Monday, April 29, 2013

Cookie Monster (Solution No. 3,281)

Boy this was a doozy.  I didn't get 14d Thursday, and it cackled and taunted at me from the page all afternoon and all night.  Once I got the answer, I had an idea of how it parsed out, but you really have to sit down and count "nom"s to understand it, and then, it's elegant in how entirely by the rules it is.

Some will complain about the difficulty, but it's the best straight cryptic I've solved this year.

Solution and annotation below the fold. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

New York Times diagramless crossword solution: April 28, 2013

Click over (or scroll down) to Sunday Brunch to get the solution to this week's New York Times variety puzzle plus lots more good cryptic and crosswords to solve this week.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike (Sunday brunch: April 28, 2013)

"Twisty" is the operative word for some of the weekend's variety crosswords too.  There are at least four puzzles where words aren't traveling the straight and narrow.

There are two from Nathan Curtis today, since he posted this weekend's entry early.  That one is a "Some Assembly Required": a cross between a crossword and a jigsaw puzzle.  The way I approach these is to get some different colored pencils and shade over each jigsaw piece as I place it.  Start in the corners and work your way to the center.  Once you place a couple of pieces adjacent to each other, they will greatly narrow down the pieces that will fit nearby.  Great challenge.

Nathan also tried out an "Around the Bend" (originated by Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder, we're told).  The last letters of each word are turned around to become the first letters of the next word.  Unique.

The Wall Street Journal has a Labyrinth by Mike Shenk.  It has some similarity to the jigsaw crossword in that there are normal acrosses to help you fit the words, but the intersecting words are streamed together with no enumeration.  You have to spot the letter patterns within that winding stream that approximate the location of a word in the stream, and then you can work out from there.  If you're having trouble with it (I didn't think it was very difficult), I've posted a hint grid elsewhere on the blog.

Puzzazz launched its "Year of Puzzles" project with the standard freebie: it's a double spiral called "Dawn in Seattle" with a meta reading through a shaded path.  It's not too hard, though you'll probably want an eraser.  Or do it on their iPad app, and it will look really nice.  The whole hunt is a little pricy at twenty bucks, but it's more than just the puzzles themselves (of which there are 18).

You prefer your puzzles cryptic and your words in straight lines?  That's OK.  Hex have their weekly puzzle in the National Post.  Falcon reports that it does turn a page though.

The New York Times puzzle (behind the paywall) is a diagramless by Fred Piscop.  I'll have the solution here Sunday night.  Deb Amlen at Wordplay (spoiler warning) reports there is a theme to it.

Bonus: Play Colossal Cave online!

Solution to the New York Times diagramless is below the fold.

Wall Street Journal hint grid: April 27

Below the fold is a hint grid for this weekend's Wall Street Journal variety crossword: "Labyrinth" by Mike Shenk.  The hint grid shows the starting points of the labyrinth answers.

Friday, April 26, 2013

You are in a maze of little twisty passages, all different (Puzzle No. 3,281)

Have you been reading Word Salad this semester?  Taking notes?  Well here is your final exam.  There are more twists in this puzzle than in the International House of Martinis, but there's nothing obscure or unreasonable in the answers.  All of them are things that Hot and Trazom have been discussing on their blog.  Don't believe me?  Take 14 down:  Go “om nom nom nom nom” and go “om nom nom nom”—that’s what 26 do (3,2,4)

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): very hard. Several of the clues stumped me for a while.  I broke through with 26a, got some more, and was stumped again on a few more individual answers,which finally came to me in the morning. You need hints?  I'm ready: ask in the comments.

Hozom's comment: Setting an Examplein which Hot and Trazom discuss how rules can be bent in the definition instead of in the wordplay.  In particular, some people differ on whether or not it's fair to give an example of something as a definition of its class, such as "tabby" as a definition of "cat."

New York Times crossword constructors often use example definitions in their straight puzzles.  They have the advantage of being really brief, which is good when you have a limited amount of real estate on the page.  But usually they give you some kind of indicator to warn you this is an example definition, and most people consider that a sufficient concession to the solver.

BTW, if you don't get the title of this post: congratulations, you're under 45.  Go here.

Solution and annotation posted Monday-join us this weekend for Sunday brunch!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Finger food (Solution No. 3,280)

ed. note—Apologies to Hot and anyone else whose comments disappeared: I was clearing out some spam, and deleted too many posts.

