Across and Down, and Onward to Victory

“Mexican salamander.” Seven letters. The first two letters are AX. Hmmm.

“Kudos for Menudo” … could that be BRAVO, or is it BRAVA?

I close my eyes and think hard as I struggle over a challenging crossword puzzle. But I’m not on the subway or in my easy chair. I’m in a hotel ballroom surrounded by hundreds of other people doing the same thing.

This weekend brings the 34th edition of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held for the fourth time in Downtown Brooklyn. The most prestigious competition of its kind in the country, it gained mainstream popularity with the release of the 2006 documentary “Wordplay,” which exposed the eccentric, though oddly charming, world of top puzzlers to a wider audience.

I’ve entered the contest three times. I finished 100th out of about 700 entrants in my maiden appearance, then improved to 96th, missing only one letter in one puzzle (where AXOLOTL crossed BRAVO, if you must know). But last year, I struggled with one particularly difficult puzzle and finished only 125th. I’ll be aiming to reclaim my place in the top 100 this weekend.

How fast are the top solvers? Very. I can do a Monday puzzle in The New York Times in five minutes or less, and the more difficult Friday and Saturdays in 15 to 20. And there will be at least 75 people at the contest who are significantly faster than that. Here, the five-time champion Tyler Hinman solves a Monday puzzle in less than two and a half minutes.

The contest begins on Saturday, with three puzzles in the morning and three more, including the traditionally toughest one, in the afternoon. Everyone returns for one more puzzle on Sunday morning. There’s a time limit for each puzzle, and points are docked for incorrect (or blank) answers. And most important, there are bonus points for finishing quickly. Preferably very quickly.

Friends occasionally ask to come watch the tournament, but there is really not much to see. Basically, there are rows and rows of people with pencils sitting in a hotel ballroom doing crossword puzzles. It looks a lot like a college final exam being taken by people mostly in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

And it feels like a final exam, too. Especially when you are halfway through a challenging puzzle, trying to remember if an amphora handle is an ANSA or an ANTA, and the smart kids all around you are finishing the puzzle, handing it to a judge and smugly strolling out of the room. Or is it an ASTA?

Solving puzzles as fast as possible also has the potential to suck some of the joy out of them: you have no time to savor a fun clue, or appreciate some clever wordplay. It’s like speed reading Jane Austen.

After the Sunday morning puzzle, the scores are added and the top three finishers face off for the championship. This final round is the only one that has the potential to bring some excitement for a neutral observer. The finalists stand on stage and race each other to solve a final, extra-difficult puzzle on large poster boards with markers. There is play-by-play commentary and the audience is sometimes on the edge of its seats, as in 2009 when Mr. Hinman came up with the winning answers with time running out.

First prize is $5,000, and the money drops off quickly after that. So no one’s getting rich. Mr. Hinman’s five-year hold on the trophy was interrupted last year by a relative newcomer, Dan Feyer. Some of the stars of “Wordplay” will be also back to seek the title. The Wordplay blog of The Times will also be covering the event.

Who will win this year? Will I return to the Top 100? What is an ETUI, anyway? We’ll post again after the tournament and let you know how it turned out.

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City May Face Increase in Homeless Costs, Report Says

Spending on homeless shelters in New York City could increase by up to 66 percent next year because of the elimination of a generous rental voucher program for poor families, according to a report by the city’s Independent Budget Office released on Friday.

The city decided to end the program, known as Advantage, last week because of state budget cuts. As a result, many of the 15,000 families that depended on the program for rental subsidies will probably be forced to return to shelter.

The budget office said that if 70 percent of families fall back into the system, spending on shelters would increase by $455 million next year. The city, state and federal government share shelter costs.

“It is both unconscionable and unacceptable that this program is set to be eliminated without any safety nets in place,” said Annabel Palma, chair of the City Council’s General Welfare Committee.

The Department of Homeless Services has said the elimination of the Advantage program was necessary because the city could not afford to pay for the program without help from the state.

In a statement, the Department of Homeless Services said it agreed with Ms. Palma but directed blame at Albany. “The state should not have abruptly backed out of its commitment to fund Advantage with no plan for the 15,000 households already in the program and the thousands of shelter families who were counting on the subsidy,” said Barbara Brancaccio, a deputy commissioner.

The 61-page report by the budget office looked in depth at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The budget office projected that spending on charter schools would increase by $139 million next year, even as the school system as a whole faces cuts. Indeed, spending on charter schools has increased significantly, from $165 million in 2007 to an estimated $711 million next year, as enrollment has grown and per-pupil funding from the state has increased.

