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November 2007

Merv Griffin's Crosswords: Strategic Advice

I got several emails from fellow contestant Michael Cahill about Merv Griffin's Crosswords. His show hasn't aired yet, so he hasn't told me how he did and I can't tell you. But he did offer useful advice.

First, I would like to thank you for all your help a few weeks back. It really helped me on my goal of getting on the show. Surprisingly, out of the 18 of us taking the test, only about 4 of us admitted to watching the show. In case you are interested, I asked the people that work there a bunch of questions that I asked you earlier and I got answers.

There is a set order in which the questions are given. However it is not known which particular questions will become the "Crossword Extras" until a certain time has passed in a round and then only after a correct response has been given can it be shown.

On some shows it really gets slow especially if there are multiple spoils or many incorrect answers given. This results in more squares needed to be filled in during the bonus round.

One can only see whether or not the people in the first row have buzzed in or not. The only way you could tell if a spoiler buzzed in is if you heard the sound but not see that a person in the first row buzzed in. So if more than 1 spoiler buzzed in, you would not know the order until a spoiler gets an opportunity to answer. This was also important for the person in the winning podium as if the losing podium buzzes, the winning podium is safe for that question. I was in the spoilers’ row so even now I am not sure how good I was at buzzing in.

It is possible that on a really low scoring game that they will start the whole game over with a new board. Apparently they have done this twice.

As people were waiting to get on the show, they showed older episodes of the show. If you happened to be on the episode where they used the clue "tasty" and the answer was "sepid", that’s one of the episodes they showed. Once my show was taped, one of the stagehands mentioned that they should use my show as the example to waiting contestants. Then again, they might say that to everyone.

Here are some further changes made onto the show.

The crossword getaways are gone. It was mentioned that they slow down game play and the trips were not that great. It’s hard for someone to be excited about a trip in which there is a good chance they won’t have that podium at the end.

Because the getaways are gone, the number of Crossword Extras have increased from 3 to 4. There are now 2 in the second round and for the one in the third round, one can wager up to $2000 if s/he does not have that much. Apparently with this change, some of the wins have gotten into the 5 figure range.

The bonus round still awards a trip to some Caribbean place, but the cash has been upped from $2000 to $5000 and they also award an XBOX 360 package worth $509. In fact the crossword extras are now called "The XBOX 360 Crossword Extra" and the XBOX logo shows up on the corner when one occurs.

Actually do some crosswords before trying out. [This worked for me; I would never have spelled TSAR the correct way if I hadn't been doing crosswords for years]. You’d be surprised at how often clues repeat themselves. Before taking the test I was doing a puzzle where there was a 4 letter clue for "Alaskan Port City." There were enough letters filled in for me figure the answer is "NOME." The exact same question shows up on the test. (I had tests number 2 and 7. Do you remember which ones you had?)

The guy who makes the puzzles for the show also does the daily USA Today crossword and the online Yahoo Crossword. Allegedly the puzzle on the show is an equivalent of a Friday/Saturday puzzle so take a stab at those ones.

While taking the test you can write down the clue next to where the answer is just in case you don’t know it but think you might later. This is useful for when a later clue is very easy and now you can take more time with the one you did not know.

Just because the people next to you write down the answers very quickly does not mean they are right. I thought I was in way over my head when the two people next to me were jotting down answers I was clueless about. Turned out one person was just writing down "I don’t know" as an answer while the other was just writing down the clue just like what I was doing.

If you manage to pass the test, (in my case about 2/3 of the people did) you go off to the personal interview. The obvious things to do are to look at the camera, smile, and speak clearly. The not obvious thing is that the fact that they are looking for people with an energy level more likely found on "The Price

Is Right" rather than "Jeopardy!" They want people who act as if they solved a Wheel of Fortune puzzle when they get a successful spoil. Although it is just answering one clue, one should be excited that it was a clue that neither front player answered.