A fun theme in this puzzle, one of the kind you don't realize is a theme until you get to the bottom of the puzzle and see the connection.

Themework: Hard, until you figure out the theme.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):

Solution and annotation below the fold

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spaces (Sunday brunch: April 21, 2013)

As I continued to work on The Crypt, I came across a variety cryptic with a remarkable feature: blank spaces in which one could write the extraneous letters taken out of each clue and spelling out some meta-solution.  What a convenience!  I'm so used to having to pencil them in next to the clue number and make sure not to write anything else nearby.  Thank you, Patrick.  All other variety cryptic publishers ought to take note.

Where else I would find these kind of spaces handy is in puzzles like the new Sixes and Sevens (subscriber link) by Richard Maltby in the latest Harper's and other puzzles where you have to figure out where certain answers go.  As a means of keeping track of which answers are placed and which aren't, I put the location next to the clue after I place an answer.  So the first entry in row 3 would be "3a."

Maltby likes the Sixes and Sevens format.  I think he does these at least once a year.  If you're new at them or other puzzles where some of the clues are unnumbered and you have to figure out where they go, here's one way to attack them:  First go through all the numbered clues and solve as many as you can.  At that point, you may be able to place a few of the unnumbered clues that have uncommon letters, but be careful; if a pattern of a few letters can fit several common words, don't fill it in yet.  Now comes the key part: go through each of the unnumbered clues and figure out which unnumbered spaces it can possibly fit in.  If you're fortunate, and you've gotten enough of the intersecting words, there'll be only one place for some of those answers.  Each successive word you fill in narrows the field for the other words until you get most of the first batch of answers placed.  At that point, your partials are more complete, and might lead you back to some of the answers you missed the first time.  It goes like that two or three more go-rounds until the full puzzle is solved.

The new Harpers (and the passing of last month's contest deadline) also means that Erica has last month's solution and critique over at

Hex have a very easy variety cryptic in this weekend's Wall Street Journal.  If you have been intimidated by puzzles with funny-looking grids and sections without numbers, try this one.  90 percent of the puzzle is straight, and the second stage is particularly easy if you think logically.

Nathan Curtis has been remarkably prolific lately: this week he has another Pathfinder.  So if you strolled through the Harper's and WSJ puzzles, this ought to give you enough of a challenge.

The Times has a Hex acrostic behind the paywall.  It is bird-themed, and rather than telling Deb Amlen something about the construction of the puzzle, they shared a birdwatching story.  The National Post cryptic is also bird-themed and blogged as usual by Falcon to wrap up your weekend.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Ellipses... (Puzzle No. 3,280)

Puzzle No. 3,280

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): difficult.  Another tough one to start with, but once I got about halfway through, the rest of the solution was at hand.

Hozom's comment: "To Be Continued," in which Hot and Trazom introduce a new solver to the clues that start and finish with ellipses.  The ellipses don't really make a difference in solving; they just splice two consecutive clues together into one coherent sentence.  It might be to make a very a clue lacking proper grammar or a short clue (the brevity of the clue itself being a demonstration of the constructor's skill) read better, or it might be a target of opportunity where the constructor could find a common theme between two clues.

In straight cryptics, these are mostly little bonbons that constructors toss in as ornamentation: they're not essential to the puzzle (though sometimes British constructors [who use these features more] build a theme around them.  But in variety cryptics, continuation clues might be the heart and soul of the puzzle.  In its extreme form (done several times by Stephen Sondheim, among others), all the across or down clues are strung together into a story or a letter, and the solver has to figure out where one clue starts and another ends.   Got an example of one of these to share?  Post a pointer to it in the comments.

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle 3,280 will be posted Monday.  Join us this weekend for Sunday Brunch, including the latest Harpers.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pavlova (Solution No. 3,279)

Bangle likes meringues (see 2d), so for Easter dessert last year she made a Pavlova, the national dessert of New Zealand and Australia.  It’s a soft meringue shell filled with vanilla ice cream and kiwifruit and other fresh berries.

Solution and annotation for Puzzle No. 3,279 below the fold. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bob Machler, RIP (Sunday brunch: April 14, 2013)

Just the puzzles this weekend: I have an obituary to write instead of a blog post. 

A good weekend for variety puzzle lovers.

