Monday, December 31, 2012

Whoops, missed the National Post this weekend (Sunday brunch: December 30, 2012)

I was a little too distracted by the debate in Word Salad (and by a long weekend out at hockey games and promoting DVARP), and as a result I left out this weekend's Hex cryptic from our Sunday brunch.  It's a capital effort on Hex's part.  Falcon was there as usual, so go visit his blog for the puzzle.  

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Do you like snow too? (Sunday Brunch: December 30, 2012)

Bangle and Sabers are looking forward to the weekend's forecast snow almost as much as I'm looking forward to the Hex snowflake that will be on the lawn tomorrow morning in a Wall Street Journal hidden under some of that white stuff.

The New York Times has a Hex acrostic, which if pattern holds will escape the paywall in its Java form on Saturday (UPDATE: nope--they fixed the paywall).  They've also posted a January "bonus" puzzle behind the paywall: another Fred Piscop creation.  Is it a diagramless or something else?  It's not tagged as diagramless, and Piscop did have a diagramless in last Sunday's Times.

Meanwhile, Deb Amlen is raving over Saturday's New York Times puzzle, in which Joe Krozel managed to construct a stack of five fifteen-letter words.  The rest of the puzzle had to be compromised to make the stack work, but Joe's place in constructing history is assured.

And while there wasn't a The Nation puzzle this week, Hot and Trazom do have a new post in Word Salad.  They decry the tendency of North American constructors to slavishly adhere to the [unwritten] rules, which they think stifles the opportunity to create some fun clues (I agree with that part) and also takes away an element of individuality from constructing (I disagree with that part: I can pick out a Hex puzzle from the way they use secondary definitions, and correctly identified them when The Nation held its puzzle auditions).  So do you think Hot and Trazom are right?  Go over and join the debate.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Old Time Hockey

Some weeks, The Nation doesn't publish.  And some weeks, both the Times and the Wall Street Journal publish acrostics or word puzzles instead of cryptic crosswords.  So for weeks we don't have a puzzle from Hot and Trazom to feature on Thursdays, or when the Sunday brunch menu is not so appetizing, I'm launching a new feature called "Old Time Hockey."  Those sacred words, made famous in the movie Slap Shot, have a special meaning to hockey players (and officials).  Old time hockey is back to basics: no razzle-dazzle, no trash talk; just skating, shooting, and hitting (and some surreptitious holding and interference too).

We'll pick a puzzle from the archives of one publication or another, and solve it together.  This week, I did Spoonerfest, by Hex, from the September 2003 issue of The Atlantic.  This was definitely a tough one.  Like some other variety cryptics Hex have created, and others in the NPL book that Hot and Trazom edited, one-third of the clues are altered, one-third of the answers have to have a matching alteration before they go into the grid, and the last one-third are normal.  So as the title indicates, we have spoonerisms in this puzzle.  None of them were particularly funny ones, but Hex were pretty sneaky: some of the clues you're sure at first are straight actually need to be altered.

If there are some old favorites you want to see in a future edition of this column, send me an e-mail.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A white Christmas in Glenside (Solution No. 3,265)

The forecast was for a rainy Christmas Eve here in Glenside, but when the family service was over and we went out from church, we were greeted with snow!  Real, brush it off the car window snow!  I threw one snowball, but after that I made snow pucks because my face-offs weren't very good this past weekend and the wet snow made a satisfying splat when slapped down on the pavement.

The Nation Cryptic Crossword No. 3,265

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Hard.  I had 1a wrong at first, and it took me a while to work out the wordplay for 14a and 29a.  The only Mr. McGregor I could think of was the one in Peter Rabbit.

Political content: 7d

Musical content: 25d

solution and annotation to puzzle no. 3,265 below the fold

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Eve (Sunday brunch: December 23, 2012)

(Welcome New York Times diagramless solvers: scroll down for your solution, then come back each week for cryptics and brunch, with sides of hockey and music.)

Last week, Hex shared some Christmas Eve traditions with us: we all have our holiday routines.  Our church has its services Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day.  There is considerable singing involved: Bangle now one of the senior members of the children’s choir performing at the family service, Sabers with the youth singers on Sunday, and The Other Doctor Mitchell with the adult choir at the late service.  Me, I bellow heartily from the pews.

After we get home from services, there are usually some last-minute preparations.  I always put on a recording of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College in Cambridge (check local listings for the streamcast in your area) while I assemble and wrap.  Then when all is ready, a dram of Glenmorangie with one ice cube.  Maybe I’ll have enough time to solve one of this week’s puzzles while I sip that malt.

Hex are like most of us in that they keep on singing, but garble some of their carols.  But they’ve been nice enough to put them in cryptic form so all the intersecting words can keep us in tune.  Falcon conducts the chorus over at his blog.

When Patrick Berry makes a list, he always checks it twice: every single item.  His gift to solvers is published in the Wall Street Journal (*).  He’s fit two dozen candy canes in his grid.  TODM thought it was exceptionally cute. Nothing in the puzzle is too hard or obscure: you just need to get the first answer or two placed and you’ll roll right along from there.

None of the clues are assigned to a specific space.  If you’re not sure where to begin, look first at the “canes” down the middle.  They’ll each have a string of five letters that will be checked by one or two of the across answers.  If you find an uncommon string in the cane, look for it in an across (remember it could be backwards).  Once you have the first of a pair of canes, you know where to put the second.  If you can get that one, and find the acrosses it checks, then you’ll be on your way to filling in the vertical canes.

Once Christmas is over, it’s time to prepare for the new year.  Richard Maltby will help us out that way with his Harpers’ cryptic.  I found this one something of a chore to solve: the theme answers weren’t obvious, and they required some Googling or checks with The Other Doctor Mitchell to verify that they really did fit the theme. 

The New York Times variety puzzle this week (behind the paywall) is a Fred Piscop diagramless.  I’ll update this post with the solution after I get my copy, since I love the traffic-building effect.  Deb Amlen has comments (and spoilers) at Wordplay.

*--if you have trouble viewing or printing the Wall Street Journal puzzle, go to and click the PDF link.

New York Times variety puzzle solution (diagramless 12/23/12) is posted below the fold. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Situation manual (Puzzle No. 3,265)

While there wasn't a new puzzle last week, there was a new post over at Word Salad.  Both that one and this week's post deal with fine points of the rules cryptic crossword constructors try and follow.  They give some examples to illustrate how the rules should be applied.

It's like the USA Hockey Situation Manual (now called the casebook) which I carry around in my officiating briefcase.  It gives official interpretations of common and uncommon situations.  For example: if a player breaks his stick, he can get a replacement handed to him by a teammate on the bench.  Can a teammate who's in the penalty box give him his stick?  Answer:  No, bench minor for throwing a stick into play illegally.

And while we're on the subject of hockey, here's a shout-out to my occasional partner Kate Connolly, who has been selected to line the IIHF Women's World Championship this coming April in Ottawa.

Link to puzzle

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

Hozom's comments–last weekGoing My Way, in which Hot and Trazom explain the balance between the wordplay and the definition in a clue.  Normally you wouldn't want both to be hard or both to be easy.  Also, there's a directionality in a few common indicators, where you need to make sure the wordplay is before (usually) or after the definition in order for the clue to not unfairly misdirect the reader (as opposed to fairly misdirecting, which Hex are famous for).

