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.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wall Street Journal solution: Oct. 11, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: Changing Directions by Patrick Berry.

[post back-dated to keep Sunday brunch on top]

Friday, October 10, 2014

Straight vs. Variety (Puzzle no. 3,340)

While Hot and Trazom have occasionally constructed some variety cryptics for The Nation (for which they’ve been thanked with gripes by a few solvers), the The Nation puzzle is usually a straight cryptic.  That’s not to say there won’t be a few twists now and then.

Where do you draw the line between straight and variety cryptics?  I’d put it at making alterations to the clues before you solve them, or making alterations to the answers before you enter them.  Another definition might be that if you have to give special instructions to the solver, that apply to that specific puzzle, it's a variety cryptic.

That still leaves plenty of opportunity for constructors to be inventive within the straight cryptic format.  Cross-references are probably the most common such element.  They’re quite common at the Financial Times and other British puzzles (including LizR’s). Sometimes they provide an opportunity to group answers together around a theme (which is usually made apparent in one of the clues–to by custom one of the last acrosses); other times they’re just a chance for some different wordplay.

3,337 was one of those, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away by noting there happen to be a lot of arabic numbers showing up in the clues this week.  It’s up to you to figure out what the connection is, but if you’ve done cryptics for a while and consider wordplay to be an exercise essential to good health, you should be able to get it.  If not, use the crossing letters to work out those answers with numbers in their clues, and then look at the cross-referenced answer.

I'll be back with the solution Monday.  See you this weekend for Sunday brunch.

Link to puzzle:

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Hard, getting somewhat easier once you figure out the cross-references.

Hozom’s comment: “Interview With a Fiend,” in which Hot and Trazom introduce us to the solvers who give us Diary of a Crossword Fiend (, a site devoted to the major daily straight crosswords in America.  Amy Reynaldo is the proprietress, and she’s been at it for close to a decade.  Over the years, she’s assembled a team of kindred spirits and created a pretty distinct identity for her blog.  We learn that cryptics aren’t in their future, but that’s what Sunday Brunch is for.

Weekly cluing challenge:  BLOGGER