Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Week in Antigua (Sunday brunch: March 31, 2013)

Creating the carpets (picture courtesy
As I compose this week's Sunday Brunch post, I'm enjoying a cup of coffee from Antigua, Guatemala, and recalling my visit there in 1979.  Raydoc had gone to Quetzaltenango for a couple of months on an exchange program with Project Hope, and the rest of our family came for a spring break visit.  I spent some time out in the rural areas helping train local health workers (and ruining my French for life), and then we toured some other parts of the country.

The trip coincided with Holy Week, and we got to see one of the country's richest traditions: the processions through town in Antigua.  People use stencils to create elaborate carpets made out of colored sawdust and flower petals.  Then groups of men bearing huge floats on which are sculptures of Jesus carrying the cross, Mary, and others walk through the carpets, the way Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, with palm branches and cloaks spread before him.

How about some elegantly patterned carpets of letters? We'll start with the block cryptics then.  Hex in the National Post are already looking forward to April Fool's Day.  Falcon wasn't tricked, of course.  He has the solution at

The New York Times has a cryptic byRichard Silvestri behind the paywall.  Deb Amlen   has comment (and spoilers) at Wordplay.

The Wall Street Journal has a new variety puzzle by Patrick Berry called "Pairing Up."  You have to fit two letters into some of the spaces, but you're not told where.  You'll need to start in one of the corners. Get one of the words right on the border, and use the intersecting words to figure where the double is.  If you're still stuck, I have a hint grid and solution posted.

I also was thinking of Guatemala this year because two doctors from Guatemala City are here at Penn this academic year for studies in epidemiology and evidence-based practice.  I get the privilege of teaching them the ins and outs of performing systematic reviews and assessing the strength and validity of research evidence.

(additional puzzles to follow)

Holy Week procession: 

Wall Street Journal solution and hint grid (March 30, 2013)

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend's Wall Street Journal puzzle: "Pairing Up" by Patrick Berry.  It's set up so you can get only a few letters if you want: just highlight the boxes you want answers for.

The second grid shows where words start and begin, which will make the puzzle much easier.  If you don't want this strong of a hint, don't scroll past the picture of a Holy Week carpet in Antigua, Guatemala: look at the first grid only.

When you're done with this puzzle, stay a while and enjoy Sunday Brunch: a collection of links to other new cryptic and variety puzzles posted here each week.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bon voyage, Kate (Solution No. 3,276)

A few months ago, I mentioned the four Atlantic District officials that are working IIHF tournaments this year.  The one I get to skate with sometimes, Kate Connolly, leaves Sunday for Ottawa and the Women's World Championship.  But first her team has the league finals this week: they got a goal with less than two minutes to go to beat the green team in the semis.  That was good to see: the Stumblebums are one of the teams I look forward to reffing since they're such a friendly bunch. (but the gray team and the Brewers are just as nice, and the Cobras too, and I don't want to leave them out)

Kate has blogged about her previous IIHF assignments in China, France, and the Czech Republic, sharing stories about the cities and the people, and some pit talk from the games.  Now she's got her biggest opportunity yet: a good showing, and we might have an Olympian in our league next season!   Bon voyage, and have a great tournament!

Now to this week's puzzle solution:

Puzzle No. 3,276

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard—misdirection, a bit of crosswordeese, cross-references, and some secondary definitions.  Get through this and you’re ready to try some of the British puzzles.

Legend: "*" anagram; "~" sounds like; "<" letters reversed; "( )" letters inserted; "_" or lower case: letters deleted; "†" explicit in the clue, “^” first or last letter or letters, “{“ relocated letter or letters, “¶“ letter bank

solution and annotation below the fold

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Some more words on four-letter words (Sunday brunch: March 23, 2013)

Read on: new puzzles at the bottom of the post!

A few months ago I commented on the subject of four-letter words: the type you aren’t supposed to say on television.  I didn’t intend to get back to the subject so soon, but some recent reading and puzzles deserve comment. 