Over all, the budget office said the city was in relatively good shape but cautioned that New York “continues to face economic and budget challenges.” The city has regained nearly half of the 131,700 private-sector jobs lost during the recession, but many do not pay as well as the jobs that were lost.

The report said that even with Mr. Bloomberg’s proposed cuts and an infusion of money from Albany, the city could still face a shortfall of $195 million next year.

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Double Glazing Costs Verses Double Glazing Benefits

Double Glazing Costs Verses Double Glazing Benefits

When looking at Double Glazing either installing new or replacing early less efficient double glazing, you will need to look at costs verses benefits, now lets take this one step at a time.

The Benefits

There are many benefits of Double Glazing including Draught reduction, draught elimination, sound insulation, heat retention, cool air retention, and at the top end of the scale A Rated Double glazing actually helps to heat your home in winter months and cool your home in summer months. How does this work? Sounds pretty unbelievable dont you think!

Well it works by letting in more of the suns energy than it allows to escape, free energy really in the winter, and yes this type of Double Glazing will help to heat your home, and it will save a huge amount on your energy bill.

How does it cool? Well in the summer months the special coating on this glass combined with argon or krypton gas between the panes reflects heat from the glass keeping your home cool.

Look at it this way, Double Glazing is rated in a very similar way to fridges and freezers, in that it is rated from A to E, A being the best that helps to heat and cool your home and E being the most inefficient at heat retention.

It was most common in 2009/10 to fit either B rated or C rated Double Glazing, which is a good indication of other peoples Double Glazing Cost Verses Benefits Analysis.

Double Glazing Costs Verses Benefits, Think Again Because Times Are Changing!

Fuel and energy costs are spiralling and with unrest in many oil and gas producing countries, things look like they may well get a lot worse, before they get better, governments throughout the world have overspent, and many countries have had to introduce austerity measures which include tax and stealth tax increases which DIRECTLY EFFECT the cost of energy and fuel.

Therefore you may now on re examination agree that A Rated Double Glazing Cost will repay its investment cost quite quickly, especially if the forecast that things will get a lot worse before they get any better is correct.

As an expert in this field with over thirty years experience I would strongly suggest that it is now clear that if you are having double glazing replaced, that the Double Glazing costs verses benefits comparison shows A rated Double Glazing to be the most economic choice for 2011 and future years, if you can afford it then fit the best first time, you will see energy bills reduced quite significantly from the first few months after installation.

Double Glazing must be installed the highest standards, this is because double glazed windows will be expensive to repair, therefore the importance of finding skilled highly experienced double glazing experts is of great importance.

Who should I chose to fit my double glazing?

The next obvious question would be who should supply and install my double glazing? Well this isnt the easiest question to answer big corporate companies such as Anglian and Everest supply and fit great products, but they have huge overheads, think about it carefully.

Big Companies Have The Following:-

– Big Overheads with property, employees, and logistics.

– Sales teams and cold call teams these all cost money and add to their costs exponentially.

– Employed fitters often changing on a monthly basis, are these experienced experts in their field? Now Im sure they go through a training programme, but in my experience I have seen many poor quality fitting jobs by major companies, schoolboy errors that no double glazing fitter should ever make.

– Haulage costs as the big boys factories are often many miles from the job, again this is paid for by the customer.

So where does this bring us? Well as you may have guessed I have a small family business that specializes in double glazing installation and double glazing repairs.

You will be forgiven for thinking that I would say this, but bear me out for another sentence, a small local business such as ours has many benefits, firstly we have been doing the same thing Double Glazing for 32 years, we are home based so our overheads are low, we use local manufacturing, no transport costs.

Our Double Glazing Suppliers make the same specification products as the big companies do, they have to as due to carbon footprint control the whole energy conservation industry is now closely monitored and regulated, if my supplier manufactures A Rated double glazed windows, they have to have exactly the same rating as those by big companies such as Everest.

Now I cannot suggest that some of our suppliers supply the big boys, but I guess if they are busy then they will have to have other manufacturers produce their product, think Nike and Adidas for example, it is fairly common knowledge that their trainers come out of the same far eastern factories, just different production runs for different products, but the same factory and machinery.

Nike and Adidas simply book production time at far eastern factories, does this effect quality? Well Nike and Adidas would say no it does not; therefore it must be safe to think that perhaps the same scenario exists in the production of Double Glazing products.

So to summarise this is my suggestion to you.

Double Glazing Costs vary for a reason that you now know, it would make economic sense to fit high quality A Rated Double Glazing using an established experienced Local Business that has specialized in fitting Double Glazing for many years, look for a proven track record from an expert, if you are faced with double glazing sales people who spend hours in your home trying to sell you double glazing, I bet they will phone their manager for a Special One Off Price for today only.

