Monday, September 30, 2013

“E” is for Eric (Solution No. 3,296)

The US Fencing Association awards ratings A through E to athletes based on their tournament performance.  Earning a rating was Sabers’ goal this season, after a successful spring in local youth tournaments (which usually are not rated).  As mentioned here, he fell one touch short of getting that rating last week, finishing ninth out of 22 in a strong Philly Cup tournament (rated C2).  Sabers’ teammate Jeremy was the one who got the last touch and won the E, so it wasn’t all bad for us, and teammate Paolo from Temple University got a well-earned D for finishing second.

Philly Cup event number 2 this past Sunday was a real contrast: a smaller field and no rated opponents.  Because of that, it was an E1 tournament and the only rating awarded would be to the winner.  The fencers were all also a lot closer together in skill than last week, with no obvious favorite.  You had Sabers, coming off a tournament where he upset a D and an E; Nathan, the big prep school junior that Sabers staged a remarkable comeback against for the silver at the Lehigh Valley Sportsfest; and Charles, a cagy veteran and very friendly rival who already holds a E in epee.  Last time they met, Charles beat Sabers in the eliminations of last season’s Philly Cup final.

Charles beat Sabers in the pool round (both beat Nathan), and they ended up 1-2 seeds for the elimination round.  Sabers once again got Nathan in the semifinal.  This time Sabers got the early lead, held an 8-6 advantage after the first period, and kept it the rest of the way, adjusting well to the referee’s calls.  Meanwhile, Charles had an easy ride to the final after Storm was upset in the quarters.

Sabers vs. Charles, with a rating for the winner.  It wasn’t a particularly dramatic match: Sabers got the early lead with clean attacks and Charles kept it close with patient point-in-lines and pouncing on Sabers’ mistakes (Charles is really good at that).  But Sabers is half a year older and wiser than last time they met (not to mention an inch or two taller), so more of his attacks landed while he gave Charles fewer opportunities. Getting to 14-10 not only gave Sabers a little more margin for error, it also gave him a chance to anticipate the win.  After Charles scored on a good parry, Sabers got around his line in a clean one-light attack, so he knew immediately he’d won the match, the tournment, and the E.

As earlier mentioned, this was an easy puzzle, even after I mixed up the order of the clues.  Because the clues weren’t numbered in the published puzzle, I’m posting both the grid and the solved clues below the fold.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Don’t overthink the test (Sunday brunch: September 29, 2013)

It was a few weeks ago now, but I’m still steamed at myself over how I did on my closed-book rules exam this year.  I haven’t gotten my score yet (I’m sure I passed), but I blew three questions because I broke my cardinal rule of rules exams: “don’t overthink the test.”

What do I mean by that?  Here’s an example.  There was a question that asked whether the teams switch ends before overtime.  In almost every league or tournament, overtime (or lack thereof) rules are set by the organizing authorities, and very rarely coincide with what is in the rulebook (which explicitly grants local governing bodies the authority to set overtime rules).  It’s a habit of mine that whenever I work a tournament, or in a league I haven’t worked before, I check what the OT procedures are, because they’re all different.  While they’re all different about how long OT is or how many players are on ice or what do do if the game is still tied after OT, nobody changes ends.  And if you put me at center ice after three periods of a tied game, I’d always put teams on the same sides they were in the third period.

But the exam question included the words “game to be played to completion.”  Ignoring lessons learned from past exams and all the OT games I’ve ever worked, I let those particular words take over my brain.  I thought about multiple OT (which I’ve never had a league do even in playoffs), thought about the epic Stanley Cup games I’ve watched, and answered “change ends.”  Idiot.  In USA rules, nobody changes ends even for multiple OT.

I was so sure I [fouled] up that question that as soon as I turned in the exam I opened my rulebook to confirm I was wrong.  Of course I should have simply corrected my answer before turning in the exam but I stubbornly clung to my brilliant piece of logic instead.  Idiotic.  Brilliant, but idiotic.  Rest assured I will never change ends for OT in a real game though.

Want to see the rest of a typical rules exam?  Click here (Georgia Ice Hockey Officials Association).
Want some puzzlers not related to hockey, plus some fun videos?  Read on.

