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.

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