In particular, the sports page of the Wall Street Journal (yes, they really do have a sports page, though they continue to hold the line against comics) had a feature on how broadcasters have to adjust their language when they move from the locker room to the microphone.  Dan Dakitch says he reads the newspaper out loud to himself for ten minutes before going on the air just to hear himself speak without swearing. 

And last week, the Journal had a feature on comedians who work clean, noting how many in the business know that obscenity can be a crutch to lean on to get the audience’s attention, but eventually its shock value wears off.  It takes more work to prepare a routine that doesn’t use the seven words George Carlin built his most famous routine on, but real talents like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby do so and you hardly realize it. 

As I said before, crossword constructing is largely a G-rated enterprise, with some notable exceptions like The Onion, which revels in double entendre and toilet humor.  Mainstream setters rarely go near the line, let alone over it.  When they do, it’s usually to facilitate a particularly clever or playful clue.  With the indirect way words are clued in cryptic crosswords, such opportunities present themselves regularly.  Hex had one in their variety cryptic this weekend at the Wall Street Journal (solution below the fold, hint grid posted previously).  The second “n” clue prompted titters from the commenters who got there first.  While the grins were fading, the solvers figured out that this puzzle is not as hard as you think 

Brendan Emmett Quigley also has an alter ego who works blue.  Very blue.  His Bawdy Crosswords are definitely in the "not safe for work" category, but they provide another dimension in constructing and solving.  Take "Tunnel of Love" for example (repeat warning: NSFW).  There's a visual double-entendre to the theme entries in that one as well as the wordplay.

Back to the usual weekend fare.  Hex is in the kitchen for us, and the National Post takes a peek at them while they're working.  The New York Times has a Hex acrostic (behind the paywall, Hex's comments and spoilers over at Wordplay).

And we have another chef and another course in our menu:  Nathan Curtis offers a tasty mix at Tortiseshell Puzzles.  His latest is a Rows Garden, which compares well to the Patrick Berry originals.  He also constructs cryptics, like "What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?"  Welcome, Nathan: we look forward to seeing more of your work every week.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wall Street Journal hint grid (March 23, 2013)

Below the fold is a hint grid for this weekends Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: a cryptic by Emily Cox & Henry Rathvon titled "What's My Line?"

Each row and column is marked in clear text with its enumeration.  That's the first thing you should be using to try and place your answers, and there's nothing about it you should feel guilty for.

If that's not enough, highlight the spaces above or to the left of the enumerations, and you will see white text telling you which set of clues is used for the corresponding line.

See you at Sunday brunch this weekend!

Puzzazz review (Puzzle No. 3,276)

I did finally get around to getting the Puzzazz review committed to ASCII.  Look for the full review below this week's The Nation puzzle.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard.  A bit of a British feel to this one, with more cross references than usual.

Hozom's comment: Turnabout is Fair Play (but not exalted), in which reversals and their indicators are discussed.  Reversals play well with others: they are easy to integrate with other clue types.

[full Puzzazz review below the fold]

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Solution No. 3,275

Sorry for the delay in getting solutions out: it was DVARP meeting weekend and we're in crunch time with a new fare system being proposed for our trains and buses among other stuff.

On to the solution (below the fold):

Link to puzzle:

Themework: “Snap, crackle, pop” is the slogan for Rice Krispies cereal

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): Easy

Political content: 11a, 9d, 18d, and a couple of dictators nobody likes at 2d, 20d

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wearin' o' the green (Sunday brunch: March 17, 2013)

Below the fold is the solution to the 3/16/13 Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: Cloverleaves by Patrick Berry.  Thanks to Hople and all who noted an error in the grid (a line in the wrong place).  The grid has been updated.

St. Patrick's on a Sunday?  The Phillies will be wearing their popular green uniforms for their spring training game in Clearwater, and Joe Conyers played Danny Boy as an encore with the Main Line Symphony Friday night (showing how much he learned from Edgar Meyer as well as from Hal Robinson).  Puzzlers?  We get the pot of gold.

