today, there were really no notable clues in either puzzle, so I'm going to go with theme answers. The NYT had some truly inspired theme answers. Remember, there were Greek letters embedded in all of these words or phrases. My absolute favorite is DEL TAco, which is truly inspired. But there was also amPHIbian, aiR HOse, and my second favorite, on THE TAke. Man.

Least favorite clue: The aforementioned AY THERE'S THE RUBY, for not following the theme rules. That may be my biggest pet peeve of all in crosswords. A crossword I will never forget was a Burstzyn that had a nautical theme. I don't clearly remember the rules of the theme, but I do remember that the answers were both really bad AND didn't follow the rule about a third of the time. I actually got really angry doing that puzzle.

Winner: The NYT, by a mile. Really inventive puzzle, with some unbelievable construction, and some truly brilliant theme entries.

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/1/2009

4 exclamation marks!

Also, one question mark and two ellipses!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Crosswords of the Day, 8/1/2009

Today was a dramatic contrast in quality to me. The NYT was a perfect if not slightly easy Saturday puzzle. There were difficult obscure words (although not enough to make it aggravating), fun and different fill, and some brilliant, utterly tricky misleading clues. People often think that Saturdays are impossible, but I tend to find them doable, just MUCH trickier cluing than on other days. The NYT gets an easy **** from me today, maybe even a ****1/2 for being so pleasant to solve.

The LAT, on the other hand, was not good today, at least for my taste. It just felt dull to do, and there were a lot of questionable clues and answers in it. I'm particularly surprised because the LAT is by Barry Silk, who is usually excellent, although not really my taste. But this was just not fun at all. **, and that's because it had SPECIAL K crossing REYKJAVIK. :)

Favorite clue: There were several clues in the NYT that were great. Probably my favorite was "Demonstrate banking skill" for AVIATE, which is perfect. But there was also "Sentences may end with them" for PARDONS and "They remove letters" for EVICTORS. You can see why I enjoyed the NYT today.

Least favorite clue: I have to be fair here and point out a really lame clue in the NYT today, or really a lame answer. Tehran was spelled TEHERAN in the NYT today, which just seems really really wrong. According to one of the x-word blogs, if you put TEHERAN into Google, the first thing that shows up is the Wikipedia page for...Tehran. Yeah. It's unny. I can't really single out one bad clue that stands out in the LAT; they just all seemed really lackluster. There you go.

Music Recommendation: Spirit of Eden

Well, I'm up at 4:30 in the morning getting ready for my Saturday long run (10 miles this week!), and since I'm rarely up at this hour, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity by listening to albums that I feel are best suited for this time of day, when everything outside is dark and still, and it can feel like you're the only person in the world.

The album I chose to listen to, which I haven't listened to in way too long, is the unbelievably beautiful and passionate Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk. I'm not sure if I've recommended this album before on this blog, but if I have, well, it deserves multiple recommendations. This is one of the most transcendent pieces of music ever recorded; it cuts right to the soul, and is simply unforgettable. It also inspired one of the best written album reviews I've ever read.

Talk Talk were a pretty standard but talented 80s pop band that used to tour with Duran Duran. For this album, however, they were given complete control over the recording process by their record label, and what resulted was an album with no song shorter than 5 and a half minutes, no remotely poppy sounding song to speak of, poetic and opaque lyrics that often can't be easily understood, and an incredible amount of complex and gorgeous instrumentation, including arguably the most beautiful use of an all boys choir in pop music. In short, a masterpiece.

Spirit of Eden is quite an experience, and one thing that often surprises people about it is how timeless it sounds considering that it was recorded in the 80s by a pop producer (the band actually shared producers with Duran Duran). There are no synthesizers to speak of, no 80s power drums, just wonderful, often improvised music. The two classic albums that seem the closest to Spirit of Eden to me are Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and John Coltrane's Love Supreme. The Coltrane comparison is particularly poignant because of how both Coltrane and Mark Hollis, the lead singer and songwriter of Talk Talk, got inspired to make Love Supreme and Spirit of Eden by kicking drugs.

So, I can't recommend this album enough, especially if you're awake at 4 in the morning like me one day and need a magical album to listen to. If you've never heard this before, I envy what you're about to feel for the first time.

(If you can't be bothered to listen to the whole album for some reason, check out the song "I Believe In You". That's the song with the boys choir in it, and it's probably the only viable "single" off of the album.")

Friday, July 31, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 7/31/2009

4 exclamation marks!

But just as amazing, 4 ellipses!!! I've never seen the number of exclamation marks and ellipses be the same! AND, no question marks!

Crosswords of the Day, 7/31/2009

Today was kind of a weird day for all three crosswords I do on Friday. I liked them all, but two of them weren't that much fun to solve (NYT and BEQ), and the other was great but had some really iffy answers that keeps it from being great to me, including a really questionable theme entry.

