Saturday, August 31, 2013

Old Sconset Golf (Sunday brunch: September 1, 2013)

Hole #6 is a very short par 4.  I birdied it Monday thanks to an ugly
approach shot that still rolled to five feet from the hole.
One more travel-related post before the summer ends, and another Siasconset peculiarity.

The Old Siasconset Golf Club is said to be the oldest non-municipal public golf course in the nation, though it hasn’t been in continuous operation all that time.  It opened in 1894, and some parts of the original course remain.  Sabers and I get a few rounds on it every summer.

This may be the closest any of us can come today to the golfing experience of a century ago.  No carts, a simple clubhouse, and a golf links in its natural state.

The routing has changed over the years as a result of land sales and such circumstances, but the oddity of three par-3s of 200 yards or more, a couple of par-4s under 300, and a dogleg par-5 where the short shot is the one off the tee speak to this course’s time.  Meanwhile, the winds make every hole play differently from day to day.  From the tee of #8 Saturday with the wind at my back and a firm fairway with very short grass, I hit a three-iron about 250 yards.  Monday, the wind was in the other direction, knocking down my four-iron to where it barely cleared the red tees 120 yards out.

I imagine it’s like Muirfield with long rough waving at you and the wind blowing a different direction every hole.  On paper, it should be an easy course; but if you insist on playing the way you would at home, she will not bend.  The firm conditions and tight lies gave me fits at first, causing me to leave approaches long and chips short, but Monday I resolved to listen to the course.  I kept the ball in the fairway (most of the time), played bump-and-runs, and had a much more successful day.

I suppose you could make an analogy here: American cryptics are the kind of golf courses where yardages are marked on sprinkler heads and you expect balls to stay on the green when they land there. This course and its Scottish counterparts are like British cryptics (and some The Nation puzzles): the clubs, the balls, and the rules are the same as on our side of the ocean, but the land is naturally uneven and yes, sometimes unfair.  You need creativity to conquer it, as well as a sound golf/puzzling game.  

If it’s too rainy for golf and you don’t have a jigsaw puzzle to work on, you could do some of these crosswords:

The New York Times puzzle (behind the paywall) is a themed diagramless by Joe Fagliano.  If you need the solution, it’s posted here.

The Wall Street Journal has a novel variety puzzle by Patrick Berry (who else?) called Belt Line.  Some found it hard, others found it easy.  The starting points of the horizontal belts are shown on the grid, but you’re on your own for the verticals and for all the enumerations.  I didn’t get much of a start from the horizontals (you can place the first and last words in each belt using the given start points), but I had a lot of the verticals, so I eventually just took the plunge and put a few of the verticals where I thought they belonged.  I had to erase a couple of the initial guesses, but it was enough to get a couple more horizontal words, and it was really enjoyable to see the grid fill up from there.  If you’re still stuck, a hint grid is posted, along with enumerations.

Hex’s block cryptic in the National Post is blogged by Falcon.  I didn’t see the theme, but I found it more difficult than the usual National Post cryptic.  Falcon wrestled with it too, and in the process found the theme.

Xanthippe has taken the week off after leaving us with such riches the past month.

Nathan Curtis’s weekly variety puzzle should be up later today.  [update: and here it is...  It’s a puzzle type I haven’t seen before: another variation on the Marching Bands called “Four Winds.”  The good thing about this is that the answers in the spirals are clued in random order, making this more of a challenge than the average Marching Bands.  Drop over and send some encouragement if you liked it.]

Your humble blogger.

Wall Street Journal hint grid: August 31, 2013

Below the fold is a hint grid for today’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: “Belt Line” by Patrick Berry.  There are seven horizontal “belts” of continuous words each looping around two rows, intersecting with seven vertical “belts” each taking up two columns.  The published grid gives the starting point of each numbered horizontal belt; you have to figure where the vertical belts start.

My advice is to take your best guess at one or two of the intersecting partials to start placing the vertical belt words.  I had to erase my initial guesses a couple of times, but once I got a foothold (part of the lower left quadrant in my case) it was a real pleasure to see the belts come together.

