Sunday, December 29, 2013

West coast gin (Sunday brunch: December 29, 2013)

While I was on that trip to Cape Cod earlier this month, I took the opportunity to stop by the ‘packy’ in Hyannis to pick up another bottle of Nantucket gin, which I couldn’t do on the summer trip since we went by plane.  While I was there, I noticed a series of gins from the St. George distillery created to express the concept of terroir: where a wine or coffee or food expresses a particular character of where it came from.

Seeing as how the distillery was one of the first of its kind in America, that they started in Alameda next door to one of my favorite wineries, and that it inspired one of my favorite winemakers (Randall Grahm) to try his hand at distilling, this was worth a try.  While they had three gins in the series, I picked the one that I thought would best characterize their work.  The Terroir gin is made with all California botanicals, and certainly tastes like it.  It’s a particularly piney gin, befitting the Christmas season.  Very successful: a trip to northern California in a glass.

Seems like all the west coast gins I’ve tasted tend to the evergreen end of the flavor spectrum: juniper, pine, spruce, and fir, compared to the citrus, herbs and other more exotic flavors of some of the east coast gins.

What to solve over a drink?

We get two cryptics by Hex this week, and since it’s the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s, they’ve given us one puzzle for each.  Start with the National Post puzzle (solved and blogged by Falcon), and then do the Wall Street Journal puzzle, which is a spiral cryptic called “Windup”: appropriate for the last puzzle of the year.   It’s a little harder than their usual WSJ cryptics: comparable to one of their Atlantic puzzles.  But I made it more challenging by blacking out the enumerations of the answers before starting it.  If you’re a cryptic veteran, try it that way.

Hex also have their regular acrostic in the New York Times today (behind the paywall).

Also in the seasonal vein.  Kevin Wald created a great seasonal puzzle called “Time and Tide”, not quite as difficult in the finale as his other puzzles, but nearly as satisfying.

Not a lot else new though, so I worked on a Washington Post straight crossword package Merl Reagle created called “Ghosts of DC.”  It’s a crossword centennial theme with four easy puzzles that contribute to a final puzzle that requires some geography and Washington knowledge as well as puzzle skills.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hitting your children with a metal stick (Solution No 3,307)

Sabers (third from left) and his teammate Jeremy
(second from left) both qualified for JOs
There was no hockey this weekend, since I was preoccupied with hosting a dinner party Sunday and then a meeting and a big tournament for Sabers Saturday (he had one good bout all day, but he picked the right one: he upset the #1 seed in the semis and wound up finishing second, which punches his ticket to the Junior Olympics).

Further, the fencing club has a “Chinese Food and Movies” fencing tournament Christmas Eve (the head coaches are Jewish) and while we’re Christian, our services weren’t until 9:00 pm so we didn’t miss anything.  Since it was not a very serious event, I entered too, even though I’d only fenced twice before, never taken any lessons. What I did know was that the last time I fenced, I noticed I was getting most of my touches by timing my attacks well instead of by any kind of decent bladework.  So I thought, I might actually be less bad at epee than at saber, and a tournament like this was just the place to find out.  

The tournament went pretty well: at least three other families had both parents and children taking part, and I think that in every case except the one where the child was too young for the open event, there were parent-child bouts: in our case three of them.  Sabers beat me all three times, but I didn’t do too badly and wound up finishing higher than he did in the epee standings.

I know the parents had a good time; I think the kids did too.

The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 3,307 is below the fold.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Centennial (Sunday brunch: December 22, 2013)

I have to day that the week in puzzles didn’t live up to my expectations for the week of the centennial of the crossword.  Google ended up being the big surprise, putting an interactive crossword in their doodle Friday and Saturday.  It was a nice puzzle with a theme that paid tribute to Arthur Wynne’s original.  If you didn’t see it already, it’s archived at  I did it in 7:34, though I would have worked faster if I knew there was a timer on.

Turns out there was a helluva story behind the puzzle, as recounted in the Washington Post.   Merl Reagle had a puzzle all ready to go, and then Google learned that Matt Gaffney had just published a puzzle with the same theme.  So they dumped their puzzle, and asked Reagle to come up with a replacement.  Reagle responded like an old pro, and the Google programming team led by Tom Tabanao gave it a very smooth online presentation.

The Post also did a puzzle contest for the centennial, using a Washington theme. The prizes are probably all spoken for now, but it’s still a fun experience.

Kevin Wald has 100 letters in his grid called “In a Century of Letters,” but there’ll be a few more when you’re done.  The grid part is actually pretty easy; it’s the conclusion that will leave you scratching your head for a while until it all comes together.

The National Post cryptic missed the centennial, but did celebrate the start of winter by recognizing two of Canada’s greatest athletes.  One’s a hockey player and the other is a figure skater, so you know it was a hit in our family.

The Wall Street Journal went seasonal too: a Patrick Berry puzzle called Candy Canes.  There's not a lot of interlock between groups of rows, so you really need to get three starting points to finish the puzzle: use a pencil.  I’ve got the solution posted elsewhere on the blog; there’s a fun twist in the finale.

The Times?  They didn’t even give us a crossword for the variety puzzle this week (behind the paywall).  It’s a Boggle-type letter game by Will Shortz in a novel 3-D format.

For some centennial reading after you finish solving, visit the Guardian for a column by Alan Connor or get Connor’s book “Two Girls, One on Each Knee.”

Finally, I got an update from the Cryptic All Stars team.   Their target ship date has slipped from December into January, but the puzzles are being edited now.  The giant poster-sized puzzle is done, and there are extra copies available for $10.00.  I also got the souvenir pencils they’ve promised to their supporters.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Wall Street Journal solution: December 21, 2013

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal weekend puzzle: Candy Canes by Patrick Berry.

Join us this weekend for a centennial edition of Sunday brunch.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Abecedarian jigsaw (Puzzle No. 3,307)

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate to hard.  Took a little while to get a toehold, but the theme was pretty easy.  

Hozom’s comment: Explaining Ourselves, in which Hot and Trazom point out that even good solvers sometimes get totally baffled by a clue.  There are constructive ways to handle this and ways that are not constructive: blaming the constructor is not constructive.  And if I may say so myself, creating a blog to solve and annotate each week’s puzzle, and answering questions about how clues are supposed to be parsed is constructive.  

What got me about the anecdote that Hot and Trazom started their post with was that the correspondent who compared them unfavorably to Frank Lewis said that Lewis’s clues always explained themselves.  I disagree diametrically.  If anything, it was Lewis who was willing to sometimes follow British practice and omit an indicator from the clue.  Hot and Trazom are pretty strict Ximeneans (definition, wordplay, and nothing else).

Solution and annotation to puzzle no. 3,307 will be posted Monday.  Join us this weekend for a special centennial edition of Sunday brunch! 

Two weeks ago, we looked at the alphabetical jigsaw, which was one of Araucaria’s contributions to cryptic crosswording.   Today we’ll discuss its close relation, the abecedarian jigsaw.  Henry Hook and Richard Maltby credit Dogop of The Listener for creating the form (in October 1973), or more precisely adapting it from its block cousin.  