The NYT was a themeless, and had a bunch of nice answers, but kind of felt weird and boring at the same time. This happens occasionally, where I'm doing a themeless and liking some of the answers but in general just kind of feeling blah about the whole experience.

When I first got into crosswords and found out about themelesses (which are almost always more difficult than puzzles with themes), I thought they'd be a cool challenge. But in general, I don't like them for exactly the reason I didn't like the NYT today; they often seem arbitrary and like I'm just doing work rather than enjoying trying to figure something out like a theme.

Last Saturday's LAT themeless was a rare and wonderful exception, where for whatever reason, the answers were incredibly lively and different (FRAID NOT, EXUBERANCE, MALT LIQUOR, and LIZA WITH A Z were just a few of the really great answers in that puzzle), and while solving it, I felt that there was something really cool coming next, which there always was. By the way, BEQ's themelesses almost always follow this pattern of incredibly fun, lively fill and a solidly hard but fair difficulty level.

So, after all that, the NYT gets **1/2 from me today. Nothing terrible, but certainly not fun to do.

The BEQ was a quote puzzle, which he tends to do very very well. This one though didn't strike me as particularly funny or clever, so this one wasn't too much fun to solve. The fill also didn't have BEQ's usual sparkle of cleverness, there was a Roman numeral, the difficulty level was all over the place, and my tie for worst clue of the day is in this puzzle. ** for this one.

The LAT had a cute theme that lent to there being a whole bunch of X's in it. It was also pretty tough, which has not been the case for LAT puzzles of late. I had a lot of fun solving this one though, and some of the answers were truly great, like FRITATTA or LECARRE. This puzzle though also has my tie for least favorite clue of the day. But it also has my favorite clue/answer in it, so there you go. ***, and my favorite puzzle of the day.

Best clue of the day: "Service provider?" for PREACHER in the LAT. Love it. The same puzzle also had LAY AN EGG, which I just really enjoy as an answer.

Worst clue of the day: This is a solid tie. In BEQ's puzzle, there was a clue that went "City whose zip code is 44301" which is already a pretty annoying clue. The answer? AKRON OH. Yes, for a completely arbitrary reason, he threw in the OH at the end, which just bothers me to no end. I mean, OK, it's valid, but c'mon, man. It's VERY rare for BEQ to do something as arbitrary as that in a puzzle. My other bad clue of the day is from the LAT. "Not a whole person?" is the clue for HALF MAN. What? Very strange and arbitrary answer, kind of like EERIEST from yesterday but much worse.

Google Chrome

I wanted to stop in for a second to make a post regarding Google Chrome, the internet browser from, obviously, Google. Ever since I downloaded the new Mozilla Firefox, I've been having major, weird technical issues with it that are too boring to go into here, but were making it almost unusable for me.

Needless to say, it got to the point where I got fed up with it, and decided to finally bite the bullet and try Google Chrome, which I had downloaded a long time ago but hadn't used due to my (now gone) love of Firefox. I installed it, have been using it for a day now, and barring a total crash of Chrome, am never going back to Mozilla.

Google Chrome is everything Mozilla is but sleeker, faster, just as intuitive if not more so (I love how it handles downloads), and in the end, just a better browser. I've experienced virtually no formatting issues with webpages, and the ones that have happened are minor. Also, it handles videos SO much better than Mozilla does that I'm surprised more people haven't made the jump. Of course, that does kind of make sense considering that YouTube is owned by Google, but it handles other videos just as well as YouTube videos.

So, yeah, two thumbs WAY up for Chrome.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 7/30/2009

3 exclamation marks!

Also, two ellipses and two question marks!

Crosswords of the Day: 7/30/2009

Both the LAT and the NYT puzzles were terrific today. I have to give them both **** for their themes, and they were also both mostly free of bad clues, although they both had their fair share. They were also both very similar themes, namely dealing with letters that sound like words, albeit in completely different ways. The crossword blogs were in love with the NYT today, even though it feels like a less well done version of one of my all-time favorite puzzles, which had clues like "Where Sinbad sailed" and the answer would be CCCCCCC (count how many C's there are).

So, which one to give the nod to? Well, while I loved both, I actually think I had a more fun time solving the LAT today, and the NYT theme did feel a wee bit arbitrary, although it was undoubtedly clever. Still, great puzzle day today.

Best clue: This is from the LAT. "Part of a pickup line?" for TAXI. Love it, love it, love it. Clever, utterly misleading, yet totally fair. A close second was in the NYT, and was "Big chip off the old block?" for ICEBERG. Both quite good, but I like the TAXI one more.