If you’re still stuck, the hint grid will tell you where each of the vertical belts start (they all run clockwise too).  For those who are completely flummoxed after that, I’ve listed (hidden from casual view) the enumerations in each belt.

Well done, Patrick!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Editors wanted (Puzzle No 3,292)

No, not for Hot and Trazom, who have done a good deal of editing themselves, but for just about anyone else who intends to have someone apply ink to pieces of paper and then sell the resulting product for cash money.  As an editor myself (I’ve edited the train riders’ newsletter in Philadelphia for more than twenty years: a couple thousand pages and millions of words), I cringe at seeing some of the stuff that makes it into print, even in major newspapers.  I sometimes cringe to re-read earlier blog posts and other online publications of mine too, to be honest.

First it was desktop publishing, and then it was blogging.  Each of those reduced the number of steps between the producer of an idea and the consumer.  In fact, the invention of the printing press started the process--before then, written works were either copied out by the reader or by someone the reader commissioned to do it (like inking a Torah).  But it also reduced the number of eyes of people perusing the work and querying the author if s/he really intended something to read the way it does.

So we’re in the same boat with puzzle-related stuff.  We have the great fortune of the Web bringing us many more choices of puzzles to solve.  Twenty years ago, Games magazine and its peers were the main source of new cryptic and variety puzzles in America.  Today there are blogs devoted exclusively to Rows Gardens (as well as to cryptics published in national opinion magazines...) and Games is working hard to survive.  Authors and content have increased: editing resources have not kept pace, leading to books that read like a blog archive and posts where the blogger didn’t realize he forgot to update the instructions from a previous puzzle.

I worked a bunch of the puzzles in Roger Wolff’s new book of variety cryptics while I was in San Francisco and Nantucket.  While the puzzles were enjoyable, there were moments in most of them that I found a bit jarring.  A good editor would have noticed them and suggested revisions.  In a self-published book, the author is in it alone, or mostly alone.  Wolff acknowledges that lack, and thanks the purchasers of the first edition who e-mailed corrections and complaints.  But there are still some clues that don’t work quite right, and some bits of fill that would benefit from revision.  Wolff’s style is clear and steady, most of the themes work well, and the puzzles are pitched at a moderate level of difficulty that should satisfy most solvers.

Worth buying?  Yes.  There’s definitely still a place for paper and pencil (though I would have preferred to get these in Puzzazz and save the printing and mailing expenses) and all solvers ought to have at least one actual books of puzzles to work on when the captain has turned the “fasten seat belt” sign on and all electronic devices must be powered off.  But if something’s worth printing and selling on Amazon, it’s worth paying an editor to look at.

You might wonder if there are errors in this week’s The Nation puzzle, but I didn’t find much of anything to complain about: impressive for a puzzle where there are so many theme- and cross-references.  We’re back to the weekly schedule this issue, and back to school, so Hot and Trazom had no qualms about making this a hard one.

Puzzle No. 3,292

Link to puzzle:

Hozom’s comment:  “More Unique,” in which Hot and Trazom elaborate on the subject of clues with more than one answer, and remind us of another excellent creation (by Kevin Wald and Guy Jacobson) in the NPL book Hot and Trazom edited.  Like the “Clinton elected” puzzle, this had two distinct solutions.

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard, though getting easier once you get the theme figured out.

Themework: lots of cross references.

The adjective that came to mind when I was working this one was “jazzy.”  There are themes and variations (though not “Theme and Variations” as Sondheim and Maltby have each constructed) and I envisioned Hot and Trazom having a good time working on this: each riffing off a particular set of notes.

Comment at will.  But no hints until Monday!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Jigsaw puzzles

The ballpark version of the “40 cloves of garlic”
chicken sandwich from The Stinking Rose.
Seemed to me that the cooks at the Giants game
aren’t able to count to 40. 
[bumped since I finished the Project Sondheim comment]

Something about jigsaw puzzles that you only do them on vacation, and family members who generally aren't interested in such mental exercises get into them to the point where you can’t drag them away.

Double issue of The Nation last week, so no new puzzle for us.  New cryptics for Sunday Brunch this weekend, or work on a few from last weekend: Xanthippe posted four.

