Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hybrid icing (Sunday brunch: October 6, 2013)

The NHL season began this week, and as always there are rule changes intended to make the game better and safer.  The most significant is the adoption of “hybrid icing.”  Icing is when a defending player shoots the puck from his half of the ice all the way down to the other end: it often happens when a player is under pressure from a forechecker and doesn’t want to turn the puck over and give up a scoring chance.  Icing is not a penalty, but the puck is brought back down to the defensive zone for a face-off, so the offending team loses any positional advantage.

For many years, the rules provided for icing to be negated if a player from the team that shot the puck down the ice could hustle there and get to the puck first.  This leads to some exciting plays: races between a forward and a defenseman to get to the puck and either get or wash out the icing.  (It’s a big moment for the linesmen too, since they have to hustle down with the players to be in position to see who touches first.)

But touch icing is exciting in another way: the player making the touch-up often ends up in a vulnerable position, and “pays” for the play with a crunching body check.  So for safety reasons, USA Hockey has a “no-touch” icing rule where the play is blown dead as soon as the puck crosses the goal line, even if an attacking player could have gotten to it first.  I like the rule because it discourages players from just dumping the puck and makes them pass it up-ice instead.

But the NHL wants to cut down on injury-potential situations while maintaining the speed of the game, so their rule now gives the front linesman discretion to blow the whistle as soon as the puck crosses the line if it’s evident that one player will win the race to the puck.  If the race is even, it continues all the way to the puck, and hopefully both players are focused on the puck instead of on the hit.  So it’s a hybrid of touch- and no-touch icing.  The NCAA has used it successfully for several years, and I think it will be good for the NHL.

The puzzle lineup for the weekend includes “High Frequency,” a mostly-easy variety cryptic by Hex, with an unusual way to get to the final theme answer (groaner warning).  Despite all the stuff going on in the grid, all the entries are solved and entered normally, so I don’t see much of an opportunity for or need for any hints.  If you’re having problems with any of the clues, the solvers on the comments tab of the WSJ puzzle blog will be very glad to help you.

If you got through the Hex as fast as I did, let’s catch up with Ucaoimhu and his MIT Mystery Hunt puzzle from earlier this year: “If At First You Succeed.”  That ought to be enough of a challenge for anyone.

No new Harper’s puzzle this week (probably next week), but I’m happy to report Erica is back, and she has the September puzzle annotated for you at Tacky Harper’s Cryptic Clues.

The regular Hex cryptic is published in the National Post, getting political but ecumenical.  Falcon solves and blogs it for you.

Nathan Curtis tried something new for a “puzzle potluck” (what a great idea) he attended: a conventional crossword, Sunday size, themed.   It’s called “Rule 34: Crossover Slash.”  Try it out and let him know what you think.  The grid is on the simple side: not as many long entries as a Times puzzle, but the cluing is excellent, especially for some of the words that are often found in crosswords.  And we learn that Nathan is also a Cliff Johnson fan!

The New York Times puzzle (behind the paywall) is a Hex acrostic.  The monthly bonus for subscribers is “Italian Heritage Month” by Fred Piscop.

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