Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mike Shenk (Puzzle No.3,322)

Here’s a nice article about Mike Shenk, who’s assembled a fine team of constructors for the Wall Street Journal and contributes various puzzles of his own to the paper.  We cryptic fans should be eternally grateful that Mike convinced the Journal to pick up the monthly variety cryptic by Hex after The Atlantic stopped publishing it.  While Mike lives in New York now, he’s a native of Lancaster County, PA, where Hex call home.

Can you tell the difference between a horse and a mule?
Photo courtesy
If you haven’t been to that part of Pennsylvania, it’s worth a visit, for the rolling hills, the Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, cultural attractions, fresh air, and the people you’ll meet.  From time to time I have business in Harrisburg, but never get much work done on the train trip from Philadelphia because I’m looking out at the scenery on the way.  Being the puzzler like you, I challenge myself each trip to try and spot an Amish farmer working his field with a team of horses, spot a horse and buggy, the Strasburg steam train, and some mules.  

A nice themed puzzle this week, and I won’t say anything more so as not to give anything away.

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate.  Once you get the theme, several answers will become apparent.

Hozom’s comment:  “On Beauty,” in which Hot and Trazom think that they shall never see a poem lovely as 8d.

Weekly cluing challenge: ANTHOLOGIST (note: not “anthropologist”). 

Back with the solution and full annotation on Monday.  Post questions in the meantime, and join us on the weekend for Sunday brunch!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Épée (Solution No. 3,321)

And to top it off, the guy
on the medal is  a lefty too...
The solution and annotation to puzzle no. 3,321 is below the fold.

Well that was a lovely coincidence.  “Épée” showed up in two puzzles this week, and I was absolutely chuffed because I had this shiny new bit of metal hanging up in my office.  Even better that Hot and Trazom used that word to clue “lunge”: does one of them fence?

While I’ve coached and refereed all that time, and you’ve seen some of the medals my family has earned, I hadn’t actually competed in an athletic event in 25 years or so before this winter, when I fenced a couple of saber tournaments so there’d be enough competitors for the event to be rated.  During one of them, I realized I was getting touches more like an épée than a saber, so maybe I should try that weapon.

There were two novice-level épée tournaments this month.  I did more than OK in the first one: won two bouts, finished fifth out of nine, and didn’t feel like a fool or a stranger in a game where slashing and spearing is not only legal but encouraged.  But I knew I made a bunch of mistakes that the more experienced fencers (all of them!) exploited. Fortunately, Margo and Steve were kind enough to take me aside at practice and show me what I was doing wrong.  So I was better-prepared for the second tournament, which was last Sunday.

I got encouragement from winning the first bout, and when I beat the fencer I thought would be a medal favorite, all of a sudden there was a possibility of winning a medal myself.  Sticking with what was working, I finished the pool round with 4 wins and only 1 loss, good enough for a bye to the quarterfinal.  One bout away from a medal!  I traded scouting reports with one of Sabers’s friends who faced my quarterfinal opponent in the pool round, and though I fell behind 6-2 in the early going, I was definitely seeing scoring opportunities.   Even though I was still behind by 10-8 when the first period ended, I felt I was in control of the bout, and I pulled into the lead soon after.  A double touch made it 14-13, and I had two chances to close it out.  I only needed one, and the final was 15-13.

Bronze medal clinched, I didn’t let up in the semi, but the attack line I was using went right into my opponent’s parry, and I couldn’t find another way to score.  But it didn’t matter: I fenced much better than the week before, surpassed my goal going into the tournament, and even won a medal.  Big celebration at practice this week with thanks (and beers) to the coaches.

Hozom’s comment 4/10 (extra post)

This week’s installment of Word Salad didn’t get posted until the evening, so I couldn’t include a comment in the puzzle no. 3,321 post.  I’ll update that post and also double-up the material here.