Meanwhile, I brought along a couple more Stephen Sondheim originals, and solved one today: “Assemblage Line.”  Discussion below the fold since it includes spoilers.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Siasconset Bookstore (Sunday brunch: August 25, 2013)

If you are the parent of a 12-year-old and a 15-year old, you have to be prepared for awkward questions: “Why is Dad going into the bookstore for a bottle of wine?”

The answer is something of an inside joke, peculiar to Siasconset (pronounced and often spelled ‘Sconset--that's a great entry for the bottom or right line of a crossword by the way, with all the common letters.)  ‘Sconset is a village at the east end of Nantucket Island, where Raydoc and my mother have had a series of summer places and eventually retired to, and where I’ve spent the last week or so of August the last thirty years or so.

You see, as a bumper sticker once said, “Siasconset [is] a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.”  And since it’s a small village, there’s only a handful of shops.  As long as I can remember, there was the bookstore, which doubled as a “packy.”  And yes, they did have books on a few of the shelves (there are a lot fewer now, but the name remains).  It’s a little sliver of a shop, but the merchandise is very well selected, and you can find something to accompany any meal or any other occasion (there are many such occasions in ‘Sconset).

So one of the more coveted possess--ions of mine is the Siasconset Bookstore shirt, in proper Nantucket red, and collared, so I can wear it to the office in the summer.  

In between sips of a gin and tonic, or a glass of pinot noir, here are some of the puzzles I’m working on:

It’s the monthly two-acrostic weekend: Hex in the New York Times (behind the paywall) and Mike Shenk in the Wall Street Journal.

Falcon is back from vacation (did he have as exciting a time as the Human Cannonball and the other participants in last week’s Hex cryptic?) and blogging the National Post cryptic.  Hex spent their Saturday morning watching cartoons.

Also in the cryptic vein is Trip Payne’s ConTex puzzle.  Proof everything’s bigger in Texas.

Nathan Curtis’s weekly variety puzzle is another Around the Bend.  Just a bit harder than usual, but good for a quick warm-up.

You probably haven’t finished all the puzzles Xanthippe posted last week, but just in case she’s got another for you, and some interesting art to go with it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Garlic fries (Solution No. 3,291)

Burger and garlic fries (courtesy Yelp)
One reason I'd been looking forward to this trip was the food.  Even a simple hunk of leftover sourdough for breakfast tastes amped up.  My best decision of the day yesterday was to ditch the conference-supplied box lunch and go get a perfectly-prepared burger and a mess of five-hour garlic fries.

Hot and Trazom are residents of the Bay Area and they get to feast on this kind of stuff every day.  Another thing to envy them for.

On to this week’s puzzle and solution...

Themework: I didn’t find any, though I did look to see if Winslow Homer had painted a picture called “Explorations.”

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): Easy

Political/musical content: nothing in this department again, but we have theater, art, and literature.

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,291 below the fold.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mike Shenk (Sunday brunch: August 18, 2013)

Since Mike Shenk constructed the variety puzzles in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal this weekend, let’s give him his due.  Mike is the puzzle editor for the WSJ, and has done a great job there, providing the Java program.  Before that he was one of the editors of Games magazine. He’s known in the NPL as Manx.  Hot looks up to him, which is pretty high praise.

Mike is one of the founders of Puzzability: a content producer that has created puzzles appearing in places ranging from the New York Times op-ed page to Snapple bottle caps.  While they do some straight crosswords along with a lot of non-crossword puzzles, Puzzability doesn’t do many cryptics.  See a sample of their work here, and there are weekly word ladders (very nicely presented) and other puzzles at the Puzzability site.

Mike’s approach is that the value of a puzzle is in solving it: he doesn’t need to seek validation in humiliating people.  That’s good for business, I’m sure.  Clients’ customers feel good about themselves when they get the answer and associate their success with the client’s brand.  He can make puzzles for us tougher customers too though.

Shenk’s New York Times puzzle (behind the paywall) is a “Set Pieces.”  It’s a collection of anagrams rather than a crossword, and is actually a publication of a puzzle that debuted (or at least was play-tested) at the NPL con this summer (the one that Ucaoimhu set that impressive trio of cryptics for).

