Crossing Words with Stu Ockman

Puzzlemaker Stu Ockman of Rose Valley created this crossword with coldblooded precision.

Puzzlemaker Stu Ockman of Rose Valley created this crossword with coldblooded precision.

Their phone call was about finished when Stu Ockman’s college friend Adam Perl mentioned that he was going to have a crossword puzzle in the New York Times that Thursday. “Even though I’d been doing them since I was a teenager, I never knew they were contributed by individuals,” Stu said. “Adam and I are competitive, and that’s all it took to get me interested.”

Stu found Crossword Compiler software online and sat down at the electronic drawing board in his Rose Valley home. Before the free trial period ended, he had submitted a few puzzles to the Times. “I got rejections from Will’s assistant, Paula Gamache, saying ‘Will says thanks, but must send regrets on your [latest puzzle] whose theme didn’t excite him enough. Sorry about that. He did appreciate seeing this, tho.’ [Will, of course, is Will Shortz, the puzzle editor of the Times and the face of crosswords.]

Further encouragement soon came in an e-mail from Will Shortz himself, also rejecting a puzzle, but providing Stu with reasons why (e.g. “the entry TEA GUEST sounds made-up”).

“I bought the software and really made a good start,” Stu said. “Of the first 60 or so puzzles I submitted, Will accepted eight,” though a dry spell soon followed. He was hooked, and though he hasn’t quit his day job — he is an engineering consultant and an expert witness in construction disputes, internationally — he makes puzzles much more efficiently with the benefit of experience.

“The first puzzles took me 12 hours, 24 hours, or more. But then you figure out the process, the software, the dictionaries; so now in a basic puzzle, I can fill the grid in about 30 minutes,” Stu said.

“A puzzle starts with the theme, and the size grid you want to fill — 15 x 15 grids for Times daily puzzles and 21 x 21 for Sunday. If you think it’s a brilliant idea, and you have some great theme entries, you invest the time and go for a Sunday puzzle.”

As theme words are entered into the grid, the software suggests words for a particular configuration of intersecting letters. Then comes clueing. Stu said: “Choosing words for the grid is the thing that takes the longest to learn. A single word can be a puzzle killer, but having the right words can really get Will excited.” He reads a short Shortz e-mail from last September that says “Got it. Thanks Stu. Very happy to have this gorgeous puzzle.” That gorgeous puzzle has yet to be published, but will probably be a Saturday crossword. Saturday, as Times puzzle solvers know, is the hardest puzzle of the week, which starts easily on a Monday. (The Sunday puzzle is sui generis; it’s the only one that has a title, with difficulty about on a Thursday level, but twice as big.)

The New York Times is not the only game in town — the Los Angeles Times and the Jerusalem Post have also published puzzles he’s developed as posthumous tributes to Harold Ramis and Neil Simon — but it’s Stu’s primary market. “The rest I’m saving for my self-published crossword book.”

Pickup an issue of this week’s Swarthmorean! The puzzle is on page 8.

Street Trees Available

Order in March; Plant in Spring

Trees are now available from the Borough’s Street Tree Committee to Swarthmore Borough residents who wish to plant a street tree this year or to replace a tree that has been lost.

Ordering deadline will be March 6, 2017. A limited number of trees are available. Order forms are available at the Borough office or on the Borough website ( Cost of a new tree is $125, including planting and mulching. Spring is a perfect time to plant!

Trees will be planted as weather permits. For more information, please contact Karol Bock at (484) 472-8639.

Acer saccharum ‘Fall Fiesta’ — sugar maple — a large maple (60 feet tall) that is one of the most attractive trees for its scarlet fall color. This selection is one of the better maples for our area. This tree grows fast when young and it creates a nice shade canopy over head when mature.

Cladrastis kentukea – Yellowwood is a medium sized tree (30-35 feet tall) with upright branching and a rounded crown. It can grow in sun to half-shade. It is characterized by its drooping chains of white flowers in spring which have a mild sweetly floral fragrance. This handsome tree has brilliant yellow fall color.

Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis ‘Shademaster’ – Shademaster honey locust is a medium-sized (45’tall) open, airy tree that has many tiny leaflets. Autumn color is a clear gold. The leaves are so small there is little to rake up. It is a strong grower and has a vase-shaped form when young, maturing into a more rounded shape.

Nyssa sylvatica ‘Green Gables’ — Our native sour gum has a tight pyramidal shape when young, but is a more graceful ascending structure at maturity and can reach up to 50 feet. This tree has handsome orange to scarlet to purple leaves in autumn.

