Friday, July 3, 2015

The mother country (Puzzle No. 3,368)

With Independence Day around the corner, or as Major Stone of the British Officers’ Club put it “Revolution Day,” it’s a good time to give a nod to the mother country.  American cryptics are the result of a two-way transatlantic voyage.  Crosswords were invented here, but the cryptic subset and the conventions that govern it arose in England.  Ditto for variety cryptics, where the magazine The Listener plays the same standard-setting role as the New York Times does for straight crosswords. Getting a puzzle published in The Listener is a real feather in your cap.

English puzzles are also on my mind since I was traveling last month.  I picked up a variety of British newspapers as well as printing a stack of FT cryptics to solve while I was in airports or on planes. Naturally I overpacked, so I’m only finishing off that stack now.

My favorite was the Times, which at least in their international edition (which was in tabloid format: is the home edition still a broadsheet?) put the puzzle right on the back page, with clues in print size that was easy to read.  I would prefer that they give the constructors’ bylines though; they deserve the credit, plus experienced solvers can get an edge from knowing the cluing tricks and habits of the more widely-published constructors.

Second-favorite, and not for lack of trying, was The Independent’s tabloid version “i.”  Besides their regular cryptic, they have a “five-clue” mini-cryptic plus a two-page spread of new-wave (post-sudoku) logic puzzles.  Clearly the best way to feed a puzzle habit for 40p a day.  The Times also has a spread like that.

Straight crossword solvers won’t be so happy with the choices in the mother country.  Non-cryptic crosswords are frequently called “quick crosswords” over there: they’re probably quick to construct as well as quick to solve.  They’re only 13 by 13, and they’re of a block design with lots more black squares than an American crossword, so there’s a lot less work needed to create the grid.  And while British cryptic clues are often difficult and sometimes unconventional, their quick crossword clues are perfectly straight and simple.  Perhaps their straight crossword fans look to America for puzzles the way we Americans work British as well as American cryptics.

The web editors of The Nation decided to use the holiday weekend to roll out a new web site.  The puzzle pages look neater, and the downloadable PDFs are easier to find.  Anyone having any problems with it?

Link to puzzle

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

Agility factor: light to moderate

Cluing challenge (add your clues to the comments section): INDEPENDENCE

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Coach Paul (Sunday brunch: June 28, 2015)

“Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.”

I was lector in our church this morning, and when I saw those words in St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, I heard the voice of a coach. 

“And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.”

Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to support their brothers and sisters in Macedonia, but I was thinking about Bangle who was off at her first skating competition of the year (after missing the winter and spring events while recovering from her concussion and broken foot) and the teenaged epeeist from our club who is going off to Nationals this week. 

We build our kids and teammates up and teach them, but when it’s time to go out onto the ice, they’re the ones who have to step up and perform.  Those are good words to send them off with.  Paul is not expecting the world from the Corinthians, but he’s challenging them to seize the moment and make the best of their talents and resources.  It may not be enough to win, but a personal best is what to strive for, and Bangle did just that this weekend.   

Put your best effort into the weekend’s puzzles:

There are acrostics in the New York Times (Hex, spoiler alert) and the Wall Street Journal (Mike Shenk) this weekend.  

Falcon reports that the Hex cryptic in the National Post is one of the best in recent memory.  The syndicated puzzle in the Globe and Mail is more conventional (and more British) than last week’s edition. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Physical therapy (Solution No. 3,367)

The solution to puzzle no. 3,367 is below the fold.

For the better part of a year, I’ve had some pain in my knees: interestingly, it strikes when I’ve been sitting still for a while. Walking, running, or skating, they’re fine. But a long car trip or a day behind my desk is uncomfortable without regular breaks to walk around for a while. It’s probably fencing-related: something in my stance or the additional strength in my legs straining the joint, but not traumatic. I’m fortunate that I’ve never had any knee injuries. And I don’t want to let up on fencing, since it’s been a good way to get more exercise into my routine.