Hozom's comments–this weekThe Etymological Taboo, in which we learn that Hot and Trazom read the dictionary for fun (admit it readers, some of your own routines are just as geeky!).  More importantly, they explain that one of the more important rules is not to rely on the same dictionary definition or part thereof for both the definition in a clue and part of its wordplay.  Once you think about it, it's a pretty obvious rule: the kind where breaking it with an easy clue makes it extremely forgettable while breaking it with a harder clue will even get intermediate solvers recognizing the problem.

Solution and annotation will be posted Monday.  Use the comments section for hint requests.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's a skating game (Sunday brunch: December 16, 2012)

As we were getting dressed for a game last Saturday afternoon, my partner informed me that the visitors were a team of ten-year-olds while the home team was made up of twelve-year-olds.  We reminded each other of the mercy rule in their league, expecting we'd need to apply it.

Sure enough we did.  It was 6-0 in the first period, but it was the visitors doing all the scoring.  A couple of breakaways, a couple of wraparounds.  The home goalie wasn't all that good, but the game really was that one-sided.  The visitors all skated faster than the home team, so they got the loose pucks, they got out on odd-man advantages, and they even chased their opponents down on defense better.  They fully earned that lead.   The younger kids couldn't carry on that pace the whole game, so it got more even by the third, but it still finished 10-1.  

Lesson?  Hockey is a skating game, first and foremost.  The visitors' coaches must have focused on teaching the kids to skate well, and to use that advantage to play the game the right way.  I had a situation in the second where one of the home players was carrying the puck across the blue line, with a visitor in hot pursuit.  I watched the stick and the skates, anticipating a possible hooking situation, but the defender just kept skating first, got position on the puck-carrier, and tipped the puck off his stick.  As easy as a no-call will ever get.

On to more sedentary pastimes...  Falcon is getting ready for Christmas with Hex and their National Post cryptic.

It's another two-acrostic week, so if you want more cryptic crosswords, have a go at the Financial Times.  I'm catching up on last week's puzzles, but look for the In the Pink tags for some British cryptics that are approachable for American solvers, or at least have some rewarding answers to get even if you can't get more than halfway through the puzzle.

Be warned that you'll need a dictionary to solve the Wall Street Journal acrostic this week.
The New York Times acrostic is online with the new Java app.   It's by Hex, so the clues may clock for you faster than for other solvers who don't do cryptics.

Meanwhile, cryptic solvers might find the New York Times Sunday puzzle (in syndication next Sunday) enjoyable.  Deb Amlen (warning: spoilers) tells us its full of puns.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

No puzzle this week

The Nation published a double issue last week, so there's no puzzle this week.  

See you at Sunday Brunch.

Monday, December 10, 2012

More music to solve by (Solution No. 3,264)

I had to travel to New York last night for a conference that started early this morning.  As soon as I put the trip on the calendar, I looked up what was going on culturally, and of course that started by seeing if my friend Priscilla Smith was playing.  We've known Priscilla since she was a child: her father is Kile Smith, my favorite contemporary composer; and her mother, Jackie Smith, has been The Other Doctor Mitchell's voice teacher for many years.  TODM babysat Priscilla and her sisters when they were little, and Priscilla returned the favor for our children.

But now Priscilla is tearing up the Big Apple with her baroque oboe, recorder, and other period instruments.  I got to hear Priscilla and her Julliard friends last night with the New York Baroque, in a concert that was "creative" in more ways than one.  Titled "The Big Bang," it juxtaposed pieces by Telemann, Handel, Carlo Farina, and others to tell a creation story: starting with the elements, progressing through chickens, cats, and dogs, to mankind.

There's no video of last night's concert, but here's Priscilla and the NYBI playing Vivaldi's "La Follia" or click here to hear Priscilla play a Handel sonata while you read the rest of the post.

On the subway down to the concert, I came across this gem in FT 14,176, set by Cincinnus.
3d  Bass-baritone making soprano blue.   PAUL ROBESON.

Solution and annotation to The Nation cryptic crossword No. 3,264

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard

Hozom's comment: "Clearing the bar," in which Hot and Trazom share some comments they received about last week's bar-style cryptic.  Not surprisingly, some people didn't like the change.  Others did.  Hot and Trazom note that most of the cryptics they've created for the National Puzzlers' League are bar-style, since they open the opportunity for more twists in the grid or the entries.  And "twisted" doesn't begin to describe some of those NPL specials.

Musical content: 13a, 7d

Working blue: 24a—mild by standards of The Onion

Solution and annotation below the fold.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Aunt Minnie (Sunday brunch: December 9, 2012)

Did you ever have the experience of taking a glance at a clue or a partial answer, and almost instantly some remarkably obscure word comes to mind--and it's right!?!  I had a couple of those with last week's puzzle by Hot and Trazom.  Radiologists like our solver Raydoc (Sabers and Bangle's grandfather) have a wonderful term for a recognition like this: "Aunt Minnie." Raydoc studied under Ben Felson, a legendary teacher and one of the doctors who popularized Aunt Minnie.

An Aunt Minnie is a kind of rare case you haven't seen or thought of since you were in school, but snaps into your mind when you see it.  It's like recognizing the face or voice of your Aunt Minnie even if you haven't seen her for twenty years.  Maybe our friends at the NPL could add that to their glossary.  Aunt Minnie can live over there next to the Icelandic Zoo.

While I'm not a clinical radiologist (though my degree is in MRI and I taught x-ray and MRI physics), I've had a few Aunt Minnie moments in my time.  The one I remember most vividly is the structure of diborane. I saw it once in a chemistry textbook when I was a freshman, never paid much attention to it, but I recognized it and its unusual "bridge bonds" when it showed up on my GRE exam.

So now you know what to say the next time you get amazed by your unexpected powers of recollection.

It's a weekend for variety crosswords today.  Variety crosswords (not to be confused with themed crosswords) are the puzzles with straight cluing, but unusual grids.  The Wall Street Journal offers us a "Double or Nothing" by Patrick Berry.  In this puzzle, logically enough, each space will contain two letters or no letters.  Enumerations of the solutions are not given, but you know they all have to have an even number of letters.  Another nice feature of these puzzles is that they end up with few black spaces (28 out of 225 in this case) and an impressive looking grid (at least before you start solving and penciling in and erasing...)

The New York Times has (behind the paywall or in your print copy) a spiral variety crossword by Will Shortz.  They're pretty easy: finding the puzzle is going to be harder than solving it.  There's also a Fred Piscop puzzle, which I assume is a diagramless, sitting there behind the paywall with no date other than "December."  I wonder if that will ever actually appear in the print edition.

The regular cryptic crossword by Hex is in the weekend's National Post.  Falcon will have solution and commentary for you.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Polishing a ...

It came to mind today while I worked on today's syndicated New York Times puzzle (original of Nov. 1) why I've found the Times puzzles unsatisfying of late.

