Sunday, June 30, 2013

Off to nationals (Sunday brunch: June 30, 2013)

Trip number two starts today.  A couple of months ago, Sabers punched his ticket to the US Fencing national championship in Columbus.  This was his last year in the Y14 category so it gets harder from here, and we'll take the opportunity to get the Nationals experience.

Puzzles this weekend are easy.  So easy that I'm going to offer folks a tougher version of Hex's WSJ cryptic.  That puzzle, "Fireworks" is just 11 by 11, and since the special squares are marked and enumerations are given, you'll get the theme really fast.  I won't fault Hex for making something that easy: their last opus (just two weeks ago!) was pretty hard for a WSJ puzzle, and this makes a nice entry point for those who've never tried a variety cryptic because they're too intimidating.

Nathan Curtis posted a nice Snake Charmer that is a little different than usual in that the words form two overlapping loops rather than a single loop that goes back on itself.  You'll get what I mean when you see that the starting points of one set of words are marked with numbers and the others are marked with letters.

If you didn't see the comment from the June 21 entry here, Xanthippe let us know that she has posted some crossWHOrds and other puzzles in that vein.  They're in the British style, so expect emphasis on the "play" part of wordplay.  Go cross swords with her at  While the site is lovely, unfortunately, the puzzles aren't very printer-friendly.

The Sunday Times variety puzzle is an acrostic by Hex.  Meanwhile, Deb reports (spoilers) that Friday's Times puzzle by Joe Krozel broke the record for fewest words in a grid, though some will grumble at the aesthetics of the result.

If you use Puzzazz, there's an update for you: they now make the New York Times puzzles available for solving in the app.   You have to subscribe to the NYT puzzle site: enter your login info and the puzzles will download to your device automatically so you can solve on the go.  That ought to drive some more subscriptions and also some more Puzzazz downloads.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Making the Wall Street Journal puzzle more challenging

Hex have a variety cryptic in this weekend's Wall Street Journal.  As printed, it's very easy.  Want a harder challenge?  Take away the enumerations from the clues and take away the locations of the special squares, and try it that way.

4 Hack a directory for conspirator
10 Fifty equals a number having flexibility
11 Musician is in love with droid
12 Leaped after the leader made the calls
13 Spool of yarn mostly going up and down
14 Mastermind in Greene novel
15 Republican club outside a capital in North Africa
16 Many a standard situationat a fully booked inn?
17 House left empty by mid-October
19 Crackpot toiling over a carving
22 Gang holding a Biblical kingdom
24 Young socialite took in campaign event
25 A bakery choice pronounced wrong  
26 Part Fitzgerald intended for audiences
28 Trial alternative: settlement
29 Crowd circling Oregon swamp
30 Measure all but the stern of Columbian boat
31 Two companies performing a Ron Howard movie
32 In no hurry taking eggs back?

1 Smooth kind of shot by tonsillitis doc
2 Some biscuits I'm baking for an animated cat
3 Snake I call ambitious  
5 Homes for a bard's first poetry
6 Morning test lacking ethics
7 One supporter behind large sign
8 Cocktail time embraced by lounge performer
9 High fashion, in the opinion of a Wild West sidekick
13 Live dance maintaining an unsafe pitch
17 Enron log tampered with part in aircraft construction
18 Line that's painful in figure of speech
20 Three hemming at mutual pact
21 Consider again about skinny kid's face
22 Charted the comeback of actor Johnny America
23 Wild animal urge breaks up laughter
24 GOP foe backing no evil person
27 Kinky item to download in New York

Friday, June 28, 2013


Double issue of The Nation last week, so no new puzzle this week.  Also no new posts at Word Salad.

At Sunday brunch last weekend, I mentioned that Nathan Curtis’s latest deserved its own post.  Called “A Curtain Call for Borbonicus and Bodley,” Nathan composed it as a warm-up for this year’s MIT Mystery Hunt.  Hunts are gaining popularity, and have been put on in several different cities.  Teams of solvers have to get through a variety of different puzzles (word puzzles and non-word puzzles, many absolutely unique) and travel around the campus or city to get clues and eventually find the finish line.  From what some have said about the experience, you'd better be prepared for an all-nighter or two.  