So when the hamstring I injured a couple of months ago took its time healing (the bumpy roads and sidewalks of Oslo were pretty bothersome), I made an appointment to see a physical therapist. We started this week. After a head to toe evaluation of my strength and range of motion, he started me on exercises to open up my hips and reduce quadriceps tightness. The hypothesis is that the quads are pulling on my kneecap, straining the tendons on the other end of it.

For what it’s worth, the knees do feel better after the first week. The pain isn’t gone by any account, but I can notice a difference.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Home brew (Sunday brunch: June 21, 2015)

(wishing Raydoc a happy Father’s Day)

One Oktoberfest isn’t enough for the folks at our church, so they held a beer and brats night yesterday to raise funds for the youth group trip.  Part of the reason people like these events is the very talented guild of home brewers in the parish (motto: “Sharing God’s love, twelve ounces at a time.”

Beer is the official beverage of Father’s Day, so beer making kits are a popular gift around this time. I ran a brewery back when I was in college, and it took a few tries, but we eventually got to the point where the product was pretty good.  Not quite as good as what the “St. Pauli Guys“ were serving last night, but I made a prize-winning malt liquor.  It’s not hard to make beer, but making something good enough to make people put down their professionally-made beer is another story.  So if you want to to try brewing as a hobby, find a local homebrew club and join them rather than just getting a kit.

Kevin Wald would have been a good guest last night: this week he brewed up a tasty variety cryptic to go with German food.  Elsewhere this weekend, the Wall Street Journal published a Labyrinth by Mike Shenk.  Last time out was easy, this one is harder.  I have a hint grid up elsewhere on the blog as well as the solution.

The New York Times variety puzzle is a Split Decisions by Fred Piscop.  Deb Amlen (spoiler alert) notes that Piscop seems to be finding his stride in constructing this unusual style.  Deb is getting better at solving them, but Piscop is starting to make his Split Decisions a little harder.

Of the regular weekly puzzles, the syndicated cryptic in the Globe and Mail is noteworthy: I found it had a strong Puns and Anagrams feel to it.  Be prepared for some clues without indicators: they’re usually going to be anagrams.

And there’s the Hex cryptic in the National Post, blogged by Falcon.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Jet lag (Puzzle No. 3,367)

Well the trip home from Oslo was a lot less eventful than the trip over, but I got back at midnight Friday.  Norway is not a puzzling country—at least not in the sense we use “puzzling” around this blog.  I looked through several of the local newspapers at breakfast time (waffles with berries, hash browns and bacon, and crispbread with ham and cheese or salmon), and found only a few crosswords. While sudoku might be a worldwide phenomenon, it’s not as universal as it is in other countries. One paper had a daily sudoku, another had one of the simplified 6 by 6 sudokus, and the third had no puzzles at all.

The first of those three papers was the only one with any crosswords: it was of the European style with clues squeezed into the unused boxes instead of black squares.  Since I know virtually no Norwegian, I didn’t try any of their crosswords.  I did try and sing in church, but that’s another story.

The Nation puzzle 3,367 was waiting when I got home.  What a fine example: a theme, some clever wordplay, and plenty of clues that take some work to solve.

Link to puzzle:

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

Agility factor: high (and rewarding)

This week’s cluing challenge (share your clues in the comments): a two-parter—OSLO and NORWAY: clue either of them or even both!

Back with the solution and annotation on Monday.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wall Street Journal hints (June 20, 2015)

Backdated to keep this post off the top.

Below the fold is a hint grid for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: a Labyrinth by Mike Shenk. It shows you where the winding words start and end.

Once you’re through with this one, try some Sunday brunch.

Wall Street Journal solution (June 20, 2015)

Backdated to keep this post off the top.

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: a Labyrinth by Mike Shenk.  I also have a hint grid up in case you’re having a hard time getting off the ground.  It shows the starting and ending squares for each of the “winding” answers. Try it if you don’t want quite as much help.