Thursday, May 21, 2015

Regular customers (Puzzle No. 3,364)

There used to be a Japanese restaurant a couple blocks from my office in Philadelphia that I patronized frequently: frequently enough that when I came down the escalator and started walking towards the counter, I could put up one finger and the cook would start my usual order (shrimp tempura bento, salad instead of soup).  And even though I only got there a couple of times a year, the bartender at The Pearl in Nantucket remembers me as the two-twist martini.  It’s nice to be a regular customer at places.

The subject came to mind when I read Hot’s reply to my post on last week’s puzzle.  I thought that we solvers didn’t need as much of an indicator for a letter bank clue as was published in 9a (which by the way was a great letter bank: 15 out of 5).  Hot replied that since most constructors don’t use this kind of clue, they feel a need to point it out more clearly.

Point well taken, but I think that by this point the The Nation solving community has gotten pretty familiar with Hot and Trazom’s style and innovation.  We’re mostly regulars around here.  We’ll hope that new solvers are coming to the puzzle every week, but it’s never going to be like the straight crossword in a daily newspaper that attracts lots of casual solvers.  And if you’re even trying a cryptic crossword, you probably have more mental agility than those casual solver.  So you’re probably prepared to figure out unusual wordplay.

Obviously there’s a theme to this week’s puzzle.  You’ll probably get to the clue to the theme pretty quickly, but using it is more tricky.  I’ll leave it at that until I post the solution.

Link to puzzle

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

Agility factor: high.

This week’s cluing challenge (sorry I forgot to give you one last week while I was on the road): LETTER BANK.  Share your clues in the comments.

Back with the solution and annotation Monday: join us this weekend for Sunday brunch!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Congratulations, Erica and Vlad! (Sunday brunch: May 17, 2015)

Well as promised, this is a weekend for variety cryptics.   Wall Street Journal solvers are doing some “Spring Cleaning” with assistance from Hex.  It’s a nice easy task with some unclued answers and a theme that you’ll pick up just when you need it.

We’re wishing you
many blissful years together
Meanwhile, the latest Harpers is out, including a Diametricode from Richard Maltby, which the URL tells us is number 8.  If it’s anything like the previous ones, it will be a tough solve.

The publication of the new Harpers brings Erica’s solution and comments on the last one:  she and Vlad are still debating one of the answers, and their post brings news that they intend to cross words and lives for a long time to come.  I’m thrilled—I had a sense that the two of them were going to do something like this: there’s a happiness in Erica’s blog when she thinks about Vlad.

The New York Times puzzle is a Hex acrostic (blogged–with spoilers–by Deb).

Weekly cryptics

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Home again (Puzzle No. 3,363)

Back from a trip out of town.  Puzzle observations and comments will return next week.

Link to puzzle

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

Agility factor: moderate

Back with the solution Monday: join us this weekend for a Sunday brunch featuring variety cryptics.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bach Sunday (Solution No. 3,362)

The solution and annotation to puzzle No. 3,362 is below the fold.  Happy birthday, Raydoc!

If you like to solve cryptics, you probably also like to listen to Bach’s music.  I had plenty of opportunity to do both yesterday.  In the morning, the church choir (with Sabers augmenting the tenor section and The Other Doctor Mitchell steadying the sopranos) sang portions of two Bach masses.  I particularly liked the Kyrie from the Missa brevis in A.  There’s a simplicity in it, and it’s in a key you don’t hear often.

Right after that we had to leave for Germantown, where Sabers performed with the Philadelphia Sinfonia Players, the intermediate ensemble of Philadelphia’s top youth orchestra program.  They take a very professional approach to rehearsing and performing, and they play a lot of standard repertoire, all of which which is good preparation for the next level.  The added challenge helped with the school orchestra too, where Sabers was promoted to principal bass (or as we put it: first bassman) this year.

Along with the Bach Little Fugue, the PSP played Strauss’s Blue Danube and Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.  That’s the piece with the famous theme that starts in the lowest registers of the orchestra.  The bassoonist did a great job with it, and Sabers and his standmate gave the bass line the ‘tiptoe’ feel of an approaching troll.

