Monthly Archives: August 2016

The ideal view

30 August 2016

The ideal view for daily writing, hour for hour, is the blank brick wall of a cold-storage warehouse. Failing this, a stretch of sky will do, cloudless if possible.

Edna Ferber

Indie Crossword Puzzlers Are Shaking Up A Very Square World

30 August 2016

From FiveThirtyEight:

The BuzzFeed crossword, which launched in October, promised a millennial upheaval to the musty crossword genre: an internet-native, slang-fluent, pop-culture-obsessed puzzle aimed at young solvers. There was hope, given BuzzFeed’s large amounts of traffic, that it would serve as a meaningful competitor to the starchy, hegemonic New York Times crossword. “BuzzFeed Is Revolutionizing the Crossword Puzzle,” an Observer headline declared last year.

It didn’t. Yet while BuzzFeed’s puzzle revolution fizzled, a devoted band of ragtag agitators remains devoted to the cause. A vibrant ecosystem of independent crosswords — “indies” — exists on the internet, its component puzzles multiplying and evolving, finding their niche and trying to find ways to survive. And some of them can outrate the gold standard over at the Times.

“I think of the indie world like we’re all craft beer brewers,” Brendan Emmett Quigley, a professional puzzle constructor, told me. The Times is a Budweiser lager; the indies are small-batch saisons and IPAs.

“My favorite thing about indie puzzles is the timeliness,” Neville Fogarty, an avid indie solver who helped found the Indie 500 crossword tournament, told me. Indie puzzles don’t have to wait months in a publication queue, as they would at the Times. They also aren’t subject to the stylistic constraints of a large media institution. Topics and themes, however recent, modern, niche or profane, are fair game. Nor are they subject to the physical constraints of a major newspaper. With few exceptions, all daily Times puzzles use 15-by-15 grids with rotational symmetry, a convention indies can and do break.

. . . .

“Papers were dying, papers were dropping their crosswords.” And so some crossword designers decided to go it alone. A risky proposition, but one that came with aesthetic upside. These sylvan constructors could rewrite the stylebook. “Crosswords were staid, you know? As much as I enjoyed them, there was always this feeling that the voice of the Times was not my generational voice. It was like, what if you made a crossword about rap, or something? That felt really radical at the time.”

Criticism of the Times puzzle seems to have expanded of late, beyond the stylistic and into the political. It’s not just that the Times puzzle is staid, or geared toward olds. It’s been accused of tone deafness on issues of race and gender.

. . . .

But that the indies are well-received doesn’t make them well-compensated. They’re wrestling with the same confusion about sustainable business models as all the other media upstarts.

The New York Times has it relatively easy, with nearly 200,000 digital crossword subscribers, good for over $2 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2016, according to a company press release. When you figure in the hardcopy subscriptions and newsstand purchases due to the puzzle, plus the countless book collections, the Times crossword puzzle is almost certainly worth well north of $10 million a year. (The Times wouldn’t comment beyond what was disclosed in the press release.) Little of that money goes to the constructors: At its rate of $300 for a daily puzzle and $1,000 for a Sunday, I estimate that a little less than $150,000 a year is paid to the crossword constructors themselves.

Link to the rest at FiveThirtyEight and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Virtual Bookseller

30 August 2016

From Porter Square Books:

Need a book recommendation or a gift idea? Looking to build up a reading list? Can’t make it into the store for a conversation? Ask The Virtual Bookseller. Fill out the form below and your answers will be shared with the Porter Square Books booksellers. In a couple days, we’ll send you a list of personalized book recommendations. It’s the closest you can get to combining the convenience of online shopping with the conversations that drive bookish culture.

Link to the rest at Porter Square Books


30 August 2016

A couple of days ago, The Passive Voice received comment number 250,000.

PG doesn’t see an easy way of determining which comment was number 250,000 since WordPress shows the aggregate number of comments, but doesn’t number each individual comment and we’re several hundred comments past 250K.

Since PG didn’t have a collection of fabulous 250K prizes ready to present to the author of that particular comment, there’s no great loss to any of those who might qualify and no accompanying anguish for the people who submitted comment number 249,999 and 250,001.

PG thanks all who have submitted comments. TPV attracts terrific comments and commenters. As PG has mentioned before, the comments are the best part of the blog.

Amazon Hints at a Grocery Store

30 August 2016

From GeekWire:

Amazon is planning to open a drive-up grocery store in Seattle, newly discovered planning documents suggest.

Permit filings uncovered by GeekWire show plans to renovate the former Louie’s Cuisine of China site, at 5100 15th Ave. N.W. in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, into a 9,759-square-foot retail space where customers can pick up groceries that they’ve ordered online, in what the project team calls “a new model of grocery shopping.”

The company appears to be doing its best to keep its involvement under wraps. Planning documents filed with the city of Seattle use the mysterious moniker “Project X,” with no reference to the e-commerce giant. Even the people building the project don’t know what’s happening.

