by Lydia Bogar
Religion or rumor? Is it true that you meet people for a reason, a season, or a lifetime? For me, the best of the best is the surprise meeting, connecting with someone you never would have met in any other place at any other time.
Is that meeting spiritual or emotional? To share. To grow. To learn.
Does that person meet your unspoken need, or do you meet theirs? Maybe it’s both. Either way, it can be powerful.
Last Saturday, I was a volunteer at the WGBH Food and Wine Festival where I anticipated being a helper and nothing more–well, except maybe a chance to indulge in a little taste of something yummy. I was pleased to be at this event in Brighton where the décor was beautiful, the fall evening was mild with a slight breeze, and music was in the air.
I was assigned to be a greeter, providing guests with wine glasses and programs. About an hour into my shift, late in the afternoon, I met Cheryl. She was a lady of color about 50 years old, not very tall, casually dressed, and a graduate student at Northeastern.
Everywhere, there were pleasant, welcoming smiles. I cannot honestly say why Cheryl’s smile stood out in the crowd, but her thanks for the program was sincere and from the heart, not automatic like so many others. Sometimes volunteers at large events like this are treated like beige wallpaper, so I was certainly happy to be acknowledged. I was even happier to be given the opportunity to accompany her into the tent.
As we walked through the tent, Cheryl shared her very personal responses to the aromas and tastes of the food and drink inside the big tent. I stood silently by her and absorbed her nuanced vocabulary. I wondered if she was a professional chef. The fabulous green beans that I heard about from others as the night wore on. The ice cream, something flash-frozen and beyond delicious. A unique taste of lamb. Some wonderful artisan chocolate. And gin, a surprise addition to the beverages that were usually limited to wine and beer.
When I returned to my post near the gate and picked up a program that described the tent’s offerings, I found that Cheryl’s descriptions were more interesting, detailed, and profound than what had been provided in the glossy script. Thinking back to our chat, I started craving green beans.
The happiness in her voice told me that her experience had been totally worth the price of admission; whatever her needs were that day, they had been met. She was tapping her toes to the jazz quartet’s music and starting up new conversations when I saw her an hour later. Had talking to me added to her experience? She said it did; in fact, she said it twice.
Meeting Cheryl was a privilege. I was happy that our conversation felt so personal, and not simply like an event guest communicating with a “host face.” There was little time or opportunity for me to actually taste the food inside the big tent, and of course, no wine; I was on duty. But her vibrant descriptions had provided a vicarious thrill. Even more important, though, she brought me peace and a smile, both appreciated and reciprocated.
I enjoyed her joy, which was bountiful.
As I walked with her toward the exit ramp, I wished her luck with her final semester and her upcoming job hunt. The gap in our ages showed. I am grateful that, in my retirement, I never have to go on another job interview or read the postings of jobs at my pay grade (or to even be reminded, by some, of my paygrade).
I silently wish her strength and courage, even though she obviously has both. Being in the moment – her moment – was a bonus.
Cheryl is blind, and she enabled me to see.
Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service. We’re lucky to have her volunteering, these days, to help with BOLLI Matters!
HAVE YOU FROZEN YOUR CREDIT?
A “Tech Talk” Extra from John Rudy
No doubt, everyone has heard by now of the 143 million accounts (or more) that were compromised by Equifax. And Equifax’s standing with account holders has taken a massive plunge of more than 35% since the announcement. But have you taken steps to freeze your credit?
It’s important that you make sure that you understand what Credit Freezes are and how they might apply to you.
- Here is useful information from Kim Komando’s blog. See: https://www.komando.com/happening-now/418908/dont-sign-up-for-equifaxs-free-credit-monitoring-heres-what-to-do-insteadutm_medium=nl&utm_source=notd&utm_content=2017-09-11-article-b
- The article noted above (read and print the first 4 pages) explains the situation, and this is MUST reading. This article then references a second article which tells you the steps to follow. Read and print pages 1-2: https://www.komando.com/tips/409259/one-essential-step-to-prevent-identity-theft
- An interesting editorial in the Globe can be found at: https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2017/09/12/equifax-messed-now-consumers-have-pay/y4wc8cHVI7MHm4KW99KTfN/story.html
I’ve compiled some information here which may prove helpful in understanding this situation.
The FICO Score
The FICO score was first introduced in 1989 by FICO, then called Fair, Isaac, and Company. The FICO model is used by the vast majority of banks and credit grantors and is based on the consumer credit files of the three national credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Because a consumer’s credit file may contain different information at each of the bureaus, FICO scores can vary depending on which bureau provides the information.