The abecedarian jigsaw is set on a bar grid, usually 12 x 12, so it has 40 clues and answers instead of the 26 in most block versions.  Thus you can’t have only one solution for each letter of the alphabet, but you do have to have at least one of each letter.  Not as elegant, but a little more difficult, since you don’t know the first letter until you get the adjacent clues.   It’s also more difficult because there are more spaces to choose from when placing answers, but then once you get started, you get more help from intersecting letters.  

The past couple of weeks, I solved several of Maltby’s abecedarian jigsaws from Harper’s: it’s a form he’s gone back to seven times by my count (interestingly, the one titled Abecedarian Jigsaw IV actually was the fifth).  One of them was a variant on the variant where the clues were alphabetized by their last letter instead of the first, so the letter frequencies were quite different.  

So speaking of letter frequencies, I learned from experience that it’s better to start solving abecedarian jigsaws with the last clues instead of the first ones.  U and X and Z answers are not only uncommon, but usually pretty obvious in the wordplay, and those also show you how many V, W, and Y answers there are.  After that, the solving strategy is pretty much the same; the key is to get at least three of the longest answers (which usually come in fours as these puzzles have 90 degree symmetry) and place them by process of elimination (if the fourth letter of the long answer is B and you know the only B answer is a five letter word, then if the fourth space of a possible location starts a four letter word that’s not going to work.  

So the alphabetical/abecedarian is a great variant: simple enough that lots of constructors have created them, and common enough to become an institution. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Norfolk Island Pine (Sunday brunch: December 15, 2013)

Here is the official Christmas tree of crossworders, the Norfolk Island Pine.  Why for crossworders?  It’s the most popular (at least here in the US) member of the araucaria family: the “Monkey Puzzle Tree” that John Graham adopted for a pen name.

Araucaria heterophylla isn’t the true Monkey Puzzle Tree: that one is Araucaria araucaria.  But the Norfolk Island Pine is more common and quite appealing to the eye.  I had one for a while while I was in grad school.  

As I was researching the post about Araucaria the constructor a few weeks ago, I learned a couple of things about Araucaria the tree.  First of all, while they’re commonly called “pines” (such as the Chile Pine, another name for Araucaria araucana and the source of Graham’s FT alias: Cinephile), they aren’t actually in the pine family.  And I had mistakenly thought the Norfolk Island they were referring to was somewhere off the Virginia coast.  Actually it’s off the Pacific coast of Australia.

Once your favorite tree is decorated, here are some puzzles to solve.

The National Post cryptic by Hex starts with a Christmas theme.  Falcon has it solved and annotated for you.

The new Harper’s is out, and this month’s Richard Maltby cryptic is titled “Cross-Purposes.”  I thought was a piece of pi^H^H cake: I needed only six answers before I figured out the theme and solved the big long answer across the middle.

The Wall Street Journal puzzle is an acrostic by Mike Shenk.  It’s also acrostic weekend in the New York Times (puzzle behind the paywall): Deb thought it was an easy one. She also has a post up listing some of the TV shows her boss Will Shortz is on, talking about crosswords on their 100th anniversary.

some more links coming later: I have to get to bed for an early game tomorrow.

Friday, December 13, 2013

From the beginning (Puzzle No. 1)

Double issue of The Nation last week, so no new puzzle this week.  I had queued up this puzzle as the next Old Time Hockey post, and as I worked the puzzle, it was just too compelling to just toss up there as a weekly post, so I’m postponing the second installment of the Alphabetical Jigsaw post until Monday.

Puzzle No. 1 (yes, 1, but it wasn’t numbered at that time):

Let’s go back... all the way back.  The Nation has posted a few of the very first puzzles they ever published, and in the absence of a new puzzle from Hot and Trazom, I’ve been working on it this week.  This is Frank Lewis, from 1947, two thirds of a century ago.

The first thing that struck me was the degree that it resembled Lewis’s work from more than 60 years later.  There were the answers split across multiple lights, the cross references, and the loose approach to cluing rules.  Ximeneans would have a heart attack doing this puzzle, but having done the Puns and Anagrams in last week’s New York Times, this looked a lot more familiar.  What’s more, this puzzle made the point to me that Puns and Anagrams is our modern-day link to the cryptics of the past.

At the time Lewis constructed this,  Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword was still nearly 20 years in the future.  Constructing was still decidedly a free-for-all.  There were no expectations, no critics, no web sites to turn to if the puzzle in front of you wasn’t to your liking.  Puzzles were a one-way communication from constructor to solver.  I expect it was a lot more easy then to develop an individual style.

And on top of that, there weren’t the advanced tools we rely on today: the crossword software or even the basic drawing tools.  Grids were done in pen and ink, and dictionaries were weighty books instead of searchable databases.  The content of a puzzle reflected the knowledge and library of its constructor, and thus was much more individualized.

So as I said, this reminded me a lot of a Puns and Anagrams.  Indicators were not obligatory: they were offered at the generosity of the constructor.  So it took me a little while to start making progress.  Once I dialed down my expectations and started thinking more creatively, the puzzle made more sense.  I’m still not done with it, though that’s because I had some other things occupying my time.  This would definitely be hard by modern standards, but Lewis always created hard puzzles.

What an experience (despite the terrible editing by whoever converted this to HTML--there are several mis-numbered clues).  if you’re an experienced cryptic solver, it’s well worth your time to work some puzzles of this era in honor of the 100th anniversary of the crossword.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Picard maneuver (solution No. 3,306)

Though I have never watched any Star Trek other than the original TV series, I at least knew who Captain Picard was.  But I’d not heard of the “Picard maneuver.”  Then I saw this video last week (HT: Neatorama).  I do the exact same thing on the ice all the time.

I don’t care for the polyester sweaters most referees wear; I’ve always worn acrylic ones: first a Bruce Hood model, and currently a Crossbar (both now out of production).  They’re soft and comfortable, but the cuff at the waist is rather tight, especially when they’re going over a protective girdle.  So my sweater rides up all the time.  When play stops, I find myself doing a Picard maneuver to pull the sweater back down.

When my partner has the face-off, there’s a rhythm to it.  Glide by and hand off the puck, skate a stride or two out from the face-off circle, pivot onto a backwards edge, and bend over into a ready position, hands on my knees, as I glide back to my spot at the blue line.  Two tugs at the back of my sweater, and I’m ready for the puck drop.

Solution to The Nation puzzle No. 3,306 below the fold.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

New York Times solution (December 8, 2013)

Below the fold is the solution to this week’s New York Times variety puzzle: a Puns and Anagrams by Mel Taub.

I found a couple of iffy parts here, but most of them had such definite intersecting letters that I was comfortable with the solution.

Done with this?  Why not try a cryptic crossword?  The anagram clues will be pretty familiar, with the added advantage of the clue telling you that you should be looking for an anagram.  I find that the National Post puzzles by Hex are the easiest introduction to cryptics.  We link them here every weekend at Sunday brunch, and Falcon will post the puzzle and annotated solution every Saturday.  Give it a try, ask for help in the comments if you need, and come back every weekend!

Hyannis (Sunday brunch: December 8, 2013)

Not as much time to cook up a fancy brunch this weekend: I had to take an unplanned trip to Cape Cod and back Monday and Tuesday, and I’ve also been spending time on that alphabetical jigsaw I commended to you Thursday.