Quercus alba — The white oak is a native tree and provided it is healthy, can have a long, long life. Oaks are one of the best trees to help provide the “cycle of life” in hosting native insects that are food for our birds. It has a rounded crown at maturity and will reach 60’ tall. Autumn color is yellow.

Tilia Americana “American Sentry” – a cultivar of our native American linden, this tree grows 50 to 60 feet tall and prefers a well-drained soil (it will even tolerate drought once established) in full to partial sun. Linden flowers in early summer with a very distinctive sweet floral fragrance. Leaves are oval and turn light yellow in autumn. It is a great food plant for pollinating insects.

Swarthmore Police Report

On Saturday, February 18, at 2:05 a.m., Officer Kline responded to the 300 block of N. Princeton Avenue for a report of a male attempting to make entry into vehicles.

The reporting party provided a description. Officer Kline checked the area and then went to the reporting party’s home. They reported they had been awakened by a motion light in their driveway that had been activated and saw the suspect walking across the street. They were asked to check their vehicles and the homeowner discovered her purse (which had been in the vehicle) in the driveway with the contents strewn about and approximately $100 and a fob controller discovered to be missing.

Officer Kearney of the Ridley Township Police Department responded to this incident and found a male fitting the broadcast description behind some bushes in the 200 block of N. Princeton Ave. The individual was detained, and the victims identified the suspect. Officer Kearney recovered the fob controller and money from the suspect.

Other property was found on the suspect and subsequent investigation identified other victims. The suspect was charged with theft from vehicles.

A resident of the 200 block of Lafayette Avenue entered the front door of her property on February 21 at 7:14 p.m., discovered the rear sliding glass door broken, and heard noises in the house. She ran to a neighbor’s house and called 911.

Officer Bardo, along with officers from Media, Morton, and Nether Providence police departments, responded, arriving within a minute of the call.

Officer Bardo went to the rear of the property, where she observed the smashed sliding glass door and heard a noise in the house. At the same time, Media Police Officer Devito shouted he saw a male in the house headed in Officer Bardo’s direction. The male exited the property through the broken door carrying a backpack.

When Officer Bardo commanded the suspect to stop and show his hands, he dropped the backpack in the driveway and ran towards Lafayette Avenue, where he pushed down Morton Police Officer McGrady, then ran towards Oberlin Avenue.

Police officers from several jurisdictions apprehended him a short distance away. After a struggle, he was handcuffed.

During the incident Officer Bardo was injured and was taken to Springfield Hospital; she was treated and released.

The suspect was taken to the Media police station for processing and was charged with multiple offenses including burglary, aggravated assault, assault on police, and criminal trespass.

There Will Be Syrup…

And pancakes, and music, and fun!

Love flapjacks, hot from the griddle? Hit the suppers at Trinity Episcopal Church in Swarthmore and Wallingford Presbyterian Church next Tuesday.

Love flapjacks, hot from the griddle? Hit the suppers at Trinity Episcopal Church in Swarthmore and Wallingford Presbyterian Church next Tuesday.

It must be Shrove Tuesday when pancakes headline the menu in two suppers on February 28.

At Wallingford Presbyterian Church, 110 E. Brookhaven Road, Boy Scout Troop 277 will help Wallingford church members serve the annual pancake dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Donations will be accepted to cover the cost of food and to support Troop 277.

At Trinity Church in Swarthmore, the annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Swarthmore College a capella group Sixteen Feet will perform, and the Trinity Thrift Shop will be open for special evening hours. Tickets are $8 per person or $21 per family.

The public is invited to come hungry to either or both of these events.

Big Time Hoops at Swarthmore This Weekend

Yes, it’s still only February, but tournament madness is upon us already this weekend at Swarthmore College’s Tarble Pavilion on the campus.

By virtue of its 14-4 conference record, Swarthmore’s men’s basketball team is the #1 seed and the host of the 2016 Centennial Conference tournament.

The Garnet play in the second game of the semifinal double header, tipping off at 8 p.m. against the winner of the Johns Hopkins-Ursinus play-in game. Franklin & Marshall plays Dickinson in the first semi at 6 p.m.

Saturday’s game will pit the Friday winners in the conference final starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 per day, $3 for students 13-18, and free for children and Swarthmore College students with ID.

The Swarthmore men have an overall record of 20-5 and are ranked #21 nationally among NCAA Division 3 schools.