Credit scores are designed to measure the risk of default by taking into account various factors in a person’s financial history. Although the exact formulas for calculating credit scores are secret, FICO has disclosed the following components:
- 35%: payment history: This is best described as the presence or lack of derogatory information. Bankruptcy, liens, judgments, settlements, charge-offs, repossessions, foreclosures, and late payments can cause a FICO score to drop.
- 30%: debt burden: This category considers a number of debt specific measurements. According to FICO, there are some six different metrics in the debt category including the debt to limit ratio, number of accounts with balances, amount owed across different types of accounts, and the amount paid down on installment loans.
- 15%: length of credit history: As a credit history ages it can have a positive impact on its FICO score. There are two metrics in this category: the average age of the accounts on your report and the age of the oldest account.
- 10%: types of credit used (installment, revolving, consumer finance, mortgage): Consumers can benefit by having a history of managing different types of credit.
- 10%: recent searches for credit: hard credit inquiries, which occur when consumers apply for a credit card or loan (revolving or otherwise), can hurt scores, especially if done in great numbers. Individuals who are “rate shopping” for a mortgage, auto loan, or student loan over a short period (two weeks or 45 days, depending on the generation of FICO score used) will likely not experience a meaningful decrease in their scores as a result of these types of inquiries, as the FICO scoring model considers all of those types of hard inquiries that occur within 14 or 45 days of each other as only one. Further, mortgage, auto, and student loan inquiries do not count at all in a FICO score if they are less than 30 days old. While all credit inquiries are recorded and displayed on personal credit reports for two years, they have no effect after the first year because FICO’s scoring system ignores them after 12 months. Credit inquiries that were made by the consumer (such as pulling a credit report for personal use), by an employer (for employee verification), or by companies initiating pre-screened offers of credit or insurance do not have any impact on a credit score: these are called “soft inquiries” or “soft pulls” and do not appear on a credit report used by lenders, only on personal reports. Soft inquires are not considered by credit scoring systems.
In the United States, there is no legal term for a credit bureau under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). A consumer reporting agency is often abbreviated in the industry as CRA.
In this country, two government bodies share responsibility for the oversight of consumer reporting agencies and those that furnish data to them. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has oversight for the consumer reporting agencies. And the Office of the Controller of the Currency (OCC) charters, regulates, and supervises all national banks with regard to the data they furnish consumer reporting agencies.
Most U.S. consumer credit information is collected and kept by the four national traditional consumer reporting agencies: Experian (formerly TRW Information Systems & Services and the CCN Group), Equifax, TransUnion, and Innovis (which was purchased from First Data Corporation in 1999 by CBC Companies). These organizations are for-profit businesses and have no government affiliation. Though they are competitors, they are all members of a trade organization called the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) to establish reporting standards and lobby on behalf of their industry in Washington. Current reporting standards accepted by the four U.S. CRAs are Metro and Metro2. The Metro2 standard is defined in the annual CDIA publication, the Credit Reporting Resource Guide. Consumers are entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Consumers can go to annualcreditreport.com, the Internet site maintained by the three companies, to get their free reports.
Equifax Inc. is a consumer credit reporting agency. Equifax collects and aggregates information on over 800 million individual consumers and more than 88 million businesses worldwide. Founded in 1899 and based in Atlanta, Georgia, it is the oldest of the three largest American credit agencies. Equifax has US$ 3.1 billion in annual revenue and 9,000+ employees in 14 countries. It is listed on the NYSE as EFX.
In September 2017, Equifax announced a cyber-security breach, which it claims to have occurred between mid-May and July 2017 where hackers accessed more than 143 million U.S. Equifax consumers’ personal data, including their full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and, in some cases, drivers license numbers. Equifax also confirmed at least 209,000 consumers’ credit card credentials were taken in the attack. The company claims to have discovered the hack on July 29, 2017. Residents in the United Kingdom and Canada were also impacted.
A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature. In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .
TELLING THE STORY–IN IMAGERY
For forty years, David Greenfield maintained a full time periodontal practice and teaching appointment at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Now in the encore phase of his career, with clinical and academic periodontics no longer playing a role in daily life, he channels most of his energy into photography. His latest venture is a photo-blog, home for selected new images and accompanying narratives.
When film was the light-sensitive media of choice, David’s work was primarily black and white. With images now recorded digitally, his portfolio has expanded and is replete with color. During the film era, his greatest photographic joy was experienced shooting with a vintage Leica III, circa 1950, formerly used by his father. In 1996, David published Journey to Poland: A Family Mission which chronicled his investigative trip to research the experience of his parents during the war in Europe 70 years ago. That project ignited his interest in photojournalism and in ‘telling the story’ with imagery.
