Saturday, October 25, 2014

Wall Street Journal hint: Oct: 25, 2014

Below the fold are two sets of hints to today’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  It’s an easy one, so you probably won’t need much of a hint, but you can also use this to check your answers.

First is a list of enumerations for the answers in each row.  Click and drag to see the number of letters in each one.  Then there’s a table of the locations for each of the blooms.  They’re identified by the row number for that color and then A/B/C/D in order.  So the rightmost bloom straddling rows F and G (it’s a dark) would be 2D.

Finished?  Like Rows Gardens?  Subscribe to Andrew Ries’s bi-weekly series.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gavotte in 225 squares (Puzzle No. 3,342)

When I checked out Peter Schickele’s page for definitive information on P.D.Q. Bach, what should I find there but crossword puzzles?  Thinking a little more about it, I wasn’t surprised. An academic and entertainer, one who puns for a living?  Of course he’ll have an interest in crosswords.  And so Professor Schickele has taken the leap and constructed some puzzles of his own.

I solved one of the later ones in the collection: it’s not to the standard of a Times puzzle, but it’s better than many amateur compositions.  As is often the case with novice constructors, parts of the fill leave something to be desired, with a lot of threes and fours and some clues designed to legitimize non-words as grid entries.  The cluing is better, with plenty of musical references (not obscure, but definitely not common), as one might expect, but several groaners as well.

And the theme entries and clues were excellent (you’ll have to solve for yourself to see them).  The kind of wordplay in the themes hints that Schickele might have a knack for cryptics. Maybe some constructor could invite him for a collaboration.

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate to hard.  Not exceptionally difficult, but at least to me it wasn’t as smooth a solve as some other recent puzzles.

Hozom’s comment: “Between the Cracks” in which Hot and Trazom try and categorize a few of their less common clue types.  Like me, they often resort to “pun” as a means of explaining wordplay. Generally, these are the ones with emphasis on the “play” part of “wordplay” and the I think the puzzles are much richer for them.  The best of them I’ll share with The Other Doctor Mitchell at cocktail hour, and she’ll alternately cheer and groan.

Cluing challenge: CATEGORY

Back with the solution on Monday.  Join us this weekend and every weekend for Sunday brunch.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Don’t leave without the check (Solution No. 3,341)

The solution to puzzle no. 3.341 is below the fold

Yesterday started at the hockey rink (well, actually it started at church) and ended at the figure skating rink.  In between, I refereed both a hockey game and a fencing tournament (hadn’t ever done both the same day before).  The hockey game was at the nearby rink where the ice feels dead.  This year, I know they melted down and remade the ice over the summer, since there’s a ‘heads-up’ line around the perimeter.  It was marginally better than it was last year, but it’s still by far the worst ice of any rink I ref at.  

While we were at the season-opening cocktail party (it’s the Main Line, you don’t need much of an excuse for cocktails) at the figure skating club, I mentioned to the manager and the Zamboni driver the contrast between their ice and where I had skated in the morning.  The Zam driver actually had worked at that rink a coupla years ago, and the manager hears all the rink scuttlebutt from around the area (rink people frequently need to borrow parts and equipment from each other).  Both of them weren’t surprised at the conditions at the other rink.  They apparently have a couple of floor and refrigeration problems they can’t afford to fix (an old story at this place, even under the previous management—I’ll tell you about it another time), and everyone knows the ice there is crummy.

That they were having money problems didn’t surprise me either.  Before the season started, we got a directive from our supervisor: don’t leave that rink without the game check.  Apparently a couple of goys got their checks three months late last season.  There’s too much history of rinks failing to pay their refs when they get into cash-flow trouble, so when something like this happens, the rink is kept on a very short leash.  If we don’t get our money right after the game, we notify our supervisor, and very soon that rink isn’t going to have any refs.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Marshy (Sunday brunch: October 19, 2014)

This is being posted on Saturday because 25 years ago today, The Other Doctor Mitchell and I were honeymooning in Toronto (after a few days in Niagara Falls—how traditional can you get!), and on October 18, 1989, we attended the Toronto-Vancouver game at Maple Leaf Gardens.  The home team won (we didn’t have a rooting interest), but to my delight, Leafs’ veteran defenceman Brad Marsh played a memorable game.

Being an old, slow defenseman myself (I wasn’t old or a defenseman until the end of my playing career, but I had a lifetime of slow), I was especially thrilled. The Leafs, who had had a pretty bad start to the season, got the go-ahead goal early in the third period, but the Canucks mounted a furious effort to tie the game.
One of the last NHL
players without a helmet
(not that I endorse that).

Late in the third, Marsh had a shift where he blocked two shots: dropping to the ice to put his shins in front of a slap shot (one of the unsung aspects of the game you can’t appreciate without having played it).  After the second one, he picked up the puck and lugged it up ice into the Canucks’ zone.  After all, even a stay-at-home defenseman knows that sometimes a good offense is the best defense.   The crowd roared its appreciation and Marsh was named one of the three stars of the game despite having no goals, no assists, and only one shot on goal.
A few years later, when I earned a place refereeing in one of the high school leagues here, and my number 5 wasn’t available, I took number 8, in honor of Marshy, who wore that number for the Flyers.  