Review: Uncle Vanya in Rose Valley

Dr. Astrov (Jared Reed) towers; Uncle Vanya (Adam Altman) cowers in a scene from Hedgerow Theatre’s current production.

Dr. Astrov (Jared Reed) towers; Uncle Vanya (Adam Altman) cowers in a scene from Hedgerow Theatre’s current production.

By Chris Reynolds

Summer torpor suffuses the stage even before the first scene in Hedgerow Theatre’s current production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya: we walk into the theater past a dozing man and a needlewoman absorbed in their timeless endeavors. Bird chirps and insect whirs are just audible through the opened windows suggested by the slack linen curtains loosely hung around the perimeter of the sunroom. We soon settle into the mood of the place, a country estate in Russia.

Hedgerow’s is a big-hearted, deeply felt staging of a deeply humane play, with dialogue and action that captures the ennui and the ridiculousness, the humor and the pain of close family life amidst the estate’s “elegant decay.” The cast is uniformly strong, delivering nuance and complexity in their characters.

Vanya (Adam Altman) exemplifies the contradictions of a man stuck in middle age. He is complicated, alternately paralyzed and depressed, antic and sarcastic, mocking the conventions and rituals of country life that others have embraced — a life he feels has drained him over a quarter century: “All feeling I used to have is dried up.” Luminosity has come into his life in the form of Elena, but her glow remains out of reach.

Elena (Jessica Dal Canton) is louche and languid, careless with her power to enchant, and defiantly determined to make nothing of her life. She blames her encumbrance with a failing husband for her lack of ambition and confidence to do better. Vanya is jealous of this pedantic, gouty man whom he once worshipped and now despises, yet he seems incapable of acting on his animosity.

The scenes cycle through a series of dialogues, advancing ideas through the tensions among the household, each probing at a different aspect of life and work and love. Vanya’s niece Sonya (Jennifer Summerfield) and friend Dr. Astrov (Jared Reed) remain idealistic despite the wearying years they’ve spent among the fading gentry and “squalid” peasantry of the Russian countryside.

Despite the life force and passions that move them forward, Sonya says, “We don’t know what we want from the world… but it disappoints us.” Her disappointment comes hard — she is responsible, idealistic and generous — and is softened, perhaps, by the belief that her reward is eternal. Astrov is a cynical dreamer, disillusioned by the way the world is going, crushed by his own failures, yet always looking forward. (His ecological theories eerily presage our current concerns today about climate change, and one wishes his arguments could find more purchase.)

Also resonating with a contemporary audience is Elena’s “fossilized oaf” of a husband, professor Aleksandr (John Lopes), a self-centered blowhard who expects the world to satisfy him, whose existence is subsidized by the labor of his family, yet who still wants more than the servitude he has exacted from them these 25 years; completely oblivious to their sacrifices.

Vanya and Sonya wonder where life would have led them but for the cards they drew. Is theirs a hopeless fate, a labor to be compensated in the next life, or ultimately meaningless? This timeless play, an early expostulation of themes that would shape existentialism, considers nothing less than this central question.

Oh, and it’s funny. Faithful retainer Waffles (Zoran Kovcic) and grande dame Maria (Penelope Reed) contribute to that, of course, in their dotty ways. Director Kittson O’Neill elicits performances that reflect the gentle absurdity of the main characters’ conflicts, and a crackling, surprisingly modern sense of humor peppers the dialogue throughout.

See Hedgerow’s Uncle Vanya unfurl in the company’s historic mill building at 64 Rose Valley Road. Performances are Friday through Sunday, this weekend and through March 3. Information is at

Floating Photographer

Have you signed Swarthmore21’s petition for an
alcoholic beverages referendum
on the May primary ballot?

Asked in Swarthmore Town Center, Sunday, February 19.
By Chris Reynolds

2-24 f-edwards

No, and I won’t. I grew up in a dry town; I like Swarthmore as a dry town. I used to live in Philadelphia and I saw what bars can do to a neighborhood. Sue Edwards Swarthmore

2-24 f-gonzalez

No, I was not aware of it, but I’m interested in knowing more. It seems as though the town and businesses would possibly benefit. Gaston Gonzalez with Adrian (left) and Leah, Swarthmore

2-24 f-hoy

Yes, I just signed today here at Borough Hall! Melissa Hoy with Penn (left) and Nash, Swarthmore

2-24 f-kandestin

Yes. Being a dry town is not what makes Swarthmore unique. Plus, I’d like to be able to get beer at the Co-op. Cory Kandestin with Zelda, Swarthmore

