IN WHICH 72 ACROSS TURNS INTO A DIFFERENT STORY

“One More Thing”

by Andrew Zornoza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 Across: Pantywaist

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

45 Across: Spacesuit worry

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

38 Down: “I don’t get no respect” to Rodney Dangerfield

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

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above, the novice-professional Cruciverbalist soaking up the knowledge

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

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

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

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

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Any taboos in your puzzle making?

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

Last question. Scrabble. Are you formidable?

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

I prefer to have fun with it.

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

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KUSHNER’S PLAYLIST

“Smells Like Content” — The Books (mp3)

“New England” — Jonathan Richman(m4a)

“Take me to the Basement” (mp3)

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

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In Which The Critic Regretfully Excludes Di Fara, El Bulli, The Fat Duck, Pierre Gagnaire And The Shake Shack

The Year in Foodstuffs

by Andrew Zornoza

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Ferris Acres Creamery Sweet Cream Ice Cream

Are these girls having fun, or what?

Bethel, Connecticut has long been the home of Dr. Mike’s, one of the great American ice cream shops. The doctor abruptly lost my business last year: just a quick jaunt away, on a straight stretch of Sugar Road, surrounded on either side by fields redolent of cow dung, is the Ferris Acres Farm and Creamery. In a small, unpretentious shack manned by stout armed, affable high school students, ice cream is served in generous portions from March to November.

Don’t let the sprinkles and whipped cream and hordes of little leaguers deceive you. Ferris Acres is currently producing one of the greatest gastronomic delights available on this tiny planet — a simple, exquisitely fresh mixture of cream and sugar: Sweet Cream Ice Cream.

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Known as nata in Portugal and Spain, but produced only as a base flavor in France and America (though if you find Philadelphia-style ice cream you may be close) this ice cream tastes like nothing but pure, sweet, rich, dairy. In the mouth it first gives like tender taffy and then melts like whipped butter. Here the small farm New England dairy cow (a species which is sadly declining) has reached its apotheosis of expression.

The ingredients at the Creamery are impeccable. When you sit at the picnic tables you can watch the cows munch on the grass while you munch on their cream. Cow to mouth distance is obviously minimal.

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Ferris has a whole range of flavors. Chocolate Whooper, Cow Trax, Campfire and Route 302 Chocolate Moo among them. All are excellent and each belongs to a different mood. The Black Raspberry is perfect and so is the Dark Chocolate Espresso. But it is the Sweet Cream that culinary archivists will be storing in their deep freezers for decades.

For a dinner party dessert, heat a cup of sugar in a heavy pan, add a cup of cream and stir constantly until you’ve got a dark caramel. Put two scoops of the Sweet Cream Ice Cream in a martini glass and drizzle with the caramel sauce.

Another bonus: just down the road from Ferris is the Holbrook Farm, where you can still buy unpasteurized (raw) milk.

Birrificio Doppio Malto Xyauyù Riserva Teo Musso 2005

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Below is a photograph of Teo Musso, who I can only begin to describe to you as an affable cross between Mark Cuban and Vincent Gallo. For two years running, Mr. Musso has made a beer so honeyed, so deliciously sweet, so heavy on the tongue that is would be better classified as a port. Only the slightest tingle on the tongue betrays a palimpsest of carbonation.

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About as far from Rome as Joyce was when he wrote Ulysses in Trieste, Teo makes his masterpieces in Piozzo, Italy, at his home-base Birreria-Baladin. Pronounced She-ah-you, Xyauyu is a genre-bending experiment, produced using a combination of brewing techniques and the solera method used in sherries.

Hallertau Hamsbrucker, Spalt Selct and East Kent Golding hops, caramalt, water and yeast burble along at primary fermentation for 25 days. Then the beer is strained and allowed to oxidize through the use of a permeable membrane — the brewmaster can remove fluid from the bottom of the barrel and add fresher brew from the top. The gold label Riserva has been left in the tanks the longest, for close to three years, until almost all traces of carbon dioxide have gone. This leads to a beer as still as maple syrup (no head here) and with a zoomy 14% level of alcohol. Each bottle is fittingly fitted with a cork rather than a cap.