Between that and the high school concert Thursday (did I mention Sabers sang the entire school chorus concert tonight, too?--four performances in five days, plus a piano recital next Sunday), I was very impressed with the tone and solid projection of his instrument, which we bought last year and is now pretty well played-in.  So if you’re in the market for a new bass, give the folks at Gollihur’s a call.  If you’re looking for a half-size instrument for a junior high bassist, give me a call.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Lacrosse (Sunday brunch: May 10, 2015)

As the Stanley Cup playoffs go on, May is also the time for the NCAA lacrosse tournament.  And in honor of the 25th anniversary of their victory in Rutgers Stadium, ESPN is premiering “The Lost Trophy,” a film on the 1990 Syracuse University lacrosse team.  (hit the link there for the trailer)

That was the height of the razzle-dazzle era when the Orangemen and their up-tempo offense introduced behind-the-back passes, “Air Gait,” and other breathtaking moves to what was then a tradition-bound sport.  It also was when lacrosse really began to take hold outside its old homes in Baltimore, Long Island, and upstate New York.

Coach Roy Simmons Jr. lived down the road from where I grew up.  My mother (appropriate to bring her inot the story today) played tennis with Nancy Simmons, I played summer ball for him one year while I was in college, and we sold some of Roy’s art at the gallery my mother ran on Nantucket one summer.

Yes, art.  Besides winning six national championships as a Division I coach, Roy was also a full professor at the university.  To Roy, sculpture and coaching were one and the same.  He believed that seeing the field and the flow of the play was essential to playing one’s best, so the first rainy day each season he’d take the team to the Everson Museum to look at art.  It also encouraged creativity, which when mixed with the hard-nosed style of box lacrosse as played in the Iroquois community of Syracuse and its environs (Chief Oren Lyons was Roy’s teammate at Syracuse and a lifelong friend and alter ego), revolutionized the sport.

But the NCAA officially vacated the 1990 title after it was alleged that the Simmons family gave inappropriate benefits to Paul Gait.  The film takes us back for an in-depth look at the clash not just between the SU program and the NCAA, but also between the new vision Syracuse had and the staid, preppy expectations of the rest of the lacrosse world.  I’m looking forward to seeing this film.    

This week’s new puzzles:

The Wall Street Journal has a Patrick Berry variety crossword called “Curly Quote.”  Another nicely assembled and novel puzzle.  Hints are elsewhere on the blog in case you have trouble figuring out which direction to place your first few answers.

The New York Times has a straight cryptic by Hex, which Deb Amlen of Wordplay (spoiler warning) enjoyed immensely.

Mark Halpin has his quarterly Sondheim Review puzzle up.  It’s called “A Deadly Game” and refers to the movie “The Last of Sheila,” which Sondheim co-wrote.

Regular straight cryptics:
Hex in the National Post: Woman in Red (blogged by Falcon).  A quick solve.
Stickler: (taking a week off)
Syndicated in the Globe and Mail: The syndicate does not identify its constructors, and I’d really like to know who set this one.  If you expect Ximenean cluing, you will have a very hard time with it.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Wall Street Journal hint (May 9, 2015)

This week’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle is a variety crossword by Patrick Berry caled “Curly Quote.”  All the answers have seven letters and you’re given the location, but you have to figure out the direction.  As with most these puzzles of this type, some solvers might have trouble getting the first word or two into the grid even though they may have a lot of the clue answers.

One way to get a toehold is to try and find two adjacent answers that have only one letter in common. That letter has to go in the shared space, and with luck, there’s only one way to make the words fit. Get those, and you’re off and running.  The up and down pairs have two letters in common (remember they might not always be consecutive letters).  That takes a bit more thinking to find, but increases your chances of nailing down words once you find that pair of letters.

If you’re still stuck, look below the fold.  There’s a table of answer directions.  Click and drag the appropriately numbered box to see whether the central letter of the “curlicue” contains the first or last letter of the answer, and whether the answer runs clockwise or counterclockwise.