Wednesday, September 28, 2011

TV Guide crosswords make me feel smart

I've been on a TV Guide crossword puzzle kick lately, partly because of an ongoing research project I'm trying to tame (it's mentioned in the penultimate post before my hiatus), and partly because it's awesome that in any given puzzle, Abe Vigoda is apt to be one of the clues.


I have the gigantic TV Guide crossword puzzle book, which spans entire decades, and I also have a small pocket-size compilation I picked up in 1992 and promptly stored for almost 20 years. I've just about filled that one up during the train ride portion of my commute.

Aside: My commute consists of a 15-20 minute drive to a park-and-ride lot, a hour-to-hour-and-a-half bus ride to BART, and then 45 minutes to an hour on BART to the office. Round trip, that's close to 6 hours a day. So if I seem punchy in a blog post, I may have written it while commuting. You have been warned.

The older puzzles from the 1950s are probably the hardest, not just because I'm not as familiar with the shows, but because they don't contain as many slow-pitch clues and answers. A recurring pair of clues are like 33 Down: A comedy program | 6 Across: Host of 33 Down. Was there really that little on back then? I think not. The puzzles from the 70s and 80s are the easiest, since damn near every clue reminds me of something I used to watch as a kid. It's weird; I read TONS of books as a kid, and I remember playing outside a bunch, but the amount of 50s-80s TV programming that is locked in my brain breaks some kind of math.

Over the course of doing dozens of puzzles, with clues both hard and easy ("'Magnum __ (abbr.)"), there are certain "crossword words" that stick out, like eel, alee, alit, oleo; filler words that no one outside of puzzle circles has probably encountered.

But these being TV Guide puzzles, there are certain TV-related standbys as well. Abe Vigoda is one, mostly for his first name, though occasionally for his character's name (Fish, of course). Actress Sue Ane Langdon came up an awful lot, almost always thusly: "Actress Sue ___ Langdon." Ane is great for filling spots in your puzzle. While the name sounded familiar, I couldn't figure out exactly why. I looked her up on and saw that she'd been in scores of TV shows since the late 1950s. But then I saw the one credit that explained why I recognized her name.

Zapped! (1982) 
Rose Burnhart

"Do I have to, Miss Burnfart?"

Ah, yes, the teacher from the classic cable-TV mainstay of the early 80s with the dream team of Scott Baio and Willie Aames. I have a soft place in my heart for this movie, presumably with a soft spot in my brain to match. You've seen it, I hope? Baio plays a nerdy kids who accidentally gains telekinetic powers after a lab experiment. Imagine if "Carrie" had been melded with "Charles in Charge" and you're pretty much there, except during the prom at the end, telekinesis is used to remove girls' clothes instead of killing everyone.

It is, I must say, the best film to ever incorporate a dream sequence that involves Scatman Crothers (no relation to anyone involved with the "Human Centipede" movies), pot, Albert Einstein, and salami. You doubt me?

It's even better if you close your eyes and imagine it's Hong Kong Phooey talking to Einstein.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Look what the cat dragged in...

In retrospect, it wasn't a huge surprise. I knew I was risking burning out when I blogged every day in 2008. Sure enough, little by little, fewer posts until finally, I stopped entirely in 2010. It's been almost a year and a half since I eked out the fifth of five posts in 2010.

Besides getting burned out, I kept finding a lot of what I was interested in being written better by others. Yeah, maybe no one can work in a fart joke out of left field the way I can, but still, it made me wonder why I was bothering. In addition, all that grown-up, real-life stuff was happening, making me, for lack of a better expression, not in the mood for writing.

So now I'm trying again. There are still people doing stuff better (in fact, a future post will feature one such site), but like Ben Folds said, there's always someone out there cooler than you, so what the hell, right?

Here's something I should have blogged about from last summer:

So back in July 2010, the Rifftrax folks had a contest in which fans could submit jokes for specific scenes in the cult classic "Reefer Madness" to be included in the live riff event that would play in theaters across the country. I dutifully knocked off jokes for each of the scenes in the contest video. The show itself was going to be in August.

August rolls around, and I get an e-mail that includes the following: "Hi Jeff! We used your ninth riff in the movie, where would you like your swag mailed?"

This was pretty much my response:

So in addition to all the swag, which included a signed Mike Nelson bobblehead (it stands next to Count Chocula on my desk), a T-shirt, and a mess of buttons and stickers, MY NAME would be in the end credit roll. My name. On a movie screen. Eight-year-old me was proud of aging-nerd me.

I'd planned on going anyway since it was going to be streamed to a theater in my town, but now I had to go. And it didn't occur to me till I was sitting in the dark theater, waiting for it to start, but I'd get to hear an audience react to something I wrote. One of the things I get to do at work is help write for one of our shows, but I don't really get to see how the jokes are received.

When my joke came, delivered by Bill Corbett, it got a respectable amount of laughter, and I have to admit--it felt good. The whole show was hilarious; if you get the chance to catch a live event, you really ought to. As the movie ended and the parting comments commenced, I waited for the credits to roll.

Instead, the feed just stopped. I think my theater had started playing the feed a bit late (yeah, it's not LIVE live in California, but what else is new?), so that might have been part of it. Regardless, I had missed my chance to see my name on the big screen. Yeah, I can watch the DVD at home, where my name is indeed present, but it's not the same, you know?

I guess this wasn't just in my theater, as Rifftrax released a short video on YouTube that listed the winners a while later.

So everyone in sixth grade who constantly told me I wasn't funny can go suck it see where their encouragement got me.