There’s some really fun fill in the weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: a Patrick Berry Rows Garden. I guessed 2B right but turned out to be wrong with the reference to a hit song: the song I was thinking about was recorded in 1966, not 1961, but the folks I mentioned it to all had pleasant memories of the wrong song, so I’ll embed a video of it anyway.  The other answer I really liked is at the end.

The New York Times variety puzzle (behind the paywall) is another Ring Toss by Mark Halpern.  Deb Amlen (spoiler alert) was glad to see it, and I like all of Halpern’s work.  We saw one of these about a year ago.  I’ve posted some hints below the fold, and the solution will be up shortly.

The National Post cryptic by Hex was a little harder than usual, but still not more than a “moderate.”  Much anagramming and a nice pair of complimentary 14s in the middle.  Falcon has the solution and annotation for you.

Nathan Curtis apologizes for a late post of his Spiral, as well as for two easy puzzles in a row, but I don’t think he needs to apologize for offering us interesting stuff to solve even if it is late in the weekend instead of early.

Back to the WSJ after the fold, since a spoiler is below.  The New York Times hint is there too.

New York Times solution: September 29, 2013

Below the fold is the solution to today’s New York Times variety puzzle: “Ring Toss” by Mark Halpin.  If you’re looking for a hint instead of the entire solution, or if you’re looking for something else to solve after finishing this puzzle, why not stop over for Sunday brunch?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

“C” is for “congratulations” (Puzzle No. 3,296)

Hooray for Hot and Trazom!  Today they published their 100th puzzle in The Nation.

In honor of the occasion, they created a special bar cryptic without any guide to where the answers go, other than showing you the location of all the Cs in the grid.

Not to scare you off though—this is actually a pretty easy(*) puzzle.  So easy that when I saw it, I decided to try a harder version of it first, and it still was easy.  As an extra aid to solvers, the clues are printed in the alphabetical order of their solutions.  I did a quick cut, paste, and sort; to take the clues out of that order and into a more or less random order.

While I can’t post that challenge version here, I can suggest that you veteran solvers randomize the clues yourself.  Print out a copy of the puzzle and take a pair of scissors to it until all the clues are on their own individual slips of paper.

You could even play a version of Crossword Golf this way.  Pick up a clue slip and try to solve the clue and place the answer in the grid.  If you can solve and place it the first time you look at it, count a birdie for yourself.  If you can’t solve the clue the first time or if you can solve the clue but can’t figure out where to put the answer, put the clue aside.  If you can figure out an answer just from the intersecting letters before you even look at the clue, count that answer as an eagle.  After you’ve been through all the clues once, go through them one at a time for a second time.  Any answer you place here counts as par.  If you need to look at the clue for a third or fourth time, that’s bogey or double bogey.

*–by design: Hot and Trazom want their variety cryptics published here to be non-frustrating.  That way, novice solvers will enjoy them and be encouraged to try out more variety puzzles.  As mentioned here a few times in the past, I’m entirely on board with that

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): very easy

Hozom’s comment: “Puzzle One Hundred” in which Hot and Trazom catch up on a variety of things including an update to their puzzle-solving instructions and volume 2 of their Puzzazz series.

Solution and annotation posted here Monday.  Join us this weekend for a rules exam with your Sunday brunch. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Less contrived than usual

Just a quick note to say I was impressed by the puzzle in last Friday’s New York Times (which I got around to solving today).  The constructors were Mangesh Ghogre of Mumbai and Doug Peterson of the USA, for whom this is not their first collaboration.

I was attracted by the grid, which like a lot of NYT Fridays was something of a show-off piece (just 25 blacks and stacked 15s at the top and bottom).  Usually, you need some pretty contrived entries to fill a grid like this, but the quality of the fill here was excellent from top to bottom, especially in the 15s and their crosses.

Deb Amlen was not quite as impressed, but spoke quite favorably at Wordplay (spoiler warning).  If you get the puzzle in syndication, look for it three weeks from the original publication date, which would be October 11.

Monday, September 23, 2013

New ref (Solution No. 3,295)

Between-bouts coaching is for referees as well as for fencers.
Jacob, coaching for Haverford, shares some tactical ideas with
Darwin while Sabers is debriefed by Charles.  
We now officially have another referee in the Mitchell family. Sabers passed his test and made his formal refereeing debut in the Y14 tournament at his home club Sunday.  Then after fencing in the open event and delivering his best performance to date (just one touch short of earning an E rating), he worked the team competition in tandem with Charles Green. 

