Yard sale finds


The yard sale season came to an abrupt halt this fall when it became too cold to stand in a stranger’s yard looking at their crap. On a mild day anything can be interesting, worth purchasing even. But when it’s freezing the eye turns critical and exacting.

Before the end of the season, I rescued a smooth, sweet-faced seal and a glazed bowl from a woman with an admitted pottery addiction. I hear ya, sister. Let me take those off your hands.

Seals with adorable faces always remind me of that classic meme.

seals clubbing


The silences of poetry

If you’ve ever been to a poetry reading, you know the silence after a poem is read. It’s a moment of reverence, appreciation, or simply I don’t get it. The rule is that you listen and hold your applause. But after fiery poems or protest poems or poems about sex and breakups, rowdy audiences applaud. Somewhere in that middle ground is a little sound that listeners emit when a poet closes a poem. A sigh, an “mmm,” a subdued acknowledgment that as an audience, says, We are moved.

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival last month was filled with rowdy poetry fans. At one reading by Nick Flynn, the applause started up and he warned that if we applauded for one, we’d better applaud for all or it was going to get mighty awkward. Poet Jill McDonough read a touching (!) poem about a classic Boston subject: road rage. At another headline event held in a church, applause reverberated again and again as Sharon Olds read poems of passion and Eduardo Corral read a poem in which a woman had names for each of her breasts. The atmosphere was electric; I felt like a Baptist ready to shout Preach it!

I’m no poet, but I’ve immersed myself in poetry over the last few years because it’s nourishing. I attended a 5-day workshop led by the brilliant Marie Howe at Omega, a bucolic campus in Rhinebeck, NY, where you could write by the lake or in a hammock or in the garden–real poet stuff. I’ve been enjoying the MA Poetry Festival every year and taking workshops on persona poems or catalogue poems or poetry collages. I’ve been reading more poetry, keeping Billy Collins’ quirky collections on my nightstand. And I’ve been writing poetry, which, according to a handful of real poets who read it, is not a good idea. The problem with a new interest is realizing that you will never be great . . . or even good. It’s a bit depressing, like taking up an instrument and realizing you have no ear or joining a dance class only to realize you are uncoordinated. One must accept one’s suckiness. Still, I resolve to keep experiencing poetry, if only for those moments when a writer lays a poem at your feet and you can offer nothing in return by a reverent silence because there is absolutely nothing to say.

poetry ecard

Gangsta cat

My friend tells me that my cat, Maple, is a little vandal. “Sit on the right side of the train when you head home and check out the abandoned train with graffiti all over it. You’ll see ‘Maple’ spray painted in a couple of places.”

Apparently, my cat has been tagging trains.

OK, so it probably isn’t my cat because I lock the door at night, so I know she can’t get out, but seriously, whose gangsta tag is “Maple”? It’s so . . . sweet.

On a lunch excursion this week, I spot this amazing piece of work on Stuart St. in Boston. The clever style smacks of Banksy. If you haven’t seen the documentary on this artist–Exit Through the Gift Shop–you should. It’s weird, like graffiti  done by a cat.


A little research turned up the fact that the artists behind this are Os Gemeos (twins) who have also contributed art to the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston.

Literary collage workshop

I like me some good collage therapy–an art outlet disguised as life mapping or vision boards that allows for perusing beautiful images that I collect like a magpie for what I pretend is a work of art. But I rarely find the right images or collect too many disparate images, or don’t have time to arrange them all just so. But in a literary collage workshop at the MA Poetry Festival last weekend, I grabbed materials from trunks of colorful scraps, photographs, stamps, sheets of music, and lines from poems, and realized a sort of jungle theme had emerged organically: a bird, a bunch of bananas, trees.

Time was running out as it usually does when you’re knee-deep in art-making, but the pressure worked. With only five minutes before the next workshop would begin, I started slapping down images on a board in places that felt right, that all worked.

Instructors Missy-Marie Montgomery and Trish Crapo (check out her collages here) shared their own beautiful collage creations inspired by lines of poetry and encouraged us to layer both literally (materials) and figuratively (ideas and themes); one participant said she makes a drink and a collage every night; one young girl emerged with a masterpiece. I’m putting mine up on the wall and telling visitors it’s a rare work by a local artist.

jungle collage


collage with peach

In addition to pages ripped from books (shudder!), the artists brought some pages that had undergone a process using Citra Solv, a cleaning agent-turned-art material that blends the ink on a page to create colorful, abstract designs. You can read it about it on this artist’s blog.



