The Observer has been known, on occasion, to let the yard work go. While we know there are those who simply live for perfecting their landscaping ("Out, damned crabgrass! Out, I say!") Yours Truly has allowed The Observatory to be fairly swallowed from time to time. So, last week, after several sad, silent and judgmental stares from Spouse regarding the jungle-boogie condition of the side yard, The Observer finally went to Academy Sports, plunked down my $24.50, and bought myself a machete.

No, really. I bought a machete. Rubberized handle. Sheath with a belt loop. Twenty-five inches of cold steel, my friend. You talkin' to me? While leaving Freudian psychology and phallic symbolism to my betters, I will say that holding it does tend to make one feel like Conan the Barbarian — exactly the feeling The Observer had hoped for as a lad, when I begged dear ol' Pa into buying me an Army surplus machete down at Bennett's Military Supply on Main Street. I considered writing the War Department a stern letter about the quality of the goods being issued to the troops after being disappointed with the keenness of the thing. Only years later did Pa 'fess up that after Yours Truly had gone to sleep, he'd snuck out to the shed under cover of darkness and used his bench grinder to reduce the proud blade to an instrument with all the point and cleaving edge of a two-foot butter knife.

Pa no longer there to save me from myself, I got the sharpest one in the joint this time. Took it home, peeled the label covered in dire warnings off the blade, and then spent an hours wading around the yard laying waste to plant life, lacquered in sweat, "The Anvil of Crom" playing in my head. Oh, how the blade, swung in a high, devastating arc, zipped through branches and vines! It's swashbucklingly glorious. So to hell with your boring string trimmer! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my curb appeal. Prepare to die!

The neighbors will likely never make eye contact again, as The Observer may have loosed a few barbaric yawps. Still, the yard looks better, Spouse is happy, and it was a hell of a stress reliever. Pretty good for $24.50.

Vic Fleming, traffic judge by day, puzzle creator the rest of the time, thought The Observer was after him for an ethics violation when we called the other day. Uh, no. The Observer was calling about the inspiration for his "I Swear Crossword" (Daily Record, Sept. 16) that called attention to the Thea Foundation, the nonprofit that promotes the arts in education. The puzzle is always paired with a column, related to the puzzle and usually about the law, but this "I Swear" column was about Thea Kay Leopoulos and the foundation the family created after her tragic highway death. Fleming's intro: "THEA crops up in crosswords occasionally. In an easy puzzle, it'll be clued as 'Ellington's "Take ___ Train." ' Or 'Mr. T's "___ Team".' In more challenging grids, THEA's clues include 'Actress Gill,' 'German author von Harbou,' or 'Mother of Eos.' Snobby solvers don't like any of these clues; thus, they don't like THEA. That's about to change. "Henceforth, a new clue for THEA will be available. I predict a change of attitude toward the answer." So the accompanying puzzle, "Scholarship Awarder's Eponym," includes the clues as "First name of this puzzle's honoree," "Middle name of this puzzle's honoree" and "Last name of this puzzle's honoree."

In the column, Fleming writes about the college scholarships that the Thea Foundation awards to high school artists, performing artists, poets, filmmakers and fashion designers, and he mentions the capital campaign the foundation has launched to create a $2 million endowment for the program (with an intriguing peer-to-peer component that lets folks invite funders on a specially created webpage).

Fleming, who met Thea Foundation director (and Thea's father) Paul Leopoulos in 1992 at the Democratic National Convention, didn't tell Leopoulos he was making the puzzle or writing the column, but he did call him to get his OK to run it. Leopoulos said he was "sort of blown away" by the puzzle's creation. "It's touched my heart," he said in an email. "It's an honor to have a crossword puzzle by Vic Fleming."



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