‘There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in’
The lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem include his vision of a world in need of repair. In these lines, however, he notes that light streaming through the cracks can show the way.
Cohen was surely not thinking about photography when he composed those lyrics, but who better than a photographer to capture the light streaming through the cracks and process it into imagery to inspire the repair process? My photography has that objective when working with not-for-profits that want to ‘tell their story’ and promote their missions using imagery.
Be sure to click on both of the following links to get to David’s photo gallery and blog, both of which are stunning. (Both are listed as well on our list of “BOLLI Bloggers” which can be reached from the BOLLI Matters home page.
CHEESECAKE — RICH AND CREAMY
(Serves 8 or more)
This recipe, originally from p. 466 of The Best Recipe by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, gives a detailed explanation of the cream cheese/sugar/egg/cream/sour-cream ratios and discusses the effect of changing each. The texture of the cake changes considerably as one adjusts the amounts, and these are the amounts I like. Make it a half dozen times in slightly different ways to see what you like. It also describes the difference between the various cooking processes. We first made it in 2005. All agreed that this was the best cheesecake ever. The water bath really makes a difference. 50 minutes for prep and clean-up.
“Crust” (more like a dusting) OR use a full crust
2 tsp Butter, melted
2 Tbs Vanilla Wafer or Graham Cracker crumbs — very fine. ~7 vanilla wafers.
32 oz Cream cheese at room temperature (“lite” cheese is NOT acceptable). 4 pkgs.
1¼ cup Sugar
¼ cup Heavy Cream or Whipping Cream (I use whipping cream)
¼ cup Sour Cream
2 tsp Vanilla extract
4 Eggs at room temperature
9″ Springform pan
2 sheets Aluminum foil (one extra wide and extra heavy).
Use an outer pan large enough to easily seat the 9” pan, like a Lobster Pot bottom or the pan you roast your turkey in.
Optional: strawberries, cherries or chocolate fudge sauce for the topping.
- A Springform is made of two pieces: the side (with the spring) and the round bottom. Line the bottom of the pan with foil and put the base back with the foil hanging outside the pan and coming UP the side of the pan. This is the second line of protection if the outer foil layer fails. Bring the 2nd heavy, wide foil up the side of the pan, and put on tightly so water doesn’t enter. See the picture. Set oven to 325 degrees.
- Brush the bottom and the sides with butter, and sprinkle the crumbs over the bottom. Tilt the pan in all directions to have the crumbs go up the sides. Pour out excess. Alternatively, you can also make a bread crust for the bottom. I prefer the dusting.
- Boil enough water for the water bath. About 4 cups should be sufficient, but check during cooking that it hasn’t boiled off.
- Beat the room temperature cream cheese until smooth, and then beat in the sugar for about 3 minutes on medium until fully incorporated.
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping the side of the bowl after each one. Do not over beat. Add vanilla and beat until just incorporated. Add the cream and sour cream, and beat in at very low speed, until smooth.
- Pour mixture into the pan, and set into the larger pan. THEN pour in enough boiling water to go halfway up the side of the pan. DON’T go above the aluminum foil protection.
- Bake at 325 degrees for about 55-60 minutes until the perimeter of the cake is just slightly set and the center jiggles like jello.
- Turn off the heat and open the oven door slightly. Leave for 1 hour longer. Very carefully remove the cheesecake from the water bath and set on a wire rack until it reaches room temperature. This takes another hour. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours. If covered when warm, water will form on the cover and drip into the cheesecake!!
- Sometimes, I top this with sliced fresh strawberries, or a combination of strawberries and blueberries.
John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age. (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)
There’s nothing like a good thriller once in a while. But the qualifier matters. Cardboard characters, contrived suspense, and Hollywood cliff-hangers won’t cut it. But an espionage novel that hinges on character rather than non-stop action and that provides glimpses of an unfamiliar or exotic world is a great treat. Joseph Kanon’s latest, Defectors, fits the bill nicely.
In 1970, I traveled to Scandinavia and the Soviet Union with a group sponsored by a left-wing lawyers’ association. After stops in Stockholm, Helsinki, Leningrad, and Moscow, we flew to Central Asia, where we visited Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara. A lovely, radical sixty-ish couple wasn’t on the plane to Uzbekistan with us and didn’t rejoin the group when we returned to Moscow before flying home. We were told there was a medical issue although both had seemed hale and hearty in the early going. Knowing their background, I couldn’t help but wonder if they had defected. Is that how it would have been done in 1970? I have no idea. But I have thought about them occasionally and tried to imagine what it might have been like for them if they had indeed stayed in the Soviet Union. It’s safe to say that their lives would not have been like those of the defectors in this gripping novel.