With a minute or two left, each workshop participant introduced their collage, and I had the sudden feeling that everyone had been secret collage prodigies. Still, I loved the workshop, the creative process, the artists let loose from their poet selves. I’m eyeing my books with a new sense of possibility.

collages on display

Need help with 528 down

This mammoth crossword that ran in Virginia’s Daily Press captured the people and events that made news in 2012; what will make the news next year is anyone who can finish it. In addition to its size (820 across and 815 down), the print is so tiny that filling in any of those boxes is an achievement. I have a massive two lines completed but am confident I can knock this out in a couple of months. With a magnifying glass. And a jumbo eraser. And Google.



Best books of 2012

I’m pretty sure all 20 of my readers have been counting down till the moment I reveal my favorite books of 2012. Mind you, it doesn’t mean these books were published in 2012; I just discovered them this year, or felt moved to read them, or they wore me down. In any case, out of the 39 books I read this year, my top five are as follows:


The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin is a gorgeous book not short on descriptions of nature—both wild and human. If you’ve enjoyed Plainsong or any novel by Kent Haruf, you might find a kindred story here about non-traditional families set in a familiar landscape.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: tricky little thing.

Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron: beautifully wrought period novel. Cameron is a brilliant writer, despite an ever-present undertone of sadness, and this book made me revisit The Weekend, which I read in college when I was young and thought it was scandalous to read about lovers in a book who were both men.

A trio of novels by Tana French: In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place. This was my first venture into mysteries since the Agatha Christie novels of my youth, and let me tell you: I’d be a mystery whore if the writing in the genre were this literary. In the Woods provides two mysteries for the price of one (but be warned one may not get solved). Despite a preposterous coincidence in The Likeness that the narrative is built on, it was still a fave because of the writing, characters, and generous helping of Irishisms. I just finished her third novel, Faithful Place, and that’s up there too. I’m trying to hold off on reading her fourth book Broken Harbor lest I have to start a fan club.


On Writing by Steven King: I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve turned up my nose at Mr. King’s tales of dogs, killers, and prom queens. But this man can write one inspirational memoir and a scene of joy so profound that it just might make you cry.

The End of Your Life Book Club by William Schwalbe: I suspected this might be a book along the lines of Tuesdays with Morrie (i.e., terrible). The author writes about the informal book club of sorts he has with his mother who is dying of pancreatic cancer. I didn’t think he could crack me. I was just in it for the books and conversation. I mean, I didn’t even know this woman, so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get attached to her. Yeah. Tears.

Yup, I realize that was six books. Deal with it.

If none of these suggestions float your boat, 1) get a smaller boat or 2) check out this ridiculously exhaustive list of Best Of lists on largehearted boy. And then take three years’ of vacation to begin to tackle just 1% of the list.

And just for good measure, a couple of books I regret struggling through: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, the much-heralded novella that did nothing for me, and an over-hyped book by a woman who called in to On Point on NPR titled Anastasia by Victor Megne, which reminds me why I don’t listen to that show.

I also started and quit five books: Wuthering Heights (seriously, two Catherines?), The House of Seven Gables (I live in Salem; I should like this. I decided instead to just to walk by the house), Dovekeepers (cut out 400 pages and you might have had me, Alice Hoffman), A History of the Senses (interesting but heavy on the details), and the lengthy memoir What to Look for in Winter (self-indulgent author, but one with an astounding vocabulary).

Happy reading.

Ugly gift contest

Some families have sweet, wholesome traditions of hanging their stockings by the fireplace while little ones run amok in footie pajamas; others leave cookies for Santa on a special plate while trimming the tree and singing Deck the Halls; in my family we have a new ritual: the annual ugly gift contest. This is the second year we’ve scoured yard sales and thrift stores to vie for the prize: an ugly bargain.

The tradition got off to a rocky start last year when my entry was confiscated by officials at Logan Airport for being too ugly. OK, not really, but you can read the story here. This year, I skipped the whole flying thing and drove to Virginia for Christmas. I wasn’t taking any chances. With my ugly presented nestled safely in my luggage in the backseat, the TSA couldn’t touch me.