Worst clue: There really weren't any noticeably bad clues today, which is rare. One that felt really odd but wasn't inherently bad was in the NYT, and was "Like H.P. Lovecraft among all popular writers?" for EERIEST. I mean, I figured it out right away, but that seems like a weird, opinionated clue (you could easily argue that Poe was just as eerie as Lovecraft, although I wouldn't agree). There was some bad crosswordese throughout both, like AGIN (clued as "Opposin'") in the LAT and a ton of plurals in the NYT, which felt really forced. But again, both puzzles were very well done. Good day today in crossword land.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rex Morgan, M.D. Exclamation Mark Count-- 7/29/2009

4! Two days in a row! Very rare!

Also...three ellipses (!!), but only one question mark!

Crosswords of the Day: 7/29/09

Wednesdays are the days I do the most regular-sized crosswords i.e. not Sunday sized crosswords. Four in total.

The themes were very different today; heck, one of them (Brendan Emmett Quigley's) was a themeless! There wasn't a standout puzzle again today, nor was there a clear standout clue, but there was definitely a clue in one puzzle that I hated, and I'll explain why in a second.

NYT: **1/2
LAT: **
Onion: ***
BEQ: ***

The Onion was also done by BEQ, and those two were by far my favorites today. The NYT theme was very impressive as far as how hard it must have been to make it all fit, but completely arbitrary. The LAT theme was incredibly difficult to parse, especially with no clue as to how it worked. It took the bloggers multiple attempts to figure it out, and believe me, it wasn't worth it.

I think I have to go with BEQ's Themeless puzzle today as my favorite puzzle; it had a lot of terrific fill as usual (INFOMANIA, ANGELS IN AMERICA, and even HENRY LOUIS GATES!) and was at a perfect difficulty level. The Onion seemed very easy to me, and I liked the quirky theme, but it also had a miswritten clue; the clue was "High school type with cache, often" and the answer was JOCK. I assume they meant "with cachet." Typos = major points off for me.

Best clue of the day: Black cats, supposedly for ILL OMENS. I can't explain why I like that clue and answer combination, but I solved it without needing any letters in it, and it just feels right.

Worst clue of the day: Hindu "Destroyer" for SIVA. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in crosswords; using seldom used alternate spellings for things without noting that you're doing so. C'mon, almost no one solving the puzzle would call Shiva anything but that, right? I've certainly never seen Shiva written as Siva. Sigh.

God's Resignation Letter

I can't imagine it going any other way.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rex Morgan, M.D. -- 7/28/2009

All right, here's my other new feature on this blog, something I've been wanting to do for a long time as well. One of the weirdest comics in the paper, and one that happens to be right next to the crossword every day in the Los Angeles Times, is the forever-running Rex Morgan, M.D., which is a soap opera about, you guessed it, Rex Morgan. M.D.

The plot line is almost incomprehensible to someone just casually picking it up, and it is also INSANELY melodramatic. By melodramatic, I mean that every single line of dialogue ends in either a question mark or, more commonly, an exclamation mark. It's utterly bizarre, and I'm always entertained by it.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you....the Rex Morgan M.D. EXCLAMATION MARK COUNT, a new feature on this blog. Every day, I will simply state the number of exclamation marks found in the day's Rex Morgan, M.D. Why? Because I can. And because someone's gotta do it. So here goes...

Today, a total of:


Also: Two question marks and two ellipses!

Actually, oddly enough, that's about as jam-packed as it gets (it is typically a three panel comic). Four is the most I've seen in the comic, and to have two ellipses AND two question marks...crazy day! Probably won't be as exciting normally. :)

Crosswords of the Day: 7/28/09

All right, here's one of my new daily features here on the blog. I've wanted to do this for some time, but for whatever reason, I never got around to it. So here we go. I'm going to rate the crosswords that I do from zero to five stars. Then I'll highlight my favorite clue/answer and my least favorite clue/answer of the day. Also, I'm going to try to avoid spoilers as much as possible here, so I'll just hint to what the themes were. The crosswords I always do every day or week are the following:

New York Times (Daily)
Los Angeles Times (Daily)
Brendan Emmett Quigley (M, W, F)
The Onion (W)

All right, so today the LAT and the NYT had similar themes; both revolved around commonly spoken phrases. Also, both were pretty meh; they were both fine, but nothing memorable. I would give the LAT a **1/2, and the NYT a ***. This one's close though; they're really pretty much tied, but I think I enjoyed the NYT a bit more today.

Also, there weren't really any clever clues today, so my favorite clue has to be from the NYT, Insect Monster of Japanese film, which is of course MOTHRA. LOVED those films when I was younger.

My least favorite clue/answer also comes from the NYT, which was Where one might see "OMG" or "TTYL." What was the answer? THENET. Ick. I mean, I guess, but c'mon, you have to be more specific with that clue, like CHATROOM or something. Also, that THE before NET feels kind of awkward, although I guess you wouldn't just say "NET."

Is Barack Obama An American Citizen?