Frank Weeks wasn’t an ordinary American Communist when he and his wife fled to Moscow in 1949. He had been a high-ranking intelligence officer about to be exposed as a spy for the Soviet Union after an operation that went disastrously wrong. Twelve years later, still working for the KGB, Frank has written a memoir that “the Service” will allow to be published, and his brother Simon has been approved to come to Moscow to edit the book, only to learn on arrival that Frank has an ulterior motive for this visit. There will be plenty of thriller-worthy action to come – deception, murder, betrayal, CIA and KGB operations and counter-operations – but the real pleasures of the novel are in the lives of Frank and Jo Weeks and their “friends” – the community of former British and American spies who are spared the privation of ordinary Russians but not the grim reality of the workers’ paradise they believed in…the spacious but threadbare apartment, the musty dacha, the faded elegance of the Bolshoi, the privileged access to groceries, the vodka-soaked nights at the bar in the Metropol, the ever-present KGB minder…
Frank and Simon were close as boys and followed similar career paths, Frank into the CIA, Simon into the State Department. But was Frank using his brother, extracting valuable bits of information in casual conversation over their regular dinners? After Frank’s betrayal and twelve years apart, the relationship between the brothers is tense but still intimate as Simon vacillates between trusting and being wary of his charming brother, and he is still drawn to Jo, with whom he had a brief dalliance before she met and married Frank. The fine supporting cast features a woman who once smuggled atomic secrets over a border in her hat, the lonely widow of a brilliant scientist, assorted Brits with assorted motives (including a couple of real-life spies), and Boris – the factotum who is always on hand and always listening.
Defectors is Kanon’s eighth novel. The others are similarly satisfying, particularly his first, Los Alamos. It’s a murder mystery with a compelling historical overlay as J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team of scientists in New Mexico race to develop the atomic bomb in the final days of World War II. There’s no better way to lose sleep and absorb some modern history than a Joseph Kanon novel.
Abby is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people: family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.
Your comments are deeply appreciated–leave word for Abby below.
TAKE YOUR PICK!
by Eleanor Jaffe
I am looking at two articles from the NY Times printed this past August whose subjects both have to do with aging. There cannot be two more different articles than these two. One of them, published in the business section on August 19th, is entitled, “Coping with the Dread of Inching Toward Oblivion.” The second, published on August 13 on a page called “Vows,” concerns a wedding: “She’s 98. He’s 94. They Met at the Gym,.” Each piece reflects a truly real aspect and possibility about aging, albeit 180 degrees different from one another. TAKE YOUR PICK!
The first article, written by economist Ron Lieber, was prompted by the near collapse of Medicaid, a logical outcome if Obamacare had been nullified by Congress this past summer. Fortunately, and for the moment, Medicaid stands–a bulwark for seniors who cannot afford long-term nursing care either in a facility or at home. This care becomes a necessity when elders are faced with diseases like Alzheimer’s or any serious degenerative disease necessitating round the clock supervision and monitoring. Lieber reviews several books written by caretakers and recommends them. You may want to consult them: The 36 Hour Day by N.L.Mace and P. Rabins; A Bittersweet Season by Jane Gross, and Being My Mom’s Mom by Loretta A.W. Veneer.
A number of us are all too familiar with the subject of long-term care. We have nursed our husbands or wives or parents through long, painful demises and know what it is like to have our loved ones change and diminish before our eyes. There are compensations for care-taking, and mixed blessings do accompany caring for a beloved one during a downhill course, but care-taking, nevertheless, is one of life’s heaviest burdens.
AND ON THE OTHER HAND! Here’s a vibrant story of a lively romance between two fit 90-year-olds (she’s almost 100). Their courtship and marriage makes me smile and gives me hope that life can continue to bring joyfulness, unexpected good times, true companionship, and even romantic love – no matter what your age. (We have even seen some of these romances at BOLLI!)
IS THERE A COMMONALITY HERE? I have searched my mind for one, and this is what I think: we have a lot of love to give. And we also have a great need to be needed and loved. Caring for your loved one, no matter what degree of pain or suffering we may experience as the caretaker, certainly lets us know that we are needed at the most fundamental of all levels. At the other end of the spectrum, romantic love allows us the full expression of our desires. We are needed. We are loved. We are fully alive, giving and receiving.