If you manage to make it on the show, it should be known that unlike Jeopardy, there is no penalty for buzzing in early. There is a red light that lights up when it is time to buzz in. A yellow light lights up indicating that you have buzzed in. Personally I prefer waiting until the red light shows before buzzing as it is possible that if you are pressing before it lights, you might have it in the down position when the red light goes on and that extra time to let go of the buzzer and press it again may put you in second or third position.

I know they showed the first episode that aired because I remember the dorky 19 year old kid who was excited about the Las Vegas trip even though a person of his age would not be able to gamble. They showed 2 more before I was called to go on. All the shows featured I did see on TV as I recall some of those memorable "groaner" clues. You know, the clues that explain why they don’t have a real audience because if they did the audience would throw stuff on stage to express their opinion on a "punny" clue. Here are a couple of tests clues I was baffled by, I tried to come up with some funny answer on some of them.

11 Letters "A real pity." I thought it was "shamefulness" but that did not fit. Another person put "Full of Shame" which actually did fit.

4 Letters "A permanent solution." One person put down "kill" while I put down "nuke." Either one could be right.

5 Letters "A native New Zealander." The last letter was given as an "I". I put down "A Kiwi." Close enough.

Bonus tip: If the game is close and you manage to get the last crossword extra, either bet a small amount so that even if right or wrong the totals are within $600 or bet everything. It does not make sense to bet an amount that results in a landslide either good or bad unless you bet it all. With only a few clues left, unless the difference in the totals is $600 or less, it is really hard for the person behind to catch up. There should be no middle ground in that situation. If the scores are not close then bet everything if you are behind. If you are ahead, then bet an amount where even a wrong answer will still put you ahead by $600.

One more tip for potential contestants. They ask that you bring 3 shirts for the show and they choose which one looks best. They also want variety in the colors so that no two contestants have the same colored shirt. It has to be a solid color that is neither white nor black. In fact, colors close to those two extremes is not allowed. An exposed white undershirt is not allowed but a black under shirt is allowed. (They really don’t like white.) They don’t want stripes or any pattern that could create a moiré effect on TV. This tip was very important because I arrived in LA with nothing but striped shirts or shirts with logos on them. Thankfully my friend had a grey dress shirt for me to borrow.

Fun fact: The gigantic nametags are recycled because many people have the same name. In fact on our day of taping, 5 people had the name "Michael" so we all had to be on separate shows. They must have 2 of each common name as one group is being set up as another group is playing. Even contestants with obscure names can not keep their tags.

Another fun fact: The spoilers take a secret entrance from behind stage. The twinkling lights in the background are actually reflecting beads that reflect from a light source from the ground. There is a gap between two lines of beads in which the spoilers walkthrough. Up ahead behind a column there is a hidden staircase that the spoilers walk up. At the top of the stairs is the top of the ramp. The column separates the real ramp on the left and the fake ramp on the right that goes to the ceiling. That is why you never see anyone on the ramp to the right of that column. That ramp is slippery, so be careful! I managed to keep it together while walking down. The spoilers are on the ramp at the end of the commercial break, but the camera angles are set up so that you can’t see the spoilers until they are introduced.

It’s funny watching a show now and seeing how often spoils occur while on the show I was on, there was only one spoil in the entire game. The two people in front were ruthless and I believe that there were only 3 times in which a spoiler had an opportunity to answer. For the other times, either someone in the front row knew or no one knew.


by Craig Reynolds

Comcast v. BitTorrent: this issue involves both high tech net neutrality (the lack of it) and low tech sleazy business practices like false advertising (ISPs that advertise one bandwidth number but actually deliver much, much less): Comcast: We’re Delaying, Not Blocking, BitTorrent Traffic, Comcast resets BitTorrent users; net neutrality lovers lash out, Comcast to face lawsuits over BitTorrent filtering and Sharing Is Never Easy.

Gmail IMAP: the blogosphere was abuzz with Gmail's introduction of IMAP protocol: Gmail's Latest Trick: IMAP, Therefore I Am, IMAP, YouMAP, WeMAP: Mail Protocol's Proponents Argue for Better Support, What Gmail IMAP Means for You (and Your iPhone), A Better Way to Set Up Gmail IMAP and like Sting sang, if you love somebody, set them free: Google Takes No Prisoners.