Now it turns out that Marshy has joined Hockey Buzz and contributes a few blog posts each month. Maybe he’ll share a few memories of that game in T.O. with us.

Speaking of slow, it continues to be a slow cryptic month: nothing new recently from LizR or Kevin Wald, Harper’s is off this month, and in the national papers it’s a two-acrostic week: Mike Shenk in the Wall Street Journal and Hex in the New York Times (blogged with spoilers by Deb Amlen).  Solvers note: the week-long New York Times crossword contest will be going on all next week.  20 solvers who figure out the correct answer to the challenge will win a full year NYT puzzle subscription.  I got my win already, finding out (on my birthday no less!) that I’d won Aries’s Rows Garden meta sweepstakes, and another year of his timely and thoughtful puzzles

The National Post cryptic (blogged by Falcon) was a little disappointing because of the large number of ‘ing’ words. Probably an easier grid to construct, but it made it easy to get partials, and the words those partials intersected.  The syndicated puzzle in the Globe and Mail is your other new cryptic today.

So I solved some Sticklers this week.  Go out and give them a try.  Stickler’s an Aussie, but he’s quite welcoming to us Northern Hemisphere solvers, providing “overseas help” in the form of definitions of Australian slang and cultural references that show up in his weekly puzzles. Every constructor should be so considerate: making the explanations available to those who need them but not forcing them on those who don’t.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Overkill (puzzle no. 3,341)

One of the good features of the The Nation puzzle is its use of uncommon wordplay categories such as letter banks and relocations.  They have the ability to make a puzzle harder, even when the clue itself is easy.  That’s because solvers who aren’t expecting them try and parse some other kind of wordplay out of the clue and wind up going down a blind alley.  The trick is even more effective when there’s a misdirection in the clue: something that looks like an indicator but isn’t.  Hot and Trazom are good at those.

But like anything else, too much of a good thing spoils the effect.  If a constructor uses an uncommon feature too often, solvers will learn to be ready for it.  I see this when I fence.  One of the tactics I like to use is to move quickly off the line when the director says “go” and get right in my opponent’s grill. An inexperienced opponent or even an experienced one who hasn’t seen me before will often react in a way that leaves some part of the body undefended or messes up his balance, allowing me an easy touch.  But if the opponent knows I’m coming and makes a simple extension, I run right onto his blade.

Good constructors think strategically so they can lead solvers down those blind alleys and then make them realize the answer was sitting right in front of them.  Not-so-good constructors ride their horses

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard

Hozom’s comment:  “Reading the Dictionary,” in which Hot and Trazom respond to a solver who questions one of the constructors’ guidelines.

Weekly cluing challenge: WEBSTER (I guessed this one before I saw the rest of the Word Salad post!)

Monday, October 13, 2014

25th (Solution no. 3,340)

The solution to puzzle no. 3,340 is below the fold.  

Tomorrow, The Other Doctor Mitchell and I officially celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary (we had the party yesterday, and I’ve been waiting for the pictures to show up).  She likes puzzles and games, but she’s not a crossword person.  That’s OK because she’s just about perfect in all other respects.

Good puzzle this week: couldn’t tell you too much on Thursday, or else I would have given away the theme.  (continued below the fold)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

New season (Sunday brunch: October 12, 2014)

While my hockey season started last month, the NHL had its opener this past week (and the Flyers are winless in 3)  A few rules changes were made, most of them pretty minor.

  • Larger area where the goalkeeper can handle the puck (an easing of the Marty Brodeur rule).
  • Wider spacing of the hashmarks where wingers line up on a face-off (will lessen interference).
  • New fines for players who dive or act like they’re hurt in order to draw a penalty against an opponent.
  • Face-offs will no longer go out to the neutral zone when a shot is deflected out of the rink.
  • A change to face-off procedures to keep teams from stalling after an icing violation.
  • Tripping will now be called when a player takes out an opponent with his body or arm, even if he contacts the puck first.
  • More situations where the league office can use video replay for goal/no-goal calls.
  • Automatic suspension for two game misconducts involving physical fouls.   
  • Changes to overtime procedures: a dry scrape of the ice before OT and teams change ends. 
  • The “spin-o-rama” move is now outlawed on penalty shots.

Care for opinions? Retired NHL referees Kerry Fraser and Paul Stewart have blogged on the new rule.  Care for puzzles?  Look below.

Our regular cryptics are in the Globe and Mail (watch out for a British degree in 25a) and the National Post.

The Wall Street Journal has a novel Patrick Berry crossword called Changing Direction.  Amazing are the ideas he comes up with.

The New York Times has a Split Decisions by Fred Piscop, blogged (with spoilers) by Deb Amlen.  I just can’t get into those.