Sunday, August 31, 2014

Doctor Butthead (Puzzle no. 3,334)

Writing comprises a pretty substantial part of my job: I do systematic reviews of medical technology and procedures to help our medical center improve the quality, safety, and value of care.  While the crux of the work involves searching the published literature for evidence from clinical trials (finding the three or four scientific papers that address the question of interest out of millions of papers in the databases), reading between the lines to find possible weaknesses in the research, and doing statistical analyses of the results, there’s also a need to write precisely and fluently: a skill that is enhanced by a crossword hobby.

Sometimes the two worlds intersect, and one of the topics I’m working on now (patient-controlled analgesia for patients with pain from sickle cell crisis) reminds me of one of those times.  It was in in my previous job, and a colleague was working on a report about narcotic drugs for patients with awful pain from cancer.  One of the issues in this topic is that some doctors are afraid to prescribe these drugs for fear their patients will become addicted.  Considering that most of these patients have advanced disease, it’s a pretty heartless position to take (and that’s not my opinion—many clinical practice guidelines note that doctors underprescribe narcotics for patients who really need them).

In our meetings about this report, my colleague coined the phrase “Doctor Butthead” to refer to these clinicians who overemphasized the risks of narcotics.  It got to be such a catchphrase among us that I hatched a plan to hide it in our report.  I made sure that the background section talking about the issue included the phrase “...DOCTOR, BUT THE ADdiction concerns...”

Our boss never noticed.

Have you ever managed to mix cryptics and your work?  Share your story in the comments.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate.  As is Hot and Trazom’s usual practice with themed or variety puzzles, they make the non-standard part pretty easy to pick up.  I stupidly got hung up on one of the theme answers though.

Hozom’s comment: “Puzzling Women” in which Hot and Trazom lament the lack of women constructing and solving crosswords: cryptic or otherwise.

Much as I love smart and articulate women (The Other Doctor Mitchell [who is not a crossword fiend–she does logic puzzles] foremost among them), I’m not so worried about the proportion of women in the crosswording pastime.  It’s their choice, and I’m fine with there being differences in human brains and what they’re most finely tuned to do.  Crosswording, especially in the cryptic mode, is a highly structured activity.  From what I’ve read about neuroscience (and I’m not any kind of specialist in it), it’s something the brains of males are more likely to be be attuned to than the brains of females are.  But it’s a tendency, not a dichotomy, so we’re blessed to know (and encourage) ladies like Emily Cox and Elizabeth Gorski who have made their own mark not as female constructors but as brilliant and creative constructors.  I don’t see anyone doing anything other than encouraging them to be a big part of our world.

Besides, I think there’s more in common among puzzling women and men than there is dividing them. Look at some of the side interests, like Doctor Who (LizR) or scoring baseball games (Erin Rhode). The kind of things associated with structure-oriented brains, regardless of what the chromosomes that gave rise to them are.

Cluing challenge: GENDER GAP

Monday, August 25, 2014

Peaches (Solution No. 581)

The solution to puzzle no. 581 from August 21, 1954 is below the fold

Thanks to a fortuitous combination of circumstances, we had some wonderful fresh and very ripe peaches to eat last week.  We have a little peach tree next to the shed.  It was put in about 15 years ago when we had the landscaping done (took down the ugly norway maple that the previous owners had “lollipopped” [in the words of the landscaper]--the weeping cherry that replaced it died in a hard winter a couple of years ago).  Turns out the tree isn’t in a particularly good place: the ground is too wet, but it’s survived.

Circumstance 1: Cold winter, late spring.  The spring warm-up was two or three weeks late and the garden is still a week or so behind where it usually is.

Circumstance 2: The town cut down the willow tree in the little park over our back fence.  There was a huge willow there—it was big enough to hold an entire flock of starlings (which if you’ve ever seen starlings you’ll understand).  The starlings have gone elsewhere, which means there are fewer birds pecking at the peaches before they’re ripe.  One year we tried bird netting but it didn’t stop the starlings.

Circumstance 3: Sabers and I came back from the family vacation early because he had select chorus “boot camp” at school.

As a result, I got to pick a bowl full of delicious, juicy peaches that were a perfect four or five bites big.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Shore or inland? (Sunday brunch: August 24, 2014)

Quick trip back to New England today, so I was definitely in the mood for Kevin Wald’s three-part NPL convention cryptic series: NH, VT, and ME.  Like him, I’m traveling by train (though I’m driving back with The Other Doctor Mitchell), and also like him, I was in Cape Cod, so the geographic and train references were a snap.

A train trip always poses the question of which side of the train to sit on (by contrast to my daily commute, where I usually take the same seat every day). Going between New York and Boston, the right side offers views of the shoreline, thought the sun glare can be a bother if you’re riding in the morning.  I opted for scenery, and hit the jackpot, spotting two herons perched on a bridge piling in New York and an osprey standing at its nest in in the salt marshes between Branford and Guilford, Connecticut (near milepost 84).  UPDATE: several more herons and ospreys in Rocky Neck, around MP 114

Two acrostics this weekend in the big papers: Hex in the New York Times (puzzle behind the paywall, comments and spoilers at Wordplay) and Mike Shenk in the Wall Street Journal.  In the latter, I found myself virtually erasing some of the clue answers because of conflicts in the grid, only to find I was right all along.

I got about three quarters of the way through the Globe and Mail cryptic before having to resort to the computer.  30a took a while to get: “Won’t livestock be sold by it?”  Both HEAD WEIGHT and DEAD WEIGHT fit, and it wasn’t until I recognized the contrast with LIVEstock that I was sure which was right.  The Hex cryptic in the National Post was considerably smoother.

There’s a fun package of themed crosswords with little twists that’s been posted by Eric Berlin.  It’s a salute to Mad Magazine and all its great contributors.  Eric makes lots of references to the little details of the magazine: the things that rewarded your second or third reading of each issue.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cluing challenge: WAYBACK

Since there‘s no post at Word Salad this week, the weekly cluing challenge is here.  Set a cryptic clue for WAYBACK and post it in the comments.  I can think of several ways to set it—how about you?

Wayback machine (Puzzle No. 581)

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to August 1954.  The armistice in Korea was holding, campaigns to vaccinate children against polio were underway, “Sh-Boom” by the Crew-Cuts was at the top of the charts, Raydoc was getting ready for his senior year of college at Ohio University, and my mother had just graduated from Indiana State.

Sixty years ago this week, The Nation published Crossword Puzzle No. 581.  In order to solve puzzles of this era, you have to take yourself back in time; sweep more recent events, songs, and books out of your mind; and think about what was going on then.  The key that unlocked this puzzle was an item that is obsolete now but would have been in many solvers’s desks in 1954.  Can you find it?

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (compared to the current The Nation puzzles): Very hard

Hozom’s comment: No blog post this week—the magazine is on its summer schedule

Cluing challenge: posted here

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.