In the New York Times (behind the paywall) is a Puns and Anagrams by Mel Taub.  I’ll have the solution for you this afternoon.  Blogging at Wordplay, Deb Amlen explains how Puns and Anagrams have grown on her.  I agree that they’re easy for us hard-core puzzle fans, but that makes them a good gateway to the cryptic world.  As I’ve said before, we need to have all the rungs on the ladder: you can’t expect even good straight crossword solvers to jump right into a alphabetical jigsaw or one of Kevin Wald’s brain-busters.  Plus the P&A format lets constructors play with fun anagrams that wouldn’t work so well in a proper Ximenean cluing with definition, wordplay, and nothing else.

Meanwhile, Deb reports that the regular crossword by Patrick Berry has what she calls a “layered theme.”  Just about anything by Berry is worth a go at, so look for the puzzle in the Times this weekend or in syndication next weekend.

The Wall Street Journal weekend puzzle is a Snowflake by Mike Shenk.  A hint is posted if you need it.  Speaking of Mike Shenk, here’s a nice profile from one of the local papers.  Quite a collection of puzzling talent around there: Hex (Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon) also live in the Lancaster-Harrisburg area.

Hex have their regular weekly cryptic in the National Post.  I thought it was more challenging than usual, and there are a pair of 15s in the grid crossed by two 11s.  Falcon guides you through it as he does each week.

For fans of the British style, Liz has a new and possibly fiendish opus posted, including a PDF for those of you who solve on paper.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Wall Street Journal hint (Dec. 8, 2013)

Below the fold is a hint for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: a “Snowflake” by Mike Shenk.

After you’re through with that puzzle, join us for Sunday brunch, or read up about alphabetical jigsaws.  Then come back every week!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Alphabetical jigsaw (Puzzle No. 3,306)

The Nation Puzzle No. 3,306

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): easy.  A lot of anagrams and rebus clues.  The whole left side went pretty fast, and there were only a few bumps in the road.  Even the strange clue at 27a is attainable: a good introduction to the visual puns that Hot and Trazom sometimes throw at us. 

Hozom’s comment:  Monkey Puzzle Tree, in which Hot and Trazom share their thoughts about Araucaria, particularly with respect to his willingness to bend the rules in favor of a promising clue. They also liked the “80 percent” quote which I led off my weekend Araucaria post with.

Back with the solution and annotation on Monday.  Join us this weekend for Sunday brunch!

Alphabetical jigsaw

The passing of Araucaria suggests an obvious topic for this week’s post: the alphabetical jigsaw.  Araucaria is credited with inventing the form, certainly polished it, and may well have been its most prolific constructor (a book with sixty of them was published ten years ago, but alas it is out of print).  The alphabetical jigsaw comes in both block and bar form: the bar form, which we’ll look at next week, is also called an “abecedarian jigsaw.”

The obvious spotting feature of an alphabetical jigsaw is the lack of any numbering of the clues or the grid.  Clues are provided in alphabetical order of their answers, and the solver has to use logic to determine where each one belongs in the grid. 

In the block form, there are traditionally 26 answers: one starting with each letter of the alphabet.  That’s a boon to the solver, since you’re effectively given the first letter of each answer. 

The solving strategy is pretty much set for everyone: run through the clues and get as many of them cold (from the clue itself without any intersecting letters aside from the known first) as possible.  Then mark the enumerations of each row and column in the margin of the grid. 

Here’s the place where you get a toehold: there should be one or two values for which there are only four clues with that enumeration.  You need two or preferably three of the four to get started.  Note the locations of the letters where the clues intersect each other (e.g. the ninth letter of one intersects the sixth of another).  Then figure out which of the words you have have a common letter at that intersection point.  Once you get two of those intersection points, pencil in the three words and see if that gets you the fourth.  Once you’re to that point, it’s off to the races. 

Another tool for placing words is to find the uncommon letters: you know there have to be at least two Js, two Qs, two Xs, and two Zs in the puzzle, and one of each has to be the first letter of a properly enumerated space.  If “zoological” is your Z answer and “fritz” is your F, then you can look for a place where the last letter of a five-letter answer intersects the first letter of a nine.  If there’s only one such spot, that’s where your words go. 

Constructing the block-form alphabetical jigsaw is a little more challenging.  Most of the typical 15 x 15 grids won’t work, either because they have too many answers[*] (most of them are 28 or 30) or because they have squares that are the beginning of both an across and a down (not allowable because they would require two answers with the same first letter).

Now Araucaria being a master, not only did he make excellent grids, he also established a tradition of setting his alphabetical jigsaw clues in verse, two clues at a time.  Other constructors have emulated this touch, which can make the puzzle tougher if the breakpoint between the pair of clues is somewhere other than the break between lines of each verse.

Here’s a particularly lovely example from the Guardian last year.  Post links to more of your favorites in the comments.

*–while it might not be as elegant as having exactly 26 lights in the grid, you could work around that by having one or two answers spread across multiple lights, and thereby work in a 28-light grid.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Balm (Solution No. 3,305)

A Wall Street Journal article week called “Grooming Secrets of the NBA” coincides with the onset of cold, windy weather here.  It had me reaching for my skin lotion even on days I don’t skate.  A couple of seasons ago I turned 50, and around that time I started noticing that my skin sometimes felt raw after a game.

Skating a pair of games is like being outside for three hours in freezing weather with a wind of 10 mph gusting to 20.  It’s not so bad in spring and summer and fall; in fact it’s pretty pleasant.  But in winter, the rinks are as cold as the outside, and when the air is dry, your face gets dryer.

So I started carrying a bottle of moisturizer along with my gear.  The variety I use comes in a very thick little bottle, so I can keep it in my hockey briefcase and it won't break and spill all over my rulebook and manuals.  It’s worth it to get the good stuff; you only need a drop or two, and it doesn’t make my face feel greasy.  I might even use it between games of a doubleheader.  A calmer face makes a calmer referee, and a calmer referee makes a calmer game.

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,288 below the fold.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

John Graham, R.I.P. (Sunday brunch: December 1, 2013)

“Any clue is legitimate which leads, by whatever route, to an answer which, 
80 per cent of the time, can be known to be correct as soon as it appears to the mind.”

John Graham (1921-2013)
Sad news from across the pond.  The Reverend John Graham MBE (Araucaria in The Guardian; Cinephile in the Financial Times) succumbed to the cancer that he informed his fans of last December of via a puzzle.  His final opus was published just two weeks ago, including another message.

At The Guardian, Simon HoggartHugh Stevenson, David McKie, and Christopher Howse share their recollections and insights, and Alan Conner posted a selection of his favorite Araucaria clues.

Cinephile’s last FT puzzle, published this weekend was No. 14,484 (for the FT, not Graham: the British style [adopted by Frank Lewis at The Nation] is to give each puzzle a serial number).  The obituary in the FT is by Colin Inman, and there’s also a comment by Christopher Caldwell linked: Caldwell is senior editor and columnist at the Weekly Standard, a newer (but no less worthy) conservative counterpart to The Nation, showing that crosswords are indeed something to undo the divisions that come up in the rest of our lives.

A virtual wake is being held at Fifteensquared should you wish to share your thoughts and condolences.  Finally, a interview filmed in 2012 is posted below the fold, in which Araucaria shares thoughts on his craft.