Futurists on robots and AI, experts speculate on the future: Robots Will Become Part of Daily Life, Interview: BT 'futurologist': AI entity will win Nobel by 2020 and Cracking GO.

Cosmic news: fighting fire from orbit: NASA's high-tech wildfire weapons. Satelloons last week now Solar Telescope Soars Into Sky On Jumbo-jet-sized Balloon. Suddenly a million time brighter: Mystery Comet Explodes Into Brightness.

Technobits: similar in spirit to reCaptcha, assistive vision service via human-based computation: In Human Grid, We are the Cogs --- Open Content Alliance says Google and Microsoft too restrictive: Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web --- Password-cracking chip causes security concerns --- software for Rating Facial Expressions --- The Hard Science of Making Videogames and When work becomes a game --- Loving the Internet --- Humorous 'Bot' Recognizes Jokes --- more on synbio: Scientists have a new way to reshape nature, but none can predict the cost --- Sexual Orientation Is Genetic in Worms --- Supersize elements created in lab ("US researchers have created exotic new versions of atomic nuclei including one previously thought to not exist.") --- great video contest: can you explain String Theory in Two Minutes or Less? Check out String Ducky and The Problem With Math...

Health Insurance Explained

Dan Grobstein forwarded this. It's been posted hundreds of times, so I can't tell who wrote it originally.

Q . What does HMO stand for ?

A. This is actually a variation of the phrase, "HEY MOE." Its roots go back to a concept pioneered by Moe of the Three Stooges, who discovered that a patient could be made to forget the pain in his foot if he was poked hard enough in the eye.

Q . I just joined an HMO . How difficult will it be to choose the doctor I want?

A. Just slightly more difficult than choosing your parents. Your insurer will provide you with a book listing all the doctors in the plan. The doctors basically fall into two categories: those who are no longer accepting new patients, and those who will see you but are no longer participating in the plan. But don't worry, the remaining doctor who is still in the plan and accepting new patients has an office just a half-day's drive away and a diploma from a third world country.

Q. Do all diagnostic procedures require pre-certification?

A. No. Only those you need.

Q. Can I get coverage for my preexisting conditions?

A. Certainly, as long as they don't require any treatment.

Q. What happens if I want to try alternative forms of medicine?

A. You'll need to find alternative forms of payment.

Q . My pharmacy plan only covers generic drugs, but I need the name brand . I tried the generic medication, but it gave me a stomachache. What should I do?

A. Poke yourself in the eye .

Q. What if I'm away from home and I get sick ?

A. You really shouldn't do that.

Q. I think I need to see a specialist, but my doctor insists he can handle my problem . Can a general practitioner really perform a heart transplant right in his/her office ?

A. Hard to say, but considering that all you're risking is the $20 co-payment, there's no harm in giving it a shot .

Q . Will health care be different in the next decade ?

A. No, but if you call right now, you might get an appointment by then .

To Your Good Health (because as you'll see, you'll need it !)



Q: I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life; is this true?

A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that's it... don't waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?

A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass (green leafy vegetable). And a pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily allowance of vegetable products.

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?

A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is also made out of grain. Bottoms up!

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?

A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?

A: Can't think of a single one, sorry. My philosophy is: No Pain...Good !

Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?

A: YOU'RE NOT LISTENING !!! ... Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil. In fact, they're permeated in it. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?

Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?

A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.

Q: Is chocolate bad for me?

A: Are you crazy? HELLO Cocoa beans! Another vegetable!!! It's the best feel-good food around!

Q: Is swimming good for your figure?

A: If swimming is good for your figure, explain whales to me.

Q: Is getting in-shape important for my lifestyle?

A: Hey! 'Round' is a shape!

*Well, I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about foodand diets.

And remember: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - Chardonnay in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO, What a Ride!!"