This is known in marketing circles as a scarcity tactic, trust me firstly show them the door as quickly as you can because if you do decide to buy from them, I promise you that the price will still be available, and if you chose to tell them you will take their offer at 10% less than their Special One Off Price then they will still do the deal, they need you and you do not necessarily need them!

Peter Needham Double Glazing Repairs Newport

The Double Glazing Window Doctor.

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Home-Based Baking: Profits from My Kitchen

Over five years ago when I first moved to the Cary, North Carolina my neighbors were telling me to visit the Raleigh Farmers Market conveniently located on I-40 and Lake Wheeler Road, exit 297. I was taken back by this 75 acre, modern facility providing up to 225,000 square feet of covered, climate controlled, year round retail and wholesale space. Sold were seasonal vegetable and fruits by the pound or by the bushel. There were homemade baked goods, jellies, jams, honey, and the North Carolina Seafood Restaurant serving up deep-fried Calabash-style seafood, with mounds of home fries and hush puppies.

Now at first glance I was amazed at the amount of food and the number of customers that rolled through the market that fine Saturday morning. I soon learned that North Carolina is a special state; one that possess a cottage food law and encourages home food processors to try their luck at creating unique specialties like pickled collard greens and some of the best homemade snickerdoodle cookies around.

Has anyone ever told you to sell that delicious pound cake? Have friends and family insisted you could be making extra income selling your delicious chocolate marble cupcakes? If this sounds like you, then you could be baking up profits from your kitchen. All over the country there are countless home-based bakeries delivering heavenly baked goods throughout the community.

If you are interested in starting a home bakery business, you need to know that there are many responsibilities that go with starting your home bakery. Every state is different and in some states you will first need to have a Food Regulatory Specialist/Food Compliance Officer come to your home and inspect it. In most cases the Department of Agriculture is the governing agency that will oversee your compliance inspection, however sometimes it is your local health department.

Why an inspection? Your kitchen will need to be inspected to assure that it is clean and in proper condition to produce baked goods that are suitable for human consumption. Although a license is not always required for a home-based bakery, and a separate kitchen may not be needed, you will have to comply with special conditions set down by the Department of Agriculture or your local regulatory agency.

There are currently 25 states that allow some type of home food processing, allowing you to sell baked goods/candies to the public. Operating a home-based bakery means finding your niche. Do you make a “mad” pound cake; custom cookies or a fabulous dry jerk rub? Years ago when the country was predominately rural there were many home food processors selling their jams, preserves and jellies, along with homemade breads, pastries, cakes, pies and cookies.

When I first started out in home baking the Raleigh Farmers Market asked home-bakers to sell their goods at the Crafters Shed away from the main market area. Today there is a special area for home-based bakers and the public is flocking to their tables. The baked goods are fresh, delicious and offer a variety not available in grocery stores.

Let there be no mistake, operating a home-based bakery is hard work. It means long hours and a commitment to quality, but for those who take on the challenge it is by far the best job ever. You set your own hours, you provide the public with delicious goods that can only be duplicated by you and for those with families they are their when the children get home from school.

The down side of the profession use to be the isolation, but there are baking forums popping up everywhere online to help bakers stay in touch with one another and support one another building a camaraderie among home-based bakers that never existed before.

Baking for a living is an honorable profession, plus Internet access offers many bakers the opportunity to sell their products online. Diane Purkey, the owner of Maines Cakes and Cookies, has been baking from home for more than seven years. She loves what she does and provides the public with incredible baked goods. This is also a wonderful way for those who cook for a living, e.g. personal chefs to offer their clients a little touch of something fresh from the oven.

The next time someone suggests that you sell that apple pie or Red Velvet cake consider operating a home-based bakery. You never know where the journey will take you and today good homemade baked goods are like jobs, hard to find.

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Morning Buzz | 8 Million People, 4 Snow-Removal Tickets

Weather: disorientingly and almost inappropriately delightful Friday, with a high around 70. Back to normal for the weekend, which is still pretty good — sunny with highs in the low 50s.

In the wake of the Boxing Day Blizzard that paralyzed New York, the city could have written scads of $100 tickets to homeowners who violated the snow-removal law by failing to clear their sidewalks within four hours after the snow stopped. But in the week that followed, it issued only four such tickets.