There was some clever cluing, which caused Deb Amlen to like the puzzle, but altogether too much mushy fill.  Perhaps Will Shortz thinks that if the  clues are novel ("Group organizing booster shots"), it's OK to fill the puzzle with ho-hum entries like "NASA" and "ESTE."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Music to solve by (Puzzle No. 3,264)

Last weekend, Sabers and I sat in on a master class given by Timothy Eddy, cellist with the Orion Quartet.   The first students that he was working with were Alexandra and Brittany Conrad, sisters who are concertmistress and principal bass respectively of the Trowbridge Chamber Orchestra at Settlement Music School (Sabers is principal bass of the intermediate orchestra at Settlement).  The orchestras have their next concert at 3:00 on Saturday, January 27 at the SMS Mary Louise Curtis branch in Philadelphia.

Alexandra and Brittany had prepared a pair of tangos by the Argentine composer Ástor Piazzolla.  Though his family was Italian and he studied in Paris, Piazzola's best compositions are Argentine at heart, but influenced by the jazz musicians he heard in Europe, particularly Gerry Mulligan (who of course was best known for his work with Dave Brubeck).

So while Sabers watched Timothy coach Brittany on the bowing and rhythm of her part, I enjoyed the music and finished solving last week's Patchwork from the WSJ.   Now you can listen to an earlier performance of the same pieces while you do this week's puzzle.

After a one-week sampling of a bar-style puzzle, Hot and Trazom are back with their regular block-style.  Of course there are still a few twists in the clues, so if you need hints, post a comment below.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate to difficult, particularly if you are expecting all clues to be straightforward and self-contained.

Hozom's comment: not published yet: watch this space for an update.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Schultz & Dooley (Solution No. 3,263)

The other Utica Club ads I remember featured a pair of talking beer steins named Schultz and Dooley.  The brewery has collected some of their appearances here, and you can meet them and their friends like Officer Sudds and Bubbles LaBrew at  Read on over there and you'll learn that Schultz and Dooley were first voiced by the great Jonathan Winters.

I haven't had a Utica Club since I lived in Syracuse, but the great beers from Saranac (particularly the Pale Ale and Black Forest beer) made by the same people often find their way into my cellar.  The "krausening" technique of natural carbonation gives the beers a nice creamy head.

"It's tough to argue over an Utica Club, 'cause they put too much love into it!"

Here's the solution to this week's puzzle.  Note that a few bits of crosswordese or slightly obscure words were necessary to make the grid work, but Hot and Trazom tried to make the wordplay for those easy, so you'd have at least one entry into each entry.  20a is a good example.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pun-filled afternoon (groaners)

I spent a little time today working on the WSJ straight crossword from a coupla Fridays ago: "Element of Surprise" by Myles Callum and Michael Blake.  Thought the theme would be fun, and it was.  (theme answers are below the fold if you want to see them).  I'll bet they started with 43d and looked for some others to go with it.

Besides the groaners in the theme answers, there were a lot of puns and other twisted clues like 56d–"it might make a lot": MACADAM (as in paving a parking lot).  So if you like the puns and anagrams style, try this one.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Neither fish nor fowl (Sunday brunch: Dec. 2, 2012)

I guessed right.  We do have a Hex variety cryptic in the Wall Street Journal this weekend. Though after explaining the difference between bar-style and block-style puzzles, we get an example that’s neither.  I’ve seen this kind of grid in straight crosswords too, though not often.  Patrick Berry is good at them.  If you’re intimidated by the lack of any guidance for the acrosses (“threads”), there are some tactical suggestions below the fold (click the "read more" link).

I also guessed right that last weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle was a block cryptic.  It was a better puzzle than their last cryptic: not as playful as we get in The Nation, but the quality of the grid was as good.  This week is an acrostic, and it’s not behind the paywall, so go solve it.  Deb Amlen is back from vacation with comments from Hex. 

No fish or fowl in the Hex block cryptic in the National Post either, but lots of veggies.  Falcon has solution and commentary for you.

tips for the Wall Street Journal puzzle below the fold. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bar exam II (Puzzle No. 3,263)

Years ago, there was a series of beer ads about the Utica Club Bar Exam.  Three identical mugs, one filled with Utica Club, the other two with some other beer.  If you could tell which of them was the Utica Club, you passed.

Cryptic solvers get a bar exam of their own this week, since Hot and Trazom have given us a bar-style puzzle.  There are two main sub-species of cryptic crosswords: block-style and bar-style, so named obviously because in the latter, words are separated by black bars instead of blocks.

From the constructor's perspective, the two types present different constraints and different challenges.  Bar-style is challenging because nearly every letter has to be checked.  It's tough to fill a bar-style grid without resorting to obscure or crossword-ese words.  On the other hand, block-style is constrained by the rotational symmetry that is convention in English-language crosswords.  Novice constructors often do asymmetric grids as their first puzzles (though sometimes constructors do asymmetric grids to enhance the theme of a puzzle).

For the solver, bar-style cryptics usually mean variety puzzles: the kind where some answers are unclued (like this week's puzzle) or you might have to alter answers before they will fit into the grid.  You usually can't do that with a block cryptic: with so many unchecked letters, there might be several way to make the alteration work.

More to the point, bar-style cryptics are usually more difficult than their block cousins.  But this bar puzzle is not a stumper: it is solvable for the intermediate-level puzzler, but challenging enough to give you a sense of accomplishment when you're through.  And like many variety cryptics, there's a kicker: a little extra reward.  Crossword bloggers like Matt Gaffney call it a "meta."

The tag line on the beer ads: once you passed the bar exam, you could try a case!  So take this exam, pass it, and then try this month's Richard Maltby puzzle in Harper's, or some of Hex's bar-style puzzles for the Wall Street Journal (we're due for one soon, I think).

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty:  Pretty easy, even the unclued answers.

Hozom's comment: The Finishing Steps, in which Hot and Trazom give us an acronym for something we solvers sometimes feel: IGIBIDGI.  They talk about the difference between filling the grid, which is enough for many, and truly solving the puzzle by cracking the wordplay of each clue.  I definitely fall in the latter category (see entry 3,250 for example).  Skipping the wordplay sometimes means missing out on the most clever parts of the puzzle, while working out the finishing steps hones your solving skill and loads the memory bank with little tricks and hints you might see again in a future.

I'd like to hear a little from them about the differences between constructing bar-style puzzles and constructing block-style, since they've had considerable experience with both.  How hard is it to avoid getting caught up in the meta and keep focus on a satisfying grid that doesn't rely on bad entries to make it work?

Solution and annotation posted Monday.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pie for breakfast (Solution No. 3,262)

I have pie for breakfast the morning after Thanksgiving, in memory of my late father in law.  We'd need to buy or make three pies if he was coming to dinner: usually apple, pumpkin, and mince.  Though he was not a large man, he could put away an amazing quantity of that pie.  Then some would go back with him to be devoured over the next few days.  It's indulgent, but not unreasonable to do once or twice a year.  So I was pleased to see two apple pies on the counter next to the coffee machine when I came in to the office this morning.  Of course I had a slice of each...

Did you work on this week's puzzle with a piece of pie and a cup of coffee at hand?  I did: here's the solution.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): easy to moderate–the answers fall in pretty quickly, but working out the wordplay of the long constructions is a challenge.  16d is obscure, but the component words are not.

Musical content: 13a is best known for conducting the NBC Symphony on radio and TV, but also directed La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Philharmonic.  

Political content: none this week.