“No idea,” one worker said when asked what would be going into the building. “We had to sign our life away. Half the guys in there don’t even know what they are working on.”

. . . .

However, the description of the project matches, almost exactly, the language in planning documents for Amazon drive-up grocery stores planned in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition, Ware Malcomb, the same architect that designed Amazon’s planned drive up grocery stores in the Bay Area as well as its Prime Now delivery hub in Seattle, is listed as the architect for “Project X.”

. . . .

Here is how the business works, according to planning documents from the city of Seattle:

When placing an online order, customers will schedule a specific 15-minute to two-hour pick up window. Peak time slots will sell out, which will help manage traffic flow within the customer parking adjacent to the building. When picking up purchased items, customers can either drive into a designated parking area with eight parking stalls where the purchased items will be delivered to their cars or they can walk into the retail area to pick up their items. Customers will also be able to walk into the retail room to place orders on a tablet. Walk in customers will have their products delivered to them in the retail room.

Hours of operation are expected to be 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. At peak time, there will be approximately 15 employees working on site, and three to five people will be dedicated to bringing orders out to parked cars. About a quarter of all trips are expected to occur between 5 and 7:30 p.m. The average wait time is expected to be about five minutes.

Link to the rest at GeekWire

Freedom from Addictive Drugs

30 August 2016

From author and TPV regular Phyllis Humphrey:

This is not about writing, but could be about writers who have fallen into the trap of taking opioids and getting “hooked.” It happened to me almost five years ago. I had a knee transplant and was prescribed a painkiller that was very effective, but which I didn’t know (and no one at the hospital or doctors’ offices told me) that Percocet is very addictive. So, when I ran out, I took the form they gave me to my local Walgreen’s and ordered more.

When I decided I didn’t need it anymore, I discovered the awful truth. When I went to bed the first night I hadn’t had Percocet, I couldn’t sleep. I felt as if bugs were crawling all over me, and I had to turn over every few seconds. Neither my husband nor I could get to sleep until he insisted I take a Percocet.

Unlike today when newspapers and magazines are busy warning people about these drugs, five years ago there was no one telling me about the danger. My husband said I was addicted to it and he fashioned a way to get me free. He cut one of the pills in half and I took that half just before bedtime every night for two months. It worked. I could sleep without constant turning over or feeling as if bugs were all over me. Next he cut the half pill in half and I took that quarter pill every night for another two months. When I finally went “cold turkey,” I was able to sleep without the Percocet.

Link to the rest at Phyllis Humphrey

Here’s a link to Phyllis Humphrey’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.



All we can do now is hold Barnes & Noble accountable

30 August 2016


Though UNC Student Stores has kept its 100-year-old name, much has changed inside since Barnes & Noble took control. Registers have moved, new faces have smiled from above new name tags and familiar faces have moved on.

The privatization process began with an unsolicited request in July 2015 from Follett to lease the Student Stores. This board has discussed at length the swift and opaque nature of the decision.

As we say goodbye to what we loved about Student Stores, we must hold Barnes & Noble accountable to its promises. Indeed, the differences between the rhetoric and actuality of privatization are already coming to light.

One of this board’s favorite parts of the Student Stores, the Bull’s Head Bookshop, has seen massive shifts in stock and employees. It seems that Barnes & Noble has kept its promise of adding thousands of new titles. But by adding thousands of copies of the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook and pseudo-scientific self-improvement books, Barnes & Noble is turning its back on the academic nature of Bull’s Head, something important in a college campus bookstore. Because Barnes & Noble predetermines display table selections for all its bookstores, thought-provoking and critical texts have been swapped for whatever books best sell, regardless of educational value.

. . . .

The beloved manager of Bull’s Head moved soon after the takeover, prompting many Bull’s Head student employees to quit. Some remaining student employees are being scheduled for two to three times as many hours as they have had in the past with less flexibility in general.

Barnes & Noble’s promise to maintain a similar work environment has gone unfulfilled as employees continue to quit. This, in turn, has pushed remaining employees to cover long shifts with few options.

Indeed, the emphasis on hiring student employees as a means for student revenue seems to have dissipated. More and more employees come from outside the University, even when Barnes & Noble’s pitch relied on helping students first.

Link to the rest at and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Hachette Sues Seth Grahame-Smith

29 August 2016

From Locus:

Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Unholy Night (among other titles), is being sued by Hachette Book Group for breach of contract. The publisher is suing to recover the $500,000 (plus interest) they paid for a book they allege the author never delivered.

Hachette and Grahame-Smith made a $4 million deal for two new books following 2010’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, with $1 million paid on signing: $500,000 for each book. They published Grahame-Smith’sThe Last American Vampire in 2015, but despite offering extensions on the second book’s deadline, it never arrived.

Link to the rest at Locus and thanks to Kris for the tip.

Following is a copy of the Complaint with a copy of the publishing agreement as Exhibit A.

PG was not involved in the negotiation of the publishing agreement, but will observe it contains some provisions detrimental to the author that PG typically recommends be removed or modified.


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