203. Cape Town Comes to New York

November 11, 2013

madLast Tuesday morning, I met up with Chaeli Mycroft (2011 winner of the International Children’s Peace Prize) and her mother Zelda in New York City.

These two women (Chaeli is now 19) are the core of the Chaeli Campaign, an organization based in Cape Town, South Africa, that works to help children with disabilities. Chaeli was born with cerebral palsy but has turned that into an asset, raising money and awareness and speaking up for those who can’t.

dcI came to know Chaeli while writing about her for an upcoming book, iFlush: Hunting for Heroes. She certainly qualifies as a hero (here’s a four-minute video that tells her story) and, after our meeting, I now know her mother qualifies as well! She’s a strong force and voice for the cause … and someone who won’t let anyone depart without a big bear hug.

Chaeli is a magnet for important awards, and she was in town to receive the 2013 World of Children Award. But she had a few extra days, so I arranged a change of pace from the hoity-toity world of important awards and fund-raising charities — a visit to MAD magazine.

madboardWe met up just south of Grand Central Station to grab a round of coffees at Starbucks, then hopped in a cab — NYC has a fleet of 233 cabs with wheelchair lifts — and made our way over to MAD headquarters at 1700 Broadway.

I think the MAD crew got as much a kick out of it as Chaeli and Zelda did.

Click on any of the photos to enlarge. TOP: Editor Dave Croatto, Art Director Sam Viviano, Chaeli, me, and Associate Art Director Ryan Flanders. MIDDLE: Chaeli and Zelda in the DC Comics reception area. BOTTOM: Chaeli’s photo now graces MAD‘s “Celebrity Board.” (The two MAD photos by Lana Limón.)


202. Inside Mad

October 29, 2013

Available today: Inside MAD, a behind-the-scenes look at MAD magazine, $29.95 cheap $19.97 cheaper.

MAD’s “Usual Gang of Idiots” chimes in, as do celebrities and MAD editor John Ficarra, who has this to say in his foreword: “Inside MAD offers a rare look into the twisted minds of the writers and artists who have produced the magazine for the past 61 years. I would like to say it’s illuminating and insightful, but unfortunately I can’t — I’ve read it.”


176. Cycling Necklace

December 2, 2012

My sole foray into jewelry design (for my daughter). Vintage bicycle gear levers and thumb screws; hex coupling nut and zinc-plated chain from The Home Depot.


173. Eno

November 13, 2012

I’ve been listening to Brian Eno music this afternoon, and it’s starting to make me drowszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


171. Noogiefest

November 5, 2012

Three days prior to Hurricane Sandy, the Ink Well Foundation organized a gaggle (or is it a doodle?) of cartoonists that descended upon Gilda’s Club in Manhattan for their annual “Noogiefest” Halloween bash. A fun time was had by all as we drew witches, superheroes, walking eyeballs, and other assorted Halloween creatures with a great group of kids and their parents.

Here are some photos from the event … including one of me modeling my vampire teeth for a Power Ranger, a princess, and an escapee from the musical Cats (they weren’t sure what to think of my teeth at first, but then insisted I keep them in).

Inkwell logo ® The Ink Well Foundation


154: 2012 ACPT Vignettes, part 1

March 19, 2012

The Winner
What can you say. Dan Feyer is amazing. Congratulations on another impressive win. And a big tip of the hat to Tyler and Anne for their great performances … not to mention (but I am going to mention) David, Al, Francis, Howard, Joon, Stella, Ellen and, well, you gotta stop somewhere. (Don Christensen photo)

Changing of the Guard
There was a changing-of-the-quard mini-theme to this year’s event: no Maura Jacobson puzzle for the first time ever, no Merl and Neal calling the finals, and no Trip Payne as a competitor. In addition, the dynamic Doug Heller, who served as head judge and webmaster for many, many years, played more of a sideline role this year.

Their full or partial absence made me appreciate them all the more.