The Wall Street Journal has a Patrick Berry "Cloverleaves."  These are hard puzzles to get a toehold on, since the winding "clover" answers are not enumerated and the row clues are given in random order.  The only place you can start (unless you guessed the theme answer before anything else, which I did) is with the first or last entries of each "clover."  If you're really stuck, I have posted a hint grid with the breaks between answers marked.

The New York Times has a diagramless by Fred Piscop, behind the paywall.  Wonder if it's a themed grid?  A shamrock would make a nice diagramless  I won't be able to get it until Sunday afternoon, but I'll post a solution as soon as I finish it.  Meanwhile, Deb Amlen will have her comments (spoiler warning) at Wordplay.

On the cryptic side, we have our regular Hex puzzle in the National Post which of course is themed  (and I see Falcon was thinking the same as I was).

We also have the new Richard Maltby puzzle in Harpers which has been reported to be "diabolical."  Publication of the April Harpers means that Eric should have the March Harper's solution and commentary posted soon at her blog Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues.  In the meantime, she's been having a go at the Guardian, which means she's smarter or more persistent than me, or both.

Update: And indeed Erica has found time to blog the Harper's (her verdict: meh grid, with some nifty clues amid the cruft) and also introduce us to Blogjob, her new video series.  Episode 1 features her friend Emily, a manual typewriter, and a carrot...

Wall Street Journal solution (March 16, 2013)

Click over to Sunday brunch for the solution to today's Wall Street Journal puzzle: Cloverleaves #2 by Patrick Berry, as well as our regular weekend menu of cryptic and variety crossword links.

Wall Street Journal hint grid

Below the fold is a grid you can use if you're having trouble with the Cloverleaves puzzle by Patrick Berry in today's Wall Street Journal.  The red lines mark breaks between words in the "clovers."

editor's note: thanks to Hople and all who noted an error in the grid (a line in the wrong place).  The grid has been updated.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Puzzazz (Puzzle No. 3,275)

Apologies for the late posting: your host was a little preoccupied today.

Well, I've installed and used Puzzazz for a week.  Done a The Nation cryptic, done some other cryptics, straight crosswords, and miscellaneous puzzles, and purchased a book of puzzles for it.  My review will follow soon.

This week's The Nation puzzle

Link to puzzle:

Hozom's comment:  A New Frontier in Artificial Intelligence in which we meet Dr. Fill (groan),  who finished the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament ranked in the top 100, but couldn't go out for a beer with his fellow solvers: not because he was underage, but because he's a computer program.  Hot and Trazom would love for someone to start teaching Dr. Fill how to solve cryptics.

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

High-sticking (Solution No. 3,274)

There are three parts to rule 621: High Sticks.  My game Sunday morning involved all three.  First I had a routine minor penalty for high-sticking (621b), when the stick of a white team player made contact with the helmet of a red team player.   No big deal: assess the penalty, answer the coach's "why'd you make that call" question, drop the puck.

Then with about three minutes left in the third, we saw the other two parts of the rule.  Part 621d prohibits slap shots in the lower age categories (10 year olds and under).  So when a 10-year-old defenseman gets the puck at the point, he usually wings it up in the air at the goal, since he can't take a slapper and he's just learned how to lift the puck.  The white team player did just that, and one of his teammates, standing right between the circles, did what comes reflexively, and tried to hit the puck.  He got it, but the problem was the puck was about eye-level when he did so, and part 621c says you can't hit the puck with a high stick.  You probably guessed what happened next: the puck went in the net, almost in slow motion.  I was right there on the line watching it all unfold, so the instant the puck crossed the line, my hands were up in a big, emphatic wash-out: "No goal!  No goal!  High stick!  No goal!" and then a point down to the far end of the ice.  The coach didn't argue, I skated to the scorer to officially disallow the goal, and the game ended up 3-1 for white.

