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.