So the weekend’s brunch menu starts with a tribute puzzle from the Guardian, No. 26,118.  The creators sign their work at 24d.  Even if you don’t normally try and solve British puzzles, give this one a go along with the rest of us.

The Wall Street Journal has a variety cryptic by Hex called “In the Shop.”  Commenter Meg warns you to pay attention to the instructions.  Hex’s straight cryptic is in the National Post as usual, blogged by Falcon.

The prolific Kevin Wald gets invited to lots of parties because he always brings tasty puzzles.  “Evening Out” and “More Flippin’ Games” are his latest.  The constructor warns of “inside references” in the latter, but if you figure out the rest of the themework, just trust your instincts: there’s really only one letter that can’t be worked out from the theme.

This weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle (behind the paywall) is an acrostic by Hex.

If you’re a Puzzazz user, check out their sale going on this weekend.  There are two free word puzzle books if you follow the directions at the link, there are two free books of your choice (up to $5.00 each) if you buy The Year of Puzzles ($19.95), and everything else is buy one, get one free.

So let’s have Reverend Graham have the last word...

Wall Street Journal hint (November 30, 2013)

Here’s a hint for the Wall Street Journal puzzle this weekend.  As the instructions note, twelve answers have to be altered before entry in the grid.  The unaltered answers should help you figure out what’s been done to them.  As far as I can tell, the altered answers are not necessarily valid words.

Below the fold is a table of which answers are altered and which are unaltered.  Drag your cursor to highlight the answer you aren’t sure of.

At Sunday brunch this weekend, we’ll remember the late John Graham: Araucaria in The Guardian, Cinephile in the Financial Times, and mentor and friend to many other cryptic setters.  Join us, won’t you?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Printer’s Devilry (Puzzle No. 3,305)

Well if you noticed that last week’s The Nation was not a double issue, and we have a holiday coming up tomorrow, and those pieces of information led you to look for a new cryptic from Hot and Trazom on Wednesday and not Thursday, congratulations, you were right!

Link to puzzle

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

Hozom’s comment: “Sending a Letter Off” in which Hot and Trazom show how versatile the deletion element is in cryptic cluing.  I would have spread this theme over several blog posts, since there are so many kinds of deletions: beginning, end, both ends, middle, a specific letter, and much more.  They’re simple enough, and frequently easy enough, that they work well when compounded with other clue types like reversals or anagrams.

This week I’ve been working on one of the original Stephen Sondheim puzzles from New York Magazine: “Printer’s Devilry” (I’ll have to locate my original scan from the microfilm to confirm the date).  Printer’s Devilry is a notoriously difficult kind of clue, usually found not in the normal cryptic mix, but in standalone puzzles where all the clues are of this type.  That’s because there really isn’t a good indicator for the clue type, or even an acceptable direct indication like we have for Spoonerisms.  Further, it needs a pretty lengthy set of instructions plus an example, unless you’re writing for the narrowest of solving audiences.  Afrit is credited with inventing the clue type in 1937, and is duly acknowledged by Sondheim here.

The concept is a variant on the simple hidden word clue, except you aren’t given a definition and the answer is already taken out of the wordplay fodder.  So not only do you have to figure out the answer, you have to figure out where it belongs in the clue.  Both the original phrase and the phrase with the answer removed have to make sense, and if the modified phrase reads smoothly, it’s incredibly difficult.  But if the clue has a fairly obvious scar in it, you can guess that that’s where the answer goes, and get the beginning or end of the answer from the surrounding string.

Since it’d be a spoiler to those working this puzzle, I’ll put the examples and how I figured them out below the fold.

I’m of mixed feelings about seeing more of these in American cryptics.  From what I’ve gotten of the Sondheim so far (9 out of the 36 clues and a handful of additional partials), the results can be really clever or really boring.  So I think the key is to select only the good ones for your puzzle.  But if you need to build an entire grid of these, some of the fill is going to be the kind of stuff that only can be done awfully.  And from there, you get a puzzle that’s neither solvable nor entertaining.  So maybe the way to introduce these is as the theme answers in a grid: selected to be good examples of the clue type, asterisked so you don’t need to try and fit an indicator into the clue.

Richard Maltby?  Mark Halpin?  Other variety cryptic constructors?  How about it?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Spiced cranberry and zinfandfel sauce (Solution No. 3,304)

The solution to The Nation puzzle No. 3,304 is below the recipe and the fold.

This recipe was from Cooking Light about a decade ago, and given how much I like zin, this quickly became an obligatory part of the Mitchell Thanksgiving table.  This is best made two or three days ahead.  The best wine for this is an inexpensive one from one of the wineries that’s known for good zinfandels, like Cline or Ravenswood or Rosenblum (I’ve met the winemakers of all three).  You need the brambly, peppery character of a good quality zinfandel, but the nuances of a more expensive wine are going to get lost among the other flavors.

2 cups zinfandel wine
3⁄4 cup sugar
5 (2-inch) orange rind strips
1⁄2 cup fresh orange juice
6 whole cloves
4 slices peeled fresh ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
12-ounce package fresh cranberries

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and cook 15 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken and sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a bowl, and discard the solids.  Return mixture to pan.  Add cranberries to pan; cook over high heat 10 minutes or until berries pop. Reduce heat to low and simmer 30 minutes or until mixture is slightly thick. Pour into a bowl and let cool.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

New York Times solution (November 24, 2013)

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle, a diagramless by Paula Gamache.

Want some more interesting crosswords?  Check out our Sunday brunch menu this weekend and every weekend.  Today we link to a great new kind of variety puzzle: a Hex Pathfinder by Nathan Curtis, plus a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  Give them a try!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Positively speaking (Sunday brunch: November 24, 2013)

It happens a lot in a hockey game: a winger gaining the puck along the boards and skating over the blue line with the defense in pursuit.  If you’re the ref, you’re watching the play closely, maybe thinking: “don’t hook, don’t hook, keep skating, don’t hook” because the natural inclination of the players is to try and go for the puck as soon as they think it’s in reach.  Then that leaves us officials with a marginal call one way or the other: was it a clean play for the puck or was it hooking or holding?

This time, the defender tipped the puck off the winger’s stick and down into the corner, giving her teammates time to get back into position while the two chased the puck.  Smart hockey. 

After the game, I spotted the player and said: “you’re number 15?”  She nodded.  I continued: “the play where you were chasing the puck carrier and tipped the puck down into the corner?  Good idea.”  I added that I had been a defenseman in my playing days and one of the most satisfying parts of the game was learning tricks like that.  It’s best to play defense with your skates and your brain first. 

And in that same vein, I’ve learned that it’s best to officiate with positive reinforcement first rather than starting from a hostile or antagonistic position with the players.  You don’t want to be like NFL umpire Roy Ellison, who’s been given a week off after he lost his temper and cursed at Washington lineman Trent Williams.  Even though Williams (who himself is black) reportedly directed a racial slur at Ellison, Ellison’s actions reflected poorly on the league and on our profession.  

On the field or online, it’s always best to conduct yourself as though you’re miked up and other people will hear everything you say.

Puzzle-wise, it's definitely a weekend for variety.  The New York Times puzzle (behind the paywall) is a diagramless by Paula Gamache.  Look for the solution here Sunday afternoon.