What I find about the “hunt” puzzles I’ve tried is that they need your undivided attention.  Some of them have no rules, but knowing the theme and some of the previous answers will point you towards a solution.  It’s not the kind of pastime I can put on the clipboard and devote a few minutes to before bedtime.  Not all of us have the time or inclination for such intense events, but Nathan’s warm-up will give you an idea of whether this is a kind of recreation you’ll find enjoyable.  

So go over and meet Borbonicus and Bodley.  Even if you don’t go all-in and attempt to solve the whole thing, there are a few puzzles that work well on a stand-alone basis, including the cryptic “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?” which Nathan posted a few months ago and a very clever variety crossword in the labyrinth style (Anyone know who originated it?  Most of what I’ve seen are from Mike Shenk.) Blinky, that Inky, Pinky, and Clyde will help you with.  There are also puns to groan at.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Handshake line (Solution No. 3,287)

Congratulations to the Blackhawks.  It's not often that you see both teams pulling their goaltender at the end of the game, but it happened tonight when the Hawks got the tying and Cup-winning goals within 17 seconds.  I liked the promo the NHL ran a few times during the broadcast, showing some famous players like Lanny McDonald in the post-game handshake line, with the tagline: "it isn't yours until you shake on it."

On to the week's puzzle, which was another one that will give the purists fits.

Themework: none, other than the circular cross-reference.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): very hard

Political or musical content: none

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,287 below the fold.

Plan C (Sunday brunch June 23, 2013)

Sometimes you just need to have a backup plan to your backup plan.  I thought we were all set.  On the way back to the hotel after my mother's birthday party Saturday, I spotted an IHOP right next to the parkway on-ramp.  We'd sleep in, stop there for brunch, and get right on the way home.

We pulled in Sunday morning.  A few people outside, but it didn't look crowded inside.  Perfect.  We got out of the car, walked up, and one of the outside people, who was in an IHOP uniform, told us the restaurant wasn't open yet: the grand opening would be Tuesday.  Plan B was the other IHOP on US 1.  Drive over there, see a dozen people outside waiting for a table.  At that point, nobody wanted to wait, so we grabbed bagels and coffee and got up the road.  We made another stop three hours later, and there was no question what we'd order: pancakes, eggs, bacon, biscuits, french toast.  If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Puzzles were (mostly) easier this weekend.

The New York Times has a straight cryptic by Rosalie Moskovitch.  The solution is below the fold.  Deb Amlen was on her vacation, so Thomas Gaffney has comment at Wordplay.  I was not all that impressed.

The Wall Street Journal has a Spell Weaver variety crossword by Mike Shenk.  They added bars to the grid, sacrificing aesthetics in the interest of making it easier for solvers to figure out where to put the answers.  Interestingly, I got most of the lower half before making much in the way of inroads on the upper half.  Usually I start with a bunch of answers scattered through the grid.

Falcon is still on vacation, so he has a temporary post for the National Post puzzle.  You'll be seeing stars after you finish it, and it's not because it's difficult.  Seeing as how Falcon gave me my first crossword blogging gig, I'll put a quick solution up in the comments there as soon as I find my copy of the puzzle

Nathan Curtis's latest deserves its own post, so I'll blog on that Thursday.

Friday, June 21, 2013

On the Road, Part I (Puzzle No. 3,287)

Today finds me on the first of five trips this summer, but if there's signal and a puzzle, there'll be a post.

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  very hard.  The solvers who complain about Hot and Trazom’s cluing will find things particularly tough.  Even those of us who like the style are probably going to miss some of the twists and rely on intersecting letters to get some of these (23a in my case).