Neal Vitale Reviews: Dan In Real Life

3.5 stars out of 5

Dan In Real Life is not exactly real life - things don't work out this neatly - but it is a cute, sweet film with a good ensemble cast and an often funny script. The mix of actors is eclectic, from TV personalities like Steve Carell (the American version of "The Office") and John Mahoney ("Frasier"), to filmdom's Dianne Wiest (Hannah And Her Sisters, The Horse Whisperer), Juliette Binoche (Chocolat, The English Patient) and Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), and even stand-up comic (and baseball promoter) Dane Cook and a winsome batch of kids. Writer/director Peter Hedges adds another entertaining and appealing tale of the challenges of parenting, family dynamics, and the search for love and acceptance to a resume that already includes About A Boy, Pieces Of April, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

Letters: FEMA Blasted, Lasusa Links, NY Times Editorial Touted, Peterman Writes Vanity Fair, Dan Grobstein File

This just in: FEMA blasted for 'news' conference

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: Some Pre-Halloween Fun in honor of next Wednesday. Happy Halloween Everyone!! From 1979: The Halloween that Almost Wasn't starring Judd Hirsch and Mariette Hartely… p1P2p3 (it's Disco Dracula at the end that makes it all the worthwhile)…A Happy Tree Friends HalloweenDaddy, little girl and her 'friend' play hide and seekRowan Atkinson's Devil Welcomes You to HellMost Haunted Cemetary in the worldGhosts, Spirits, and Demons -- 'caught on tape'Build the Ultimate Werewolf CostumeGhost-Hunter: NYC Has Most Haunted PlacesWhen Cute Animals Go BAD (Freaky Photoshop Fun)The History of HalloweenA Repost of some of my favorite Halloween-esque PoemsGhost stories for HalloweenThe Legend of the Jack-o-Lantern.

Tom thinks we should all read this NY Times editorial. I agree: Another $200 Billion

My friend and regular contributor, Kent Peterman, wrote this letter to Vanity Fair:

I read with interest James Wolcott's extremely thorough, pompous, and overblown study of the twist. When I danced "the Twist" in college I never dreamed it was the advent of a new society. I think that Mr. Wolcott reads to much into it. He makes "The Twist" more powerful than it was. It was a fun dance. Let us live with that memory. After all sometimes: "...a kiss is just a kiss, a smile is just a smile..." Oh good lord, now Mr. Wolcott will undoubtedly dissect "As Time Goes By" and add social relevance to it. In the immortal words of the Beatles...Let it be, Mr. Wolcott, let it be.

Dan Grobstein File

Tales of Teaching: Management

My mother, who was a high school teacher, told me to judge a school by its leadership and the way the teachers felt about the principal and vice principals. It's the reason I'm at the school where I teach. I subbed  there first and noticed how beloved and respected the management was. I student taught at this school, and found the principal approachable; in addition, when he observed me, his comments were trenchant, and above all, useful.

We had a new principal last year, but before I could develop an opinion of her, she resigned for health reasons.

And now we have a new principal. I can't give his name, because I don't write about people in this column without their permission. But let me say a couple of things. First of all, he's a good listener and communicator (incipient teachers: look for both of these things!). Secondly, I can pay him the compliment we used to pay the very best editors at CMP Publishing: "He can really move the paper off his desk."

Now this may sound like damning with faint praise, but let me tell you something: if you've ever worked for someone who doesn't move the paper off their desk, you will know that this is high praise indeed. Your memos, emails, phone calls, purchase orders, and requests for equipment and permission are your top priority. Some managers do not make these their top priority. There is a name for this kind of management: bad.

Thirdly, the new principal gets around. He visits classes, he patrols the yard. Since he's in his first year at our school, I can't make a firm judgment, but so far I like what I see.

And, you first-year teachers who Googled your way here: my mother was right. Judge a school by its leadership, because everything else comes and goes but leaders (usually) stick around, and while bad ones sometimes get better, good ones rarely get worse (and if they're asked to get worse, they usually leave).