It is one of life’s great puzzles that some of us are given heavy burdens to carry, sometimes over long periods of time. Others of us seem to dodge the bullets of protracted illnesses, hurricanes (of all sorts), financial trials, and losses of many kinds.
If only we could TAKE OUR PICK!
As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of 53 years, my friends–and my 104 year old mother. What does it mean to grow older in today’s society? My experiences as a social worker, as a high school English teacher, doing a lot of reading about aging and loss, and living to 80 (so far) have prepared me to write this blog.
Leave comments, more suggestions for further reading, etc. in the box below! Our writers so appreciate knowing that you’re out there!
Some Additional Thoughts on Data Searching, and its Implications
Back in November or December, I wrote an article regarding computer searching, starting off by defining web browsers (I recommend Chrome as Edge is not yet really ready and Chrome has half the market) and Google as the search engine because they represent 75% of the market. My opinion has not changed despite Microsoft’s advertising
The first thing you quickly learn about Google is that it is able to make a lot of intelligent assumptions about what you want. There are two reasons for this. First, it can work around your mistyping or misspelling. Second, it remembers (unless you instruct it not to remember) what you have looked for in the past. This is a mixed blessing, mostly good. But here are a few reasons that it could turn out to be a problem.
- If an account is used by multiple family members, then the other person knows what you looked for. Like the birthday gift that you found and bought. Or the porn you viewed. Or the hotel room or jewelry you bought for the girlfriend. Or things you don’t want the grandkids to see when they are using your computer.
- Google uses the information in your previous searches to direct advertising towards you. So if you bought a cane, do not be surprised if you get ads for a wheelchair or another cane. If you booked a room in Newport, do not be surprised if you get ads from other Newport attractions. This is viewed by many as a feature, but I find it irritating. Each of the browsers gives you an option to delete the list of searches you have made. I do this frequently.
- If you are doing a BOLLI paper on bombs and go to dozens of sites on bomb-making, do not be surprised if you receive a visit from Homeland Security. They and NSA have the ability to watch internet and phone traffic (do they utilize it???). The problem, of course, is that, though your search history may have been deleted from YOUR files, it doesn’t mean that GOOGLE or Comcast doesn’t have the data on its servers. Each year, Google gets many warrants for data and, for the moment, rejects most of them. That may well change.
Let’s take a simple example. You get onto the Amazon website to see if you want to purchase some shorts. You’ve used this site before and have set up shipping addresses for a number of members of your family. What might happen next?
- Amazon and other on-line purchase sites know about ALL your previous purchases AND those things you have merely looked at. They will use this data to recommend other things for you to purchase, either during this browsing session or in subsequent ones. But Amazon and other companies have Artificial Intelligent systems studying your purchases, trying to further understand what makes you tick. A few years ago, there was a story about a woman who made a bunch of purchases, and the company (Target) calculated that she was pregnant (she didn’t know) and started sending her baby things. That surprised her father who was upset. See https://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/#78ba7db16668
“As Target’s computers crawled through the data, it was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed it to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score. More important, it could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.”
This is pretty scary! If you buy a swimsuit in April, should you be targeted with ads for sunscreen in July? I’ll have an article on Artificial Intelligence and machine learning soon.
- Don’t be surprised if company A sells its purchase data to company B. I do not believe that Amazon sells their data.
- Your browser knows where you have been, unless you delete the entries.
- Your provider (like Comcast) is collecting this data. AND, they might be selling it. There is a lot of money available for buying focused lists. The Obama administration tried to put in legislation to stop the selling of private data. The Trump Administration plans to roll that back. (See my past article on Net Neutrality for more information on this subject.)
- The government can request access to this data though it involves multiple legal issues. Remember a year ago when the government tried to get access to a protected Apple phone and Apple refused to provide the access?
Bottom Line: forget about privacy. It is a myth. Sorry.
A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature. In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic . John.email@example.com
Leave a comment for John below–
All of the episodes of the Ken Burns documentary about Vietnam are on my DVR, and I will watch them one piece at a time — some other day. Here is the story of two Massachusetts boys who grew up in the jungles of Vietnam and found new jungles waiting for them at home.
A TALE OF TWO MARINES
by Lydia Bogar
They walked and ran the tangled path to maturity in the jungles of Vietnam. Although born and raised in the same state, the culture and strata of their parentage were many miles apart. That is the way life was in the 60s. And yet, both fate and the Marine Corps brought them to the same place.