2-24 f-stroup

I signed, and I hope the referendum passes. I think it would be good for the town. There were fears surrounding the Tavern opening, and that’s turned out fine. Peter Stroup, Swarthmore

2-24 f-luebecker

Yes. I am hopeful the Co-op will secure a license. Although we are aware of the vacant storefronts, it concerns me that there is not enough appropriate contiguous square feet and existing infrastructure to support a restaurant. I am cautiously optimistic. John Luebecker with Freddy, Swarthmore

Briefly Noted…

2-24 Meyer and Ellis Meetup

An informal Swarthmore reunion took place recently at the San Mateo, Calif. home of Rita and Lawrence Ellis (couple in center of photo) with the visit of Matthew and Inger Hultgren Meyer from San Francisco (on left) and Lee and Lowell Ellis (on right) from Australia. Inger tells the story: “Several months ago, my parents, former Swarthmore residents Kent and Janina Hultgren, were flying out to visit me and my family in San Francisco, and saw a picture of Lawrence in the United Airlines magazine’s ‘Ask the Pilot’ column. It turns out that Lawrence, who was the Swarthmore Swim Club swim team coach for a number of years in the 1970s and 80s (including while I was on the team) is now Chief Pilot for United’s San Francisco-based operations! I wrote in, and soon reconnected with Lawrence, who currently with his wife in San Mateo. Over the Christmas holidays we got together with Lawrence and Rita at their home, where we had the chance to see Lowell (who I also knew from the Swarthmore Swim Club as a swim teammate and fellow lifeguard) and his family, who were visiting from Australia, where Lowell is also a pilot. We had a great time catching up and reminiscing about Swarthmore, and I’m so glad to be back in touch with old friends.” The Meyers (1988 Strath Haven graduates) have lived in San Francisco for nine years with daughters Astrid and Annika, whose other grandparents, Alfred and Barbara Meyer, live in Rose Valley.

Nicholas Roberts of Swarthmore recently earned his bachelor of science degree in biochemistry from Grove City College.

Gabriel W. Cole of Wallingford has been named to the dean’s list for his academic achievement at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.

Jacquelyn Yates of Wallingford has been named to the fall 2016 semester dean’s list at Stevenson University.

Tyler J. Hedrick of Wallingford received his bachelor of science of business administration degree in marketing from Kutztown University.

Ian A. Reid of Wallingford has been named to the dean’s list at Shippensburg University for the fall semester.

Samantha L. Dunn and Abigail J. Kassab, both of Wallingford, recently received their individual degrees from Shippensburg University. Kelly Lynne Yeager of Swarthmore has been named to the president’s list for the fall semester at the University of Alabama.

Jake Stoutland of Rose Valley has been named to the dean’s list at the University of Alabama.

Delaware Valley University has announced the names of the following students who have been named to the Fall 2016 dean’s list: Mario Hubbard and Elena Cascarino, both of Wallingford.

Justin Monaghan of Swarthmore has been named to the dean’s list at DeSales University.

Bradley Pratzner of Wallingford has been named to the dean’s list of the University of Sciences for the fall semester.

2-24 starr horse

Horse of a different color: High, wide, and handsome draft horse George made a circuit of Swarthmore on a sunny Monday this week. The 8 year-old Percheron pulled a cart driven by Robert Starr of Glen Mills (left) and Jordan Jehl of Aston.

2-3 WAC_FabricOfNature-5x7_Postcard

Andrea Packard, director of Swarthmore College’s List Gallery, was recently in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the opening of her exhibition “The Fabric of Nature” at the Joy Pratt Markham Gallery of the Walton Art Center. Packard’s textured, vivid work involves mixed media like woodcut prints, fabric and paint to create scenes of light and shadow in sylvan settings. The exhibition continues through April 24 at the Walton Center.

What to do? What to know!

Bryan Stevenson Visits Swarthmore March 1

Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson

Next Wednesday, March 1, at 7 p.m., activist and author Bryan Stevenson will speak at Swarthmore College’s Lang Performing Arts Center Cinema on “American Injustice: Mercy, Humanity, and Making a Difference.”

The talk is free and open to the college community with ID at 6 p.m. or later, and to the public, who may enter beginning at 6:20 p.m. Stevenson’s talk will run from 7 to 7:45 p.m., followed by a Q & A session, and then a book signing through 9 p.m.

Copies of Stevenson’s book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption will be available at both LPAC and the Swarthmore Campus & Community Store for purchase. The event caps the college’s recognition of Black History Month, and continues the campus wide exploration of public discourse and democracy.