Hozom’s comment: “Sam Who?” in which Hot and Trazom field complaints over general knowledge and cultural literacy (not theirs, but what they expect of their solvers).  They might have cherry-picked some particularly favorable examples in Satchmo and Sam Spade, but I agree that solvers would be poorer off if such references, even to the latest vapid pop stars were ruled out of the puzzles.

Look at it this way: one of the things you hope to get out of solving a cryptic is the intellectual stimulation of seeing words and phrases in new ways: things like clever and fitting anagrams or a funny Spoonerism.  Learning a new fact or two along the way ought to give you the same kind of reward, not to mention a more rounded intellect to engage with the world around you.  

If you're still not convinced, consider that that person or work of art in the cryptic clue you're thinking of carping about might show up in another puzzle somewhere else, so even if those facts have nothing to do with you or your cultural preferences, they'll make you a better solver.

Hot and Trazom are right on target in saying that an unfamiliar definition ought to be matched with straightforward wordplay.  I was going to say the same thing.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Daffodils (Sunday brunch: April 13, 2014)

Lots of them left even after I cut three dozen.
The daylillies in this bed multiply just as well as
the daffodils. 
With the late spring, it’s been a peculiar year in the garden.  We had crocuses and daffodils at the same time, and the forsythia bloomed only this week.  The compressed schedule means that the daffodils came in about a two week span rather than three or four.  It does make an impressive show in the back yard, but the main reason I divide and transplant bulbs every year is to have more flowers to cut and share.

Some for the dining room table, some for the office, some for The Other Doctor Mitchell’s birthday (they’re her favorite flower), and even bunches to hand out to the winners of the fencing tournament today.

Finish these puzzles and earn yourself a virtual bouquet.

It was kind of a weird weekend.  I had a particularly tough time with the National Post puzzle by Hex, which usually is a breeze.  Falcon agreed, and gave us a breakdown of his solving effort on his blog.   Meanwhile, I got a lot more of Fraser Simpson’s Globe and Mail puzzle (Java, printable) than usual.

The New York Times variety puzzle was a Puns and Anagrams by Mel Taub (paywall).  That was hard too, and there are still a few clues I can’t parse.  However, I think I’m learning enough to get better at the genre, and also learning enough to understand why I don’t like them as much as proper cryptics: terseness of cluing is valued over elegance.  But I solved it, and the solution is posted elsewhere on the blog.  Deb Amlen solved it too, and blogs the puzzle (spoilers) at Wordplay.

Patrick Berry fans are happy: he has a Beginnings and Ends in the weekend’s Wall Street Journal.  Solution and hints are also posted elsewhere on the blog (please welcome our guests).

On the right is a drift of double daffodils, the genetics of which are described here (no, I’m not a flower geek, just a backyard gardener).

LizR has a new Brit cryptic up, which she says goes well with coffee.  Some delightful clues there, worth a go even if you won’t finish the puzzle.

The new Harper’s is out this week.  The Richard Maltby variety cryptic is that old The Listener favorite: Theme and Variations.  Erica (who survived the battle with the bedbugs) blogs this puzzle, though on a month’s delay because it’s a prize puzzle.

New York Times solution (April 13, 2014)

Below the fold is the solution to today’s New York Times variety puzzle, a Puns and Anagrams by Mel Taub.

More puzzles today and every week at Sunday brunch.  Join us, won’t you?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Wall Street Journal solution (April 12, 2014)

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle, Beginnings and Ends by Patrick Berry.

More puzzles tomorrow and every weekend at Sunday brunch.  Come join us!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Wall Street Journal hint (April 12, 2014)

Below the fold is a set of hints to the weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle, a variety crossword called Beginnings and Ends by Patrick Berry.

In the left column are the first words of each of the Ends clues.  The second column is the enumeration of the answer and the third column identifies the row or column it belongs in, numbered from 1 at the top (angling upwards) to 20 at the bottom (angling downwards).

When you’re done, stay for Sunday brunch with more cryptic and variety puzzles.