Crowning the winner would be tricky as everyone in the family offered a contender. How would we determine, impartially, who won? We tossed around the idea of a secret ballot, but when the nominees were unveiled all at once on the table, one thing became clear: no vote was necessary. We had a clear winner.

My entry: evil-eyed moon in gross mustard color with flexible joints

My entry: evil-eyed moon with flexible joints in gross mustard color. Third place.

Mom's entry: an undeniably ugly figurine / statue thing with sea life in relief, appropriately rendered in the letter "U" for ugly.

Mom’s entry: an undeniably ugly figurine / statue thing with dolphins in sculptural relief, appropriately rendered in the letter “U” for ugly. Runner-up.

My sister and brother-in-law's entry: a flamingo orb with a neon flashing and glowing ball set in an urchin-like vessel.

My sister and brother-in-law’s entry: a flamingo orb with a neon flashing and glowing ball set in an urchin-like vessel. Winner.

Yeah, the last one. While the orb (?) was the original gift—ugly enough on its own—my brother-in-law stumbled on a starfish . . . receptacle (?) that housed the flamingo egg (?) nicely. We still don’t know what to make of it. My mom tried to give an award to the winning couple from a bag of seemingly regifted items; the winners declined more crap.

In many ways I was the loser: not only did my moon come in last, it also garnered a few likes from the crowd, which was dispiriting. Regardless, I’m still calling it a victory, because when I packed up the car to come home, not one piece of that junk was in my trunk.

Things I learn from eavesdropping on college students

I love working at a college where the conversations are, yes, about parties and like, crushes, but where discussion also ventures into the intellectual realm.

Passing students on the stairs the other day, I hear one say something about the delicateness of a fabric.

“Wait, is it ‘delicateness’ or ‘delicacy’?” he asks the girl.

They analyze it, and I have to say, I do too. The state of being delicate can be delicateness but then delicacy works too. Except we use it more to mean a special dessert. I like these kids.

At the dining hall, students can post comment cards with questions and complaints. I’m heartened to see a fair amount of goodwill: “Thanks for my grilled cheese, friendly grill guy!” or “Thanks for the soy milk!” There are complaints of course—no college can escape complaints about the food that is, I’d like to remind students, bought, prepared, and served to them—but it’s also a forum where sketch comedy majors can try out new material.

One card reads “Can we get cuddlefish and vanilla paste?”

“The water was very wet today,” says another.

“I love you guys!” says one surrounded by hearts.

The manager’s response: “Glad to hear you’re drinking your water. It’s good for you. And we love you too!”

It’s a place where I can discuss the finer points of The Newsroom (I love you Sorkin, but you’re so damn preachy) and feminism in Girls with students who love and hate Lena Dunham. A place where I can hear two girls gushing over Brené Brown, which turns me on to her TED Talks on vulnerability and shame.

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So, my friends, this is the cliché part where I say it’s not only the students doing the learnin’. There, I said it.

Spine poetry

How great is this idea? Select a few books from your shelf  and shuffle them up to “write” a poem. The idea, courtesy of artist Nina Kathadourian’s Sorted Books project I read about on Brain Pickings, is called spine poetry. Brilliant, right? Peruse your bookshelf—or as this artist does: the public library, private libraries, anywhere that houses books—culling those with interesting titles to arrange a poem.

Such an interesting way to discover lines of poetry that might never be discovered otherwise, while possibly even motivating you to dust the bookshelf; it’s also time well spent with your books and even better: a reason to acquire more books.

Here are some lines I discovered:

Love is walking hand in hand,


Enduring love:

the mother garden.

Man and camel

walking into the night;

don’t tell me the truth about love.

Happiness is a warm puppy,

driving over lemons,

the northern lights,

burnt bread and chutney,

the journey home.

Pathetic dreams

“I had this prophetic dream,” I tell my friend, going on to describe it. I’m driving, tired, and searching for a place I don’t know if I can reach. I wake up still searching.

“That’s not pathetic,” she says.

“I know!” I say. Who has pathetic dreams? That’s an oxymoron. “Prophetic,” I say. “Prophetic.”