The Wall Street Journal puzzle is a “Marching Bands.”  Look below the fold for a hint grid, but you really shouldn’t need it, it’s an easy puzzle  Even though it was quick to do (solving was almost as fast as downloading), I enjoyed it: the quality of the fill is excellent.

Those of us who are traveling this weekend, will also have a new Harper’s puzzle (subscriber link) by Richard Maltby, but alas, Erica has not updated her Harper’s blog since May.

And of course there’s the weekly Hex cryptic in the National Post (maybe Falcon ran off and joined the circus?) and Nathan Curtis’s variety puzzle, which he calls “Whirlwind.”  The grid is similar to a Marching Bands.

Xanthippe has four(!) new Brit-cryptics for us, but no PDFs though: you’ll need to copy and print the grid and then view the clues in your browser.

Wall Street Journal hint grid below the fold.

Wall Street Journal puzzle solution (August 17, 2013)

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: a Marching Bands by Mike Shenk.

Don’t click too soon: this is a pretty easy puzzle.  If you’re really stuck, I’ll have a hint grid up with Sunday Brunch.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Puzzling on the road (Puzzle No. 3,291)

A business trip to the West Coast, directly followed by vacation in Nantucket.

What does the well-prepared puzzler pack?

  • Mechanical pencils: no worries about finding or emptying a sharpener, or pencil points breaking in transit 
  • A nice new book of cryptics, preferably spiral bound
  • Puzzazz on the iPod (Hot and Trazom have a book available on Puzzazz)
    (note there was a bug fix release issued this week) 
  • Reservations for a hotel with a business center where the puzzles from the FT and Sunday Brunch can be printed.
  • But no sudokus: they’re available all over the place, from free newspapers to airline magazines
Nor do I need to pack The Nation puzzle number 3,291; I finished it on my mid-day walk today.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty: Easy.  A very smooth solve, not even any iffy bits of fill or other turbulence on the way.

Hozom’s comment: “Fairly Unique?” in which Hot and Trazom bring up the possibility of clues that could reasonably yield two or more different answers.  We learn that they’re a particular risk of homophone clues, and that reversal clues can have this problem if the constructor isn’t careful to be clear with the indicator.

Of course sometimes the ambiguous answer is a feature, not a bug, such as in the famous “Clinton Elected/Bob Dole Elected” puzzle constructed by Jeremiah Farrell and published in the New York Times in 1996.  Willz talks about it in the video below.

Network permitting, I’ll be here this weekend with some California cuisine for Sunday brunch.  See you then.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Linked without comment (Sunday brunch: August 11, 2013)

Have an orgasm instead of doing a crossword, it's better for your brain, says scientist (Telegraph)
The sexual climax gives the whole brain a good workout, rather than just one area of it, Professor Barry Komisaruk [Rutgers] said. ... “Mental exercises (such as crosswords and Sudoku) increase brain activity but only in relatively localised regions. Orgasm activates the whole.”

Well, maybe one comment: a crossword in bed after more physical pursuits would be a lot healthier than the traditional cigarette, and pose less of a fire risk too.

So cuddle up with your special someone and solve puzzles together this weekend.

The Wall Street Journal has a variety cryptic by Hex called “Jigsaw.”  It’s not difficult, and as usual with Hex, the payoff when you complete the puzzle is lovely.  Bring colored pencils.  If you get stuck (and I don’t think you will), there is a hint grid posted, as well as the solution.

The rest of the weekend WSJ is worth your time too.  They have quietly bulked up the lifestyle sections of their Friday and Saturday editions (called Arena, Off Duty, and Review, respectively), assembled a solid collection of writers, and given them space to write on interesting topics like the back story behind “Midnight Train to Georgia,” things to see in Krak√≥w, and classic desk toys.

Hex are on a healthy diet for the summer, heavy on fruit and vegetables (though there’s a little ham and shellfish and a drink as well).  They hid their shopping list in the acrosses (all of them!) of their weekly cryptic in the National Post.  Falcon will be a little late with the solution.

