Saturday, August 15, 2015

Running in circles (Solution No. 3,370)

Call me Dopey if you like: I didn't spot the theme of this one until I got around to the bottom, though that came about because it was a smooth solve.  Usually I like to work in a circle around the puzzle rather than jumping ahead to fill in the easy answers first.  If I have to do the latter, it's a sign of a hard puzzle.

Link to puzzle

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

Agility factor: moderate

Themework: The across clues incorporated the names of the Seven Dwarfs from the tale of Snow White.

Clearing the spindle (Puzzle No. 3,370)

Let's get caught up, shall we?  I found myself slapping my forehead after taking so long to recognize this was a themed puzzle.  How about you?

Link to puzzle:

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

Agility factor: moderate

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Multiplication (Puzzle No. 3,369)

Stickler’s solution pages usually include a comment or two on his constructing philosophy or on other crossword matters, so you should check them out even if you got through the week’s puzzle on the first try.  Last week’s solution page noted that Stickler is not fond of double definition clues.  I think he’s got a point: they’re usually more work than play, and not all that hard to solve.

So Stickler’s got the answer (which Hot and Trazom also use sometimes).  Triple the definition, or maybe even quadruple it!  Go visit the post for some clever work.

Meanwhile, this fortnight’s The Nation puzzle is of moderate difficulty.  Good solvers will find it smooth.  If you’re more of a novice, the key is steady effort.  Getting one answer will lead you to the next, and onward until the grid is completed.

Link to puzzle

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

Agility factor: low

Back with the solution and annotation Monday.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Testing, 1, 2, 3 (Sunday brunch: July 12, 2015)

[Apologies for the late post: I got called for a fill-in referee job.]

The codes for each step of this ice dance
you what edge to be skating on:
LFO is 
left skate, forwards, outside edge
Congratulations to Bangle, who passed two figure skating tests yesterday.  When she resumed skating after her concussion last winter, she wasn’t cleared to do jumps and spins until well after she was fully recovered.  So instead, she worked on ice dance, which requires precise and strong skating skills more than the speed and power for jumps and spins.

Competition is one way of proving your skills, but skating also has a series of tests, where you aren’t competing against other skaters: you’re trying to skate well enough to earn a passing score from the judges.  The tests come in a series of levels: from pre-preliminary to senior for freestyle, and from pre-bronze to gold for ice dance (which for testing purposes does not have to be skated with a partner).  Each successive level has harder and harder required elements, and a higher standard of skating needed to pass.  In order to skate in competition at a particular level, you have to pass the corresponding test.

Since Bangle hadn’t done much dance before this season, she started with the beginning-level tests a couple of months ago, and has been racking up nice comments from the judges along the way.  On the right is the pattern for one of the bronze-level dances: the Fiesta Tango.  The lines show the pattern that should be traced on the ice, and numbered steps detail how each step should be skated.  Skate the pattern twice, and would be right back where you started: two times around and the dance is finished.  

Now test your mind against the weekend’s new puzzles.

Stickler is back from his winter R&R (it’s midwinter Down Under) and has two new puzzles: numbers 85 and 86.  Glad to see them!

Other weekly block cryptics are in the National Post and the Globe and Mail, as usual.  Falcon is getting his R&R (I think he’s in the lake country of Ontario, but he’s blogged the National Post for us.

Meanwhile, it’s time for a couple of periodic variety cryptics by Sondheim-inspired constructors: the Tom Toce puzzle in Contingencies and the Mark Halpin puzzle unveiled at a special event at the Arden Theater Company here in Philadelphia recognizing Sondheim.

The Wall Street Journal variety puzzle is Changing Directions by Patrick Berry.  Another one of those ones where getting a toehold is the hardest part, so I have a hint grid up for you as well as the solution.

The New York Times variety puzzle is a Hex acrostic, blogged (with spoilers) by Deb at Wordplay.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Diversity (Solution No. 3,368)

With Bolivians, Irish dancers, and even a green thing, there’s never been a doubt that the annual Fourth of July parade in Glenside represents the glorious diversity of America.  But this year, the cause brotherhood and harmony of took another great step forward: the motorcycle drill team included a Honda and a BMW as well as the usual collection of Harleys (video below).