In the dream, I’m looking for Weston, VA, but it’s late and I’m not sure if I can find it. When I get closer, I ask people, but no one knows where it is. I look up the town when I wake up, just in case my destiny is there marked by a star on the map. Of course, there’s no Weston, VA. There is, however, a Reston, VA, and I wonder what it is Reston has to teach me.

Angry birds

> A pyro set up shop in my bathroom this weekend after three mornings of me pretending the scrabbling noise wasn’t a bird nesting in a vent. Climbing onto the roof didn’t seem like an option. “Let’s smoke him out,” he said, lighting newspaper in my watering can and waving it like a madman at the vent. A controlled burn in a dry, dry season.

More scrabbling this morning and no sky-blue eggs as a gift.

> I’ve heard the phrase “in his wheelhouse” four times this week. Is that a thing?

> A man walked by me today whistling a catchy tune that got me humming the words–until I realized it was “O Christmas Tree,” or, for persnickety devotees of German Christmas carols, “O Tannenbaum.” Sing it in German though and you sound angry.

> Instead of a brush, it may be more efficient to use the lint roller directly on my cat.

> Apologies to men everywhere for Warner Bros’s advertising “The Lucky One” as “the perfect date movie.” And frankly, apologies to women too.

> My arms are scratched and pricked, bruised enough to cause suspicion. Gardening at night. A friend dropped off some plants from his garden that needed immediate planting and watering, so I found myself tucking in plants at nightfall and adapting REM’s “Nightswimming” to some ridiculous lyrics. Darkness makes potting plants tricky (lopsided shrubs), but it does help to cloak giant insects. And singing wards off the giant possum roaming the neighborhood.

Poetry is so . . . poetic

Roses are red
Violets are blue;
This poem is short
and so are you.

This original poem, my most creative I think, won best amateur poem in the Mass Poetry’s Festival’s newcomer category, which is not a real contest, but should be. I’d have it in the bag.

In reality, the festival breezed into Salem, set up its circus tents of inspiration all over town: workshop after workshop of scribbling poets and readings to recharge writers for months. So much to feast on. So much to plagiarize.

On Friday afternoon, the back yard of the Salem Athenaeum was one giant cliché: a circle of writers sitting under a tree in full blossom, creating poems amongst bird song, sunshine, and wind chimes. Saturday brought more sunshine and poets who could dash off a masterpiece in minutes. On Sunday, carpenter poets read their work, full of hammers and miter saws, in a dark room in the House of the Seven Gables where gables centuries old beamed to see their craftsmen. The day also brought rain, the kind of weather angsty writers need to cultivate a mood and to get down to the business of writing and brooding.


Do you remember Tid-Bit crackers? Maybe a dozen of us bought them in the 70s. Nabisco made them until they ditched them to focus, I suspect, on the less-than-brilliant Cheese Nips. I miss them. In honor of them, some tidbits:

*Another week of global warming in Boston. Another day of sifting past the boots and winter coat to find a skirt.

*I compliment a student in the elevator on her kickass tights. “The best kept secret?” she says. “Stripper stores.”

*I wander to the deli near the park at lunch to see everyone working in the financial and theater districts, along with the students from at least three nearby colleges, have the same idea. Frisbees are flying. I fail to make a reservation for a bench on the Common but find a spot between tourists. In blinding sunshine, I eat a pickle in the park; this is not a euphemism.

*I read an article in the campus newspaper insinuating a staffer was fired for looking at porn on his work computer. The phrase referring to his supervisor “keeping abreast of the situation” makes me chuckle.

*I just finished reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains; I could hardly concentrate.

End-of-summer goodness

Goodness: catching a double feature at the drive-in with its vintage refreshment ads and $1 cotton candy.

More goodness: being pleasantly surprised by the quality of Crazy, Stupid, Love. Or was it Ryan Gosling’s abs?

Less goodness: that extraneous comma after “stupid.” That’s just crazy stupid.

Even less goodness: hitting the public restroom after seeing Contagion.

Anticipatory goodness: Dolphin Tale, the adorable new movie based on a true story!

OK, kidding about that one. I feel bad for the dolphin that got roped into that role.

Literary goodness: writers descended on Salem for the literary festival this weekend and tore the place up. What a rowdy bunch.