The third Hex of the weekend is an acrostic, behind the paywall of the New York Times as usual.

The quarterly variety cryptic by Mark Halpin, “Factions,” is out.  I enjoyed this one, especially after I figured out the identity of one of the competing factions (acrosses versus downs) and I got the connection.    

Nathan Curtis’s weekly variety crossword is an Around the Bend that is a little harder than his previous one.

Xanthippe created a Sunday-size British puzzle, but alas no PDF.  It has minimal Dr. Who content, though the title might suggest otherwise.  

Wall Street Journal hint grid: August 10, 2013

Below the fold is a hint grid for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: “Jigsaw,” a variety cryptic by Hex.

The hint grid shows the starting squares of the un-numbered clues.  You’ll still need to figure out the direction for each one.  

Wall Street Journal solution: August 10, 2013

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: “Jigsaw,” a variety cryptic by Hex.

This is not a hard puzzle so don’t go for the solution immediately.  I have a hint grid posted as well.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Good God!

Another double issue of The Nation last week, so no new puzzle this week.  We’re discussing overlooked themes over at Word Salad: come join us.

“Good God.”   ...    ...  “Good... God.”  The Other Doctor Mitchell heard that muttered several times last night, and no, we were in the kitchen, not somewhere else in the house... 

I was finishing up the second puzzle in Kevin Wald's 2013 NPL trilogy: “Texas 741-Step.”  I started the puzzle Friday or so, got through the first pass at the clues at the rink Saturday, and on Monday I figured out one of the bonus themes (the “one-step” route: helps that I have in-laws living in that part of Texas).  Not only did that complete one of my missing answers, but it then made the acrostic from the down clues obvious, and I was back rolling again.

I had the grid almost completely filled, but the last bits of five or six answers still eluded me, so I sat down last night to thoroughly solve the themework.  For each of those partials, I could come up with a few answers that would make sense, but only one of them would fit the themes, which included one type of alterations to some of the across clues, four different alterations to the remaining across answers, an extra word in some of the down clues, an extra letter in some of the other down answers, and a different alteration to the remaining down answers. 

All of those were tied into one or more of the theme answers.  Like a Patrick Berry, but completely checking the themes instead of completely checking the grid.  So for the answers that I couldn’t get from the definition or the wordplay in the clue (which in some cases was ambiguous because of the alterations) I needed to work out how the answers were supposed to be altered.  

Untangling that Gordian knot led to the exclamations.  Two of the across alterations came pretty easy, the third I had no clue on, and I thought I’d figured out the fourth.  Turned out that that fourth was quite a bit more clever  than expected, and I didn’t see it until I had worked out the acrostics from the across clues.

Helluva finish.  As Sean Yates would say, “Chapeau, Kevin!”


Lollapuzzoola 6 will be on Saturday, August 10, 2013 in New York City.  If you’re the competitive crossword type, or you want to meet some of the constructors and your fellow solvers, show up with 25 bucks Saturday at 1157 Lexington Ave.  If you can’t make it, there’s a solve-at-home division too.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gold! (Solution No. 3,290)

Mission accomplished for The Other Doctor Mitchell at State Games of America!  This was the competition she had been aiming for all year, and she skated her best program yet.  The jumps were there, the spins and spirals were there, and she carried good speed through the whole program.  It was a solid win (four first place ordinals and a second), and her third win in a row (Chesapeake Open and Skate Wilmington).  It also gives her a complete set of State Games medals: silver from Colorado Springs 2009, bronze from San Diego 2011, and gold this year.  On to Adult Nationals in 2014?
Meanwhile, Bangle skated well enough that she was a hair’s breadth from a medal even though she forgot a part of her program.  Instead of panicking, she improvised from there, threw the missing jump in at the end, and skated strongly.  

Your humble blogger also found himself in the wrong place on the ice a few times (chasing in on the play as in two-man instead of holding the line), but those mistakes got fewer and fewer in games three and four, and I didn’t blow a call all weekend.  It was a great experience, and it gave me the confidence to know I can still work the high-level games: maybe not top-tier juniors, but all the rest.  