The war was never kind, and the mission was not to come home intact. The smell of blood and mud stayed in their memories for decades. The black silhouetted flag was a hallmark of their survival.
Initially, their post-military careers brought them together. They continued to live and train as Marines for law enforcement careers in the Massachusetts State Police, always crisp and ramrod straight in uniform. Their personal lives took similar paths, predictable for baby boomers. Love and marriage brought them to the same area code, the same assignment, and many of the same friends. As the devil cancer took some of those friends, they again stood crisp and ramrod straight at burials that shook the sky with rifle rounds and blurred the eyes around them. They were still Marines. Every minute of their lives, they were Marines.
Their first painful loss was another Marine, the perennial altar boy with the leprechaun’s smile. His death devastated friends and families, as he had beaten the devil cancer for almost ten years. Leaving his wife and son behind was a failure he could not discuss. The poison in his veins took all choice out of his hands. The walk from the church to the cemetery left even the strongest in tears. The flyover and hole in the ground sent others to their knees.
The second burial came along more rapidly, during a very cold, yet starlit night. The former combat medic had worked hard to progress through the ranks but was always within the devil’s grasp. The poison in his veins choked his heart and brought unforgiving grief to his wife and daughters. Generous benefits were no match for the three daughters who would later walk down the aisle without their daddy. When you see every member of a Marine Corps honor guard in tears, you know that you have seen it all.
I write of these two Marines as co-workers and friends of long standing. Twenty plus years seemed to fly by, and they both faced mandatory retirement at age 55. With that roadblock in sight, their career paths diverted. One lost a child, a precious son, a loss that compelled him to take on more hours at work, more overtime shifts as he sought something. Anything to be away from the small cottage in the small town with the small empty room. The marriage became a farce. He worked days and nights, seemingly without end, and advanced through the ranks. We will not discuss the women in whose arms he found momentary comfort, only that those diversions did not heal him.
The bald Marine discarded first one marriage and then another. His work hours also increased, yet neither rank nor assignment ever filled his void. He remained on the job long past the 55-speed limit, defying gravity and modern medicine with the daily grind of a much younger man. His jungle became the streets, and he knew each cluster of villages as well as the age spots on the back of his hands. His rank remained the same, even when his pay grade maxed out. He ignored the urges of supervisors to take promotional exams. In the place of rank and money, he got a good lawyer, another Marine of course, and sued to stay on the job he loved. He was content with his portable life, taking assignments that he liked, and travelling abroad when the spirit moved him.
His personal vehicles were the same make and model as the Ford Crown Vic that he drove behind the badge. His large frame knew the seat and the dashboard as well as the gun at his waist. His strength and courage never wavered, and his quest to understand the minds of his brother officers was a thirst never fully quenched. When the towers fell in New York, he responded with the speed and determination of a Marine fresh out of Parris Island. He was in New York by noon that day, not knowing who the enemy was, only that it was his.
His current vocation is to talk with and listen to the troops coming back from the hellish sandbox. He continues to defy the usual parameters of age and agility. This past summer, while others bought retirement homes and cuddled grandchildren, he ignored his 70th birthday and went to Canada to support a brother officer.
His quiet, pale brother went uptown and worked in a skyscraper overlooking the harbor. His new uniform was an expensive suit, a starched white shirt, and ready-for-inspection wingtips. His knowledge expanded in different ways–away from physical harm and into the detection of fraud and deceit. His daily routine remained intact, unmoved by age or circumstance. It was that routine and a daily dose or two of Jack Daniels kept him alive, or so he thought. His life ended quietly in an elevator, going out to lunch on a beautiful spring day. He would be with his son again.
None of these Marines of a certain age need to watch the Ken Burns documentary. The original script remains in their hearts and minds.
Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service. We’re lucky to have her volunteering, these days, to help with BOLLI Matters!
On Thursday, October 5, the Lunch & Learn Committee is pleased to welcome Brendan Emmett Quigley to BOLLI. Quigley has been described as a “crossword wunderkind” whose work has been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and The Onion. He is also The New York Times’ sixth-most frequently published crossword creator. Quigley appeared in the documentary Wordplay and the book Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession.
Should you like to do a little crossword practice before his visit, you might visit his website: http://www.brendanemmettquigley.com/ where you can find easy, medium, and hard puzzles which you can work interactively.
One of our own puzzle enthusiasts, Guy Moss, has done some research about the history of the crossword which you might find to be of particular interest in light of Quigley’s visit.