Solution and annotation below the fold

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The elves woke up (Sunday brunch: November 25, 2012)

Well it took a while, but the WSJ puzzle blog is updated with the Rows Garden that was published Saturday.  (if you have trouble with the Issuu plugin, try the PDF version instead).  The Rows Gardens are probably the toughest puzzles in the Journal's rotation, and this one is no exception.  Look for some twists in the cluing, and solving will be more fun.  I tried working the one in my print copy of the paper yesterday, got a few words, and managed to put a hole through the paper with my pencil, so I started again today on a fresh copy from the PDF.  Worth the wait.  If you need hints, there's a community of solvers over at the WSJ blog to help.

Canadian Thanksgiving was a few weeks ago, so Falcon's elves were on duty, posting the Cox and Rathvon cryptic in the National Post on time.  Falcon tells us it is "A Family Affair."

In case you missed it, the post on the December Harper's puzzle is below.

And it looks like we will have to say "sayonara" to the New York Times variety puzzles in Sunday Brunch.  The reconfiguration of the Times crossword site that gave us a Java version of last week's acrostic (hooray!) put this week's puzzle (a cryptic by Jeffrey Harris: I assume it is a block cryptic, as that's the Times' usual form) behind the paywall (boooo!).  I don't subscribe to the puzzle site, and I get my paper at the office, so I won't be able to do the puzzle until Mondays now.  Hope the Times reconsiders.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Spiced cranberry and zinfandel sauce

Where'd all the bloggers go?  Or more precisely, where are the elves who post the weekend puzzles?  There's a Rows Garden in my print copy of the Wall Street Journal, and the Times has a cryptic by Jeffrey Harris, but neither of them are posted online yet.

The elves must still be at Grandma's house, or on the train home.  Amtrak expects to carry three quarters of a million passengers this week.  While we wait for the rest of the puzzles to be posted online, you can spend some time cooking.

US solvers might be contemplating their puzzle over a turkey sandwich or some other serving of leftovers.  In my humble opinion, no hot turkey sandwich is complete without a couple spoonfuls of this cranberry sauce, which The Other Doctor Mitchell has been making for a decade or so and got absolutely perfect this time.  Here's how she did it:

2 cups zinfandel wine (inexpensive zin is fine, maybe even better for this recipe)
3/4 cup sugar
5 two-inch strips of orange peel
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
6 whole cloves
4 slices fresh ginger, peeled
2 cinnamon sticks
12 oz fresh cranberries

Make a syrup by combining everything but the cranberries in a medium saucepan.  Bring it to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture into a bowl so you can remove the cloves and other solids.  Return the mixture to the pan and add cranberries.  Cook over high heat 10 minutes or until berries pop.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.  Pour into a bowl and let cool.  Best made a day or two before serving: keep refrigerated.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Harper's grid

The December issue of Harpers is out: both on paper and on the web.  Richard Maltby's variety cryptic has a holiday theme, and some red and green rows.  I found that when I printed it out, the colored rows were very dark, so here's a blank grid with lighter shading.  The solution will be posted along with Sunday brunch.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Black Wednesday? (Puzzle No. 3,262)

If the stores can open a day early for Black Friday (I'm not going anywhere near the stores), The Nation can post Hot and Trazom's puzzle early.

Link to puzzle

Hozom's comment: "Lassie, Get Help!" in which Hot and Trazom plug this humble blog and some other tools to bookmark.  Don't be bashful about requesting a hint, or feel you'll get a spoiler.  The usual practice is for first hints on a particular clue to be oblique: maybe a tip that the obvious parsing of that clue happens to be the wrong one or that the definition is not a mainstream one.  If you're still stuck, we'll lead you a little closer but still try and make sure you get the satisfaction of finding the answer and the wordplay.

For what it's worth, I haven't had to resort to the anagram server or crossword helper in the last month or so, which means I haven't been doing very many FT cryptics or other murderous puzzles.  I do sometimes use Google to verify that some odd definition I think I've gotten is correct.

Solution and annotation will be published Monday.  See you this weekend for Sunday brunch.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Another day, another gold (Solution No. 3,261)

Three trips to Wilmington, three gold medals!  Bangle won again on Saturday in the compulsories, while The Other Dr. Mitchell did her part Sunday, skating a very nice program including her new camel spin to win her adult pre-bronze event.

Did you triumph over this week's puzzle?  We've got the answers and explanations here for you.

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): fairly hard.  It took a while to work out some of the wordplay, but I got the most unique clue, 22a, right away.

Political content: 7d: I suspect Ed Asner subscribes to The Nation.

Composer reference: I was hoping for a performer in 12a, but can't complain about Picasso.
solution and annotation below the fold

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Another day at the office (Sunday brunch: November 18, 2012)

Sometimes a game or competition is like a day at the office.  For Bangle on Friday, it was more of a business trip.  Fight the traffic down to Wilmington, skate the program, land the doubles, come home with a gold medal (barely edging out a skater from the U of D club who also skated very well: the judges got it right: the two were clearly better than all the others, and the barest of margins between them).  Click here for the video.

There are real pain in the tail days at the office too, and I had one of them earlier this week.  At least I didn't get hurt.  A weeknight single game at 10:45 is bad to start with, D-league is worse, but I took it as a favor to my assigner.  When I got to the rink, I had to kick a player out of the officials' dressing room, and a few minutes later came an example of why we need our privacy there.  A second referee showed up five minutes before game time, thinking he had been assigned the game (D games we usually work solo).  A brief discussion ensued, he checked his iPhone again, thought about the prospect of a D game at 10:45, and decided to go home.  The game had eight penalties (two or three is a lot for a D game), bad skating (I had to call tripping when a player who had fallen down took out another player while swinging his legs around to try and get up), bad thinking (players who panic when the puck lands on their stick so they shoot it down the ice and get called for icing), bad arguments (I don't care how or why it happened--if your stick makes any contact with an opponent's helmet, I'm calling a high stick), and bad coaching as well.  I've refereed almost twenty years, and I'd never seen a coach try and pull his goalie on a delayed offside!  It was comical to watch the goalie hurry back to his crease after the opponents regained the puck in the neutral zone and tried to get a shot on the empty net.  And that coach wanted to argue a too many men call because he knows those shouldn't get called when there's a minute and a half to go in a 1-0 game?  And how many times did I have to straighten him out on a line change before a faceoff?  But there's a game check afterwards for putting up with all that stuff, and sometimes, getting that check is the only redeeming part of the night.

On to the puzzles:

The Wall Street Journal has an acrostic which happens to hit the theme not only in the quote, but in the word "A" and the first name of the source.  Fairly easy, particularly with the Journal's Java-enabled puzzle.

I don't know what happened to the New York Times variety puzzle this week.  It didn't change over on Friday as usual to the new week's puzzle, and is still showing last week's diagramless.  I happened to find an old Times diagramless on my clipboard and am working that instead.  Check back and I'll update the post if I can find the puzzle for you.

We solvers can always count on Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon though.  This week's cryptic in the National Post is something of a spelling test.  Falcon will be up to the challenge though: visit his blog for the puzzle and solution.

