Saturday, September 20, 2014

Hat trick (solution no. 3,336)

Three and lits in this one—a letter bank, a relocation, and a heteronym too.  Hot and Trazom ought to be pleased with themselves.

Orchestra (Solution no. 3,335)

Sabers is with a new orchestra this season.  I’m writing this was I hear pieces of of The Firebird come together, not unlike solving a cryptic.  An even better analogy is the Bach Little Fugue, which is also on the program for their first concert.  Great piece.

Catching up (Solution No. 3,334)

Figuring out where to fit in blog time now that Sabers and Bangle are back in school and the schedule fills up again.  The solutions were done, just haven’t had time for commentary, so I’ll just get them up for your review.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Heads (Sunday brunch: Sept. 14, 2014)

While I was in Princeton last weekend for my pre-season referee seminar, I came across a sidewalk sale from some of the shops on Nassau Street.  There I finally found a sun hat in my size that didn’t cost 80 dollars.  I’d been looking for one for a while but was unsuccessful because there aren’t many hatmakers who make sizes up to a 7 7/8 (XXXL).  Tilley makes huge hats, but they never go on sale.  This Dorfman Pacific outback-style hat was a pretty good alternative though.

My head’s been like this a long time—it didn’t just swell because I managed to finish two of the tougher puzzles in the regular menu this week.  Usually I get about half to three quarters through the Globe and Mail cryptic and LizR’s puzzle, both of which are more or less in the British style.  How did you do?

A fine variety of puzzles from American constructors this week.  Included in the lot was Thursday’s NYT puzzle (link to Wordplay: spoilers) by Patrick Blindauer.  It was used in Lollapuzzoola 7, and Willz warns solvers to expect something unusual by noting that it was the subject of a lot of talk there.  Obviously there’s a twist to it, but you’ve got to find it, and it’s still challenging once you get the theme.  If your newspaper runs the NYT puzzle in syndication, look for it on October 2.  Patrick also did the Sunday Times puzzle this weekend, which is a straight puzzle, but with a fun theme.

The weekend Times has a diagramless by Fred Piscop (another Wordplay link: more spoilers).  The solution is posted elsewhere.  Having an Excel template for working diagramless is a real help.  I had to pick up and move puzzle sections two or three times during the solve.  This one was harder than most recent NYT diagramless.  The Hex cryptic in the National Post also wasn’t as easy as usual.

The Wall Street Journal ran a Spell Weaving by Mike Shenk this weekend.  I was amused to see it since I had just finished another Spell Weaving in Puzzazz (in the Puzzability’s Variety Show e-book).

New York Times diagramless solution (Sept. 14, 2014)

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle: a diagramless by Fred Piscop.  Turns out to have had a theme.  A little bit of cruft around the edges, but a nice challenge due to the grid form.  Definitely has the jigsaw puzzle character of a good diagramless.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lid lifter (Sunday brunch: September 6, 2014)

The latest USA Hockey magazine has an feature on the American Development Model: our governing body’s program for age-appropriate training, and a sidebar asking whether some youth teams are playing too many games in a season.  I do think some teams are playing too many games, but that won’t stop me from taking a ref assignment on the first weekend of September.  A good skate in a game that wasn’t too difficult, cash on the spot, and a story I’ll share Monday.  The rest of the season should be like this.

Puzzle season doesn’t take a break, but you can keep the pastime from becoming a chore by trying some new kinds of puzzles.  How about a Brit-style cryptic such as LizR’s latest or the hybrid British/Canadian cryptic in the Globe and Mail?

Hex have two cryptics for us: straight in the National Post (blogged by Falcon) and variety in the Wall Street Journal.  They also have their bi-weekly acrostic in the New York Times (blogged with spoilers by Deb Amlen).  Deb also invited her former Times colleague, political reporter Matt Bai, to blog the Sunday puzzle.  The variety cryptic is of medium difficulty: a little harder than some of their other WSJ puzzles.  Nothing unfair or anything, but it took me a little longer to find the theme.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Doctor Butthead (Puzzle no. 3,334)

Writing comprises a pretty substantial part of my job: I do systematic reviews of medical technology and procedures to help our medical center improve the quality, safety, and value of care.  While the crux of the work involves searching the published literature for evidence from clinical trials (finding the three or four scientific papers that address the question of interest out of millions of papers in the databases), reading between the lines to find possible weaknesses in the research, and doing statistical analyses of the results, there’s also a need to write precisely and fluently: a skill that is enhanced by a crossword hobby.

Sometimes the two worlds intersect, and one of the topics I’m working on now (patient-controlled analgesia for patients with pain from sickle cell crisis) reminds me of one of those times.  It was in in my previous job, and a colleague was working on a report about narcotic drugs for patients with awful pain from cancer.  One of the issues in this topic is that some doctors are afraid to prescribe these drugs for fear their patients will become addicted.  Considering that most of these patients have advanced disease, it’s a pretty heartless position to take (and that’s not my opinion—many clinical practice guidelines note that doctors underprescribe narcotics for patients who really need them).

In our meetings about this report, my colleague coined the phrase “Doctor Butthead” to refer to these clinicians who overemphasized the risks of narcotics.  It got to be such a catchphrase among us that I hatched a plan to hide it in our report.  I made sure that the background section talking about the issue included the phrase “...DOCTOR, BUT THE ADdiction concerns...”

Our boss never noticed.

Have you ever managed to mix cryptics and your work?  Share your story in the comments.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate.  As is Hot and Trazom’s usual practice with themed or variety puzzles, they make the non-standard part pretty easy to pick up.  I stupidly got hung up on one of the theme answers though.

Hozom’s comment: “Puzzling Women” in which Hot and Trazom lament the lack of women constructing and solving crosswords: cryptic or otherwise.

Much as I love smart and articulate women (The Other Doctor Mitchell [who is not a crossword fiend–she does logic puzzles] foremost among them), I’m not so worried about the proportion of women in the crosswording pastime.  It’s their choice, and I’m fine with there being differences in human brains and what they’re most finely tuned to do.  Crosswording, especially in the cryptic mode, is a highly structured activity.  From what I’ve read about neuroscience (and I’m not any kind of specialist in it), it’s something the brains of males are more likely to be be attuned to than the brains of females are.  But it’s a tendency, not a dichotomy, so we’re blessed to know (and encourage) ladies like Emily Cox and Elizabeth Gorski who have made their own mark not as female constructors but as brilliant and creative constructors.  I don’t see anyone doing anything other than encouraging them to be a big part of our world.

Besides, I think there’s more in common among puzzling women and men than there is dividing them. Look at some of the side interests, like Doctor Who (LizR) or scoring baseball games (Erin Rhode). The kind of things associated with structure-oriented brains, regardless of what the chromosomes that gave rise to them are.

Cluing challenge: GENDER GAP