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

Monday, September 17, 2012

Welcome, Richard Maltby fans

By popular demand, I'm opening up a thread for comments on the Richard Maltby cryptic titled "Hidden Meanings" in the October 2012 issue of Harper's.

The thread kicked off during Sunday brunch when Meg asked whether the straight definition in 34a should have been in past tense.  That (plus the fact that she'd gotten her print copy of the puzzle before Harpers' published it online) got me interested enough to stop off at the library last night to get it right away.

I made like a busy beaver and worked on the SE corner first.  Sure enough, Meg is right.  Here's how I parsed 34a:

ADU(*LATE)D. *TALE (anagram indicated by "reprinted") contained in ("environmentally") A DUD ("a failure"). 

I did finish the puzzle last night.  As Meg notes, Maltby varies the level of difficulty and his harder puzzles usually take me two or three sittings.  There's no unusual wordplay in this one (unlike many of his puzzles): just six long unclued entries, each of which is a groan-inducing pun.

So, Harpers' solvers and WSJ commenters, welcome.  Any friend of Meg's is a friend of mine.  I'll fetch another mourvèdre from the cellar for you.  Feel free to use the comments space for questions, hint requests, and other cryptic chatter.  I'll cross-post Meg's follow-up to get things started.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Good old paper... (Puzzle No. 3,251)

I got the paper copy of the September 24 Nation today, so now we have number 3,251.  And it's a fun one: notice the first letters of each clue.  Also four 15-letter phrases and two 13s give our constructors an opportunity for some creative cluing.

Hozom’s comment: “The War Against ClichĂ©.”  Here’s your chance to request that Hot and Trazom permanently banish whatever bit of crosswordese (like “Oslo” maybe?) or crypticese annoys you most.

Themework: see 24a.  Most of it is pretty natural, but a few of them are jarring enough to make it obvious there’s a theme here.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): average.  The real challenge is in working out some of the wordplay (like 4d and 13a) as Meg does.  

solution and annotation below the fold

Anyone for seconds? (Sunday brunch: September 16, 2012)

What do you do when the person who was supposed to serve you is out sick, and brunch isn't served? Open up a box of pop tarts!  The full (!) names of ten entertainers (not just tarts) were included in Hex's National Post cryptic last week, so there's plenty for everyone.

Hex also had a variety cryptic in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday.  The gimmick was a set of 10 unclued answers, each one with one fewer letter than the last.  And of course the 12-letter starting word is a fine description of your task.

The New York Times had an acrostic.  I'll go back to solving them when they give us a Java app like the WSJ has.  

Now, on to this week's menu.  The Times has a "Split Decisions" word game.  And we're still waiting for the October Harpers' and a fresh Richard Maltby.

It's football season, so we have Marching Bands from Mike Shenk at the WSJ for your entertainment.  If the puzzle does not display properly in your browser, click on the "open publication" link below it.

Falcon will be around with the dessert tray shortly.  Let me recommend another light Hex cryptic to finish the meal, and an espresso made with the new low-tech but elegant Aeropress.  Thanks to Raydoc for sending me one.  Like one of the reviewers said, it gives you the flavor of a coffee from the Starbucks Clover machine, without having to go miles out of your way for one.

Do please take a mint on your way out: FT 14,104 from last weekend (constructed by Mudd):
12a: Got a screw loose? These should help! (4)
(solved under the fold)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

We're back! (Puzzle No. 3,252)

The technical glitch at seems to have been a one-week thing, and the puzzle is back where it belongs this week.  A double brunch will be served this weekend (the health department wouldn't let me offer brunch while I was sick with a cold).

The new puzzle (3,252) is impressive for the limited use of routine rebus clues, and for more literals than I’ve seen in a cryptic of this quality.  I’ll forgive one piece of obscure fill (16d) if it’s at least an interesting word.  Clever cluing (this one was just ordinary) also can excuse fill like this, but using an anagram for such an obscure word almost ensures that solvers have to go to the dictionary or Google to finish the puzzle.

Link to puzzle:

Difficulty (by standards of this puzzle): somewhat hard.  It took me a while to get a toehold, but then I made steady progress around the grid. 16d is obscure.

Hozom's commentary: "Georges Perec on Puzzles" in which we learn much more about the Frenchman who wrote a novel that never used the letter 'E' (quite a challenge in French) and then wrote a novel in which the only vowel used was 'E.'  Did you know he also wrote a 1,247 word palindrome?  Wow!  Go read Word Salad for more.

Solution and annotation below the fold.

Friday, September 7, 2012

We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please stand by.

There's a broken link at The Nation, so this week's puzzle is not available yet.  Keep watching this space.

Update 9/13: The link is still broken.  Solution and comments when I get my my paper copy of the puzzle.

Four by two

While you're waiting for this week's puzzle (technical problems over at, have a crack at 7d from FT 14,097 set by Gurney.  I managed to finish this one, and 7d was the last answer to fall.

From the start seaman at home with computers, over the moon? (2,6)
Crossing letters are A* I*I*I*.

answer under the fold

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Individual Medley (Sunday brunch: September 2, 2012)

If you count the puzzle from The Nation, we have an individual medley for puzzlers this week.

The first leg, butterfly, is Hot and Trazom's puzzle (see link in "Comprehension exam" below).  Like the swimming stroke, it's a challenge to do well, but if you're good at it, you'll find the results are elegant.

Second: backstroke.  The Puns and Anagrams puzzle in the NYT (a Mel Taub creation) fills this slot. This isn't quite a regular cryptic either: closer to the British rules in terms of cluing with lots of anagrams and some double definitions.  If you don't see an indicator for the type of wordplay, start by assuming it's an anagram.  Deb Amlen will have comment at

Next up?  Breaststroke.  It's the most different stroke, with arms staying in the water the whole time, which also slows you down.  You'll need different solving skills from the cryptics  (most importantly a broad selection of words to sift through in your head) to get through Patrick Berry's "Section Eight" in the Wall Street Journal.

If you've made it through the first three, turn for home and solve the National Post cryptic by Hex (link to Falcon's forum).  You should be able to get through it without coming up for air more than two or three times.

I should have kept a stopwatch on my The Nation solution this week: it'd be fun to see if my predictions pan out as far as which leg will be fastest.

NYT puns and anagrams solution for September 2

Welcome, New York Times solvers!  Come have some brunch with us or just take a look around the rest of the blog.  We have links, solutions, and comments on the cryptic crosswords published in The Nation, a weekend brunch featuring other cryptic and variety puzzles you might like to try, plus other features and observations from the cryptic crossword world.

The solution for the Puns and Anagrams by Mel Taub published September 2 is below the fold.