Anne Erdmann
Anne proved once again the class and integrity of the top solvers in the ACPT. None of them wants to be given anything they haven’t earned on paper.

I happened to be in the tournament bunker with Helene Hovanec on Sunday morning when Anne Erdmann poked her head in the door. She had misgivings about her mistake on puzzle #1 being overturned the day before and insisted that it should be re-reviewed. She stated she would gladly abide by whatever was decided, but she wanted there to be no doubt that it was the right call.

The online scan doesn’t show it clearly, but looking at the actual paper, there’s no way to ignore that there’s an ascender coming down and ending in a small circle-shape. The vertical line is clearly and fairly strongly written (not just a drag of the pencil), resulting in something that looks pretty close to the lowercase “b” just below it. The ruling was regrettable but clear: It wasn’t an “o.”

As it turned out, Anne solved her way back from 4th to make the final three on stage. Good things do sometimes happen to good people.

Dr. Fill
The good Dr. added a lot of interest to this year’s tournament and generated more pre-tourney publicity than we’ve ever seen, including a front page article in The New York Times.

I had mixed feelings about Matt Ginsberg’s cyber-creation and its presence as an unofficial competitor. What Matt has accomplished is really remarkable, downright awesome. In fact, I was inspired enough that I made an unsolicited donation of a Dr. Fill logo to the cause back in May.

On the other hand, I was tapped as the constructor of puzzle #2, so Dr. Fill was the competition. Did I want to beat Dr. Fill? Yes. Some wrong answers would be satisfying. I mean, who doesn’t like to beat a computer.

But I didn’t write a puzzle to try and beat Dr. Fill.

That thought wasn’t even on the radar. And I had no instruction from Will Shortz to do so. The truth is, there was zero discussion between us about what my theme or approach would be, other than the level of difficulty to aim for. The first he knew of my puzzle was when the finished version arrived in his mailbox about three weeks before the tournament.

My only consideration was trying to make an original and interesting puzzle, hopefully one that solvers would appreciate. The humans are what the tournament is about; they’re paying the big bucks to be there, and they want the best entertainment they can get. Computers are great, but they aren’t going to come up and thank you if you write a good puzzle (you at least have a shot with humans). As Matt has repeatedly said, Dr. Fill doesn’t even know what it’s doing.

After the puzzle was constructed, I did give some thought to how Dr. Fill might fare with it. Here’s part of an email I sent to Will Shortz the day after I sent him the puzzle: “My #2 theme is one that could likely flummox Dr. Fill, although that wasn’t something I set out to do. Real solvers were the focus!”

Will’s response: “As long as your primary goal is entertaining solvers, not flummoxing Dr. Fill, that’s fine.”

More to Come?
I might file a few more notes later but, if nothing else, I will make sure to include a follow-up about a paper that many of you signed at the tournament.

In the meantime, thanks to all who came up and said hello or gave me a thumbs up for my puzzle #2 (even those who waved a fist at me). It’s greatly appreciated. Also thanks to those who purchased books at my table. My nieces’ cut of the take (rounded up to reward them for their hard work) netted them a couple hundred dollars toward their cause to fight Crohn’s disease.

Go to: Vignettes, part 2


153. ACPT Table

March 12, 2012

The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament takes place this weekend, March 16-18, in Brooklyn, NY, and it promises to be another great one. Here’s a recent interview with Will Shortz (scroll down to the Shortz pic) on uber-constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley’s site.

Aside from my judging duties, I’ll have a table in the puzzle marketplace, with 20% of every sale going to support my two high-school-age nieces’ upcoming walk to fight Crohn’s disease. The two of them will be (wo)manning the table themselves.

The wares for sale will include approximately 25 different puzzle-book titles of mine (for kids and adults both) and a brand-new crossword ambigram iron-on (pictured above; it reads the same upside down) with which you can make your own ambigram t-shirt. A sheet of iron-ons is $5 and books are either $5 or $10. I hope you’ll stop by and, if nothing else, give them a smile and a thumbs up.

art © 2012 Patrick Merrell


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