Good News for Alex Trebek?

There have been two major stories in the world of Jeopardy! for the last year. One was the meteoric rise of gambler and champion James Holzhauer, the other was the saga of Alex Trebek’s battle against pancreatic cancer.

Although Holzhauer failed to topple Ken Jennings’ all-time winnings record, we are happy to report that Trebek’s story is on much more of an upswing.

Back when he first announced his diagnosis, Trebek stated, “I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease,” then joked, “I have to because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years.”

And in a recent video promoting the 36th season of Jeopardy!, Trebek seems cautiously optimistic:

These stories have been corroborated by producer Harry Friedman, who has worked with Trebek since 1997:

Alex is remarkable in many ways, not the least of which is he’s got an iron will and an unequaled determination to beat this. He underwent several rounds of chemo and that brought his numbers down. They were around 1,000 at one point and now they’re down into the high teens.

According to multiple sources, this is an unlikely and encouraging outcome, given the statistics surrounding the disease. Records from the American Cancer Society indicate that approximately 56,770 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and nearly 80 percent will die from it.

Trebek recently participated in a Purple Stride walk with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. During the event, Alex discussed hopes that he would see his hundredth birthday:

As you all know, survivorship is measured starting from the date you are diagnosed with cancer. And on that scale, my gosh, I’m a 62-day survivor. Give me a break…But I’m working on it. And I promise you this: That if I become a 22-year survivor, you will all be welcomed at my 100th birthday.

Here’s hoping we’re all around to celebrate that joyous occasion with him.


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Farewell, Rip Torn, Star of Stage, Screen, and Crossword Grids

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[Image courtesy of Page Six.]

It is always a sad day when the puzzle community loses one of their own, no matter how rare those events are. It’s rarer still to say goodbye to someone whose contributions were made by appearing IN grids, rather than by constructing or cluing them.

Alas, it is one of those rare times, as this week we mourn the loss of crossword icon and Hollywood actor Rip Torn.

Rip was famously aware of his status as a go-to crossword entry. When he was asked if his name had given him anything but grief over the years, he replied, “Well, when I couldn’t get a job, everybody would say, ‘Where do I know you from?’ I said, ‘Crossword puzzles!’ That kept my name alive for years.”

And it’s true. Some names are simply crossword friendly and have shown up regularly over the years, transforming from pop culture reference to fully accepted part of the crosswordese lexicon.

Although we lost Una and Ona and more than one Ida over the years, Rip hung around amongst stalwart compatriots like Ono and Eno and Esai.

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[Image courtesy of The Chive.]

An actor known for both his stubbornness and the realism he brought to his performances, Rip essentially had two careers in Hollywood. He was a serious dramatic performer throughout the 1960s, until his reputation for being difficult to work with led to a dry spell in the 1970s. (This reputation was famously cemented when he lost the role later played by Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider.)

He would later enjoy a career renaissance in the mid-1990s and beyond for his considerable comedic talents, leaving behind memorable performances in the Men in Black films, and perhaps most notably, HBO’s meta talk show comedy The Larry Sanders Show. Personally, I always enjoyed Rip as the gruff but entertaining mentor figure, which made his appearances in Dodgeball and 30 Rock a particular delight.

For his talents, his humor, his honesty, and that inimitable arrangement of letters that made him oh-so-crossword-convenient, he will be missed.


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A puzzly mystery on Lake Coeur d’Alene

Answering questions is an integral part of many puzzles. Whether you’re cracking a brain teaser, solving a riddle, or unraveling a tricky crossword clue, the fun lies in working out the solution.

But sometimes, a puzzly mystery arises somewhere far more unexpected.

Like the time a giant metal die appeared in the shallow beachside waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho last month.

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[All images courtesy of KREM 2 News.]

Reports of the enormous die — which was 6 feet by 6 feet and made of steel — began appearing over the weekend of March 18th, along with photos taken by curious passersby.

It was removed by town officials by the following Monday afternoon, leaving residents baffled.

But a little detective work by locals would later reveal the giant die’s origins.

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Apparently, the metal box itself washed up on the shore on Driftwood Point in 2008, its origins still unknown. The Gridley family, tired of looking at the old thing, decided to decorate it like a gaming cube. This led locals to call the area “Dice Beach.”

Years later, floodwaters washed the giant die away from Dice Beach, and the curiosity landed on a different shore, one mystery begetting another.

The die has now been relocated near a skatepark in downtown Coeur d’Alene, where it still attracts attention and the occasional photo op.

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So keep your eyes peeled, folks. You never know when a puzzly mystery might show up on your doorstep. (Or the beach near your house.)


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Puzzle Vandalism!

[Image courtesy of Milliande.com.]

It’s hard to know sometimes what qualifies as art.

Artists and entrepreneurs are constantly pushing the boundaries of visual and intellectual expression. Everything from paint and stone to light and shadow are used to realize artistic visions. Christo wraps buildings and calls it art.

That can make it tough for those who are less familiar with the fluid definition of art.

There was a famous incident back in May when a seventeen-year-old left his glasses on the floor of an art gallery and many patrons mistook them for an art installation.

This has only grown more complicated with the advent of interactive art pieces. Some works of art can only be viewed from a specific vantage point, while others actively engage patrons.

Recently a woman unintentionally vandalized a piece of art when she mistook it for part of an interactive exhibit.

And wouldn’t you know, that piece of art was based on a crossword puzzle.

[Image courtesy of Thoibao.today.]

The 91-year-old woman was visiting the Neues Museum in Nuremberg with a senior citizens group when she found the piece, “Reading-work-piece” by artist Arthur Koepcke, and began filling in the empty grid.

These days, you can understand her confusion and sympathize with her mistake. I mean, the exhibit did say “insert words,” after all. Those sound like instructions to me.

Plus the grid has remained incomplete since its creation in 1965. It’s about time somebody finished the puzzle.


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