Sunday, December 21, 2014

Plastic skates (Sunday brunch: Dec. 20, 2014)

Not quite my old skates
When I was in high school and college, it was a time for a lot of new technology to find its way into sports.  I played in a pair of Daoust skates that had boots made of plastic instead of leather.

I can’t find a picture of the Daousts, but Lange (the ski boot maker) made a lot more of them, and they were pretty similar.  A hard outside shell hinged with a rivet at the ankle, and a soft inner liner that was very comfortable.  I think a lot of people bought the skates for their comfort, but were disappointed with their performance. So plastic skates are pretty much gone except for the learn-to-skate, little kids, and rental markets.

One practice from my plastic-skate days persists to this day though: the way I lace my skates.  With the plastic skates, I actually cut my laces in half and laced the tops and bottoms separately, so I could keep the laces tight over my instep and still have some flex in the skate.  Now my laces are one piece, but I put a half-turn in them between the lower and upper parts of the boot, for more control over where the laces are tightest.  I haven’t seen anyone else do it, but I think it helps.

A lot of puzzles to keep you occupied during the holidays.  Just what we needed.

We’ll start with the weekly straight cryptics for a change.  Falcon reports he was seeing double doing Hex’s cryptic in the National Post.  I had a good run through the Stickler earlier this week, but I haven’t had time to get to the Globe and Mail syndicated yet.  Maybe someone can share a comment on it.

Regular weekly non-cryptics: Patrick Berry offers a Candy Canes (his third) at the Wall Street Journal—it’s much harder than the average WSJ variety puzzle.  The New York Times has a Puns and Anagrams by Mel Taub (solution to follow).  Deb Amlen grumbles (note spoilers) at Wordplay, but notes that the PandA are a healthy “gateway drug” to cryptic crosswords, so they are to be encouraged.  I’m fairly satisfied with one of those every few months or so as is current NYT practice.
Speaking of the Times, Willz has a guest post at Wordplay that’s well worth reading.  In it he explains the process of editing a puzzle.  Solvers may be surprised at how many clues are changed in the process; constructors may not be surprised.

On the cryptic front, we have the Kevin Wald variety cryptic I commented on in my Thursday post: go solve it, it’s a nice moderate-difficulty opportunity to experience the depth of his work.   Māyā has another new straight cryptic, which she did as a 13 x 13 for a change.  Let he know what you think. There’s also a new Harper’s that was published last week (an easy one, in my opinion), which means it’s time for Erica to assess the tackiness of the December puzzle.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Takeaway (Puzzle No. 3,348)

Solving the latest Kevin Wald variety cryptic (which will be in the next Sunday brunch), I noticed that the constructor was able to bring in some new wordplay by informing us that the wordplay component of a number of the clues would yield a result that was missing one letter from the actual answer.  New anagrams and reversals and hidden words all became available as a result.

While Wald’s puzzles often are notoriously hard, and the alterations like his missing letters usually lead to a second- or third-level solution, there’s no rule that says variety puzzles have to be hard.  If you make the alteration simple, like “the wordplay in all the across clues has an extra A in it,” most cryptic solvers should be able to handle it.  Also, a simple alteration like this wouldn’t look unseemly in a block grid, even though variety cryptics usually are block-style.

I’d love to see more puzzles like this: to freshen up the cryptic landscape.  Meanwhile we have a new The Nation puzzle to work on, including a four-part answer and an unusual grid.

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle: hard

Hozom’s comment: “One Hand Washes the Other,” in which Hot and Trazom celebrate a special form of cross-reference clues: the ones where two clues cross-reference each other, usually by anagram.  It’s not as unfair as you think, since intersecting letters give fodder for both answers. We’ve seen several of these since Hot and Trazom took over setting duties.

Weekly cluing challenge (at Word Salad):  MUTUAL

Back with the solution Monday: join us this weekend and every weekend for Sunday brunch.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

All-Star Game (Solution No. 3,347)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,347 is below the fold.

Pee Wee game Saturday night.  The home team led five to nothing after the first period, outplaying the visitors pretty comprehensively.  As often happens with youth games, the winning coaches don’t want to run up the score, so they make some deliberate changes to the game plan: passing a lot more than shooting.

So in the second period, when the home team got control of the puck in their end, they’d look up to find wingers breaking out into the neutral zone and try to reach them with a long pass.  The TV announcers call this the “home run pass” and some of us call those forwards “floaters.”  Old-time hockey people don’t like floaters, because those wingers aren’t coming back and playing defense. Refs like them even less, because a long pass like that forces you to race the length of the ice to pick up the play, and we don’t get to rest on the bench between shifts.

We got to the bench at the end of the period, and between gulps of water, I turned to my partner and said “looks like the All-Star Game out there [with all the long passes and no defense]: an All-Star Game minus the skill.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Play in the steering (Sunday brunch: December 14, 2014)

I don’t think I’ve commented here about skates much, but they came to my attention yesterday, when I was dressing for my game  The screw holding the front of one of my skate blades came just a little bit loose, so the blade had a little wobble.  I’ve got a lot of stuff in my whistle bag, but not a screwdriver, so I tightened the blade as best as I could with my fingers and hoped for the best.