Nathan Curtis offers us a Spiral, and some comments on how he gets the inspiration for them.  Sometimes you encounter words that fit together particularly well, and you think that would be a neat starting point for a puzzle.  Then you just keep building out from there, hoping not to fall into a rut along the way.

The Wall Street Journal has a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  Earlier in the week I got through a variant Rows Garden that was a bonus puzzle from The Crypt

The New York Times puzzle (behind the paywall) is a "Getting to the Point" variety crossword by Will Shortz.  Deb Amlen blogs it at Wordplay.  Willz says it's a one-of-a-kind

Cryptic fans are not forgotten.  Hex have one for us in the National Post, but you may need to wait for the solution and annotation, since Falcon is on vacation.  He does have the puzzle itself posted though.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Survivors (Puzzle No. 3,279)

The late posting of this week's puzzle link is brought to you by colon cancer screening, which the US Preventive Services Task Force and major medical organizations like the American Cancer Society recommends you have when you turn 50 and at regular intervals thereafter.  I've written several reports on the topic over the years (and I'm going to be working on a new report on colorectal cancer staging); now I got to experience it firsthand (well, not exactly hand).  The preparation wasn't fun, but wasn't as bad as I feared.  The procedure itself, as I knew from that earlier research, was pretty easy.  They gave me a sedative, and next thing I knew it was over.  There were two other reasons I made sure to get screened: my mother and Paul Stewart.  Both of them are colon cancer survivors, for which I'm quite thankful.
Photo courtesy NHL Officials Association

Paul Stewart and I have a few things in common (besides the receding hairlines): we're both University of Pennsylvania alumni (and were defensemen there), our sons are the same age, and we both talk to the players a lot on the ice.  If you remember the beer commercial where some NHL officials were miked up: Stewy was in about half of the plays they showed.  I loved the commercial because it showed that the NHL was just like men's league, but with a whole lot more skill.
This month marks 10 years since Stewy's milestone 1,000th game, which in turn was a milestone 5 years following his colon cancer diagnosis and treatment.  My mom had her 5 year milestone last year.  Thanks to the the doctors and other professionals who took care of them, they're both still with us and doing the things they love.

So if you're 50 and you haven't had a colonoscopy or other screening test, ask your doctor about it the next time you see him or her.  I want all of you to enjoy many more years of puzzle solving.

We should have known from last week's edition of Word Salad that some tougher puzzles were on the way.  Hot and Trazom use several of the rule-benders they wrote about in this week's puzzle, and they've already inspired some discussion over at the official site.  I think there's a lesson there.  You can do a by-the-book puzzle that's hard or easy, and the solvers will solve it and thank you.  But the puzzles that are off-kilter get people really thinking.  The challenge is to get them to have more positive thoughts than negative ones.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): Hard.  I got the right half before the left half, and it took a little while to get a toehold.  But once you get the 15 down the middle, things will start falling into place.

Hozom's comment:  Hidden Meanings, in which Hot and Trazom explain "sandwich clues" and point us to Peter Biddlecombe's clue contest in the Sunday Times (i.e. London).  

Solution and annotation posted Monday: join us for Sunday brunch in the meantime!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Rocks (solution no. 3,278)

I spent a substantial amount of time this weekend extracting two rocks from locations where I didn't want them.  Two very different rocks.

Rock number 1 was a shade over an inch long and weighed a tenth of an ounce.  It had become lodged in the drain pump of the washing machine Sunday, causing the washer to stop dead in its tracks.  A little internet sleuthing suggested that a foreign object like that would be a likely cause, and that the pump wasn't all that hard to access, so I gave it a try.  It got a little wet, but lo and behold, I found the rock had found its way out of someone's pocket, into the washer, out of the tub, through the hose, and eventually into the pump.  Considering the amount of mineral salt on the rock's surface, it probably was in there a while.

Then this evening, I turned up the second section of the garden, so I could get some lettuce seedlings in (I'd found some nice-looking ones at the garden store and wanted them growing ASAP.  You'd think that after double-digging the garden for twenty years you'd have excised all the rocks, but I guess I go deeper and deeper each year.  This one was the biggest I'd ever gotten out: about two feet long and 100 pounds by our estimate (a fine physics and math lesson over dinner for the children).  It was tedious and strenuous work, but I realized I could "float" the rock out by prying it up a little bit with a shovel and working dirt under it, prying the opposite side and cribbing it, and back and forth until I could get a rope around it and pull it out.  Just what I needed after a frustrating workday: a job that depended on nothing else besides how hard I worked at it.