UPDATE: Well!  There's our explanation!  The Times must have heard my moaning about how the Wall Street Journal had overtaken them with their Java acrostics.  This week's Cox and Rathvon acrostic is now in Java instead of PDF!  The same app, right down to the applause when you complete the puzzle.  It's being hosted on the other side of the Times paywall, but there's no block on the puzzle.  Go over and solve it and then let Deb Amlen know how you liked it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Choice specimen (Puzzle No. 3,261)

A particularly nice mix of words and phrases in this grid: a few unusual ones, but nothing obscure (am I repeating myself?).   A pair of 14 letter entries, a phrase split across the first and last acrosses, and some novel approaches that emphasize the "play" in wordplay (especially 22a) or make you stop and think how to parse the clue.  Yep–this puzzle pretty much typifies Hot and Trazom's work.

While I started this one on a morning walk over to get a coffee, the last word (25a) escaped me until this evening.  A fresh look after dinner (and a martini), and I had it in a snap.

Link to puzzle

Hozom's comment: The Big Four.  How many Js, Qs, Xs, and Zs are too many? (and no, this puzzle does not use all four: the blog posts shouldn't be taken as hints to that week's puzzle).  We learn that those letters often make cluing a challenge, so Hot and Trazom don't use too many of them (theme puzzles are another story, of course).  I'm on the 'fewer' side of the fence too: many of the clues require phrase anagrams or anagrams plus a single letter, and they end up being too easy.  Like I said a few weeks ago: easy clues are OK (and necessary), but they ought to be entertaining.

Solution and annotation posted Monday.  Use the comments for hint requests.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Solution No. 3,260

Heeding the suggestion of a sage e-mailer, I'm going to try putting the weekly solutions into their own posts, so they'll be at the top of the blog.  However, they'll still be below a fold (i.e. click to see them), so readers who haven't worked on the puzzle yet won't see them accidentally.

3,260 was a breeze, as I said, with a theme that was probably as much fun for the constructors as for the solvers.  The theme simplified cluing enough to let them put some things in the grid which otherwise would have been either too hard or too obvious to make a good clue.

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): easy.  5d is not a construction I'd seen before, but perfectly legit.

Political content: 1a.

Composer reference: No composers, but a pretty diverse lineup of performers referenced in 15a, 24a, 8d, 17d, and 24d

solution and annotation below the fold

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Remembrance Day (Sunday brunch: November 11, 2012)

No particular words of wit or wisdom here today, just a moment of silence in the middle of what's been a tough month for a lot of people.

The New York Times has a diagramless this week, constructed by Paula Gamache (is that the best headshot of a constructor or what?) with an obvious theme and a few words of crosswordese needed to fit it together.    But in keeping with the The Nation puzzle this week, it's a breezy solve too.  Just what I needed after slogging my way through a particularly bad manuscript I had to review Friday.  Deb Amlen enjoys Paula's work too.  The solution is below the fold.

Those of you who came for the solution, come have a look around.  We have several interesting crosswords for you each weekend in Sunday Brunch, plus solutions and commentary on the weekly cryptic crosswords in The Nation, posted each Thursday.  Bookmark us and share your thoughts in the comments.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, puzzle editor Mike Shenk makes his own contribution: one of his Labyrinth variety puzzles.  Initial reports are it's a breeze too.  That is to say, once you get the full puzzle displayed and printed.  While the Journal has a wonderful Java app for their acrostics, the crosswords get posted using the service, which just doesn't get along with some browsers.  Click up to the main WSJ puzzle link and select the PDF version if you're having trouble.breeze

Will the Cox and Rathvon cryptic in the National Post be a breeze?  I'd bet a cup of coffee it will.  Falcon will tell us whether you can finish the puzzle before you finish that coffee.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Breezin' (Puzzle No. 3,260)

This one's a good puzzle to hand to your friends who have gotten the idea of a cryptic crossword, but aren't quite fully hooked yet.  You jump in, and something doesn't feel quite right.  You can't put your finger on it just yet, but you're making progress.  Then there's another clue where you've got the answer but something again isn't quite right....  Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action....  By gosh, I've found the theme!

And that, my fellow solvers, is how you get that person hooked.  For us veterans, this week is an easy, breezy solve (literally in my case: it was plenty windy while I was on my way to lunch), but for others, this is the puzzle that tells you: "I can really do this."

Link to puzzle

Hozom's comment: What Do You Know, in which Hot and Trazom remind us that while different solvers have different strengths and weaknesses in knowledge of pop culture, classical composers, and other sources of clue definitions(*), the wordplay in cryptic crosswords is a great equalizer.

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

Political reference: 29a (did Hot and Trazom know something the rest of us didn't?), 1a (clue)

Composer reference: no composers, but performers in 24a (a Curtis alum) and 8d (clue)

Solution and annotation Monday: use the comments for hint requests

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Grateful (Sunday brunch: November 4, 2012)

[Updated: WSJ solution below the fold]

We're safe here in Glenside, our power didn't go out, and we didn't get any flooding.  House and trees suffered minor damage from Sandy, but all of us are OK, and for me, it was mostly an opportunity to clean and organize my workshop while keeping an eye on the water level in the sump, then watch the barometer here sink to 27.14, an all-time low.  I hope all of you made out no worse than just having an opportunity to solve last weekend's puzzles on paper by candlelight instead of on a computer.

Constructors usually submit their work weeks in advance (so editors and test solvers can have a go), so there was no interruption in our puzzle supply this week.  That's good since Hex contributed three, and their home out in Amish country was right in Sandy's path.  We'll hope they got through safely too.

The Wall Street Journal offers "Missing Links": a variety cryptic by Hex.  Sounds like they took note of solvers' comments (the more cynical might call them "brags") that the puzzles were too easy, as they omitted answer lengths: typical practice for harder variety puzzles like Richard Maltby's or NPL.  That said, most of the clues are pretty easy, which one can expect in a widely-read publication like the WSJ.  On the other hand, some of the words are on the obscure side, but if you think you've got it, you've got it. The solution is below the fold.

The New York Times has a Hex acrostic, while the National Post has a Hex block cryptic.   Falcon took a while, but he figured out the theme of the latter.  Can you?

WSJ puzzle solution below.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Evangelists Like You (Puzzle No. 3,259)

This week's installment of Word Salad is about getting started in the cryptic pastime.  Hot and Trazom authored a primer on clue types and how to solve them shortly after they were appointed to their present office.  But there's more needed to get a novice over the hump and to a successful solving (or partial solving) of their first puzzle.  It helps to have a few obvious clues to use as a starting point: and it's important for constructors to spread those easy ones around the grid instead of placing them randomly and leaving one quadrant with no reasonable way in.

The Word Salad post explains the tactics of finding those clues, and of finding the essential parts of the clue: the definition, the indicator, and the wordplay.  It's the same thing I experienced when I taught physics to x-ray technologist students.  I found that many of my students were actually decent at math, but they froze up when confronted with a word problem since they didn't know where to start.  So I developed a couple of lectures where we would learn to disassemble one of those problems and make it into an equation problem like they had seen in their previous math classes.  For most of the students, the tools they got from those lectures were enough to overcome their math anxiety.