Another Gift Tip

My friend Richard Dalton writes:

Our family has a tradition of "can-you-top-this" stocking stuffers at Christmas. I enjoyed the link to the Temperature Controlled Faucet Light in your current issue but, believe it or not, that would be too practical for our ongoing stocking stuffer contest. The same site, though, has something so tacky (in more than one dimension) that I have already ordered it: Chew-by-the-Numbers-Tulips. If that title isn't obvious, stretch your imagination a bit.


by Craig Reynolds

iPhone unbound: when first released, iPhone was locked up in two important ways. As a business model, the phone was tied to AT&T wireless service. Much more fundamentally, iPhone was closed to new software from non-Apple developers. Workarounds ("jailbreaks") soon appeared for both of these issues, some of which were defeated by Apple's first software upgrade, which has subsequently been re-circumvented. Apple's lame public stance had been that developers should create browser-based web apps as an alternative to native iPhone apps. Finally Apple has announced what everyone has been waiting for (what we must assume was their original intention but was left out of the initial release of iPhone to meet an aggressive roll-out schedule) an SDK to allow creation of third party native apps. A sampling of news and commentary: Developers Rejoice! Apple to Release SDK in February, iPhone, you'll be a computer, soon, Apple's Coming SDK Means A Larger Audience For Mac Developers, Developers on iPhone SDK: OMG! ABFT!, What the iPhone SDK means for open source and What iPhone apps do you want to see?

Critters: as per my policy of covering any apparent new species: Possible new marine species found in Celebes Sea and New Species Found in Remote Asian Sea? This is an interesting story about moose changing their behavior to take advantage of disruptions from human activity. Bears do not like highways which provides a novel survival strategy: Moose Moms Prefer Traffic to Grizzly Bears. Woolly bear caterpillars: U.S. weather watchers turn to furry forecasters. Biomemetic adhesive: Patterns on Tree-Frog Feet Inspire Glue and Frogs inspire new super sticky tape. Closing in on the "top down" approach to artificial life wetware: Creating life in the laboratory. OK, this is just goofy fun: Snowball the Cockatoo.

RIAA nitwits: more from their lawsuit against the single mom: Jammie Thomas: 'I'm no puppet' for RIAA foes and Defendant knocks Web illiterate juror in RIAA case. Evidence of their diminishing relevance: Take That, RIAA!

Biofuels: National Geographic on the right and wrong way to make them: Green Dreams. Can there be a carbon-negative fuel? Lets hope so because Oceans are 'soaking up less CO2'.

Old tech: Tracing computer history from "ancient" times to the latest technology and Dinosaur Sightings: 1970s computers. Remember this 1950's space technology?: The Satelloons Of Project Echo.

Technobits: consumers love iPods and dislike music subscription services, but Universal thinks they know better: Universal Music Takes on iTunes --- Google and I.B.M. Join in ‘Cloud Computing’ Research --- Taiwan's Asustek launches 'low-priced' laptop --- Broadcom introduces 3G on chip --- 62 Days + Almost 3 Billion Pings + New Visualization Scheme = the First Internet Census Since 1982 (I like that this was inspired by a presentation in comic form) --- Fruit compound fights head and neck cancer --- Couple swarmed by SWAT team after 911 'hack' --- StupidFilter: Bayesian filtering for "stupidity".

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

3.5 stars out of 5

If you love costume dramas, or are a big fan of Clive Owen (Sir Walter Raleigh), Geoffrey Rush (Sir Francis Walsingham) or Cate Blanchett (Queen Elizabeth I), or if you even know who these historical characters are, you'll love this film. If you've never heard of the Spanish Armada, you'll be both bored and baffled. You get out of this film what you bring to it. We were thinking of taking our 8th graders on a field trip to see it, but a) they'd be baffled and b) the scene of the tongue being cut out, the mask torture and Cate's dorsal nudity (to borrow John Cleese's lovely phrase) put the kibosh on that idea. Better get moving, it won't be in theaters long, and it won't be half as good looking on a TV screen--even in HD.