Xyauyù Riserva can be found in more adventurous brew pubs and brew shops. Thanks to Julian’s owner/manager/empresario Brian Oakley for procuring the ThisRecording staff an extra bottle. If you’re in Providence, Rhode Island, you may be in luck. The always excellent Julian’s currently has bottles — tell Brian we sent you.

Parador de Mar Menor Arroz de Caldero

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Do you remember the Polly-O’s string cheese commercial?

“Hey, Fred! Gimme a pizza with extra cheese!”
“Extra cheese…”
“…and hold the tomato sauce!”
“Hold the tomato sauce?”
“…and hold the crust!”
“Hold the crust?! Hey, Jimmy… gimme a cheese with nuttin!”

“Nuttin?!”

A Caldero is a paella that has no meat, no seafood, no vegetables. No snails, clams, mussels, peas, onions, peppers or rabbit. No chorizo. It is brown, soupy, the consistency of risotto: but in appearance, not nearly as attractive.

It is just rice. Of course, it’s not that simple. Arroz de Caldero is made with a broth cooked from dawn to dusk in a pot Macbeth’s witches would covet. Whitings, mullets, sea spiders, angler tails, John Dorys and Dorada (Bream) are stirred, crushed, and patiently observed while they simmer in their juices suspended on a tripod over a wood-burning fire. The jovial and skilled Caldero cook can do two things while his guests wait for their meal: A) effortlessly dole out his homemade horchata B) pick out the fish heads at just the right time, cutting out the cheekmeat and balancing it on an outstretched paring knife for nibbling.

The end result of the stewing process is a stock so intense, so rich, so of the meat of the sea that the calasparra rice it rehydrates needs nothing added. Nothing except a dollop of sharp garlicky alioli to cut the flavor for contrast’s sake.

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The best arroz en caldero is made on the sunny Costa Calida of southeastern Spain. A glass bottom boat can be chartered from Santiago de la Ribera or Las Narejes and will take you across the Mar Menor — a small saltwater sea once visited by Moor princes, but now more known for its windsurfing. Call ahead to the Parador in Vivero to see if they are making Caldero. This parador (paradors are government supported hotels located in historic locations) is stunning, with an outdoor bar, a patio that fronts the Mediterranean, and views of the sea. Distant wakeboarders and the jagged edges of the Sierra Minera mountains frame the background. In the foreground, the man below sits in his van smoking a cigarette.

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He already will have 3 stock pots going.

His horchata is in a cooler waiting for you, the cheekmeats still burbling away in the stew.

There is coca-cola at the bar.

Extra Small Sweetwater Oysters Hog Island Oyster Company

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Fifty-six miles from the French Laundry, through sinuous curves and unprocessably gorgeous coastline is the Hog Island Oyster Company. Avoid the outposts at the San Francisco Ferry Terminal and elsewhere — get these pacific bivalves in situ. An oyster needs to be cold, alive, and pulled straight from the sea.

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At Hog Island’s Marshall location, oysters are grown tied to racks of re-bar set in directly in the Tomales Bay . The tides of Tomales bay keep nutrients flowing to the oysters and keep the shells curving into the distinctive crennelations, cupping the sweet meat inside.

At Hog Island you will be given a cafeteria tray, a rubber glove and an oyster knife. Bring a bag of Cape Cod potato chips and a bottle of Sonoma champagne. Don the glove and grasp an oyster, cupped side down. Find the hinge of the oyster and slip in the knife. Twist as you cut the muscle and lift away the top shell. Use the knife to free the still shivering oyster and slurp the whole thing down.

RANHOFER’S PLAYLIST:

“Pork Roll Egg and Cheese” — Ween (mp3)

“New York” — Cat Power (mp3)

“Button” — Shugo Tokumaru (mp3)

“Give me Daughters” — Jonathan Fire*Eater (mp3)

“Ice Cream Man” — Tom Waits (mp3)

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

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In Which There Is No Defense Against the Onslaught of Reality

Creator of Worlds

by Andrew Zornoza

Gary Gygax: July 27th 1938-March 4, 2008

Late autumn, the smell of decomposing leaves, water rushing through the creek. Three boys with mud and blood streaked forearms. Down jackets. Glasses left in the mire, recovered in the spring. A basement filled with Harlequin books, a coca-cola radio that is wired to turn on from the light switch at the top of the stairs. Balsa wood planes. Five dollars allowance wadded in a fist. Forbidden Planet. A fire in the woods. Yellow ochre spiral springs of dilapidated sofas and condom wrappers. The library.