Save the Date for Beef & Beverage at CADES

Eat, drink and raise money at the Sixth Annual Beef and Beverage event held for the benefit of CADES from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, March 11.

The lower gym is the setting for this adults-only shindig, which features live music from Mr. Nick’s Band, door prizes, and opportunities to break your Lenten resolutions.CADES is located at 401 Rutgers Avenue in Swarthmore. Information is at

Mayor Tim Kearney

Mayor Tim Kearney

TGP Welcomes the Mayor

Swarthmore Mayor Tim Kearney will be the featured speaker at the next meeting of the Gathering Place on Wednesday, March 1.

At 12:30 p.m., he will reprise the State of the Borough address which he delivered to Borough Council, and will answers questions from those attending. Come at noon for a light lunch catered by Occasionally Yours.

TGP meets at Swarthmore United Methodist Church, 129 Park Avenue.

Save The Date, Save Your Garden

The Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group hosts its annual March Into Spring on the first Saturday of spring, March 25, at Delaware County Community College in Media. The program begins at 8:15 a.m. and continues through 3 p.m.

This eagerly awaited, enthusiastically attended conference features lectures and talks by a half-dozen eminent garden and tree experts on topics both timely — the emerald ash borer and organic problem solving — and timeless — plant breeding, garden design, and reviving civic gardens.

Vendors offer all manner of plants, garden equipment and supplies, and books. A silent auction offers visitors a bid on unique experiences and goods.

Information on the event, pricing and registration are available at DCCC is at 901 S. Media Line Road (at Route 252).

SSCA Annual Meeting is Saturday

Swarthmore Senior Citizens Association will hold its annual meeting this Saturday, February 25, in the Centennial Room of Swarthmore United Methodist Church.

Gather between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. for coffee and refreshments; the business meeting begins at 10 a.m. with reports, voting on a new board member and a revision to the mission statement, and a general discussion about the direction and future contributions of the SSCA to its community.

Following the business meeting, Ann Torregrossa will speak to the latest recommendations and actions stemming from the work of the Aging-in-Place task force she chaired in 2015. SUMC is located at 129 Park Avenue.

Register Now for Nature’s Narratives

Nature is in extraordinary peril, and the more we intervene, the less wild endangered species often become.

But science is evolving, and the promising work in species preservation is discussed in this month’s Nature’s Narratives book group at Scott Arboretum on Wednesday, March 8, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The book in question this month is Resurrection Science by journalist M. R. O’Connor.

Visit to register, or call Scott offices at (610) 328-8025.

Wanderings at One Goes South. WAY South.

Next Thursday, March 2, Scott associate Gail Hale of Rose Valley leads a virtual tour through the frigid land of Antarctica, where she recently traveled and spent time with penguins, seals, and several bird species.

She also visited an old research station and a Chilean naval base, and will share some of the highlights of her voyage in Wanderings at One, Scott Arboretum’s free travel talks series, which meets at 1 p.m. at the Lang Performing Arts Center Cinema.

Music of Praise and Peace at St. John Chrysostom

If you love choral music, and love your neighbor, you’ll want to be at St. John Chrysostom Catholic Church next Sunday, March 5, for the free “Music of Praise and Peace” concert. This free event brings together five choirs from local churches to share their music across denominations and across boundaries.

The concert was conceived by St. John’s Peace and Justice Committee as it sought an initiative to help the church be more in touch with the people of the City of Chester, which borders Wallingford less than a half-mile from the church. Committee and church member Nora Burridge said, “When the idea of music came up, the group looked at me as the retired choral director at Ridley High School. I started with our Catholic counterpart in Chester, St. Katharine Drexel. We were thinking gospel, and it turns out St. Katharine also has a Spanish choir, so we broadened things.”

Completing the lineup are Voices of Samuel from First Pentecostal Church, Shiloh Baptist Church Mass Choir, and St. John’s Adult Choir. The program begins and ends with all voices combining, on “All Are Welcome” and then “Amazing Grace.” In between, each choir will perform for 15 minutes of “Music from their tradition of praise and worship; music that’s meaningful to them,” Burridge says.

All are invited to remain in the sanctuary for festive fellowship following the concert, which provides further chances to make new contacts. The events are free and open to anyone.

St. John Chrysostom is located at 617 S. Providence Road in Wallingford. For information on the performance and the work of the Justice and Peace Committee (which in addition to outreach also focuses on gun violence and fair trade), call the church at (610) 874-3418, ext. 106.