This week’s puzzle from Nathan Curtis is a cool new hexagonal Pathfinder.  Give it a try and share your thoughts on it with Nathan.

The Wall Street Journal has a Patrick Berry Rows Garden for us this weekend.  If you’re having trouble with it, I have the enumerations for you in an earlier post.  If you’re stuck on the last dark bloom, just trust the force, Luke.  One thing I noticed about this puzzle was that the row answers were all about the same length, so there wasn’t much interlock between the left and right halves of the puzzle, making it harder.  If you you have a couple of longer (13-14 letter) answers in consecutive rows, then the one you get can help you with the intersecting blooms, which in turn help with the long answer in the next row.  But nearly all these were 10s and 11s.  

Don’t expect a Thanksgiving theme in this weekend’s National Post puzzle by Hex.  The NP is a Canadian paper, and Falcon and our other neighbors to the north celebrated Thanksgiving a month ago.  I found part of it easy and part hard.

If you want a suitably themed cryptic to solve while the turkey is in the oven, try this 2008 puzzle by Ucaoimhu.

LizR’s promised Doctor Who extravaganza isn’t up yet.   I’ll keep an eye out.  If you’re a fan of the show, this might be your perfect introduction to Brit cryptics, since you’ll get more answers from definitions and intersecting letters.  When you get them, you can then try to sort out the wordplay.

Finally, when you’re ready to put down your pencil, enjoy this article about constructing in the old days.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wall Street Journal hint (Nov. 23, 2013)

Below the fold is a hint for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle, a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.

Highlight the row you need to see the enumeration for just that row.

Happy solving, and see you at Sunday brunch

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Beyond Spoonerisms (Puzzle No. 3,304)

I was going to carp about rebus clues this week, but Hot and Trazom followed up on my Spoonerism comments from last week in Word Salad, so I’ll postpone the comments I was planning and continue the colloquy instead.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate to hard.  The fours go down easy, and many solvers should be able to fill the grid, but some of the clues aren’t very easy to work out.

Hozom’s comment: Spooner and Company, in which Hot and Trazom bemoan the problem mentioned here last week--while Spoonerisms are fabulous wordplay, constructors have no devious ways to indicate them.  And if you can’t be devious, half the fun of cryptics is gone.

As I said last week, one option might be to make Spoonerisms the theme of a puzzle, in which case you could get away with omitting (or implying) the indicator.  But you’ve got to be in a puzzle venue where you’re not always expected to be by the book (see for example the The Nation cryptic versus the National Post cryptic).  I know from having written a monthly editorial for the train riders’s newsletter in Philadelphia, that if you’ve got a regular writing gig of some sort, you always have a few ideas simmering in the back of your mind or (if you’re more organized than me) on paper somewhere.  Then as more pieces come to you, the concept (or the themework of the puzzle) is fleshed out and you’re ready to finish it for publication.

You can also twist the concept of the Spoonerism like we saw in Puzzle No. 3,302, where Hot and Trazom switched the endings to clue FIRMWARE as FIRE WARM.  Interestingly, that word could have worked just as well as a conventional Spoonerism* (I’m thinking clues like “dead and buried”). But the concept of the wordplay was novel enough that it made me ponder the clue a while even though there was no misdirection in the indicator at all.  

So that suggests that other variants on the Spoonerism could be just as effective, like trading two specific named letters in the fodder, a two-for-two swap, or indicating the swap by position.  Maybe we’ll see some of these in a future puzzle.

*--and thinking about that, I’m going to ditch that symbol I put in the last two annotations to indicate a Spoonerism: we have perfectly good braces ( {{ and }} ) to annotate them.

Back with the solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,304 on Monday.  Join us for Sunday brunch this weekend and every weekend.

Monday, November 18, 2013

New bucket (Solution No. 3,303)

Nobody likes a crabby referee.  And there’s little that will make anyone crabby faster than having your head pinched for an hour and a half.

While USA Hockey started recommending visors for on-ice officials in 2009, I went without one since my hockey glasses gave me better eye protection than a visor could: a stick blade could get under the visor but not my glasses.  But now they’re mandatory, with no exceptions.  So this summer I bought one (a pro-clip model so I can take it off for non-USA games) and installed it on my helmet, which as it was was just big enough.  But the nuts that hold the visor are right over my temples.  Some games, they were OK, but others were excruciating.  So I made an emergency trip up to the pro shop, looked very carefully at the fitting guides on the boxes, and figured out which helmet was the absolute biggest they had (my hat size is 7-7/8 so I can’t ever count on any headwear fitting).

Getting a helmet ready is even more involved than getting a whistle ready, and you’ve now learned much more than you need to know about whistles.  Take off the ear flaps (they’re required for players but not for refs), peel off the CSA and HECC stickers (ditto) for a cleaner look and painstakingly get all the excess glue off.  Put my Hockey Fights Cancer sticker on the back, screw on the visor clips, install the visor, adjust the chin strap, cut off the excess strap and flame the edge so it won’t ravel.
A lot of stuff, but well worth it for a helmet that looks neat and won’t hurt any more.

Not much pain in this week’s puzzle, which had a nice little chain of cross-referenced answers and some signature Hot and Trazom wordplay.

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,303 below the fold

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sprained whistle (Sunday brunch: November 17, 2013)

Hockey can be as rough on whistles as it is on the players and officials.  I had a really good AA pee wee game Sunday morning, and in the third period we had a scrum for the puck right on the blue line, so I had to get up on the boards to get clear of the play while keeping a good view of the puck and the line.  Moments later, the puck got shot on goal, and when I put the whistle in my mouth for the stoppage, I felt cold brass instead of the rubber mouthguard.  The mouthguard got knocked off in the fray and was lying on the ice back at the blue line. One reason some guys prefer tape.

There was similar situation in a men’s league game once, when a couple of players took advantage of the jam-up to crunch me and my whistle into the boards.  I came out of it OK, but one of the welds of the fingerclamp got loose and made the whistle wobbly.  Not a fatal injury, but career-ending (for the whistle, not me...).

Then there was the time last season I had a routine offside, and when I blew the whistle all it went was ‘tithhh.’  The pea had gotten jammed in the chamber.  I shook it, blew again, and got the right sound.  “Sprained whistle,” I explained with a smile to the coach.

Do your stretches, prevent injury.  Stretch your brain now?

Cryptics first.  There’s a new Harper’s out this week, and the Richard Maltby puzzle in it is called “Hex Signs.”  Some of the same strategies for getting a toehold on the puzzle apply here as with the Seven Sages last week.  No further hints, since it’s a prize puzzle.  With the new puzzle up, Erica ought to have her annotation of the November puzzle up soon, but it wasn’t posted, last I checked.

Meanwhile, Hex have their regular straight cryptic in the National Post.  I thought it was a little more difficult than usual.  Both Falcon and I were groping to find a theme in the puzzle: Falcon with more success than me.

And it’s time for the quarterly Mark Halpin opus.  The title: “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch” is a reference to a song from Sondheim’s musical Company.  It’s not too hard, and there’s a fun ending.

The Kevin Wald puzzle I did this week was called Multiples of Pie.  Another great medium-sized theme cryptic.  I’ve figured out half the meta, but not the last bit.  