24 feet underground. Papers worn thin and soft as cotton, smudged with lead, folded in the back pockets of J.C. Penney jeans. Lamps brought under the covers. Fingers burned. Figures studied, numbers added, multiplied. Boys on bikes, on foot, crawling.

Sewer pipe underneath the road, black creek. Puffs of bianca.

The death of Gary Gygax saddens me beyond repair. And as I get older, the word ‘repair’ is leaving my senses—there is no repair, only replacement, reconfiguration.

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In Which Ninety Nine Percent of the Game Is Half-Mental

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A Wedding Guide for Grooms in New York

by Andrew Zornoza

Yogi Berra is one of few baseball players whose fame somehow eclipsed his actual playing ability. He was the ultimate bad ball hitter, threw out quite a few runners despite an average throwing arm, and had a penchant for quotations.

In an abstract sense, Yogi was very similar to Zsa Zsa Gabor. Zsa Zsa managed to sleep with a battalion of rich men, took them for all they were worth once divorce proceedings started, and also had countless interesting things to say about the sport of her choice.

Zsa Zsa on marriage: You never really know a man until you have divorced him.

And: I know nothing about sex because I was always married.

And: Husbands are like fires—they go out when unattended.

Getting married in New York is daunting. Everything is expensive, there are headaches, crowds, subway closures, $6 bottles of water: your ego will undoubtedly be tromped upon.

What follows is some advice for the curious bride, the gentleman looking for sartorial advice and, most importantly, the NYC groom.

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In Which He Cracked A Casa Last Night And Fenced The Swag And Pinched A Swell Of A Spark Fawney, And Had Sent The Yak To Church, And Got Half A Century And A Finniff For The Fawney

Met Stetson and Gave Him an Earful

by Andrew Zornoza

The Musical Illusionist: And Other Tales
Alex Rose

Hotel St. George Press

The world repaginates. . . .

In The Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things, one of Gilbert Sorrentino’s characters describes his writing as “pushing reality so hard that it fell over on its back and became a kind of fantasy.”

It’s an odd roster of books that accomplish this: books such as The Art of Memory by Francis Yates; The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury; The New Historical Baseball Abstract by Bill James. The flipside of this list contains works by Borges, Calvino, and Rodrigo Rey Rosawriters who push the imagination far enough so that it becomes a kind of reality.

Alex Rose’s work belongs with this second group. His debut collection, The Musical Illusionist, is a compendium of riddles, mysteries, oddities, and paradoxes. These tiny tales are arranged as exhibits in an imagined “Library of Tangents.

Some examples. . . .

From Topologies: A city, called Waldemar, that reforms itself based upon the paths chosen by its inhabitants.

From Neurographies: Dysanimagnois. A condition in which the afflicted believes certain people are not themselves, but doppelgängers, impostors.

From Horologies: A mathematician who wishes to invent a formula that can solve all paradoxes.

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In Which Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett and Richard Gere Are Interchangeable But Why Didn’t Heath Play The Gay Cowboy In This One

And Man Gave Names To All The Animals

by Andrew Zornoza

I’m Not There

dir. Todd Haynes

135 minutes

It is not clear if they are hobos, farmers, or townsfolk, but it is clear that they are four people down on their luck, and they stare out from the movie screen as grimly as dustbowlers from a Walker Evans’ photograph. In the background, a weathered grey barn yearns for the sky. An American ruin, completing the picture.

And I find it difficult to suppress a yawn. It’s 2007; I live in paved-over Brooklyn. When I hear the word “americana” I think, for no rational or defensible reason, of the photograph of that lone man standing in front of tanks at Tiananmen Square. Except that, in my mind, the tanks are actually rolling down Flatbush Avenue and the man is Chris Rock, stripped to his underwear. Parenthetically, I do not think of Woody Guthrie’s hardscrabble narratives or Osh-Kosh overalls.

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