After the game, the coach came to shake my hand, agreed I made the right call, and told me it would have been the kid's first goal of the year.  The game's funny that way...

On to this week's The Nation cryptic.

This one was crafty.  I fell for some of the misdirection which had be stuck for a while in the NE quadrant (3a didn’t misdirect me though).  To get unstuck, I had to erase the partial 7d I had penciled in, after which 16a went quickly, fixing the mistake I had in 7d.  

The other bit of crafting worth noting in this puzzle is the well-chosen indicators.  A good indicator will either tie in to one of the halves of the clue, or try and trick the solver into thinking it’s a different kind of clue.  Another piece of trickery, harder to pull off, is to make the indicator not look like an indicator, so the solver can’t figure out where the wordplay ends and the definition starts.

Picking indicators may be a case where two minds are better than one.  The indicator is a fairly small part of the clue, and you can change it around without tearing apart the rest of the clue.  I wonder how many of those devious indicators came courtesy of Hot and Trazom’s test solvers.

Political content: 27a

Musical content: 14a (one of my less favorite composers), 6d (what I listen to rehearsing while I type up annotations), 24d

Solution and annotation below the fold.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Acrostic weekend (Sunday brunch: March 10, 2013)

Hope you like acrostics, since both the Times and the Wall Street Journal have them this week.  The Times puzzle is behind the paywall, but Deb Amlen's blog post with Hex's comments aren't.  Deb is also blogging from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament this weekend.

The Wall Street Journal acrostic is by Mike Shenk.  I haven't solved it yet since the Java version was missing.  They use a weird publishing service for the acrostics, so you may find the PDF easier to work with.

So since we have those acrostics, let's look at another source: LyrAcrostics by Dr. Awkward.  The good doctor has been constructing since 2004.  Puzzles come out on an irregular schedule, about ten a year, but with that much of a backfile, you could spend a good amount of time solving them.  The feature is that the quotes are song lyrics, so you might find yourself humming along.

Two things about these puzzles prevent me from giving them top marks, even if there were a Java version available.  First, knowing that the quotes are from song lyrics make them easy to get, even if they're from a genre that you're not big on.  The world of books from which most acrostic quotes are taken is much bigger and less predictable.  Too often, it's like the Wheel of Fortune TV game show, where you're trying to see how few letters you need to solve the puzzle.  Second, Dr. Awkward favors one-word clues.  While that makes the puzzle less easy to solve, it takes out room for cleverness.

By contrast, Shenk's puzzle has fewer, longer word answers, with some of them being interesting littl bits of trivia (Hex do that in their acrostics) rather than just vocabulary exercises.  They're a steady solve rather than the alternate racing and head-scratching of the LyrAcrostics.

At least there's one cryptic to solve this weekend thanks to Hex and the National Post.  Savor it to the core.  If you need more cryptics, there's the Trip Payne archive we visited about a couple of weeks ago.

Elsewhere in the catching-up department, Patrick Berry's Kickstarter project: The Crypt, has reached its goal so Patrick is finalizing the puzzles to send out next month.  There's still time for you to contribute, and now you know the project is a go, so stop by and join it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Another way to support your constructors (Puzzle No. 3,274)

Two weeks ago, I posted on crowdfunding of puzzle projects as an alternative to publishing books.  There are lots of good things about it: it makes it easier for new constructors to get paid for their work (traditional publishers would rather work with established names than take a chance on someone new); it gives constructors an opportunity to try out new kinds of puzzles (ditto), it makes the economics work for a small press run, and it's often cheaper for us solvers since middlemen and paper companies are cut out of the process.

This week, Hot and Trazom point out another advantage of new publication platforms: you can put them on iPads and other mobile devices.  They proudly announce Out of Left Field: a collection of their first twenty The Nation cryptics, published by Puzzazz.  They have apps for iOS devices and for Kindle.  Hot and Trazom like the platform not only for its look and interface (it has a handwriting recognition feature), but also for its particularly elegant hint options: you can get little hints like the dividing point between wordplay and definition in a clue (great for beginners) or bigger hints like multiple letters.

