Monday, August 18, 2014

Dark skies (Solution No. 3,333)

The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 3,333 is below the fold.

A very clear sky tonight, a newish moon, and being twenty-some miles out to sea made it an excellent night for stargazing here.  Amazing how many stars can be seen with the naked eye when the sky is so dark.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The happiest dump in the world (Sunday brunch: August 17, 2014)

Take It Or Leave It
Back in ‘Sconset for another short vacation. One of the activities last time we were here was helping to clean out my parents’ garage and haul some scrap wood, cardboard, leftover paint and other things to the dump. Sabers went along to assist, and I promised him his choice of three books in return for his help.

He gave me a puzzled look, and we drove off. He didn’t know about an island tradition called Take It Or Leave It: a shack next to the main trash and recycling trailers where all kinds of people drop off unwanted stuff and collect wanted stuff.  The tradition of Yankee thrift is so ingrained that people from all walks of life come to the dump and pick up someone else’s unwanted items.  They brag about their finds to nobody in particular and go on about how tastes have changed.

There are enough books there to stock a small library, jigsaw puzzles for rainy days, old clothes and various linens, unmatched linens, and much more.  I brought a couple of pair of very old cross-country skis and some touch-up paint for a Toyota, which were gone by the time we came out from hunting for books.  We didn’t take anything besides a few books, since we already had a carload of stuff to take back home with us from my parents’.  Furthermore, we already had stuff like martini glasses from the church rummage sale, which is just like Take It Or Leave It, except that we make a donation to some very good causes in exchange for the stuff others brought.

No junk here: just fine new puzzles.

The Wall Street Journal puzzle is a Seven Sages by Patrick Berry.  Aside from one mistake which I quickly noticed (but didn’t rectify as quickly), I found it easier than the last one of these he set, but it’s still a challenge which requires logic and adjoining answers in order to get a toehold.  Some may find these more frustrating than other variety crosswords, since you can lose momentum quickly even after you get the first few answers in.  You might also like the Friday straight crossword, which is on a Woodstock theme for the 45th anniversary of that concert.

The New York Times variety puzzle (behind the paywall) is a Puns and Anagrams by Mel Taub.  Carrying on with the recycling theme, it re-uses the same grid from the April P&A.  Deb gives it the staredown (and spoilers) at Wordplay.

The new Harper’s is out, with a Richard Maltby variety cryptic called One Upmanship.

Kevin Wald’s latest variety cryptic is his Lollapuzzoola puzzle called “Fearful Symmetry.”  Since it was set for in-person tournament solving, it’s not as intricate as some of his other cryptics, and will take less time to solve. Still just as good.

The Hex cryptic in the National Post (blogged by Falcon) has an interesting (but not very connected) grid.  The syndicated cryptic in the Globe and Mail is pretty hard.

BEQ has a wrap-up of Lollapuzzoola, and reminds us you can still purchase the puzzles (six of them, by top-flight constructors) at  And while we’re on the subject of BEQ, he’s sounding out interest in a possible subscription series (bi-weekly) of Marching Bands.  See here for a sample.  Like good variety crosswords?  Send him an e-mail of encouragement.

New York Times solution: August 17, 2014

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

Anyone else notice that this puzzle used the same grid as the April P&A?  More recycling this weekend in Sunday brunch!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It’s here (Puzzle No. 3,333)

Well we learned from Hot that the puzzle wasn’t going to be themed, and we learned from 2,222 and 1,111 that there wasn’t a tradition of doing anything special for milestone puzzles.  And we also know from the times there’s been a bar-grid puzzle in The Nation that some customers don’t take too well to a change in the routine.  But puzzle no. 3,333 is not a disappointment, since it features a nice variety of clues, an ‘and lit.’ and a well-connected grid.

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard, though not as much so if you can get the four outside entries right off the bat.

Hozom’s comment: “Try It, You’ll Like It” (anyone remember the commercials that made that line famous?) in which Hot and Trazom lament the abovementioned demanding customers and point out that the even the variety cryptics they’ve constructed for The Nation aren’t that different from the regular straight puzzles.

In this respect, Hot and Trazom are returning the favor Hex did for cryptic solvers with their weekly National Post puzzles, which are an easy introduction to cryptic crosswords, from which you can step up to the moderate-difficulty The Nation puzzles.  Now Hot and Trazom have set some easy variety cryptics in The Nation, getting solvers ready to tackle Hex’s moderate puzzles in the Wall Street Journal.   Not everything has to be (or should be) a brain-buster.

Cluing challenge:  NOVELTY

Back with the solution and annotation Monday.  Join us this weekend for Sunday brunch!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An easy one

Bookmark this week’s National Post cryptic by Hex, or print out some extra copies to share with new solvers.  I found it was the easiest cryptic I’ve solved all year; I managed to get all of the answers on first reading and without needing the intersecting letters.  A few required some more thought than usual, but they all went first try.

Solution no 2,222

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 2,222, originally published in 1969, is below the fold.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Garden (Sunday brunch: August 10, 2014)

It’s been a mild summer: the garden has done more relaxing than working, but we finally have some cukes and green peppers this week, along with a big batch of tomatoes.

Great weekend for cryptic solvers: if you’re about to go on vacation there’ll be lots of puzzles for your relaxation.  There are the regular straight cryptics from the National Post and the Globe and Mail.  I managed to complete the entire Globe and Mail puzzle this time (though needing a lookup of one answer), which is a rare feat.  LizR has a new one for us too (I haven’t started it so someone can tell us in the comments if it’s themed or not and how hard it is).

Variety cryptics start with “Target Range” by Hex in the Wall Street Journal.  Some of the regular solvers who comment at the WSJ site took one look and shied away because the grid doesn’t have any bars and the clues were in random order, but Hex are fair to their solvers and they made sure to leave a good starting point.  I have a hint post up to talk you through it, with increasing levels of help if you need it.

If you get through that, try Kevin Wald’s cryptic for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament: Supreme Cohort.  It’s an impressive 12 x 13 size with 58 clues, which will keep you busy for a while.

And it’s time for the quarterly Mark Halpin puzzle, titled “On the Steps of the Palace.”  A Cinderella theme—has Mark finally run out of Sondheim-related cryptic ideas?  No!  It’s a song from “Into the Woods,” a fairy tale mashup that was written before anyone had the idea of a mashup.  Meanwhile, Mark will be launching his Labor Day Extravaganza later this month: watch for details.

The Times has a Hex acrostic that Deb Amlen describes as “unpredictable.”  Deb gives honorable mention to Elizabeth Gorski’s Sunday straight crossword, which is on a doggie theme.  The puzzles themselves are behind the NYT paywall.