Sometimes puzzles are decidedly a slog: the good thing is that when that happens, nobody is insisting we finish them.  Blogging FT would be a job; blogging The Nation is a pastime.  So here's your solution, below the fold...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Last Word (Sunday brunch: April 7, 2013)

If there's been one common element to my solving this past week, it's the one word at the end that I just couldn't get.  They were especially plentiful in the block cryptics in Patrick Berry's "The Crypt" but 3,278 was like that too (13d had me stumped for a while).

What to do when that happens?  It depends on the situation.  With a block cryptic, I'll put it aside and hope the word comes to me the next time I pick up the puzzle.  With the FT, I won't bother unless I'm only a word or two from finishing: for me they are just too hard to be enjoyable.

The time I'm most likely to resort to Google is when the missing answer is a pop culture reference, like the Rhianna (wasn't that a Fleetwood Mac record?) album in Nathan Curtis's new Pathfinder (*).  I have no hope at those, and I'm not good at movies and TV shows either.  Composers and jazz artists? No problem.  And I'm OK on classic rock and soul.  I might also go to the computer to check a pop culture reference when I think I have it but I'm not sure.

The weekend puzzles didn't give me such problems though.  The Hex acrostic in the Wall Street Journal was a breeze, even though I hadn't seen the quote before.  I got a word in the quote that indicated a timely theme, and then it was off to the races: figuring out all the related words I had partials on, and the bonus of many related words in the clue answers.  Quality construction is what you get from Hex.

Hex also have an acrostic in the New York Times: it's behind the paywall as usual, but their comments over at Deb Amlen's blog are worth reading anyway.  I might even go get the print paper to do the puzzle.

And the Hex cryptic at the National Post has a classical theme: so I'd better be able to get those all in one go like Falcon did.

That Pathfinder was great.  Maybe I'll post some tips later on if that will encourage you to try it.

*--There's also a nice easy Snake Charmer over at Nathan's site

Friday, April 5, 2013

Riddles (Puzzle No. 3,278)

Word Salad has been posted a little later than the puzzle the last couple of weeks (that's OK by me): thus the Friday posting this week.  This week's installment, "What's so Great About Two," begins with Ximines' three-part definition of a cryptic clue: "1) a definition, 2) wordplay and 3) nothing else," and goes on to describe clues that break that rule, which happens to be one of the rules Hot and Trazom are fairly observant of.

Like most questions about the strictness or leniency of cluing, Hot and Trazom get an earful from both sides.  This time the correspondent who wishes for the less-conformist approach gets to be heard from.  Frank Lewis, longtime constructor for The Nation, reveled in non-standard clues, including clues with three parts and clues with only one part, which I for lack of a better term call "riddles."

At their best, these clues are true wordplay.  They come in several different flavors, as shown in the examples at Word Salad:
CANDLE A wicked thing (6)   Here the wordplay is in the clue.
LAST TRAIN Presumably one doesn't run after it? (4,5)   Sort of a double-definition in one phrase, with some irony added.

However, if you don't recognize the twist, they look like clues from a straight crossword (and I've seen some FT puzzles that seem only 80% cryptic).  My view?  As they say, it's better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.  But you'd better bemuse the solver before you ask forgiveness for the clue.

This week's puzzle doesn't have any riddles, but it does have a few of the other twists Hot and Trazom have blogged about, starting with the answer spread across two lights.  There's also a very obvious familial relationship to many of the clues.

Link to puzzle:

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

Hozom's comment: Roasting Chestnuts (the column that came out after last week's puzzle), in which Hot and Trazom present examples (particularly anagrams) that are so fitting that constructors come back to them over and over (to the chagrin of some solvers).  Is "astronomers" the only word that's found its way into two chestnuts?  ("no more stars" as well as "moon starers")

Solution and annotation posted Monday.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Opening the Crypt (Solution No. 3,277)

Apologies for posting delays: there've been connectivity issues around here the last coupla days.barga

Those of you who supported the Kickstarter for Patrick Berry's The Crypt should have received a bunch of PDFs yesterday.  My clipboard is nice and full now, and there's even a bonus 19 x 19: it's good to give the customer more than he bargained for.

The solution and annotation to this week's The Nation cryptic is below the fold.