The app is free, and there are some free puzzles to try out.  You pay just for the puzzle e-books.  Out of Left Field is just $4.99 (a quarter a puzzle: you can't play pinball for a quarter any more!), and new editions will be out every six months.  I'm going to give it a try, and will have a review here for you next week.

On to this week's The Nation cryptic...

Puzzle No. 3,274

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate, not as easy as it looks.

Hozom's comment: "'E-book'? That's a word?" in which we learn that Hot solves puzzles on his iPhone  and Trazom favors Across Lite on his computer, and both of them occasionally feel guilty about spending too much time solving.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ripping (New York Times solution: March 3, 2013)

Look below the fold for the solution to the "Takeaway Crossword" by Matt Ginsberg, published in the New York Times Sunday, March 3, 2013.  There's a completed grid plus a list of original answers with the letters omitted from the lights shown in red.

After you get the solution you came for, hang around, take a look at the rest of the Sunday brunch menu, and come back every week!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Hi, Erica (Sunday brunch: March 3, 2013)

We have a new friend on the cryptic blogging scene, or at least new to me.  Please say hello to Erica Dreisbach, once of Brooklyn, presently of Chicago, and proprietress of the fabulously-named Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues (I don't think I could be that creative).

Erica (who does not seem like a blockhead, despite what her drawing might suggest) offers solutions and pictorial commentary on the Harper's cryptic, but not until the day solutions are due, so you cheaters aren't gonna get any help from her.

You won't get the full annotation of the Harper's over there, but then again if you're trying to tackle the Harper's, you're probably good enough at solving that you don't need the easy ones explained.  Some of you braggarts out there might say you only read Erica's blog for the pictures and would never look at the articles (surrre....), but whatever, go look.

Now there won't be a new Harper's puzzle for another couple of weeks, but there's still solving to do this weekend.  The Wall Street Journal has a Marching Bands variety crossword by Mike Shenk.  "Fun" seems to be the popular description: I agree.  I think the secret to satisfied solvers is to make things just hard enough that you can make steady progress but not race through the puzzle.  The Marching Bands format is pretty good at that, aside from the overlapping words at top and bottom.  If you're going to get stuck, that's probably where it'll happen.  The solution is posted separately.

Over at the Times (and behind the paywall) is a "takeaway crossword" by Matt Ginsberg.  I don't think I've seen the puzzle or the byline before, so look for a post on it later this weekend, in between my games, Bangle's moves in the field test, and Sabers' qualifying tournament for nationals.

Hex will have their regular weekly cryptic at the National Post, and Falcon will have solution and annotation for you.  I think that's about it for new puzzles this week; if you're like me you still have some more of the Trip Payne puzzles left to do.

Enjoy your weekend, Erica and other friends, and don't let The Hawk get you.

Kneeing (WSJ solution: March 2, 2013)

Welcome, Wall Street Journal solvers.  The solution to this week's Marching Bands is below the fold.

I liked it since the Marching Bands format is conducive to steady progress, not like where you get one quadrant in a flash and then are completely stuck on another quadrant.  Rows 2 and 3 were the slow spot for me, but once I got 2r, we got right back into gear.

The title of the post came from the kneeing call I had last Sunday (I'd punned on "tripping" Thursday, which is different from tripping on puns).  I'm not one of those refs who can mentally replay an incident  in slow motion after seeing it: I have to rely on situational awareness to anticipate and watch the hit.  So with a minute or two to go, I saw a collision coming between the biggest player on the black team and the biggest player on the white team: white about to run into black.  Yet when it was over, the white player was down on the ice with the wind knocked out of him.  I realized that the black player had brought his leg up as he was about to get run into, and so while he didn't initiate the contact, he got the penalty. Kneeing is one of the calls that's so rare you have to look in the rulebook after the game to refresh your memory and make sure you got the interpretation right.  That might have been my second kneeing call in twenty years.