Actually, they were a sensitive well-behaved flock, passionate about words. Easy to spot, they carried little notebooks and wore berets. They scribbled notes when inspiration struck. They wore black turtlenecks and thought deep thoughts. I went to a panel titled “My Poetry Crush,” and while it was great, I kept waiting for my poetry crush (Billy Collins) to emerge from behind the curtain and declare that crush requited. Caught in traffic, Billy?

More literary goodness: discovering the Improbable Places Poetry Tour that’s based in the Beverly area out of Montserrat College. Poets write on a theme: say, flowers, and the reading takes place in a fitting spot like a flower shop. This month’s theme was ink, so the reading was held in an overflowing tattoo parlor where poets read their work from inside, as if in a fish bowl, while the crowd sat outside looking in, listening. Almost made me want to get a badass tattoo. Like a whisk . . .

Cutest tattoos ever



Yard sale haul

Last week’s yard sale haul, scored in the rain, was exactly one item—one coveted item that I’ve been trolling Craigslist for for weeks where the prices range from $40-$100. In Marblehead, it was mine for $15. I like the way it looks on the bookcase, but I’m hoping to give it a tune-up too and see if it will crank out some good prose, albeit at a glacial pace. Back in the day, I wrote my first short stories on one of these bad boys, sticking keys, correction tape and all. Ding!

This week, I got a cheesy spa kit (made in China! Surprise!) but I like the glass apothecary jars and they came with soap, so I’ll be refilling those suckers ($4); a black and gray zipper dress that promises to be entirely too short, but I can’t resist a zipper anything, especially for 50 cents; a stack of Real Simple magazines, and a funky, colorful necklace for two bucks. Cat not included.

2010 reading wrap-up

Reading in the sun. Second only to the beach.

This has been a rough reading year. One of my resolutions was to revisit the classics (or hell, just visit the classics, since I never had a membership to that old library in the first place) and to read things out of my comfort zone. But I can’t blame my bad year on classics or odd literature. The books I read just didn’t seduce me. And I’ve read a lot this year considering a big chunk of my life was taken up by the homebuying process where the only thing I was reading were inspection reports and bank statements.

Just as I was giving up hope on a happy ending, the last book of the year did what all books should do: grabbed me by the first paragraph and kept on grabbing me (no, not like that), so 2010 went out on a high note. I had just finished The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass (eh) when I spotted The Widower by Liesel Litzenburger on the used book store shelf, so you can imagine that I was not like, Awesome! Another book about a grieving guy. But then I read this opener:

Grace Blackwater is downstairs, saving his life one small gesture at a time. He can hear her straight through the worn wood floors beneath his bed, going about her business as if she owns the place. She doesn’t own the place. He hadn’t called her, but she has come—up the long dirt driveway on her motorcycle at dawn and in through an open kitchen window, using her jackknife to slit the screen that has been repaired again and again with duct tape. Upstairs, in his bed, he has heard even this, the silver blade parting the length of fine mesh with the whir of a hummingbird. Every house in the door is unlocked. Grace likes to do things the hard way. He was glad she hadn’t shot off the locks. She has some talents. He does, too. What are they? He doesn’t know anymore. He sure can’t dance, would make a lousy poker player, doesn’t know any magic tricks, isn’t much for meaningful conversation. He is a champion of deep sleep. He excels at the long rest.

See? You want to keep reading. When I finished the book—this author’s debut—I wondered if she’d written anything since, and in one of those tiny moments of joy, I discovered there was already a new one waiting for me called Now You Love Me. Can’t wait.

Other bright spots on the shelf this year were Mink River by Brian Doyle that contains the most beautiful passage I’ve read all year—and it was uttered by a talking crow; Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, This Must be the Place by Kate Racculia (a friend and great writer), and the memoir Orange is the New Black.

Worst book last year? Tinkers by Paul Harding. Yeah, the one that nabbed the Pulitzer, but I stand my ground. Dullsville.

New year, new resolutions

I like New Year’s Eve more for the opportunity to reflect on my year and think about improvements for the year ahead and less for watching Ryan Seacrest and NKOTB be showered with confetti as a jewel the size of a engagement ring fit for a housewife of Beverly Hills drops from the sky.

When I review my resolutions from last year, I think the report card might read Good student but needs to apply herself. I vowed to eat more salads, something I rebelled against just a few short years ago. Vegetables? Yuck. But after realizing that these do not have to be  wholesale iceberg lettuce and watery tomato affairs, I’ve embraced salads.