This article obviously has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, but at the same time, it provides explanations that are about as plausible for why "birthers" think the way they do about Obama as I can think of, and the research for the article is spot-on. There is extremely direct, physical, and electronic evidence that Obama was born in Hawaii, and yet, a LOT of people (as in at least enough to inspire a chief medical officer of Hawaii to address the national media about it) hold to the belief that Obama is ineligible to be POTUS. It boggles the mind.

Best Way To Start The Morning Ever


[thanks to Susanna Dodd]

UPDATE: I sent this to Andrew Sullivan this morning, knowing he would love it based on his work fighting against Sarah Palin and ensuring that she becomes nothing more than a figurehead. Well, to my astonishment, he posted it. It's not every day I beat AS to the punch with a video or news article, but there you go. I couldn't be happier. :)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Finally Returned!

Well, hello out there. I know it has been ages since I last posted (almost a month to the day, in fact), and I'm sincerely sorry for that. There has been a lot going on. Recently, I've been knee-deep in applying for this graduate program. I'm extremely excited about it, and can't wait to finish up my essay and get the whole process done. Also, as my friend Jeni said, I can't wait to have my nights taken over by classwork and reading and all of that. Back to school!

Also, I've begun training for the 2009 NYC Marathon, coming up November 1st. Long-time readers know that running a marathon has been a goal of mine for years, but through either not being selected in the race lottery or through ridiculous schedule changes (2009 LA Marathon, I'm looking at you), I've never been able to get into one. Until now. After three attempts, I finally made it into the NYC Marathon, and I couldn't be more excited. I think I posted about this earlier, but now I have a date, excellent running shoes (Asics to be exact, and I'm never going back), and two different training programs I've combined that have me feeling stronger and fitter than I've ever felt as a runner. Good times!

And, there is one other event that has happened since I last posted, and in fact, it is the main reason I haven't been posting since I got back to Los Angeles. Two days after I returned to LA, on my grandfather's 90th birthday, his blood pressure dropped dangerously low, and we spent the day in the hospital running tests. He was eventually discharged, but this inspired us to get him checked more thoroughly than we had in a while, and the prognosis is not good. His esophagus is failing, and he will likely die from not being able to swallow; the forecast is anywhere from very soon to about six months. I accepted something like this happening a long time ago, but still, it's quite hard. I'll post more about my thoughts on this later.

All right, well, I'll try to post more tomorrow, but until then, goodnight!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Quick check in and movie lists

Hey everyone. I apologize for the lack of updates, and I really do have no excuse this time; I've just been lazing around NYC, enjoying the wonderful weather before the true brunt of humidity hits. I've also been seeing movies. A ton of them, in fact; if you count the two movies I saw on the plane ride over here, then I've seen a movie a day since I've been out here. I've seen, in order:

Coraline: I saw this for the second time, but this time in 2-D, and while it's much better in 3-D, it still worked really well. Wonderful film, and one I'm picking up as soon as it comes out on DVD.

Taken: This was a very weird film, with a lot of stilted lines and a really lame ending, but good action scenes and some very good tension throughout, especially in the scenes shown in the trailer. I can't exactly recommend this as a good film, but you can do a LOT worse as action films go.

Summer Hours: This is a pretentious French film about a family going through an estate sale. No, really, that's basically it. Yes, there's a theme of the changes that France has gone through from one generation to another, but really, this wasn't the most engaging film of all time. Some very good acting in it, though.

Up: I saw this for the second time, and this time it was in 3D. Having seen it in both 2D and 3D, I can confidently say that there is no advantage to seeing it in 3D except for the chase scene with the dogs in the middle of the movie, which is a lot of fun. But there is very little else if anything that the 3D adds, and it drastically darkens the picture on the screen, which is a shame considering how bright and beautiful the color scheme of Up is. If you haven't seen it yet, see it in 2D. You truly won't be missing anything. Also, the film was somehow even better the second time around, since I could pay attention to more of the details, and appreciated how the story had a lot of very subtle foreshadowing in the beginning. Great film.

Psycho: What a tremendous film. I hadn't seen it for close to ten years, but the scary scenes are still as good as they get, and Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is perfect and utterly creepy. The film is definitely way slower than I remember it being, but because it's Hitchcock at his best, it still holds your interest, and the big reveal at the end in the "fruit cellar" is still shocking and done as well as it could have possibly been. I watched this with an awesome and mature eleven year old who is into horror films, and she immediately wanted to see The Birds once Psycho ended. Gotta love her taste.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Soviet Album Covers

Sorry I haven't been posting recently, y'all. I'm now in New York though, and will be for the next couple of weeks! Should be good times.

Here's a terrific, and by terrific I mean terrifying, collection of Soviet Russian album covers. These are totally NSFS, by the way (Not Safe For Sanity).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Pixar Films Ranking

I was thinking about this, and figured I'd give it a stab. What order would I rank the Pixar films in terms of my personal enjoyment of them, as well as how good of a film I thought they were? Well, here's my list.