Now you who are experienced solvers and do that clue dissection without a second thought ought to read that post and apply it to a few of the clues in the next puzzle you solve.  I suggest this so you can  see and explain what you're doing, become a teacher yourself, and bring a few friends into the hobby like I did last week.  I sent an e-mail to the fencers who were watching me solve last weekend, pointing them to a few good starting points (including Kegler's beginner puzzles: there's a special place in heaven for constructors who are willing to create puzzles that are easy and not just puzzles that show off their wit and their knowledge of obscure words).  With many of us shut in for a few days due to the storm (which passed right over us, but fortunately spared us any flash floods or power outages), it was an ideal time to do something quiet and peaceful like solving a cryptic.  I'll let you know how they made out next time I see them.  

In the early days of Apple Computer, they had a job title called "Software Evangelist."  This person's mission was to convince programmers to write software for the Macintosh, and to act as their advocate within the company.  Guy Kawasaki thrived in this role so much that he wrote several great books about the concept of evangelism and what it could mean to people who might never have darkened a church door, but have some cause or another they believe passionately in.

You are one of those people, since you've gotten to the point of solving harder puzzles like the ones in The Nation, and reading a blog about it.  Here's your Great Commission: go forth and tell the smart people you know that cryptics stretch your language skills to make you a better writer, plus they're more entertaining than ordinary crosswords.  Share your successes with us.

After all that, I have to say that this is not a puzzle you want to hand to a novice solver, especially after you've given a tutorial in parsing and solving a clue.  There are a few clues here that definitely bend the rules.  Hot and Trazom warned us about this a few weeks ago, noting that sometimes the most satisfying results come from bending the rules.  There's a visual pun, a couple of exclamation points (which do follow the rules), a cross reference, and a unique creation in 1a.  You'll get the grid filled in, without too much head-scratching but don't shortchange yourself by skipping the wordplay.

Link to puzzle

Hozom's comments: see above

Degree of difficulty: hard.  More cultural references than usual, so it's likely you'll need to check one or more of your answers online.  Hints if you need them--use the comments

Political content: 7d

Solution and annotation posted below the fold.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Clue writing contest! (Sunday brunch: October 28, 2012)

Harper's has a new website, and Richard Maltby's November puzzle is posted, still missing the clue for 12d (answer: ALAS).  Are you one of those who wonders if he or she could ever construct a puzzle like that?  Now's your chance.  Create a clue for that missing one and post it in the comments for everyone's enjoyment.

Want variety crosswords?  There are two good ones this weekend.  First is Seven Sages by Patrick Berry in the weekend Wall Street Journal.  This is one of the ones with two rings of seven-letter words interlocking with each other, leading to a thematic quotation around the outside.  The editors have made the puzzle a little easier by telling you whether each word is entered clockwise or counterclockwise, but you still have to figure out the starting point from intersecting words.  You'll need at least three adjoining words to start filling in

The New York Times puzzle this weekend is Ring Toss, by Mark Halpin, to whom we were just introduced last week.  It's a format I haven't seen before, with a 12 by 12 grid of acrosses intersecting eight-letter rings, and the letters enclosed by the rings spelling out a theme answer.  Deb Amlen has comments at Wordplay.

And as usual, Hex will have their cryptic in the National Post and Falcon will have his solution and comments over at

Start submitting your clues: I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Game is Complete

"The Game is Complete."  Cliff Johnson has finally finished The Fool and His Money, and you can buy and download(*) it now.  Make sure your weekend is clear and you don't have any appointments or commitments you mustn't miss, because you won't want to leave the computer until you've completed the game.  

It's already been blurbed by Stephen Sondheim, who had the privilege of being an alpha tester: he said the puzzles are "challenging in just the right way."  The art is enchanting, even for those of you who weren't around in 1987 and don't recall the bitmapped graphics of those days.  

If that hasn't convinced you to buy the game, go download the sample puzzles for Windows or Mac.  You'll be hooked.

*--$39.99.  Versions for Windows (XP and up) and Macintosh (OS X 10.4 and up) available.

It's typo month (Puzzle No. 3,258)

Puzzle Number 3,258 is posted at The Nation.

As currently posted, the typesetters misnumbered the clues to 20a (shown as 21a) and 21a (shown as 22a), but those are the only errors in the puzzle.  I repeat, those are the only errors.  This comes on the heels of a clue (12d) being omitted from Richard Maltby's puzzle in the November Harper's, and my not finding the theme in last week's puzzle, so it proves we're all human.  And as Ian told us at training camp, perfection is elusive but excellence is not.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty: hard, but no obscure words.

Hozom's commentIn Defense of Simplicity: in which Hot and Trazom explain why you shouldn't set a cryptic where all the clues are hard (at least not for a general audience like that of The Nation).  Once you've got the solvers hooked and reeled into the National Puzzlers' League, anything (and everything) goes!

I'm entirely in agreement.  First of all, it's good to have puzzles you can put down and pick up and not have to devote 100 percent of your mindpower to.  The National Post cryptic fits that bill perfectly for me, so I solved this week's between rounds at the fencing tournament Ssaber was competing in Sunday.  A couple of the other competitors were curious, so I showed them a couple of the easy clues and how they were solved.  They seemed to get it, and I promised to bring them a copy of their own next time.

Political content: Name check of a The Nation colleague at 7d, with a coinage for the old-school liberalism, 25a

Composer reference: 17a

Solution and annotation below the fold

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Harpers solution (Sunday brunch: October 21, 2012)

It's a two-acrostic weekend this weekend: Mike Shenk in the Wall Street Journal and Hex in the New York Times.

Fortunately for cryptic solvers, the Harper's crossword by Richard Maltby landed in mailboxes and libraries this week.  As noted last month, their online edition seems to lag the print version, curious as that is.  A solution for you is below the fold.  There are three unclued answers that fit a theme, but I don't think that's enough to hang a "variety cryptic" label on it, so I didn't.

Watch for the National Post Cryptic over at Falcon's blog.

Want more puzzles?  Click over to this week's The Nation post and get to know Mark Halpin.  He's got Sondheim-themed cryptics and some National Puzzlers' League creations to keep you busy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Take a trip to Baker Street (Puzzle No. 3,257)

Earlier this week I suggested a trip over to England for a specially-themed puzzle in the Financial Times.  Conveniently, Hot and Trazom offer us a puzzle this week that follows the British style, plus has a fitting theme.  Solve this one and then go give that FT puzzle a try.  You might not be able to finish it, but British cryptics often don't need to be finished to be rewarding.

Link to puzzle

Hozom's commentCryptically, Stephen Sondheim, in which we meet Mark Halpin, theatre designer and cryptic constructor.  He links those two neatly by creating puzzles on themes from Stephen Sondheim shows: twenty, so far!  Good thing Sondheim was such a prolific (and singable) composer: we should have lots more of those puzzles in our future.  As an encore, he's also created mind-bending variety cryptics for the National Puzzlers' League.  There he goes by the nom "Zebraboy."

Want another interesting coincidence?  Like Cliff Johnson, creator of the puzzle games The Fool's Errand and 3 in Three, Halpin has also designed attractions for theme parks.  Cliff's new game The Fool and His Money is still scheduled for release later this month: keep your fingers crossed.

Degree of difficulty: hard if you're not used to the British style.

Themework: took me a while to find the theme answers and I'm still not sure I got them right--I was misdirected and trying to find literary references.

Composer references: no composers, but you do get a bit of music notation in 5a.

Political content: Emile Zola (21d) was a French intellectual who broke open the Dreyfus Affair.

