Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Mystery Hunt I Myst

This past weekend was the MIT Mystery Hunt, that vast conclave of mass puzzle-obsession that fueled my very first appearance on This American Life, and which (one hopes) will culminate in a career as an actual author and be seen in retrospect as the break that started it all. So since my team WON last year, and (as a result) we created the Hunt this year, and since it’s just a 4-hour, $25 bus trip away and a chance to see a whole bunch of people I dearly love…well, it’s a little weird that I didn’t go. I even announced I was going on the group website, then said I’d come late, and then wound up not going at all.

Here’s why: Ever since I’ve been unemployed, I’ve felt that this is my long-awaited opportunity to really put a stake through the heart of this book proposal, which has been far too long in the making. Anything that distracts from that, I’m discovering, feels almost like a threat. And while I would have loved to hang out with my friends this weekend, it meant essentially giving up five solid days of work on the book—four to do the Hunt (Thursday through Sunday), and one to recover from the sleeplessness. I love the MIT Mystery Hunt, but I’m afraid it’s not quite worth five days of work. It’s too much like vacation, and I only have so much time free before my money starts dwindling and I need an actual job again. This is my chance to write. It would be criminal to squander it.

I didn't know unemployment would affect me like this, but now I know. It's like a form of relentless guilt, only with hope at the end.

So I can take breaks to do posts like this—it turns out a whole book, or even a book proposal, is something you really need a breather from now and then—but five days was asking too much, and in the end it was simply easier not to go. I’m sorry to everyone on the team. I really should have called Toonhead! or Sue++ or Trip or someone. My apologies. I’m fine. I’m just being selfish.

This is, however, the time to own up. I wrote five puzzles for this Hunt, aided immensely by the indefatigable Trip Payne. (As well as a few other people I’m bad at keeping track of. So sorry! My memory has always kind of sucked.) The puzzles were, if I’m getting the names correct:

God of Cartoons (a bunch of cartoons about famous historical figures)
The Deadly Hobby of Murder (a sample final chapter from an Encyclopedia Brown-type mystery novel)
Department Store (a fairly standard find-the-organizing-theme grid puzzle with a few twists)
Chinese Menu (a Chinese menu)
Notes on a Century of English, According to Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary (a list of ten words)

Trip was particularly helpful on “Notes on a Century…” and “Department Store,” and he seems to have a staggering memory for Hunt puzzles. Thanks, Trip! I was happiest with God of Cartoons, and in general I’m hopeful that in a Hunt that turned out to be harder than anticipated, my own puzzles were all on the easy side. It would be sad to make a puzzle if no one solved it. So far, all I know is that one team found the Chinese Menu sort of broken (it did okay in the test-solving!), and one blogger found God of Cartoons at least memorable enough to mention. I’d be interested in more feedback, though with any luck I’ll never be on a winning Mystery Hunt team again where I’ll have to apply my learning.

I’d just like to thank all the other members of Palindrome, especially our computer people (man, you all are geniuses!) and the Trip/Halprin/Purdy puzzle-vetting triumvirate. And we would have been literally nowhere without the amazing work of Eric Berlin, who deserves to not have to move a muscle for the next two years.

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Anonymous Francis said...

Cazique and I solved Department Store together; lots of fun, that one. Someone else did the actual finding-the-final-answer part of God of Cartoons, but I enjoyed reading and filling the names in the cartoons as they printed out and before they got spirited away to another part of the room.

1/24/2008 12:51 AM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

Thanks. Of course, the cartoons were supposed to be easy to figure out, since the next step took a little more thinking. But I'm glad they worked. Someday I'll get that damned scanner and actually post the two cartoons that got cut.

1/24/2008 9:57 AM  
Blogger i said...

I just heard the NPR segment on the MIT Mystery Hunt, googled accordingly, and found your blog -- Great job!! I graduated from MIT in 2005, and had several talented friends on the Fort Awesome front. Some of the pieces mentioned in the show was the pallindromic nature of "Dr. Awkward" and how an anagram for "A dream within a dream" is "What am I? A mindreader?" I'm not sure if that was you, but I think they did mention a guy named Dave on the show... Anyway, thanks for contributing to these clever flashes of realization, and good luck w/ your work! :)

2/02/2008 12:53 PM  

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