2. The Incredibles
3. Up
4. Monsters Inc.
5. Ratatouille
6. Finding Nemo
7. Cars
8. Toy Story
9. Toy Story 2
10. A Bug's Life

First off, I love pretty much all of these films (Bug's Life is really the only one that left me kind of cold, and even that had some good moments). Cars and Finding Nemo are kind of tied for me; I liked Cars much, much more than most people and was almost tempted to switch it with Finding Nemo in this list, but I think Finding Nemo is a better movie. Also, WALL-E and The Incredibles, along with Beauty and The Beast, are far and away my favorite American animated films (my favorite animated film ever is My Neighbor Totoro).

I should note here that Nemo leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth because of how many friggin times I had to see it in college; I owned it the first day it came out, and because my room was big and had a TV, everyone came over to watch movies, and Nemo was the most popular choice after, get ready for this, Quills (the Marquis de Sade movie). I probably saw both Quills and Finding Nemo, no exaggeration here, about fifteen times my first year of college. And guess what? Finding Nemo had the better characters (the sea turtles, Mr. Ray, and Dory are just wonderful), but Quills holds up better as a film.

The Toy Story movies don't hold up that well to me in light of the later Pixar movies, although Buzz Lightyear is one of the great animated characters. Monsters Inc. is by far my favorite film of Pixar's pre-Brad Bird era. I saw that film in theaters opening day, in a packed house full of little kids. The kids were all completely into it, and there was a collective "awwww" at the end shot. One of my favorite film-going moments.

Really, these are all terrific films; like most people, I have yet to be disappointed by Pixar, and am in awe of their ability to not only put out great films on a consistent basis, but to try out completely different ideas every time. Let's hope that the next ten films are as good as these!

Friday, June 19, 2009


I just saw Pixar's latest, Up, and adored it. It's probably overall my third favorite Pixar film, after WALL-E and The Incredibles, but the beginning ten minutes or so, where it depicts the life of Carl and Ellie, might be my favorite segment ever in a Pixar film.

Boy, though, talk about a film where if you don't know anything going in, which I didn't, you would have NO idea where it was going. When the robotic dogs showed up, I almost felt overwhelmed with the oddness of the story, but once it started to come together, which happened right around when they met the explorer, I realized how excellent the story was. I actually like how overwhelmed I felt; I'm sure Carl felt the same way once Dug showed up.

Oh, and speaking of Dug, such a brilliant character. I had already fallen in love with him from the trailers (SQUIRREL!), but I loved and appreciated him even more as the film went on, along with the rest of his group (POINT). The writing was insanely funny for him and the other dogs, and the voices were spot-on.

Some other little notes. The animation was beautiful but seemed less showy than usual for Pixar, which I actually kind of liked. The animals were so well done throughout, especially Kevin (the snipe). Ed Asner was pitch-perfect. I love that Russell was Asian-American (he was based on one of the story boarders for Up who also directed the really cute short before it and is Korean). The villain in this felt slightly off and nasty from the very beginning, which is nice because when he truly lost it and became evil it felt totally natural and understandable even, and completely uncontrived.

Finally, there were a bunch of little kids at the screening I went to, and I was slightly surprised only because this is a PG movie and it deserves the rating; there's a lot of sadness, evil acts, and guns. And, not to my surprise, a good number of the kids got freaked out by the film, and several left. But just as many if not more loved the film; they were laughing and getting into it.

Definitely go see this if you haven't yet; it's one of the better films I've seen in a while.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Maybe the worst surprise ever unless you're a little girl

Miley Cyrus, at dinner in Georgia after a day of shooting for her new film, got up and played two songs on a borrowed guitar for everyone in the restaurant. Personally, I would have demanded my money back, if only because I would have completely lost my appetite, but that's just me. Would this have made you happy?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Long time no normal blog!

All right, I'm finally back! The past month or so of this blog has been taken up with trial related posts, but now that I'm done with work (as in unemployed for the moment) and the trial posts, I can get back to normal. Look for at least two or three entries every weekday here in the near future.

In terms of updates my training for the NYC Marathon is about to begin, and I'm about to head out to NYC on vacation! All good stuff.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Trial: Day 11 (May 21st)

Day 11

And it is done. What a wild experience. We met early today (8:30), and heard the prosecution's rebuttal. For my money, her rebuttal was by far the weakest performance she gave the whole trial; it was forceful but without much purpose, and almost got insulting towards our intelligence. I should note that she never once thanked us or acknowledged how much we had been through during this trial, which didn't really warm her to me. But here, she was clearly misstating testimony, to the point where the defense objected twice to it. The objections were pointless legally (the judge instantly shot them down), but they were valid.