Two acrostics this weekend: the Wall Street Journal puzzle by Mike Shenk has a seasonal theme, and some interesting bits of information in the clues as well as in the quotation.  The New York Times puzzle (Java puzzles at both links) is by Hex as usual.  Thomas Gaffney fills in for Deb Amlen blogging at Wordplay this week.

No new puzzle yet from LizR, but her fans are waiting in eager anticipation for a puzzle to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who: which premiered November 23, 1963.

Come back for an update when the Nathan Curtis variety puzzle is posted.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Spoonerisms (Puzzle No. 3,303)

Last week’s puzzle included a Spoonerism: a very formal bit of wordplay named for the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, who I’m sure was not nearly as susceptible to such malaprops as the legend might indicate.  I suspect that if his name had been “Smith” his occasional slips of the tongue would never have been noticed.

The best Spoonerisms span the gamut from wry to hilarious, which makes them excellent fodder for cryptic crossword cluing.  But in almost all cases, the indicator will be literal(†) .  That perhaps makes constructors perceive that Spoonerisms are too easy, and discourages the constructors from using them in their puzzles.  But you don’t have to make every clue tough to have a tough puzzle, and clever use of wordplay is just as important as making your puzzles challenging, if not more so.

Is there a Spoonerism this week?  Nope.  (I don’t think that’s a spoiler given the protocol for a literal indicator)  But there are a couple of interesting bits that make this puzzle worth your time.

†--perhaps the exception would be a puzzle themed around Spoonerisms: the indicator could be implied then.

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate, especially if you work systematically on the connected parts.  The bottom half was pretty easy, the top a little harder.

Hozom’s comment: “Pithecanthropus, You Say?”, in which Hot and Trazom respond to my Dido vs. Dido comment from a few weeks ago, debate the merits of sprinkling obscure words into puzzles, and reveal that one of our fearless constructors is not afraid of saying he doesn’t know every word in the dictionary.  I for one don’t mind a few words like these in a cryptic, as long as the cluing makes it worthwhile.  A boring clue for an obscure word makes me think the constructor was lazy, being neither willing to adjust the grid to fit a better word in nor willing to work out a more entertaining clue.

The comments could get interesting: do conservatives like George Will and William F. Buckley have a monopoly on the use of long and unusual words, or are there such writers out there who are on The Nation’s end of the political spectrum?  Pick a side and join in the debate!

Solution and annotation posted Monday.  Join us this weekend and every weekend for Sunday brunch!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Flocky Hockey (Solution No. 3,302)

Ron Flockhart.  Notice he’s wearing the
long pants the Flyers and Whalers
experimented with in the ‘80s!
Hey, it’s Monday!  Time for a solution.

The old-timers had a practice after my game Sunday morning, and some of them use the officials’ room to dress.  As I was getting out of my gear, someone mentioned the name of Ron Flockhart, tripping a flood of memories.

Flockhart was a rookie in 1980-81 (while I was in college), and had a breakout year in 81-82, his first full NHL season.  Things really clicked when coach Bob McCammon put a line together with Flockhart centering Brian Propp and Ray Allison.  They played a big role in the Flyers’ playoff run that year, and after they’d been together a while, writer Jay Greenberg of the Daily News said the line needed a name.

I had tickets to the game the next night, and drew an inspiration from the trolley line I’d take to the city in those days.  So I brought a banner to the game reading “Express to the finals: take the High-Speed Line.”  Greenberg and the team picked up on it, and Propp, Flockhart, and Allison became the “High-Speed Line.”  I have an autographed “Flocky Hockey”/“High Speed Line” t-shirt to prove it.

On the ice, Flockhart was all flash.  He would carry the puck up ice instead of passing, and he could deke with the best of them.  So his first few times around the league, he could deke left, deke right, pull the puck back, and skate by the defenseman.  But soon the defensemen got wise to the move.  Flockhart would deke left, deke right, pull the puck back, and then get rocked by the defenseman who wasn’t fooled this time.

Flockhart was the team’s matinee idol too.  Years after the Flyers moved their practice site from Penn to the Voorhees Coliseum in South Jersey, you could still see the graffiti beside the players’ entrance at the Class of ‘23 Arena: “Ron Flockhart, I love you.”

The solution and annotation to The Nation Puzzle No. 3,302 is below the fold

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The dog whistle (Sunday brunch: November 10, 2013)

The oddball in my whistle collection is my original no-pea Fox 40.  This was designed by a Canadian basketball referee whose whistle jammed at an inopportune moment, so he vowed to make a whistle that didn’t need a ball inside it to generate a distinctive and strong tone.

It has three air chambers to blend three frequencies (like a train whistle), and since you don’t have to blow hard in order to make the pea swirl around the chamber, it’s a very easy-blowing whistle.  So I got it for those times when you have a chest cold or when you’re on an open rink on an icy-cold morning, and it hurts to take a deep breath.

Well one evening I got stuck in traffic on my way to a summer-league bantam game.  While sitting and waiting, I decided it would be a fine time to re-tape my regular whistle.  But when I got to the rink and went inside to dress, I left the whistle in my car.  Fortunately, I had the Fox 40 as a spare, so I went out with it.  Not long after the game started, I heard some funny sounds coming from one of the benches.  At a stoppage I went over, and one of them explained that they’d heard my “dog whistle” and were responding to it.  We had a good laugh over it, and ever since then, I’ve called it the dog whistle.

The reason is it’s a much higher and thinner sound than an Acme, and though it’s a Canadian product, the original Fox 40 never caught on with hockey officials, and some of the old-timers despise it.  Basketball refs love it though, and I’ve seen (and heard) it used in the NFL and professional soccer too.  Nowadays I only use mine for cross-ice mite games where we have two games going on at the same time on the two halves of the rink.  Then the players and coaches won’t be as confused by the whistles coming from the other side.

Definitely a weekend for variety.  The Wall Street Journal weekend puzzle is a Seven Sages by Patrick Berry.  These can be tough until you get a solid toehold in an area.  I find the best way to do that is to find where you have two consecutive answers figured out, then determine which letters those answers share.  If there’s only two letters shared, they have to go in the spaces joining those two words.  Use the directional information with the clues to figure out which way those two letters go, and then complete the words.  From there, you can build on one word at a time.  Don’t forget that you can use the outside quote to guess at some more letters and confirm a suspicion you might have about some of the answers.

Nathan Curtis did get a puzzle posted last week: it’s a type called a Belt Line introduced by Patrick Berry.  Never a bad idea to pick up on one of Patrick’s ideas.  Then he was early with this week’s puzzle: another Pathfinder.  I think this is going to be Nathan’s forte.

Meanwhile the New York Times puzzle (behind the paywall) is a Split Decisions.  Debate below: should we call this a crossword or a non-crossword?

This is supposed to be a cryptic blog, so fortunately we have cryptics this weekend too.  Hex can always be counted on; so can my blogging ally Falcon, who solves and annotates the National Post cryptic.  Go to him for Qs and As.

Go to Xanthippe for a new British-style cryptic called “Bottoms Up” and another lovely picture.  Anyone recognize that lady?  Hit the comments there and tell our friends across the pond where you’ve found her.  That puzzle reminded me of a fairly easy Mark Halpin variety cryptic I solved this week called “Here’s to the Ladies that Lunch.”  For those not up on their Sondheim, that’s the title from a song in Company.

