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.