Saturday, July 28, 2012

Get back in here and solve! (Sunday Brunch: July 29, 2012)

Got this week's Nation puzzle solved already?  Thought you were going to have a weekend free to do things like mow the lawn instead of indulging your puzzle obsession?  Think again... 

I'm writing this post Friday night, but I can already guess the theme of Hex's cryptic in the National Post.  Falcon will have the solution and commentary for you.  He says it's an easy puzzle, so you can go back and finish last week's TImes cryptic when you're done.  Update: I told you I could guess the theme.  I didn't tell you I could guess right...

Like acrostics?  You get two this week.
  • Hex as usual in the New York TImes.  Wordplay has the usual comments from the constructors.
  • Mike Shenk set the one in the Wall Street Journal.  Initial reviews are quite favorable.  For some reason, their convenient Java applet isn't working, so visit and then select "Download PDF version."  Update: the Java version is back: solvers cheer (and hear cheers).
Finish those and then get back to the lawn!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Train ride (Puzzle No. 3247)

I got my copy of this puzzle just before getting the train home.  Back before I got into cryptics, I would solve the dailies from the Philadelphia Inquirer or the New York Times, keeping track of my relative success by noting what station the train was at when I finished.  Well, this week's Nation puzzle was easy enough that I finished my first pass through by Wayne Junction, and by Fern Rock I had all but the bottom left done.  I might have been able to finish before Elkins Park had I guessed the wordplay type in 18a right, but I put the puzzle aside to finish later.

Hozom’s comment: “On Bookshelves Now”
Hot and Trazom review a new book of variety cryptics called, quite appropriately, "50 Variety Cryptic Crosswords" and interview author Roger Wolff.  Here's a link to buy the book at Amazon.  Maybe I'll take it on while I'm on vacation.  Hot?  Trazom?  There's one thing you left out of the review: are the puzzles mostly hard or easy?

Of course your bookshelf should also include a copy of the NPL cryptic compendium, which Hot and Trazom were the curators of--especially because the PDF is available for free(!) via  A great variety of puzzles and gimmicks, some of which are extraordinarily clever.

News:  Thank you very much to Hot and Trazom for plugging this blog in their Word Salad post last week.

Themework: None that I see, unless you count 5a 27a, which might line up with the Word Salad post.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  * * (Mostly easy).
[note that a * or * * rating means that a puzzle is easy: not that it's bad] 

Political content: none this week.  [oops, forgot Che Guevara in 12a]

solution and comments below the fold.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Two for one sale (Sunday Brunch: July 22, 2012)

by the way, no new puzzle this week, The Nation published a double issue last week 

This weekend, the Times gives us a straight block cryptic by Richard Silvestri.  No theme or extras, and nothing too rewarding in the cluing—just plain hard.

The August issue of Harpers is online: Richard Maltby's latest is a sixes, sevens, and twelves.  Hard as usual—haven't finished it yet.

Hex comes two for the price of one in the National Post, thanks to a mix-up last week.  Falcon has solutions and commentary.

The Wall Street Journal offers a "Honeycomb" variety non-cryptic by editor Mike Shenk.  Commenters say they have had trouble printing the puzzle from the HTML page, so instead you should go to the main blog page at and then select "Download PDF version."  You could call this one an "honorary cryptic" since all the clues have a definition hidden in them.  It's also pretty easy, so this is a good puzzle for your friends who'd like to get started in the world of cryptics.  They'll get the satisfaction of solving the puzzle plus the surprise of finding how the clue works.

Any other puzzles you'd like to bring to our attention?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In the Pink, in France

Last Saturday's Financial Times (14,056), set by Gozo, is set in France.  Once I figured that out, it was easier and more rewarding.  Give it a try.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Water Clock? (Puzzle No. 3246)

Hozom’s comment: “Theme Variations”  If you hadn’t recognized some of the themes in previous editions, you get them now, plus a little background.  We also learn that themework is a good way for constructors to challenge themselves once they’ve become adept at a given type of work.  

Solvers can be the same way: challenging themselves to solve a crossword in one pass through (see “crossword golf”) or to solve a sudoku without making any notes in the grid.  Want to share your own challenges?  Comments are open below.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Average to start, hard to finish (unless you have the worlds’ greatest vocabulary)

Political content: Shout-outs to Katha Pollitt and Gary Younge, left-wing columnists, and one to the editors

solution and comments below the fold

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hex Cubed (Sunday brunch: July 15, 2012)

A three course meal of Hex highlights your puzzlers' buffet this weekend.

National Post (puzzle by Hex, commentary by Falcon): "British Impostor"

Wall Street Journal: "Five-Day Forecast," a variety cryptic by Hex.  Already a zillion comments--all of us who can't wait for Hex's latest.

New York Times (puzzle by Hex, commentary by Deb Amlen): "A Strutting Acrostic"

(Still waiting for Richard Maltby's latest in the August Harper's)

Welcome aboard! (bump)

Greetings, everyone, and welcome to the The Nation Cryptic Crossword Forum.

It's now been a year since Hot and Trazom (*) beat out four very good rivals and won the job as crossword constructors for The Nation.  I think they've proven themselves worthy successors to Frank Lewis, so it's time they got recognized in the form of a solver's blog.

The object of this blog will be to form a repository for solutions and a convenient place for you to share your observations with other solvers.  I also want to make sure The Nation's puzzle gets the same level of attention as all the other major league (#) cryptics.

Hot and Trazom have their own blog, Word Salad, over at  I strongly encourage you to read it religiously (or secularly if that's your preference).  They've been in the game a long while, and have much to share with us on the art of constructing and solving cryptic crosswords.