THE HISTORY OF THE CROSSWORD PUZZLE
By Guy Moss
A puzzle. The origins of this funny word go back to the Old French “pusle,” which means to bewilder or confuse. And indeed, think of how many variations have been created over the years, leaving one in a state of puzzlement, obligated to puzzle out a solution.
The jigsaw puzzle, for example, is a very old classic. Credit for inventing the first goes to John Spilsbury of London, who in 1767 glued a map to a piece of wood and cut out each country. In 1880, Milton Bradley, already a successful toy and game marketer, started to produce the first jigsaw puzzle for children. It featured a train and was named “The Smashed Up Locomotive.” Today for $299.95 at Hammacher Schlemmer, you can buy the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle, measuring 17’ by 6’ and containing 32,256 pieces.
Logic puzzles were first officially introduced in 1886 by Lewis Carroll, who, in addition to being a famous author, was a mathematician and logician. These are the type that give you certain limited information (“Smith, who married Brown’s sister, earns more than the doctor, etc.”) from which you must logically deduce the desired conclusions.
The word search puzzle, a favorite among children, is credited to Norma Gebat, who published the first, only as recently as 1968, in a newspaper in Oklahoma.
And then there’s the Sudoku puzzle, an even more recent innovation developed by an Indiana architect, Howard Garns, through Dell Magazine in 1979. Calling it “Number Place,” he built on a concept dating back to the 1700s and a puzzle then called “Latin Squares.” In the 1980s, the Japanese began publishing a more developed version, and the very first U.S. Sudoku game was printed in the New York Times just a little over twelve years ago. The word, by the way, is an abbreviation of a Japanese phrase, “Suji wa dokushiri ni kagiru,” which means “the numbers must be single.” This reflects the puzzle’s nature, where each of the numbers 1-9 may appear only once in each row, column, or box.
But the most popular and widespread game in the world is the crossword puzzle. Close to 99% of the world’s daily newspapers each carry a crossword. During World War II, when there was an acute paper shortage, American newspapers tried to drop the crossword, but fan protests reinstated them. In England, where the paper shortage was more serious, crosswords still had their place in four-page condensed newspapers. They were considered a therapeutic diversion from the horrors of war.
Arguably, the origin of the crossword may be traced back to the basic human need to solve enigmas, with a very early manifestation being the riddle. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx is credited with asking one of the first: “What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening?” As we know from Sophocles, Oedipus correctly answers, man. Indeed, riddle-solving was a popular party game among the Romans.
Over time, a wide variety of word-oriented puzzles evolved that ultimately influenced the crossword. They include the rebus, a visual puzzle that combines words and pictures, is an offshoot of the riddle, and some credit the hieroglyphics of Egypt and Phoenicia as the models for these. Parenthetically, priests in northern France in the 16th and early 17th centuries used a combination of words and pictures to make their Easter messages accessible to their illiterate parishioners.
Anagrams also became popular, and, in one form or another, date back thousands of years. Authors, for example, often rearranged the letters in their names to create handy pseudonyms. And, Jewish cabalists believed the Scriptures contained encoded messages.
The crossword puzzle, however, is thought most directly to descend from the word square, where words are arranged to read the same vertically and horizontally. The earliest version, somewhat different, is attributed to an early Egyptian, Moschion, who, around 300 A.D., carved one square that he subdivided into another 1,521 squares, each containing a Greek letter. If one started in the center and followed certain directions, the phrase “Moschion to Osiris, for the treatment which cured his foot” would repeat itself, apparently reflecting the creator’s gratitude to the god of the underworld for some remarkable recovery.
An important variation on this theme was the acrostic, which came into its own in Victorian England. This involved a series of lines or a poem in which specified letters of each line, to be discovered and then taken in order, spelled out a word or phrase. A famous double acrostic is attributed to Queen Victoria, purportedly penned for her children and reading on the edges, down and then up, “Newcastle Coalmines.”
New word games, of course, evolved to meet a growing demand. For example, consider conundrums: riddles with pun-filled answers. “Why is the Prince of Wales like a gorilla, a bald man, and an orphan?” The answer: “Because the prince is the heir-apparent, the gorilla is a hairy parent, the bald man has no hair apparent, and the orphan has ne’er a parent.” Or, consider letter manipulation: adjusting a word by one letter to create another word. An example: “Take away one letter, and I murder; take away two, and I am dying, if the whole does not save me.” The answer is “skill” [“kill” to “ill” unless saved by “skill”].