More puzzles from the NPL convention are finding their way online.  Mark Halpin collaborated on a Texas-sized Extravaganza called “A Matter of Con Science.”  Solving that ought to provide a graduate-level education in puzzling.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Grids (Puzzle No. 3,302)

Important note: the enumeration for 15d in this puzzle as published is incorrect.  
Hot says it was supposed to be (9).

I’ve been on something of a Puzzazz kick lately while I’m riding the El or waiting for a train.  Having finished the Mike Selinker book, I’m working on Medium Cryptics with Rare Grids by Harvey Estes.  Estes is known mainly for regular crosswords, but he does block cryptic as well, and these 20 puzzles all have grids that are out of the ordinary (I wouldn’t call them “rare” though). Mainly they have something less than 15 whites in the outside rows and columns, so they aren’t square.

They do work out to be more interlocked than most block cryptics, and where the quadrants intersect, there are words where every letter is checked.  A little more challenging to construct, I imagine. True to the label, they’re moderate in difficulty: a little harder than Hex in the National Post and not as devious as Hot and Trazom in The Nation.

Speaking of Hot and Trazom, let’s go to this week’s puzzle...

The Nation Puzzle No. 3,302

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Hard--several typical Hot and Trazom twists including one twistier than usual (12a). The glitch in the enumeration had me stuck for a while too.

Hozom’s comment: The Long and Short of It, in which Hot and Trazom argue for terseness of clues. Extraneous words violate Ximinean principle (definition, wordplay, nothing else).  We also learn that this is one of the areas where Hot and Trazom have opted not to follow in their predecessor’s footsteps, except when there’s something playful to do with the theme.  

I’ll be back with the solution and annotation for 3,302 on Monday.  Join us every weekend for Sunday brunch!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Whistles, part 2 (Solution No. 3,301)

Look below the fold for the solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,301

A bit of white tape where the
mouthpiece meets the chamber. 
So last week we went whistle shopping.  But we’re not quite ready to go on the ice yet.  There’s still a little preparation work we refs do on our tools to make them more comfortable and convenient to use.  It also individualizes the whistle a little and for some refs, taping a whistle is part of the pre-game or pre-season routine.

Traditionally, we put white athletic tape on parts of the whistle to protect our fingers from the sharp edges of the fingerclamp and protect our teeth from the hard brass and chrome mouthpiece.  But nowadays there are rubber covers that come with the whistles; they slip over the fingerclamp and over the mouthpiece.  I find those more comfortable than tape, but I still wind a little tape on the mouthpiece to keep the cover from slipping down.  That also gives my whistles a unique look.

Then there’s also the bending of fingerclamps not too tight and not too loose.  The whistle needs to be able to go on and off quickly, especially if you’re left handed, but it also has to stay in place so you’re never fumbling around to blow the whistle.  And the fingerclamp has to stay comfortable through back-to-back games.  The fingerclamp also lets you alter the angle of the whistle to your own personal preference.  Most officials wear their whistles on their index and middle fingers; a few use their middle and ring fingers because it protects the whistle more and keeps the whistle a little further away from their mouth.  And some fidget with the fingerclamps all the time.

In our next thrilling episode, we’ll learn that whistles have their own character.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hold the whistle! (Sunday brunch: November 3, 2013)

We interrupt this treatise on whistles for an important message to all sports officials: HOLD THE CALL!

Many of the errors officials make happen because they anticipate a play happening and make the call too early.  We had two examples of this in the World Series just finished (hooray for the Sox!). 
In Game 1, umpire Dana DeMuth called “out” on a force play at second base before he made sure that Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma had actually caught the ball.  To his credit, when he saw the ball on the ground, he got help from his partners and crew chief John Hirschbeck overturned the call. 

To be polite, let’s say the post-game press conference was a well-scripted fiction.  DeMuth spun the situation with all his might to say that he saw the drop happening on the exchange (taking the ball out of the glove to throw it) instead of saying he made the call too early, and that he did the right thing by checking to see whether his partners saw it the same way.  Of course the most important thing is to get the call right, which they eventually did. 
Then in the sixth and final game, I jumped up and started ranting at the TV when Hirschbeck rushed his “safe” call on the botched Cardinal rundown of Jacoby Ellsbury.  You’ll see on the replay that Hirschbeck made his call as soon as he saw the missed tag, and didn’t wait until Ellsbury got back to the base safely.

The official instructions to umpires are clear: “Do not come running with your arm up or down, denoting ‘out’ or ‘safe.’  Wait until the play is completed before making any arm motion.”  In this situation, the absence of an “out” call sufficiently communicates that there was no tag.

Holding the call is something I remind myself about every game.  What I lack in skating speed I try to make up for with situational awareness, which is the ability to identify and react to a situation as it develops.  Where situational awareness gets you in trouble is when unexpected things happen, like the shortstop dropping the ball or an attacker with the puck holding up at the blue line instead of bringing the puck over.  If you’ve wound up for a bang-bang offsides call when the puck is still on the blue line, you’ll look like a fool.

Like a lot of other things that happen in sports, there are life lessons there if you pay attention.  Making decisions in haste is the way to make more wrong decisions. No wrong decisions in the puzzle lineup this weekend, though.  

The Wall Street Journal has a real treat: “Choices”: a variety cryptic by Hex with a quite novel grid.  Be warned it’s harder than most weekend Journal puzzles, but worth your effort.  31a and 8d are pretty obscure: trust the wordplay.  The solution is posted elsewhere on the blog.

Hex also have their weekly straight cryptic in the National Post, solved and annotated for you by Falcon.  I heard half a theme in there about music; it would have been nice for Hex to theme more of the clues.

An uncommon straight bar cryptic is Tom Toce’s latest, published in the new issue of Contingencies.  “No Bells, No Whistles” would be the antithesis of the Mitchell Sunday, as I referee and The Other Doctor Mitchell rings in the handbell choir.  Note a minor printer’s error in that puzzle: there should be another bar immediately under the square numbered 27.

This weekend’s New York Times puzzle (behind the paywall) is an acrostic by Hex, and the monthly bonus puzzle for subscribers is also up: it’s a Fred Piscop puzzle for National Novel Writing Month.

And catching up with Kevin Wald, here’s another small puzzle of his: themed as usual.  Amazing how many puzzles he creates when there must be a lot of work going into each one.

Bonus puzzle: Rock fans should know that BEQ composed a straight crossword in memory of Lou Reed.

Nathan Curtis’s site had a few technical problems last weekend, but it’s working all right now.  No new puzzles yet though.  Xanthippe is feeling emboldened so she is busy creating another new one.

Wall Street Journal solution: November 2, 2013

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle, a variety cryptic by Hex called “Choices.”  This was a hard one by WSJ standards.

When you’re done with this one, join us for the rest of Sunday brunch.  There are plenty of other interesting cryptics and variety crosswords for you to spend your extra hour on!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trivia (Puzzle No. 3,301)

Any resemblance
to my boss is
One of the little details that separate great constructors from the rest is the way they can keep clues fresh.  One way is to throw in a bit of trivia.  Patrick Berry did that with his Wall Street Journal puzzle last weekend.