Hozom’s comment:  From Point A to Point B (Part I), in which Hot and Trazom debate two-word answers, and particularly the ones where the answer as encoded in the wordplay is a heteronym of the answer as defined.  Methinks the correspondent that Hot and Trazom refer to as “John” protests too much.  It's a cryptic: it's meant to play with letters and words, and heteronyms are nothing if not wordplay.  Not to mention that refs play a fairly significant role in some heteronyms....

Back with the solution on Monday.  Join us this weekend for Sunday Brunch, and I'll probably throw a quick In the Pink in the mix somewhere too.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bonus hockey (Sunday brunch: June 16, 2013)

I think it was Bill Pidto who coined the phrase "bonus hockey" for NHL overtime, but it's caught on in the Mitchell household.  The Stanley Cup final is extraordinarily intense: if you doubt me, just watch the linesmen.  They throw extra intensity into their signals, even the washouts (the swinging of the arms when there's no offside as the puck enters the zone or is turned around at the blue line), and the faceoffs get put down a little harder.  The guys who are there know they earned their way by solid work through the playoffs, and want to show Toronto that they made the right choice.

Overtime in the Stanley Cup is even more intense, and if you watch closely, you'll see players seeing what they need to do and trying to will their bodies to get to the puck or to take out an opponent, but cruelly, it just isn't there.

Want to feel a little of that?  It's crunch time for solvers: will you have to work overtime to solve this weekend's cryptics?  Will you get them done by Sunday night?

The July Harpers is out, with a Richard Maltby puzzle.  Emily may still be busy with her video series, but she should have the solution and annotation to the June puzzle over at

The Wall Street Journal weekend puzzle is a Hex variety cryptic called "Loose Ends."  It's tough: definitely the hardest weekend puzzle I've seen in the Journal in a long while, if ever.  Each of the answers has had its last letter relocated to somewhere else in the light, so you can't necessarily use intersecting words to help you.  My approach was to pencil in the unmodified answers anyway, and then I could figure out what letters were possible at a particular intersection.  If you rule out everything but one letter, you can fill in at least one half of the light.  The solution is below the fold.

The regular straight cryptic by Hex is in the National Post.  Falcon is back from vacation with solution and annotation.  He's also posted last week's puzzle in case you didn't get a copy elsewhere.

The Times has a Hex acrostic behind the paywall.  Deb Amlen has Hex's comments (and spoilers) at Wordplay.  It's a Father's Day quote from an expert on parenthood.  I look down on the site where his house used to be every morning as I ride the train into town.

The weekly Nathan Curtis variety puzzle is a Snake Charmer.  Nathan thinks it's a harder one.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


No issue of The Nation this week, so no new puzzle to blog on.

I've never played Merion Golf Club (I have played Merion Cricket Club, but that's another story), but I got to walk the course and watch some excellent players there during the U.S. Amateur in 2005 and the Walker Cup in 2009.  It's a cryptic-lover's golf course.  I won't walk you through the whole thing, but the 10th hole is a good example of what I mean.  

It's a pretty short par four (just 300 yards or so), and there was some speculation that a few of the big boppers would try and drive the green: it's about a 270-yard carry.  But assuming you play it the conventional way, the hole offers a tremendous mental challenge.  It's a dogleg left, but curving steadily rather than being angular like most golf holes.  So if you shape your tee shot right to left (a draw if you're right-handed), there's more fairway to work with.  Otherwise, you need to have pretty good distance control so you don't hit through the fairway and into the rough.  

Once you figure out the shape of your tee shot, you have to decide how far to hit it.  The farther you go, the less room you have for error.  And you also want to leave yourself a second shot of a comfortable distance.  If you have a hard time controlling a 50-yard shot, then you'd better take a couple of clubs less of the tee so you can hit from 80.  

Then you have a tradeoff in the shape and layout of the green.  If you take it easy on the tee shot to make sure you're in the fairway, you have to take your approach over a big intimidating bunker.  To avoid the bunker, you have to gamble more off the tee.   And the green is longer than it is round, so some shots have a lot of green to work with and some have less.  