Solution and annotation below the fold.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It was fifty years ago today... (In the Pink)

FT crossword No. 14,132, by Hamilton, is worth your downloading and having a go at.  The key is the theme answer at 24a.  Once you have that, the other theme answers are a romp.  Solution and annotation over at Fifteensquared, by a blogger known appropriately enough as "Ringo."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Work vs. play (Sunday brunch: October 14, 2012)

In the shameless pursuit of traffic (and new solvers for the The Nation cryptic), I've already posted the solution to the NYT variety puzzle, a straight cryptic by Rosalie Moscovitch.  I thought the puzzle was something of a grind (which was Deb Amlen's conclusion about one of Moscovitch's earlier works).  Deb's blog will include her commentary on this puzzle Sunday.

If you're a regular solver of the Times puzzles, welcome.  I think you'll find this week's cryptic in The Nation to be a much more rewarding use of your time.  It's about equal in difficulty, but the cluing is much more artful.  You'll feel you've had a recreation, instead of a chore.

Patrick Berry is equally artful in the construction of his puzzles.  Solvers over at the Wall Street Journal were raving about his latest one, called "Telescopes."  Not only has he checked every letter both across and down, there's a quote that emerges at the end.  That's amazing.

The regular weekly cryptic in the National Post is blogged by Falcon.  This week's puzzle has three fifteens and a couple of question marks, so it should be an interesting solve.

Friday, October 12, 2012

If you eat dessert first... (New York Times cryptic crossword solution 10/14/2012)

From the traffic stats, I know there are some of you who want solutions right away: especially you New York Times solvers.  Even though brunch isn't officially served until 10:00 tomorrow, I'll be happy to welcome you into the kitchen tonight.  Your solution to the Rosalie Moscovitch cryptic crossword from the Sunday New York Times is below the fold.

After you're done with that, grab a cup of coffee and hang around a while.  You'll find links to other interesting puzzles including the weekly cryptics in The Nation (the raison d'être for this blog), the great variety puzzles in the weekend Wall Street Journal, the Hex cryptics in the National Post (excellent for novice solvers), and more.  The Nation puzzles are linked here on Thursdays with annotated solutions the following Monday.  A varying menu of brunch puzzles are served every weekend.   Please click, comment, and join the community.

Rosalie Moscovitch is a new constructor to me.  After looking her up (and ordering her book "What's in a Word"), I was hoping for a few more puns in this puzzle.  No such luck.  21d might be hard for some of you younger solvers: I suggest you ask your parents for help.  Otherwise, it's a tough puzzle, with a few clever clues but nothing to knock your socks off.

As for the post title, now that I qualify as one of those old coots who has used a 21d, I felt no guilt at having an ice cream cone for dinner after training camp in Delaware last month.  The UD Ag school has a dairy and micro-creamery, located right next to the ice rink.  After a real good skate, and putting about a hundred pucks down to try and ingrain a new face-off mechanic, a beer would have been nice, but the ice cream was even better.  I chose a flavor called "All Nighter": coffee ice cream with cookie dough, crushed Oreos, and fudge—it was great.  Darn right I had the waffle cone too!

solution below the fold

Thursday, October 11, 2012

From Insoluble to Obvious (Puzzle No. 3,256)

After a couple of pretty easy weeks, this week's cryptic crossword in The Nation is more difficult.  But once you get through it, it all makes sense.  Just like Georges Perec says as quoted by Hot and Trazom: "What, in the end, characterizes a good crossword definition, is that its solution is obvious, as obvious as the problem had seemed insoluble as long as it was not solved."

Link to puzzle:  Puzzle No. 3,256

Hozom's comment: Georges Perec on Crosswords.  Another must-read, and be sure to click through to Perec's foreword to his book Les Mots Croisés, from which the above quote is taken.  The Word Salad post follows up on the introduction to Perec four weeks ago.

Now when you're reading the Perec foreword, you'll see an example that looks more like a word square than a crossword.  That's the French style in crosswords.  They tend to be small grids with no symmetry and few black squares.  Answers are located with row and column headings on the border of the puzzle rather than with numbers in the squares.  I've only done a few of them (my French is awful), but this may inspire me to give one a try.  If you happen to find one that's good for beginners, or better yet an English-language crossword with a French-style grid, please post a link in the comments for us.

Degree of difficulty:  On the harder side, but no obscure answers.

Political content: Not necessarily partisan, but everyone’s paying attention to the 12a.

Musical content: no composers, but if you’re a music scholar, 11d will be easier.

Solution and annotation below the fold.  Use the comments below for hint requests.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Oktoberfest beer quiz

Oom pah pah!  It was Oktoberfest at St. Paul's last weekend, and when I wasn't slinging suds or listening to Saber playing with the band, I was running the beer quiz.  We posted signs around the tent with pieces of different beer labels (old and new), and our participants had to name the beer that the label was from.  Our winner got 17 right.  Can you do better?

Look below the fold for the labels.  I'll post the answers next week.

Monday, October 8, 2012

From whence "In the Pink"

Among the tags you can search this blog on is "In the Pink."  It tags those posts referencing the Financial Times crossword, which is free and easy to download daily.  I happen to get it on paper courtesy of the office next to mine, so I get it in all its pink glory.

Now comes a color specialist who tells us that the FT isn't pink, it's "bisque."  Instead of tagging the posts "In the Pink," I should be tagging them "In the Soup."  That sounds about right considering the typos I made that were called out in the comments recently.  Go take a look in case you ever wondered why the FT is printed on pink paper.

I've never refereed a team in pink, which happens to be in fashion on some soccer and football fields this month, but since the 90s expansions of the NHL, I've seen teams in teal, that purplish maroon of the Anaheim Ducks, and one (The Battalion) in camouflage.  But when I'm on the ice, I have about a four-bit color depth (16 colors), like an old Apple II.  No way will I be ever calling a penalty on teal: it's blue to me.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Wall Street Journal Saturday puzzle solution

These seem to be popular, so I'll post the solution to today's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Connect the Dots" below the fold.  This was a little harder than the typical Hex variety cryptic, but I managed to finish it in one shot with no recourse to Google, though I'd never seen 7d before.

As someone pointed out in the WSJ comments, Hex managed to get rotational symmetry into this grid.  Nice piece of construction.

While you're here, please take a look around.  There's a new cryptic crossword in The Nation every week, plus a weekend roundup of cryptic and variety puzzles served for Sunday brunch.  Bookmark us and come back soon!

Eating the call (Sunday brunch: October 7, 2012)

Getting a wordplay wrong in my annotation last week was like missing a call on the ice.  It happens from time to time, and the best thing to do when it happens is to own up to it right away.  Dealing with and learning from the mistakes you make was one of the subjects of a special presentation at our USA Hockey referee seminar last week.

The story is kind of long so scroll down if you want to read more: here are this week's puzzles.  As sometimes works out, this week is a threefer by Hex (all-star constructors Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon).

"Connect the Dots," a variety cryptic by Hex, is this week's WSJ Saturday puzzle.  Early reviews say it's hard, and you'd better be prepared for typical Hex use of secondary definitions.

Hex have the dinner menu in their weekly block cryptic in the National Post (link to Falcon).