The Game Plan

Here's the game plan for this forum: we'll give it a try, see how it works, and tinker with it as necessary.  Part of the plan is based on the nicely active puzzlers forum over at the Wall Street Journal where the community has developed some unwritten ground rules.

I'll try and post the puzzle link once it's up, which usually is Thursday.  That will open up the comment space where you can post your brags, feedback, and hint requests.  I would prefer that those of you providing hints try and give the minimum information needed to get your fellow solver on track, so as not to spoil the experience for everyone else.

Come Monday, the hints can be more direct.  I'll post my solution and commentary about a week after the puzzle is up.

Along the way, I'll also give you a weekly set of links to other new puzzles of note, in order to make this your first stop each weekend; and post occasional commentaries from the solver's world.

Sound all right?  If not, let me know!


See the theme (Puzzle No. 3245)

Hozom’s comment: “Following Frank”
Hot and Trazom call out some of the signature elements of Frank Lewis’s style which they’ve endeavored to carry on in their own way.  This was something I picked out in their audition puzzle (search on “Cosima K. Coinpott”), and explained in a long e-mail to The Nation’s editors why this made the case for Hot and Trazom to get this gig.

Now, do you agree or disagree that US solvers are too straitlaced about the rules?  Comments are open.

Themework: 100%.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  moderate.  Usually, the last words in the puzzle tend to be the hardest, but once you get the theme, it finishes pretty easily.

Political content: 7d

solution and comments below the fold

Riddle Me This (Puzzle No. 3244)

Hozom’s comment: “Keeping it Inside”  A primer on containers (in which we learn that the Brits call these “sandwich clues”—like that??)

Themework: About as much as they could get away with (see "Loosening Up"). 
I’ll call these types of clues “riddles.” They work by making the clue material into the answer to a riddle, where the actual wordplay is in the question.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard

Political content: I suppose “reactionary” is an all-purpose epithet among The Nation subscribers, of whom Neil Young might be one (a subscriber, not a reactionary), given some of his songs.

solution and comments below the fold

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tough enough for you? (Puzzle No. 3243)


Hozom’s comment: “Loosening Up” (
Are American cryptic constructors descendants of the Puritans?  If you’re setting for The Nation, then you might well be expected to question authority. 

Themework: don’t know if a theme was intended, but 1a and 27a aren’t quite cricket by American rules.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Very hard.  This ought to satisfy the 

Political content: Pete Seeger may have been a subscriber to The Nation

solution and comments below the fold

I've known rivers (Puzzle No. 3242)

This week's puzzle manages to work at least one river into each clue.

Link to Puzzle:

Hozom's Comment: "The Chicken and the Egg."  I wonder if Hot and Trazom had a burgeoning file of river clues somewhere...

Themework: 100%(!)  Always easier when you're theming in the clues.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Easy

Political content: None this week

solution and comments below the fold

An Underwriter? (Puzzle No. 3241)

Link to puzzle:

Hozom’s comment: “Cryptic Parlor Game”  A primer on charades: one of the main types of cluing.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  hard

Political content: How do you smuggle a wordplay like "Elect Ron" into The Nation?  Imply it's a negative.  

solution and comments below the fold

Spring is still springing (Puzzle No. 3240)

Link to puzzle:

Hozom’s comment: “Fair’s Fair”
Hot and Trazom deconstruct the argument over "fairness" in cryptic cluing.  A frequent cause of complaints from solvers is when a clue doesn't clearly separate definition and wordplay, or if a solving step is ambiguously indicated.  This is really a separate question from the other big complaint cause: puns and other clues that follow British rather than US rules.
Here Hot and Trazom admit that they were attempting to push the envelope a little bit with their clue " Generous one moving in two pieces of furniture (10)" in 3239, and wanted to see how the audience would react.  

My view?  This series of puzzles is not intended to be easy: it fills the gap between starter cryptics like you see in Games or the National Post, and those written for NPL members and other true connoisseurs.  If Hot and Trazom can stretch the solvers' minds a little every week, pretty soon they'll be clamoring for more.  That's good for our pastime.
Where would I draw the line?  No more than one or two envelope-pushers a week, and only if the crossing letters and definition make finding the answer easier.  If the solver gets the word but not necessarily the cluing, s/he can work backwards to understand how the clue was intended to work.   

Themework: 38%–kind of petered out when it got to the downs.  I guess spring can really hang you up the most...

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  average.

Political content: 7d–Clever teasing of “birthers”, 21d–Clever teasing of Antonin Scalia (I wonder what he prefers to drink…)

solution and comments below the fold

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I believe in giving thanks and credit to those who make this blog and our shared passion and pastime possible, so allow me to put these recognitions first.  I want to thank:
  • Hot and Trazom, for all the effort and creativity going into their puzzles, and for being evangelists for our pastime.
  • The Nation, for carrying on with their puzzle page at a time when their peers on left and right gave theirs up, and for giving Hot and Trazom a regular gig and wider exposure.
  • Frank Lewis (RIP), for his long and loyal service to the field and to his country.
  • Falcon, for welcoming me to the crossword blogging fraternity and helping get this blog started.
And also (in no particular order)
  • Hex, Richard Maltby, WillZ, Kegler, the contributors to the New Yorker cryptic (RIP), the contributors to the FT cryptic, the contributors to the NPL book, and all the others who've constructed cryptic crosswords: none of this is possible without you.
  • The Other Dr. Mitchell, for granting me the time to blog.
  • Philadelphia Distilling Company, for Bluecoat Gin; and Old City Coffee, for Decaf Continental Blend.