I also committed to reading more books outside of my comfort zone, which I’d say was more or less accomplished. I tried and failed to read a young adult novel, but I did succeed in revisiting the classics, delving into Henry James and Nabokov. Apparently though, the third time is not the charm for To the Lighthouse.

My third resolution was one I like to keep around year to year: to have more experiences. Basically, this means saying yes to more things. Hard to assess that one: I try to be more open to experiences but then I just love nesting, which is the polar opposite. New experiences rarely involve pajamas.

In addition to building on the old resolutions that I find take about two years to take root, I resolve to do the following in 2011:

  • Be more decisive. I’ve spent multiple hours looking for the perfect calendar, for example. This year, I went to Border’s and bought a sock monkey calendar. It’s cute and it will work just fine.

  • Maintain better eye contact. I don’t like to be that weird person that stares a lot (see monkey above), but I could improve my connections.
  • Get to bed by 11:00. Avoid the black hole of the computer and TV.
  • I will no longer read the comments section on online articles. Because I have a life and those people don’t.

What do you commit to do? What about making a linguistic resolution and finally rid yourself of those lazy filler words and crutches. Like, whatever.

How about using that noggin’? Oliver Sacks reminds us in this New York Times article that your brain needs attention too. Try something new; experiment with a new art medium or just take a different route to work. Cognitive fitness is just as important as physical fitness—and it usually involves less sweating.

Words you must use

My co-worker and I are obsessed with unusual words, so when she came across 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words From Around the World, we set about using them immediately.

How many times on the subway or sidewalk have you experienced that fleeting moment with someone but not known that it was mamihlapinatapei?

I loved learning the Inuit word “iktsuarpok,” which means to go outside to check if anyone is coming. The image of a lone figure in the snow checking the vast tundra for a visitor is an unforgettable one. But then, it kind of makes sense, because how does one knock on an igloo?

In hunting around the website, twitter-light descending, I came across another list, 20 Obsolete English Words that Should Make a Comeback, equally fabulous, and thought I’d better stop looking before I accumulate more words than I can carry.


Icebox everything

It’s my belief that adding the word “icebox” to any menu item makes it sound better. Take, for instance, the chocolate icebox cake they serve at Tini in Providence. Who wants chocolate cake when you can have chocolate ice box cake? Is it the same thing? Well, yes, it probably is. But does it seem like the chocolate is richer, the cake colder, and the all-around experience more sensual? Yes, yes, and yes. The word icebox conjures up your grandparents’ ice chest and nostalgia for a simpler time. The word “fridge” just doesn’t compare. Who wants a fridge cake?

Check out this icebox strawberry pie as evidence of the word’s allure. Sooo different than your run-of-the-mill strawberry pie, right?

I think dairy companies should get on board with this. Cold milk is already tempting, but icebox milk? Damn, where’s the chocolate? The description might also help with foods struggling for love: icebox celery, icebox Brussel sprouts, icebox kale . . .

Photo by Wendi Dunlap on Flickr

I’ll give you a four-letter word

I like a good New York Times crossword puzzle. That is to say, I like a good Monday or Tuesday Times crossword puzzle. That checkerboard pattern seduces me with its white squares just waiting to be filled in with my favorite yellow mechanical pencil, its point fine and precise. I like when the top section comes easily and I get in the flow, working my way down and across. Even struggling a bit is good if it pays off with a clever answer and a completed puzzle.

For me, doing the occasional crossword is a fun exercise in language—a hobby that keeps the brain humming. I don’t take it too seriously. The participants who attended The Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament this weekend are nothing like this. You get the sense these people wake up, go straight to the front door to grab the Times, and whip through the puzzle before they’re even half awake. They do a Friday puzzle for fun on their way to work and a Sunday puzzle in bed with their hyperverbal cruciverbalist partner in five minutes flat, before drifting off to sleep again where they dream of 12-letter synonyms for unbelievable.

Sitting behind these people in a tournament held at Harvard (just in case you weren’t feeling inadequate enough), you wonder why the crossword constructors who designed these choice puzzles have it out for you while you stare at a half empty puzzle, watching the time clock tick down to zero.