Anyways, she didn't speak for too long, and we then finally got to go to our deliberation room! We got to go behind the judge's chair to a hallway and then down to the room, which was, as you might imagine, a drab room with twelve seats. The deliberation was great; we were all very attentive, and made absolutely sure we made the right decision. We had a terrific foreman, and while the discussion got heated, it was only because we were arguing over important points, which is what any group with a weighty responsibility should do. In the end, we found our defendant innocent, which was my belief from the very start of the case.

I was nervous at first that I would be the only one who thought he was innocent, but it turned out we all agreed that there was just way too much doubt and lack of evidence to convict him on any kind of charge. When we read the verdict, there was not a lot of reaction from either attorney, but our defendant looked very relieved; I can only imagine after being locked up for two years over something it seems pretty clear he didn't do. He also made a brief statement thanking us personally for acquitting him, which was nice but not really necessary; none of us felt that he was a saint, but that he had been given a deserved second chance, and that it was up to him now to make the most of it.

A bunch of us met with the defense attorney afterwards and shook his hand, telling him how great a job he did for his client. He was humble and a little overwhelmed by our praise of him; he seems like a pretty meek guy, actually. We then gathered in the parking lot briefly, went over the case, and then said our goodbyes.

I'm sad that I'll likely never see most of my fellow jurors ever again, but I became good friends with one of the jurors, Katherine, and I received business cards from a number of the jurors, and I'm sure we'll find a way to get in touch one way or another. It's an incredible bonding experience, actually; you, as a group of twelve people, decide another person's fate, and especially if you do it with the attention and care that we showed today, you become quite connected to everyone's feelings and ways of thinking. This is an experience I'll never forget, and really one that I'll cherish as a proud moment in my life, where I got to take part in serving justice. Being on a jury may seem like a burden, but don't knock it until you've actually been on one. It's an experience like no other.

Random Notes

Today felt weird. We've been coming to this courthouse and dealing with this case, off and on, for exactly one month. It doesn't necessarily feel like its been longer than that, but when you do something for a month, it truly does become routine (I think three weeks is often considered the point when something becomes ingrained). I'm not exactly sad that I'll never have to go to the courthouse again, but a part of me will likely miss it for a while.

The hallway we went through behind the judge's chair was way sparser than I was expecting. Somehow, I was expecting the area behind the judge's chair to contain his office or something, but nope, just a grey hallway that led into another grey hallway. There were some conference rooms with nice views of the city, and a random person working behind a desk...without a view or anyone around her. Man, that must be a soul-crushing job.

When we started deliberating today, we had none of the evidence and no way to play any of the audio evidence even if we had had it. These were the things we really needed to make our decision, and when we asked the foreman about it, he stated that he hadn't cataloged them yet (?) and that we would likely get them in the afternoon. Well, then why were we deliberating in the morning? We kept asking, and finally he gave us a bunch of evidence late in the morning, and was NOT happy about it. We of course still had no way to play the audio, and had to wait for that until after lunch. I guarantee you that if we had the evidence at the very beginning and an audio player of some sort, we could have been out of there before lunch.

On the way down to the first floor for lunch, the elevator took forever to arrive, way longer than usual. I made an offhand comment to one of my fellow jurors as we were getting in about how it seemed like there was only one elevator working. Then, a lawyer in the elevator with us that I'd never seen before made a comment to me that it was my decision that I had chosen jury service and that what I should do in the future to not be annoyed by the elevator is just not answer the call. Now, an important thing to note here is that his tone was upbeat and positive, as if trying to make it seem like he was chums with me and that we were bonding over how annoying jury service was. This is coming from a lawyer. Surrounded by jurors who have clearly been selected to a jury based on their badges being marked with which jury they belonged to. Needless to say, all conversation stopped for a while after his comment, and I just looked at him in disgusted amazement. He went from smiling to looking down at his feet quickly, and then tried to casually chat with his client. Yes, his client was in the elevator with him. If I was that client, I would have tried to find a new lawyer fast.

There were two things that I noticed instantly about the defense attorney as we met him up close. One was that his hands were cold and clammy. He had obviously been very nervous about our verdict. The other thing I noticed were his business cards. They were from Vista Print! Vista Print is a cheap online company that makes you something like 1000 business cards for twenty bucks. They're low quality, and they have generic designs. The only reason I recognized it was that I used the exact same design when I made my business cards from them! Pretty funny stuff. Still, it endeared him even more to me.

Every person involved in this case was terrific. The judge was easygoing and kind, but very good at controlling difficult situations and at taking things seriously when they needed to be serious. The prosecution and the defense both did extraordinary jobs, especially our defense attorney given that he was a public defender. And, most of all, I could not have had a better jury. It was diverse, intelligent, and just a very positive and passionate group of people. I'm truly going to miss them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Trial: Day 10 (May 20th)

Day 10

I should have posted this note before as an actual post, but c'est la vie. We were off for two days (Monday and Tuesday) before we resumed. Apparently in this time, although we didn't know it at the time, the other jury deliberated and found the other defendant guilty. I'll discuss that in more detail in my wrap up post.