So the smart way to approach this hole is to know your own game, and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses.  Stay within yourself, figure out your own best approach and then hit your tee shot to that spot.  If you bring a puffed up attitude to the tee, this hole will take you down a notch or three.  Pretty good for a dinky little par four.

By the way, my pick to win it is Charl Schwartzel from South Africa.  He hits his irons well, which means he can bring the ball in to the tricky greens from all locations, and his putting has been tested in the pressure of a major (2011 Masters).

His Tigerness is not going to win.  The rain and the disruption is going to work against his approach to the game.  He's best at courses where's he's had plenty of time to prepare: he wants to be able to visualize the shot and execute it.  He's not much of an improviser or shotmaker any more.  Furthermore, the way the rough has grown (it wasn't much of a year for snow peas in Philadelphia, but you can hear the grass growing), there are going to be lots of awful lies and bad luck for players, and Tiger doesn't deal with that kind of adversity very well any more.  Meanwhile, the soft conditions will let a lot more players into the mix.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Still want more roses? (Solution No. 3,268)

It was an interesting weekend working on all those Rows Gardens.  At one point, I had three partially-done ones on the clipboard.  I get a decent start and then get stuck.  With these ones it wasn't until the third or fourth look that I got a word to get rolling again, but eventually I found them and finished the puzzles.  

Want some more?  Here are some links--some are mini-puzzles that are somewhat easier to solve since there are fewer blooms of each color and fewer places to put them. That's a good concept for both solvers and constructors.  If small puzzles catch on, maybe more people will give constructing a try.

And the solution to this week's The Nation cryptic.

Themework: units of money (in green) figure into many of the across clues

Musical content: 5a

Political content: 4d

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,286 below the fold.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A birthday bouquet of roses (Sunday brunch: June 9, 2013)

(updated with New York Times diagramless solution)

A fine time to find a bouquet of roses: my mother's birthday (it's one of the ones with a zero) is today.  Now it happens that the peonies are stealing the roses' thunder this week in the garden, but on the puzzle clipboard, Rows Gardens reign.

A Rows Garden consists of 38 six-letter hexagons called "blooms" intersected by 12 rows.  The top and bottom rows are a single nine-letter entry, while the rest are composed of two answers totaling 21 letters.  The rows are denoted with letters and their clues are given in order.  The blooms are divided into sets of white, gray (sometimes pink), and black: their clues are arranged randomly.  Furthermore, the bloom letters can be entered clockwise or counterclockwise, and they can start anywhere in the hexagon.

Rows Gardens are usually harder than most other variety crosswords, and they must be a bear to construct.  Every letter is checked, and you're really constrained in the fill you can use.  Got a wonderful clue for a seven-letter word?  You're out of luck unless you can use it in a row.

Trip Payne and Nathan Curtis give credit to Patrick Berry for creating the Rows Garden concept, and one of Berry's is the variety puzzle in this weekend's Wall Street Journal.  These puzzles really play to Berry's strengths in meshing words.

Berry is certainly the best-known constructor in this genre, but others have tried their hand too.  Aries is definitely the most prolific though.  He reached #156 last month (#1 is here), and he's done us the additional service of offering both hard and easy versions of each of his puzzles.  The grids and the clues are the same: the only difference is that the easy puzzles list the bloom clues in the order they appear in the grid.

Nathan also happens to offer a Rows Garden, though definitely out of the ordinary.  First of all, there's a meta you have to deal with: encoded in blooms letters that are not used in the intersecting row (the instructions in the puzzle make it clearer).  Second, he offers both versions with both straight and cryptic clues for the same answers.  He originally wrote the straight, and then was convinced to "cryptify" it.  Thank you for the effort, Nathan.

Allergic to roses?  There's a Fred Piscop diagramless behind the paywall at the New York Times.  I'll blog the solution here on Sunday, while Deb Amlen will post comments (spoiler warning) at Wordplay.