Fortunately, the screw and the blade stayed on through the game, but a couple of times, I noticed the skate not gliding quite straight; and my C-cuts and turns weren’t quite as sharp as usual, like a car with some play in the steering.

While the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both have acrostics this week, there are still plenty of new cryptics to keep you busy.  You can start by catching up with Māyā, who’s previously appeared in this blog as Xanthippe and LizR.  She has three new puzzles: be warned they’re difficult, but the themework is top-quality.

Another new variety cryptic from Kevin Wald: Let There Be Lightness.  More regular straight cryptics: Stickler, Hex, and the Globe and Mail syndicated (caution: Britishism in 10a).

A couple of year-end posts from BEQ are worth checking out: 701 is an interesting theme, and 698 is his holiday gift guide for puzzlers.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Time windows (Puzzle No. 3,347)

It’s probably coincidence, but in solving The Nation puzzles recently, I noticed a few answers that hit a sweet spot of those of us in middle age.  Stuff like Tenzig Norgay (along with Sir Edmund Hilary, was first to climb Mount Everest) and Petula Clark (singer of the 1964 hit “Downtown”).  And there were some classical music references too.  Meanwhile I hadn’t had to grapple with any rap stars or recent TV shows, so solving-wise, I was on a roll.

Since solvers are a diverse bunch (we hope), constructors need to be careful not to have too narrow a time window for their cultural references lest young or old solvers think they aren’t welcome.  Now there are some puzzles like AV Club which are ripped from the pop culture headlines and are intended to be tests of that kind of knowledge, but cryptics are mostly about wordplay, so they shouldn’t be pop culture (or old fogey culture) tests.

This week’s The Nation puzzle was a test, but not of the cultural type.  How’d you do?

Link to puzzle

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

Hozom’s comment:  “To Infinity and Beyond” in which Hot and Trazom interview Kevin Wald, constructor of the most amazing variety cryptics, and tell us how to pronounce “Ucaiomhu.” Read the whole thing.

Cluing challenge (at Word Salad): SPICE

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Critters (Solution No. 3,199)

The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 3,199 is below the fold.

A couple of the rinks I work at are up in Bucks County; weekend drives there can be pretty scenic. Last month I had two trips notable from a nature standpoint.  The first one happened by accident, as I forgot to make the turn off at Route 132 and kept on going up 532.  In the lawn of an industrial park was a big whitetail buck: a big stocky fellow with at least 8 points on the antlers.  

Then a week later there was the deer who didn’t stay on the lawn and was hit by a car.  A couple of turkey vultures were having a feast on its carcass, while a half-dozen more were circling and waiting for a chance to dine.  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Automatics (Sunday brunch: Dec. 7, 2014)

In our last episode, we learned why refs shouldn’t have rabbit ears.  Today we find out that most refs have one thing or another that will instantly draw a penalty if said to them.  If you have one of the growing number of female referees working your game (Hi, Kate!), you’d better not say anything about her gender, or anything sexual in nature.  Every lady partner I’ve had makes that an automatic.

Me, it’s my glasses.  During my playing days and early in my refereeing career, I wore contact lenses.  But as I got older, I found they dried my eyes out uncomfortably.  More importantly, my astigmatism has grown significantly worse, and the contacts didn’t correct for that.  So I got a pair of Rec-Specs, which  are special glasses made with an elastic strap that fits under a helmet. They had the added bonus of protecting my eyes from stray sticks and pucks in the days before they made us all wear visors.

They’re very effective, but they’re also quite obvious (and ugly, I’ll admit).  So inevitably, some wag who thinks he’s being original makes a remark about my glasses being fogged up or something like that when a call goes against his team.  That’s my automatic: two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.  I don’t care what the score is or whether you’ve been a perfect angel the rest of the game. Then once you’re in the penalty box, I’ll explain: “a referee who wears glasses is a referee who gets his eyes checked every season.”

Put on your solving glasses and have a go at this great variety of puzzles.  The New York Times has a diagramless by Paula Gamache (blogged by Deb Amlen–spoiler warning), while the Wall Street Journal has Patrick Berry’s Cigar Boxes.  Hints for both have been posted elsewhere on the blog.

Variety cryptics?  Two of those, and believe it or not, the one by Kevin Wald is easier.  Tom Toce created another of his three-dimensional puzzles.

Straight cryptics?  A pair of them too.  Hex in the National Post (as blogged by Falcon) and the regular syndicated puzzle from the Globe and Mail.

And variety solvers might enjoy Thursday's New York Times straight crossword (Wordplay link)–it’s not so straight after all.  

So with all that puzzling going on, it’s a good week for Stickler to take a week off and celebrate his daughter’s wedding.  We wish them many blissful years together.