Sabers did about as expected in his first competition since moving up out of the Y14 class.  He won his first two bouts and then was eliminated by the eventual bronze medalist, finishing thirteenth.  We saw some good fencing (one of the local rivals earned his E rating, while another won the bronze in the senior saber event) and learned a few more lessons to take back to practice.
Four Mitchells, three sports.

I'll subject you to one more picture before the puzzle solution.  The one at right was taken at opening ceremonies Friday night in Hershey.  Making it there was a significant accomplishment for everyone.

Themework:  Our constructors worked their signature in to the puzzle at 8d and 23d

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): Easy

Political/musical content: not really much

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,290 below the fold.

Monday, August 5, 2013

New York Times Puns and Anagrams solution: August 4, 2013

Below the fold is the solution to Fred Piscop's Puns and Anagrams puzzle published in the New York Times on Sunday, August 4.

Did you like that?  Why not try some of the cryptic crosswords by Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto in the Nation, linked here and solved each week.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Linesmen should be seen and not heard (Sunday brunch: August 4, 2013)

Temporary post: internet access is spotty, full post with links to follow.

My first games of the State Games of America went pretty well.  Since three of my assignments are as linesman and only the first was as referee, and all the games I worked last season were as referee, I was a little concerned about remembering the division of labor and my proper skating lanes.

The National Post cryptic by Hex has a linguistic theme.

The New York Times has a Fred Piscop Puns and Anagrams behind the paywall.  Look for a solution posted here tomorrow.

The Wall Street Journal has a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry which is one of the easiest Rows Gardens I’ve ever done.  I got a decent number of the acrosses on the first go through, some of the blooms snapped into place, and that resolved more acrosses.  I was down to one row before putting the puzzle down and got it the next time I picked it up. 

Nathan Curtis had a bit of a hiccup with his planned post, so he gives us a quick and deceivingly tricky variety crossword with a simple minimally-intersecting grid.  The puzzle is in fitting the answers into the grid.

Xanthippe has a new Sunday-size brit-cryptic, but no PDF yet.

I was remiss in not noticing some new Kevin Wald variety cryptics: not on his regular page but on the convention cryptics page.  The 2013 puzzles were unveiled in Austin.  They are definitely hard, but not the hardest I’ve seen from him.

“I'm going to put the puck on this side of the dot because the ice on that side is still wet.”

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hello, Hot and Trazom (Puzzle No. 3,290)

While I wouldn't call it a themed puzzle since none of the other clues make reference to them (birthday puzzles and other tributes seen in Britain often include the spouse or avocation or some other fact about the honoree), our constructors make a cameo appearance in their own work this week.

Just as readers of this blog have to put up with the fine points of conducting a face-off or my trumpeting of The Other Doctor Mitchell's latest triumph, constructors deserve license to throw some personal references in their work.  Maybe we can have a puzzle devoted to the test solvers, starting with Hot's daughter, who seems pretty bright in her own endeavors.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): fairly easy.  I made steady progress, starting with the downs.

Hozom’s comment: Incomplete Wordplay, in which Hot and Trazom point out how Puzzle No. 3,289 broke the rules normally associated with American (and Canadian) straight block cryptics by leaving some bits out of the wordplay in the theme clues: specifically John Paul, Benedict, and Francis (I imagine it would be a lot harder to clue Wojtyla or Bergoglio, but Ratzinger is easy).

My two cents on the concept is that I like it.  I see The Nation as an intermediate-level puzzle, and Frank Lewis historically bent his puzzles towards the British style.  That doesn’t mean that only those variations are acceptable; it means that the puzzle is going to go past the boundaries of the straight cryptics you get in the National Post or in Games Magazine, but not too far past them.

Not only is that a little more of a challenge for solvers who are ready for it, it’s something of a confidence-builder.  Get through something where the wordplay doesn’t exactly follow the script, and you’ll have a bigger appetite at Sunday Brunch: bring on the Hex variety puzzles in the Wall Street Journal, Richard Maltby in Harper’s, Tom Toce, Patrick Berry, and Mark Halpin!