If all those blank grids leave you hungering for a crossword that looks like a crossword (i.e. with black squares), Hex have what you want at the National Post.  See Falcon's blog, though it may be late owing to Falcon being on vacation.  Fittingly, some of the clues in the Hex puzzle are overseas too.

My favorite rose garden?  The one at Cline Cellars in Sonoma: if you're ever in California wine country, you should visit.  It's on the road back to San Francisco, between the big left-hand bend in Route 121 and Sears Point, and they're open late.  It's a perfectly-placed stop for getting out of the car, tasting a few wines, walking around the garden, and bringing home a jar or three of their Mourvedre hot fudge sauce.

New York Times solution below the fold.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Puzzles for freedom (Puzzle No. 3,286)

Well, not quite puzzles, but he sure deserves honorary citizenship in the puzzlers' republic.

Zeynep Tufekci of technosociology:
  • Perhaps one of the most striking attempts to pierce and criticize the veil of censorship on Turkish media came from a Quiz show host whose “Guess the Word” program airs. As citizens of Turkey watched with their jaws on the floor (and many standing up and clapping in front of their TV sets according to my social media feeds), he asked his quests to guess words such as “resistance,” “censorship,” twitter”, “tear gas”, and more. He finished his 70 questions with questions whose answers were “resign” and apologize.
    The next day, he was not allowed to air live and his fate remains uncertain.
God bless him and his fellow Turkish citizens.
Meanwhile, The Nation readers are puzzling for money.  Number 3,286 has lots of clues involving money from different countries.  The clues are on the hard side but the theme helps limit some of the wordplay and give you another way to attack a clue.

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard.  I found the initial toehold in the lower right quadrant.

Hozom's comment:  "This Post Is Not About Itself," in which Hot and Trazom add the "self-reference clue" to our field guide.  They don't use those kind of clues often because they think they're too easy, but misdirection can be particularly effective when applied to a real easy clue, because it can catch solvers trying to outwit the puzzle [guilty as charged].

Hot and Trazom say clues with deliberate errors are their favorite subspecies, but I don't concur: those clues are too trite for me.

See you back here this weekend for Sunday brunch: we'll have a new source of variety puzzles to introduce.  

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Oklahoma (Sunday brunch: June 2, 2013)

American Red Crosswords
Donate here and solve
I'm actually a Sooner by birth: I was born in Fort Sill while my father was serving his hitch in the Army.  Though I haven't been back since, the recent spate of tornados in Oklahoma brought that connection to mind, so let's dedicate this week to recovery and rebuilding there.

You can help by supporting Lutheran Disaster Response (the beneficiary of our local Oktoberfest) or the American Red Cross.  If you want a crossword connection, Rex Parker and Patrick Blindauer edited an all-star cast of constructors who contributed puzzles for their Sandy relief project called American Red Crosswords.  Donate and solve.

Regularly-scheduled puzzles for the weekend include a pair of acrostics: one is by Mike Shenk in the Wall Street Journal: it was fairly easy, especially if you picked up on some particularly apt word choices.  The other is by Hex in the New York Times (behind the paywall).  Deb Amlen of Wordplay says it's for procrastinators.  The June bonus puzzle for NY Times subscribers is also up: it is by Fred Piscop and is called "Candy Shop."

Hex's puzzle at the National Post is blogged as always by Falcon.

While looking at the list of American Red Crosswords constructors, I discovered that Andrew Ries has a puzzle site, with a monthly Rows Garden.  I'll tackle the latest and let you know how it went.

Also new this week is a shop at Patrick Berry's site.  There you can purchase The Crypt, Patrick's big collection of cryptic and variety puzzles.  I've had an enjoyable time working through those the last coupla months.

Nathan Curtis has a Snake Charmer for us.  The first solver to comment said it was fairly easy.

(posting early since Sabers has a tournament: check back for updated links)
(OK, links are updated.  Sabers finished 13th in a decent field of 25 at the prestigious Mr. Ma Open: came from behind to win his first elimination bout and then lost to the third-place finisher)