Which makes the people who received them — mostly Queens residents — that much more incensed. [NYT]

New York & the Rest of the World

Colleges have long trumpeted the benefits of studying abroad, as they have expanded programs on all seven continents and opened new campuses overseas. But as the world has erupted politically and physically in recent weeks, administrators and students have been fast discovering the downside. New York University had to evacuate 50 students and staff members from three sites across Egypt. Cornell’s borrowed campus in New Zealand was damaged in the earthquake there last month. And on Thursday, Temple University offered to fly 200 students back from its branch campus in Tokyo. [NYT]

New York City officials, meanwhile, said that universities in Finland, Israel and South Korea, among other countries, had expressed interest in establishing satellite campuses on land owned by New York City. [NYT]

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a report criticizing the treatment of detained immigrants in the United States, including inadequate access to lawyers, poor medical care, and the excessive use of prison-style detention. [NYT]

Hundreds of frustrated Japanese New Yorkers gathered in Union Square, pleading with onlookers to help their homeland. [Daily News]


New York State suspended the driving privileges of Ophadell Williams, the driver of the casino bus that crashed in the Bronx last weekend, killing 15 passengers, after investigators said he had made “false statements about the status of his license” on his driver’s license applications. [NYT]

Crime & Public Safety

A former police officer with a history of domestic violence refused to provide a DNA swab when he voluntarily visited a Bronx station house Thursday the day after his wife’s asphyxiated body was found in the woods about 40 miles from their home in the Bronx, the authorities said. [NYT] An ex-girlfriend of the officer said he would sometimes put a gun to her head “and look me in the eye and say, ‘Today you are going to die.’ ” [Daily News]

A 76-year-old Manhattan man will spend his weekends in jail for the next year — his sentence for stealing $330,000 from his 98-year-old buddy last year. [New York Post]

Two Kings County Hospital Center workers face criminal charges in the 2008 death of a woman in the psychiatric ward. [Daily News]


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s claim that proposed state budget cuts would require the layoff of 4,600 city teachers — 6,100 minus the 1,500 that he says leave their jobs each year — is out of line with recent history, an independent budget commission and the teachers’ union complain. The city’s teaching force has actually shrunk by 2,000 to 2,500 a year in recent years, suggesting that Mr. Bloomberg’s layoff figure is inflated by at least 20 percent. The union says it is a tactic to scare people into backing an end to seniority-based layoffs. [NYT]

Of Parades and Politics

Mayor Bloomberg’s poorly received joke of weeks back about the imbibatory habits of Irish-American parade viewers shadowed him at Thursday’s St. Patrick’s march. (See slide show.) “Bloomberg … You’re a Drunk!” read a handmade sign held up a block from the saint’s namesake cathedral. [NYT]

In his NYC column, Clyde Haberman notes that unlike the many others who have recently typed regrettable quips on social-media sites, Mr. Bloomberg has not needed Twitter to help him put his foot in his mouth. [NYT]

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Complaint Box | Noisy Diners

Complaint Box
Got a Gripe?

Get a grip. Send your rant — no more than 500 words, please — to: [email protected].

I used to love eating out; I don’t anymore. Even though the smokers have been moved outside and the food is more likely to be from some local, free-range, organic farm, and I can finally afford the “better” places, I would rather stay home — because I am tired of the noise.

I arrived at this conclusion after a particularly ear-splitting week. I went out three times for lunch with friends on the Upper West Side and a dinner in Turtle Bay. Each occasion started with our entering a wall of sound surpassing Phil Spector’s — the standard decibel level of restaurants in New York City. From there, it was a game of vociferous one-upmanship. As the places filled up (I got to each early), the diners worked harder to be heard, increasing the overall din as their voices struggled to rise above it.

Maybe the restaurant scene was always like this and I am just getting old and cranky. Maybe the reason for my lack of tolerance is that I work in speech and hearing and know what abuse we are subjecting our vocal folds and ears to. Maybe the younger diners have already damaged their eardrums with MP3 players and loud has become the new normal.

Even if the golden days of quiet dining are a figment of my imagination, can’t we all use our inside voices anyway? At a bistro in the East Village, three couples (including my husband and me) asked the waiter to turn the music down. We were told that the owner liked it that way. And so the usual chain of noise began: The loud music required the first table to talk at a certain level and each table thereafter to out-talk the previous ones.

Worst of all are the restaurants that blast television or radio. Who wants to hear talking heads, shock jocks or Judge Judy while eating? The commercials, which are louder than the regular programming, are especially annoying. Nothing like listening to Crestor’s side effects while digging into your burger.

Although I rarely eat out anymore, working lunches with colleagues are sometimes required. Besides agreeing on a date and time, we now pretest the neighborhood spots for noise levels. The food and prices are great at the nearby Italian place, but we’ve ruled it out because of its sound system.

Perhaps some cutting-edge restaurants will distinguish themselves with a “quiet” rating and get Zagat on board with the idea. I am not proposing a “Get Smart”-like Cone of Silence. I just want to put the rest back in restaurants.

Susan J. Behrens is a resident of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and a professor of communication sciences and disorders at Marymount Manhattan College.

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