The answer (third in Wave 2) was “IDENTIKIT”: the tool police departments use to help witnesses develop a composite drawing of a suspect or of a missing person.  Now it’s highly unlikely that anyone other than someone who makes or uses the product would know, so it was really of little or no solving value, but Berry threw us a little nugget of novelty, adding “developed by Smith and Wesson” at the end of the clue.

Now most of us know Smith and Wesson for making guns (a former work colleague liked to use “Smith and Wesson” as hypothetical authors when we were discussing how to search for, analyze, or cite medical literature), so it’s a bit amusing to see their name in connection with something else.  Kind of like how I felt when I saw a General Motors logo on our Frigidaire when I was a kid.

There are lots of such factoids out there, like all the actors who were born in Canada or what “meow” is in other languages.  It wouldn’t be hard to pick out a couple of such facts, or a set of them, and work them into your clues.    

It wasn’t trivia, but something did start to smell funny about a quarter of the way through this week’s The Nation cryptic crossword.  Sure enough, the last row confirms our suspicions.

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard--some more complex wordplay than usual, an obscure word you can get if you think about it carefully, an author, and a famous scientist.

Hozom’s comment: One on One, Part 2, in which we learn that Hot grew up in Lebanon: the one not in Tennessee or Pennsylvania; and that his approach to British cryptics is the same as mine--the satisfaction of solving good clues is more important than the frustration at not finishing the puzzle.  Sounds like both our constructors have some more interesting personal stories to tell, so maybe we’ll get parts 3 and 4 at some later date.

New York Times cryptic crossword solution: October 27, 2013

Below the fold is the solution to this week’s variety puzzle from the New York Times: a straight cryptic by Richard Silvestri.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Handwriting, part 2 (solution no. 3,300)

Thursday I noted that I try to solve my puzzles neatly, even if nobody else is ever going to see them.

Part of it is that my handwriting was more than awful when I was in middle school, so I’m especially aware and maybe even defensive about it.  I worked like hell on it in seventh and eighth grades, made a few changes at the behest of the teacher who was working with me on it, and eventually came to using all caps for much of my writing, which in fact takes after my father, though not necessarily by intent.

The other reason for trying to make neat grids is the extra challenge.  As you may remember, when I work on sudokus, I try to avoid writing notes in the boxes, to make them a bit more challenging.  I know I could write down partials or leftover letters to make anagrams easier to solve, but I don’t feel a strong need to do so, and I’d rather have the satisfaction of doing it all in my head.  I won’t even make notes in the margins, except to call out clues and answers I want to comment on in the blog post.

But I am not such an ascetic when it comes to variety cryptics: there’s too much going on like extraneous words in the clues not to annotate liberally on the page (which is also why I prefer to work most of my puzzles on paper).  Below the solution to this week’s The Nation puzzle is my solved copy of Kevin Wald’s ACPT puzzle from earlier this year (and yes, it was a doozy: harder than usual and with four layers of theme metas.  Go try it.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Whistles, part 1 (Sunday brunch: October 27, 2013)

The Fox 40
Fencers aren’t used to whistles.  I learned that last weekend at the tournament where I was Bout Committee.  When I found out we didn’t have a PA system at the field house, I used one of my whistles to call the captains over and start a round of matches or make an announcement.

The first time I used it, I stepped away from the captains who were already over at my table before blowing it, and two of them looked over at me like their ears were bleeding.  I didn't blow it especially hard or long: just my usual whistle.

I guess they were used to hearing a cheap phys-ed class whistle and not a professional-grade model.  And like a lot of other tools of any trade, there really is a difference.
Acme Thunderer

Hockey referees might be more particular about their whistles than any other sports officials.  Why? Having a good sound matters for everyone, but because we move so much faster than anyone else, ergonomics are especially important in hockey.  We have to get the whistle to our lips safely and precisely, at the same time as we’re skating full-tilt after an icing, or making a hard stop on the blue line.

So our whistles have a fingerclamp which keeps the whistle on the back of our hand while we’re skating.  And when I need to blow the whistle, I make a fist and bring the whistle up.  It’s a great feature. When I was in grad school and rode my bike to campus, I’d wear my ref whistle, so if someone in a car wasn’t paying attention or got too close, I could blow the whistle.  Thankfully, I didn’t need it much, but it worked really well.  Those of you who are urban cyclists might want to visit a hockey pro shop to get a fingerclamp whistle.

Hear that whistle sounding?  It’s your signal to start solving.  How about we warm up with the weekly Hex cryptic in the National Post?  Falcon says it’s a hodgepodge.

There’s another cryptic for us in the New York Times this weekend (behind the paywall).  This one is by Richard Silvestri.  I’ll post the solution Sunday afternoon or evening.

It’s not easy to keep up with Ucaoimhu, since the puzzles on his pages are listed by theme category instead of by date.  So I’m catching up with a few, starting this week with “Baccarat, Etc.” which actually was a September puzzle.  Even though it’s only nine by nine (that’s part of the theme), it’s still got the incredible depth of Kevin’s full-sized variety cryptics.  Smaller puzzles are a great idea: they’re faster to construct and to solve, and they give new solvers a better chance at getting all the way through to the puzzles you solve after the grid part is done.

Once you’ve finished the mental workout of those cryptics, BEQ informs us that our friend from Down Under, Denise Sutherland, has a clue-writing contest up: entries being taken until next weekend.  She’s offering copies of her books as prizes--sorry, the cute fluffy dog is not on the prize list.  So sip your coffee (or that Bloody Mary) and think about the word “INTERCHANGE”

In the regular crossword department, the Wall Street Journal offers a “Riding the Waves” by Patrick Berry.  It’s an easy variety crossword with another nice bonus at the end.

And Nathan Curtis ought to be around shortly with his regular weekend variety puzzle.  I’ll link it here once it’s up.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Handwriting, part 1 (Puzzle No. 3,300)

Is that a 2 or a 3?
While Sabers was refereeing at the Swarthmore Invitational Sunday, I was working the Bout Committee desk: setting the schedule, checking in fencers, sending referees out to their matches, and compiling the results.

It was a huge event: 8 schools, 9 rounds, 20 strips, 23 referees, 207 athletes, 216 scoresheets, 1813 bouts, and 11,576 touches all had to be accounted for.

Now I thought Sabers had bad handwriting (he probably inherited it from his father...).  But it wasn’t nearly the worst I encountered, either from the referees or from the fencers.  Take a look at that example on the right.  Next year I’m giving a prize to the ref with the neatest scoresheets.

As I said, I’m not the neatest writer.  But I’m pretty careful when filling in scoresheets, so the commissioner and statistician will not have to puzzle out what penalties were given.  And even though nobody ever looks at them but me, I’m equally careful when filling in crossword grids.

Part of it is because I usually work in ink rather than pencil (I’m a lefty, so pencils and bad pens smudge my knuckles).  But I guess that if crosswords are about being precise, my writing ought to be too.

Link to puzzle:

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

Hozom’s comment: One on One, Part 1 in which Hot introduces us to Trazom and we learn that Trazom likens the conventions of cryptic construction to the conventions of baroque counterpoint.  I can certainly see that.