Today we had the start of closing arguments. The structure of this is rather interesting; because the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution gives their argument, then the defense gives theirs, and then the prosecution gets a rebuttal, with NO chance of a rebuttal for the defense.

So it was interesting. We got an argument from the prosecution that lasted a little under an hour, which was forceful and intense but pretty light on the evidence, and then the defense had his. And man, did he have his argument. It lasted, no exaggeration, for close to three hours, and would have gone on longer if we hadn't had to end at five o'clock. It was actually an extraordinary argument; it was quietly passionate, and was WAY better organized and researched than the prosecution. It was also insanely thorough, and was quirky enough to have Seinfeld and Saving Private Ryan references in it. It also had a rather wonderful explanation of the legal matters that we had to decide, much better and clearer than even the judge's instructions. We are going to have the prosecution's rebuttal tomorrow, and then we get to actually deliberate! Should be good.

Random Notes

It's depressing that I could be gone for four days from the courthouse (Saturday through Tuesday) and still be recognized by the parking attendant as I pulled into the juror parking lot. Sigh. I've been doing this too long.

The judge had to leave for an important meeting downtown today, so we broke for lunch half an hour early, and got back fifteen minutes later than usual. When we walked back into the courtroom, it looked like the judge hadn't moved from his seat when we got back in; he did not look like a guy who had had to rush downtown at lunch hour, have an important meeting of some kind, and then get back uptown. But maybe he is just that unflappable.

At one point today, one of our jurors for whatever reason was late back from a break. So we had some down time in the court, and the judge told us a story about the California seal, namely how it was created and why the symbolism is the way it is on it. Too long to go into here, but one of our jurors revealed a random classical history knowledge, which surprised even the judge. Also, the judge is a California history nerd. Seriously; he knew something so obscure he even pointed out that he'd be stunned if any of us knew it (no one did, and it was so obscure I've already forgotten what it was).

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Trial: Day 9 (May 15th)

Day 9

This was officially the day of burnout for all of us on the jury. There's something about getting to the end of the week and realizing that you haven't led a normal life for two weeks, and that there isn't a clear end in sight. Even though I don't particularly mind this as a change of pace, there really is something extremely draining about going to court every day.

I can't speak for anyone else, but my mind was definitely wandering during portions of today, especially during moments where I knew that the testimony wouldn't be very relevant. We actually had a surprisingly diverse range of testimony today, everything from CHP dispatchers to the wife of the defendant accused of murder (she was, for lack of a better phrase, dumb as a brick and completely unreliable).

But something unbelievable happened today; the case ended!!!! Yes, both sides, after nine days, rested their cases. But of course, we're not done. We get to hear closing arguments, and then we get to deliberate. Yippee.

Today also featured a number of very funny moments in the court between the judge and both the defense and the prosecution, including both sides being EXTREMELY testy towards each other. The DA in particular was on edge today for some reason. The judge handled it all with aplomb, however, and seemed to be in quite a good mood today in general.

Also, we were asked to be by ourselves again today, and interestingly, there wasn't really that much discussion regarding the conversation that our defendant had with the detectives. The prosecutor tried to make it seem like he was making stuff up when he described the room, but he remembered a wall heater (albeit in the wrong part of the room) that I had never noticed even after looking at the pictures of the apartment for two weeks. Also, if what he was saying was the truth, then I could easily understand why he didn't remember everything clearly. He also really didn't incriminate himself when presented with fake evidence and eyewitness accounts from the detectives, which suggests there's more truth to it than fiction. We shall see what happens next week. We're going to be gone Monday and Tuesday of next week due to a scheduling conflict, so these will resume on Wednesday.

Random Notes

I was pulling into the jury parking lot today when I realized I didn't have my juror ID, which you need to park there and to get into the building. I also had twenty minutes before my call time. So I sped back home, got the badge, and made it back in time (of course, we started thirty five minutes late, but still). However, as I was speeding out of the parking lot, I got to an intersection that was photo enforced and started to make a right on a red light. Now I slowed down, but not to a complete stop like I should have, and a guy went blazing through the intersection, turning left, from the other direction (it was a green light for him). He went through just as I was turning, and a camera positioned at the intersection flashed brightly twice. I have no idea if it was catching him or I, but I have a feeling it was him. In any case, if it was me, then I may have my first ever traffic citation ever coming up. Somehow, I doubt it, but we shall see.

Today was a bit strange in that I never once entered the cafeteria; we got out too late to do that. There's a good chance I'll never enter that cafeteria again. Thank god.

When we came back into the courtroom after lunch, and everybody was setting up, the judge made an offhand comment that someone had accused him of speaking too fast today. He said it sheepishly and with a grin. He added that he wouldn't tell who it was, but that he felt bad. We all laughed good-naturedly, but it was a bit odd. This all went on official court record.