And their usual bi-weekly New York Times acrostic (link to Deb Amlen's Wordplay blog at the NYT)

(hockey story below the fold)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Groaners (Puzzle No. 3,255)

I got 1a right off the bat(*), though it took me a few minutes to understand the wordplay.  I groaned at it: the puzzle constructor's equivalent of a sight gag.  Some puzzles are full of awful puns, so I'm thinking of adding a groan index to the weekly post.  Sound like a good idea?

Link to puzzle

Hozom's comment (posted Saturday): "Political Puzzling"--Hot and Trazom wonder whether they ought to be scrupulously non-partisan in composing the puzzles.  The answer that solvers tell them: "If not in The Nation, then where?"  Spot on.  You'll see some of the earlier posts in this series keep track of political content befitting a left-wing magazine.  Such content keeps the editors and customers satisfied, and if you're afraid that conservatives would be offended at it, just consider that conservatives that are open-minded enough to pick up a puzzle published in a left-wing magazine aren't going to be upset at a few references in keeping with the rest of the magazine.

Now maybe we can find some liberals open-minded enough to lobby National Review to bring back their "Trans-O-Gram" acrostic.

Degree of difficulty:  Google should not be necessary.  Won’t be too hard if you’ve done Hot and Trazom’s puzzles before and know their cluing style.

Composer sighting?:  6d.

Political content: also 6d.

*--which by the way is a cricket term: there are a few fielding positions such as "short leg" and "silly point" where you stand 5 to 10 feet from the batter to try and catch little short pop-ups before they hit the ground.  You're just about taking the ball off the bat.  While I was a wicketkeeper later in my career, I played at some of those positions while I was in college and lived to tell about it, so I have a little more head start than most Americans when it comes to British cryptic clues with cricket references

Still curious about cricket?  You can watch the final of the ICC World Twenty20 (a made-for-TV version of the game: think of what baseball would be like if it were two innings long and players got five strikes instead of three--a home run festival) streaming live on Sunday morning at 9:30 eastern time: West Indies (the team I root for) vs. Sri Lanka.  If you're pressed for time, click over and just watch the video highlights of W.I. burying Australia today.  Chris Gayle of Jamaica hit 6 sixes (the cricket equivalent of a homer) including some upper deck shots, in an innings of 75.

Solution and annotation below the fold.  Use the comments below for hint requests.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Traffic bait (Sunday brunch: September 30, 2012)

If you got through this week's The Nation puzzle as quickly as I did, you'll probably want some more puzzles to get you through the weekend.  That's why the Sunday Brunch menu is actually posted Saturday morning.  This week we offer a tasting menu, with a sampler of different puzzle types.

Our New York Times variety puzzle is a diagramless by Fred Piscop lightly drawing on a theme.  Solution (it's fabulous traffic bait!) is below the fold.  Deb Amlen offers commentary at the Times crossword blog: Wordplay.

The Wall Street Journal has a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  I found it wasn't quite as hard as some of his previous editions.

And the comfort food for us cryptic solvers is the weekly Hex cryptic at the National Post, served this week at the drive-thru window.  Falcon's got it over at his blog.

And by the way, Cliff Johnson, developer of The Fool and His Money (see "At the Carnival") for more information has pushed back the release date yet again.  The program is scheduled to be published October 26.  Remember that even while we're still waiting for the full program, Cliff posts new cryptograms daily using his excellent Flash interface.

New York Times diagramless solution is below the fold.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Woulda, shoulda, coulda (Puzzle No. 3,254)

When I got 13a in this week's puzzle, I thought "that would have made a great theme," but nothing else picked up on it.  Still some enjoyable and clever wordplay for you though, plus Trazom's obligatory composer reference at 18d and a name-check for Willz and for Hozom's boss at 27a.

Link to puzzle:

Hozom's comment: "Lit Parade," in which our constructors explain the convention of an exclamation point in a clue denoting "& lit" (literally, "and literally": a clue where both the definition and wordplay are contained in the same clue words.  I didn't know that our friends Hex don't use the exclamation point.  They think it's bragging, but I think it's an important signal to novice solvers.  Please go join the debate over at Word Salad.

Degree of difficulty: I didn't find this one too hard, though some might have a time of it parsing 14a.

Themework: Four puns in the solution, none of them real groaners.

Trazom's obligatory music content: 18d

Solution and annotation below the fold.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Season opener (Sunday brunch: September 23, 2012)

The autumn equinox happens Saturday morning at 10:49 our time, but the hockey season started last night at 9:49, and it was like the off-season never happened.  The blue team still can't shoot, the gray team still can't skate, and the ice at Penn still is horrible, even though they melted down over the summer.  But nothing hurts this morning, and it was a good workout.  Whatever your physical workout is (feel free to share in the comments), we have your mental workout served up.

The October issue of Harper's with the aforementioned Richard Maltby puzzle is now online at  You're welcome to join in the discussion over at the earlier post.

If you're done with the Maltby, or if you just want a warm-up before taking it on, Falcon has a colourful (remember, it's a Canadian paper) National Post cryptic for you over at his blog.

Meanwhile, it's an acrostic week at both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (quote from a famous novelist on her craft).

Looking for another cryptic?  Try FT 14,110, set by Cincinnus (follow that latter link, and you'll see that Cincinnius [Michael Curl] is also responsible for the Best for Puzzles site).  Good on 'ya, Michael!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bar exam (Puzzle No. 3,253)

An autumn breeze?  I knocked this one off while on my lunchtime walk.

Link to puzzle

Hozom's comment: "Counting Words," in which Hot and Trazom comment on creating number 3,251.  I'll admit I didn't notice the word count when I blogged my comments, though the six long answers which were needed to bring the count down (32 - 26 = 6) got mention.  And it comes as no surprise to me that Hot and Trazom try and give themselves an extra challenge in constructing once in a while, to keep the task from becoming a chore.  Solvers do the same thing sometimes (see Crossword Golf for example).  What about you?  What's your extra challenge?  Share it with us in the comments.

Themework: see 25d.  No groaners in the theme answers.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): easy.  The NW and SE corners are easy, but they don't connect up much with the rest of the puzzle.

Solution and annotation below the fold.  

I solve 'em so you don't have to (Old time hockey)

While I was in bed with a cold earlier this month, I worked a few puzzles I came across in a stroll through the crossword virtual world.  I had originally intended to do the 1992 Eugene Maleska "Cryptocrossword" linked in this post from Jim Horne's blog, or at least get far enough to solve the cryptogram meta, but bagged it after ten words or so because the fill was so cruddy.

But there was a diagramless in the PDF I had printed out, so I started idly knocking that one back.  The fill there was even worse, but since it had become apparent there was a novelty grid, I stuck around to the finish (see solution below the fold).

So what'd we learn?  The era of Google, anagram servers, and other crossword tools may be a boon to us solvers, but it's been even more revolutionary for constructors.  They can now feed crossing letters to their computers and get lots of interesting candidate words, instead of relying on their own vocabularies (which were liberally enhanced with Crosswordese).

And I don't think that internet solving tools have altered the balance of power between constructor and solver as much as some purists might think.  Both sides have gained from this arms race.  If anything, it's changed the crossword game from one where memorization and experience prevails, to one where cleverness prevails.

I sure like it better.


Solution below the fold