A few grumbles about the puzzle, though I didn’t find it difficult.

Link to puzzle:

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

Agility factor: light to moderate

Legend: “*” anagram; “~” sounds like; “<“ letters reversed; “( )” letters inserted; “_” or lower case: letters deleted; “†” explicit in the clue, “^” first or last letter or letters, “{“ relocated letter or letters; “§” heteronym, “¶” letter bank

RUBBER (“masseuse”) + DUCK (“to avoid”)
*SOUP (anagram indicated by “prepare”)
<t_OTAL P_anic< (reversal indicated by “retreats”, hidden word indicated by “in”)
11a, 12a
*INFORMED MECHANIC (anagram indicated by “in criis”)
OFF (†) + ICES (“frozen sweets”)
BOOS (“complains loudly”) + *BRACELET (anagram indicated by “broken”)
INSTIGATOR (“troublemaker”) containing (“on both sides of”) ^V^enic^E^ (first and last letters indicated by “borders”)
<NIP (“bite”) + EELS< (“fish,” reversal of the whole thing indicated by “after turning over”)
BITTE (“please [in] German”) + REND (“tear”)
AL (“Albert” [Einstein]) + IKE (“Isaac” [Newton})
Both were physicists, which would distinguish them from some other random Als and Ikes.  Fun clue.
nas_TY PE_rson (hidden word indicated by “at heart”)
*A DULL PRIZE (anagram indicated by “shockingly”)

REP (“member of Congress”) + AIR (“appearance”)
B (“second rate”) + RANCH (“farm”)
*COMES INTO (anagram indicated by “play”)
<FACED< (“braved,” reversal indicated by “getting up”)
^A^ristocracy (first letter indicated by “leader”) following (“goes after”) COMMONER (“peasant”)
*SPACE BID (anagram indicated by “exploded”)
<DESSERTS< (“cakes,” reversal indicated by “upside-down”)
Double definition
^K^afkaesqu^E^ (first and last letters indicated by “superficially”) + HE (“man”) contained in (“captivated by”) SPIEL (“sales pitch”)
Double definition
^B^atter^Y^ (first and last letters indicated by “terminals”) contained in (“into”) BIT BIT (“a quarter” [two bits])
The only real challenge to work out in this one.
*VOTERS (anagram indicated by “messing up”) + EP (“record”)
Can we retire “EP”?  It’s not been seen outside of crosswords in decades.
R (“runs”) contained in (“into”) SPITZ (“Olympic swimmer”)
Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in Munich in 1972.  How many solvers of any age would have remembered that?
*RUNE (anagram indicated by “mysterious”) + AD (cross-ref to 5d: “common era”)
APE (“primate”) + X (“times”)
I thought the “at” in the clue violates Ximenean principles.
sudane_SE DER_vish (hidden word indicated by “maintained by”)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cryptical Envelopment (Sunday brunch: July 5, 2015)

Some of you will instantly recognize the title of this post: it’s one of the standards of a Grateful Dead concert, and as good a summation of their life and work as anything else.

The bus came by and I got on—that’s where it all began;
There was Cowboy Neal, at the wheel, of a bus to never-ever land.

The song, written in 1967, is the first part of a three-part piece called “That’s it for the Other One.” It refers to the events of that summer and two of the people who accompanied the Dead in their early travels: Owsley Stanley, who made and supplied much of the LSD that fueled the psychedelic events of the time; and Neal Cassady, one of the Merry Pranksters on Ken Kesey’s bus. 
The tune starts light, and then an ominous roaring drum riff kicks off the second movement, which gets fast and dark and trippy.  Then it turns into an extended improvisational jam.  Eventually, the jam winds up and comes back to the first theme.  Then sometimes they carry that theme around a while and other times they’d segue into a different song.  The “Cryptical” in the name doesn’t have any significance: they just needed to assign a name to the song for publishing reasons.

Puzzles: sometimes mind-bending, often addictive, but a lot healthier than LSD...

No weekend Wall Street Journal due to the holiday.  Other regular weekly cryptics are found in the National Post (easy this week, but Falcon needed a lot of time) and the Globe and Mail (harder than usual).  Richard Silvestri constructed the New York Times cryptic this weekend: did you like it more or less than the Hex puzzles that usually occupy that space?

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