There were a stunning number of observers today for some reason, and they all seemed to be there for our case as opposed to waiting for their case to be heard. At one point, there were easily thirty people in the observers chairs (usually, there are about six or seven).

Today confirmed that both defense attorneys are public defenders. They're both decent, although one is clearly way better and more confident than the other. If I had to be a defense attorney, that's likely the route I'd want to go; it just seems the noblest to me.

I did a little research on our judge today. He's been a judge since 2002, and was appointed at what strikes me as the relatively young age of 46 (he's 54 now, and doesn't look a day over 40)! He's also Latino (I had no idea) and graduated magna cum laude from Whittier College. He was the head of the habeas corpus case branch of the DA office in Los Angeles, and dealt with about twenty five major cases as a DA (as in murder/high-profile cases) before becoming a judge. What struck me the most about this is that there's a habeus corpus branch in the LA DA's office! As it turns out, LA has by far the largest DA's office in the country; it employs well over 1000 attorneys, and has police-led investigative branches of its own that are bigger than a lot of police squads across the nation. Pretty wild.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Trial: Day 8 (May 14th)

Day 8

This was an incredible day. Very different than usual, and much more substantial than any other day has been. We arrived at 8:30, but there was a huge accident on the 405 that forced a large number of the jurors to be late. So we started around 9:10, but the court was actually ready to go by 8:30, believe it or not.

Today we had the other detective on the stand, and he was on the stand all day. What was very different today was that the defense attorney for the main defendant, who is usually very good and terse with his questioning, was off; there were lots of objections, and he really didn't seem to be arguing his client's case well. Then the defense attorney for our defendant got up and did a lengthy, brilliant cross examination. It was not only engaging, but exposed a lot of holes in the overall search for the murder weapon, and was very well researched and thought out. Almost all of the objections that were made about his testimony were correctly overruled. This is the opposite of what usually happens. I actually enjoyed it very much; it seemed like perfect cross examination.

We then took an extended lunch, and then something happened that we had been told was going to happen at the beginning of the trial; we got to sit in the courtroom alone with our defendant only, while the other jury was sent home. And what we got to hear that both the other jury and the other defendant didn't get to hear was extraordinary.

Our defendant basically called the detectives from jail and admitted to what had really happened that night. To put this in perspective, we have heard phone conversations between the two in which they seem to be conspiring together to hide things and to create alibis. We also heard our defendant talking about how he didn't want to be a snitch and how he hoped no one else would be. Then, we get an hour and a half conversation between our defendant and the detectives, in which he eventually explains that he was just saying stuff to the other defendant to make it seem like he was in cahoots with him, but really didn't want to have anything to do with him. Personally, I was always confused as to why our defendant would want to be friends with the other defendant; there's a twenty year age difference between them, and they don't have any friends in common that I can tell.

But the most stunning thing about the conversation to me was when our defendant started breaking down and admitting that he wanted to just forget the whole thing, and that he had been really scared and wasn't sure of what really happened, but had actually been trying to help the victim. It was very emotional, and you could tell the detectives felt the same way. I also looked over at our defendant when he was listening to this part of the conversation, and he had his head in his hands. Believe me, this guy isn't an actor. It was a stunning and, at least for me, case-changing moment. It'll be VERY interesting to hear the testimony regarding this, as we actually got let out late today because of how long the conversation was. But believe me, no one wanted to leave. It was just too important. So this was a pretty incredible day; easily my favorite so far.

Random Notes

I only got about three hours of sleep last night, and ended up not only getting two cups of coffee, but inspired about five other jurors to join me in getting the second cup. There was a great group of coffee drinkers sitting outside the courtroom today.

I had forgotten how long the line is to get into the courthouse at 8 in the morning. There was literally a line of over a hundred people in the main lobby waiting to go through the metal detector, and for reasons unknown, no one was moving forward. When I showed up, they saw my badge, and instantly let me through. I felt like a VIP.

Continuing with the coffee theme, check out the pricing scheme at the cafeteria. Small cup of coffee: 1 dollar. Large cup of coffee (about double the size of the small cup): a buck twenty five. Pack of gum (any gum): a buck fifty.

When we were alone in the courtroom today i.e. not with the other jury, things suddenly became way more casual. We were asked direct questions by the judge, the lawyers were more talkative in general, and the bailiff was engaged. It almost made me wish we only had one jury and one defendant.

I rode up in the elevator today with one of the detectives from the case. I'm not supposed to speak with any of the lawyers or witnesses until the case is done. But it was just him and I, and he mentioned how long the line downstairs was to me. I said something like "Yeah I know" good-naturedly, and we didn't say anything more. I feel like I violated some sort of rule, even though all we did was exchange small talk. This is what being under oath to not talk about anything related to the trial does to you; it makes you paranoid about making small talk.