As we know it today, the crossword was born on December 21, 1913 when the first such puzzle was published in the “Fun” section of the now defunct New York World. Arthur Wynne, born and raised in Liverpool, England who emigrated to the United States at 19, was then the editor of this supplement and, believing that the older math puzzles, anagrams, etc. seemed dated, was determined to feature something new and special in the Christmas issue. His innovation was to modify the word square concept so that a grid read differently across and down based on clues. He titled the puzzle “Word-Cross.” One might note that in this first puzzle there were no black filler spaces, the grid is diamond shaped with a hole in the middle, and the clues were not broken into across and down sections based solely on the starting number.
To everyone’s surprise, Wynne’s puzzle was an immediate hit, and letters to the editor encouraged its continuance. By mid-January of 1914, the puzzle’s name had been changed to “Cross-Word,” reflecting the subtitle which urged readers to find the missing cross words. Readers started sending in their own versions, and within a month, a Mrs. M.B. Wood of New York became the first published by-lined outside crossword puzzle contributor in history. Contributed puzzles abounded (very soon up to 25 a day), and with them, came innovations in shapes and clues, even puzzles within puzzles. Apparently, the only folks who were antagonistic were the paper’s typesetters, who found the format especially burdensome and annoying.
Surprisingly, the World was the sole publisher of crosswords for close to ten years. During the early 1920s, however, other newspapers here and abroad picked up this popular pastime, and within a decade, they were both featured in almost all American newspapers and began to take the form familiar today. In 1924, the first crossword puzzle book appeared and, while initially viewed as a high risk by the publishers, flew off the shelves. A crossword craze developed to such an extent that the NY Public Library was forced to limit users’ dictionary time to five minutes each, and one train line made dictionaries available in each of its cars for commuters. Sales of dictionaries and thesauruses increased. One Cleveland woman was granted a divorce because her husband would do nothing but work on crosswords all day. A man was arrested for disturbing the peace because he wouldn’t leave a restaurant until he finished his puzzle. A telephone worker shot his wife because she wouldn’t help him with a crossword and then killed himself! And a hit song was written, entitled “Crossword Mama, You Puzzle Me (But Papa’s Gonna Figure You Out).” Despite all this, the New York Times waited until 1942 to publish its first crossword puzzle – the Sunday variety only, with the smaller daily editions beginning in 1950. According to one source, they felt it was childish, sinful, and provided for no real mental development.
In 1921, at the World, Mr. Wynne found himself not only contemplating retirement but also badly in need of assistance because of the volume of puzzles being contributed as well as extensive errors appearing in the paper. John Cosgrove, the World’s Sunday Magazine editor, hired a young woman named Margaret Petherbridge to help. She had been Wynne’s stepdaughter’s roommate at Smith, and after initially focusing solely on aesthetics and not even doing the puzzles herself, she mastered the art of editing them and created many of the innovations in place today. Petherbridge also collaborated in the publication of the early puzzle books and resigned from the World in 1926 when she married publisher John Farrar. Later, after the Times entered the field, it hired then Margaret Farrar, the top name in crosswords, to be their new puzzle editor. Her instructions from Times editor Arthur Hays Sulzberger were to keep the puzzles focused on the news, keep them dignified, and enable readers to solve them in around twenty minutes – the average time commuters spent on the subway. Farrar remained editor until 1969, when she was 72, and was followed by only three others: Will Weng, Eugene Maleska, and now Will Shortz.
The annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is the nation’s oldest and largest event of its kind. Founded and directed by Will Shortz, it is held in Stamford, CT and draws well over 500 contestants. The program consists of warm-up games on Friday, competitive crossword competitions throughout Saturday and Sunday mornings, a variety show, and then a championship playoff on Sunday afternoon. All the puzzles are specially created for the tournament , and awards are given in 20 categories, with the event’s overall winner taking home a grand prize of $7,000. The 41st annual contest will take place from March 23 – 25, 2018 at the Stamford Marriott.
If nothing else, you can now better appreciate how Mr. Wynne’s maiden effort evolved and where it has gone in over the last 100 plus years.
For more about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, including past winners and other information, be sure to go to
Guy describes himself as “a semi-retired attorney specializing in bankruptcy law with the firm of Riemer & Braunstein LLP in Boston. He lives in Newton, joined BOLLI in 2016, and enjoys, among other things, travel, reading, history, photography, art, museums, and games. This piece on the origin of the crossword puzzle was developed originally for the Eight O’Clock Club, a local discussion group of which Guy is a member. It was sparked by the awareness that 2013 marked the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle and a curiosity about how various common games, notably word games, arose.”
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