Charles is a national-level ref and a fine mentor as well.  His mechanics are impeccable and his demeanor balances calm with firmness. Those are excellent qualities to have whatever sport you’re officiating.

The team final was Liberty vs. Haverford College: with rated fencers on both sides but very friendly. That made it an excellent situation for Sabers to get experience in a higher level competition.  Thanks to Charles’s coaching, Sabers looked much more poised, had the confidence to make the close call on a two-light touch, and as far as I could tell, didn’t miss any calls.  Marshall was pleased enough with the job that he’s extended Sabers an invitation to work a collegiate tournament next month.  Pretty good for a high school sophomore.

Link to puzzle 

Themework:  None that I found

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): Moderate, aside from 21d (see note below)

Political/musical content: 19a
In 1961, Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote a famous poem commemorating the Babi Yar massacre, pushing the envelope of acceptable expression in Khruschev’s USSR.  Shostakovich later set the text to music in his Thirteenth Symphony, which was harshly criticized by the authorities until Yevtushenko revised the text, making it more sympathetic to the Russians where it had previously condemned both Soviet and Nazi anti-semitism.
Like Shostakovich (one of my favorite composers), Yevtushenko constantly had to walk a fine line in order to criticize repression and abuses in Soviet Russia and not be ostracized totally, have their works banned, and be sent to prison.  The best of their works are full of that tension.

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,295 below the fold.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Parsing the question (Sunday brunch: September 22, 2013)

I’ve been spending a good deal of time parsing out questions recently, and only some of them were related to cryptics.  I’m teaching Sabers how to read and interpret a rulebook, and while he’s taking the test to referee fencing, many of the same principles I’ve learned from hockey rules exams apply.  You reconstruct the situation as the question puts it, and walk through it one step at a time.

So if fencer X makes an attack against Y’s point in line, and finds Y’s blade, Y places point in line again while X continues the attack and both fencers hit, who gets the point?  Take it one step at a time.  Y’s first point in line establishes right of way, which X must take away.  X does that, and then gets the right of way by doing so.  OK so far?  Once X gains right of way, X keeps it even when Y goes back to point in line because Y didn’t do anything to take it back.  Touch for X.

Parse these puzzles out, and remember they’re for relaxation, not for torture.

The only new cryptic on our side of the pond this weekend is Hex’s in the National Post.  Falcon has worked it out for you as usual, and reports his mind is in better “shape” for the experience

Want another cryptic?  Try Xanthippe’s British puzzle called Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

Kevin Wald has been kind enough to post his variety cryptic (a bonus puzzle) from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

It’s a two-acrostic weekend.  The Wall Street Journal puzzle is by Mike Shenk.   After my first pass through the clues (either having no idea or too many ideas for most of them), I was resigning myself to this one being a real slog.  But surprisingly, I wound up getting most of the quote from partials in it and from discovering a few words that were repeated several times in the quote.  So on one level, I liked the puzzle because it made me approach the answer from a different direction, I also disliked it because of all the repetition making the quote so easy to find.

The New York Times acrostic (by Hex as usual) is also behind the paywall as usual.  Deb Amlen blogs it as usual at Wordplay (spoiler warning).  Note also that the straight crossword in today’s Times (by Mike Selinker) is a prize puzzle.  See Wordplay for instructions on how to win one of their new 2014 calendars.

Nathan Curtis’s weekly variety puzzle isn’t up yet (I’ll post an update when it is), which is probably OK for those of you still working on last week’s Pathfinder.  [UPDATE: Did you finish the Pathfinder? I did.  Nathan now has another Snake Charmer for you to solve.  Thanks, Nathan!]

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Avoiding temptation (Puzzle No. 3,295)

This is one of those puzzles that you can make lot easier if you want to.  I won't say just where, but there are several long lights that are obvious anagrams: solve them and they open up much of the rest of the puzzle.  In the internet age, those anagrams are just a click away.  It takes a little discipline to say “no” and let those anagrams stew for a while instead of getting the answer so you can move on to the rest of the puzzle.

Sometimes, structure is the way to achieve that discipline.  Since I don’t post the solution and annotation to the The Nation puzzle until Monday, I've got all weekend to figure out the answers.  Most of the time I don’t need it though.  I’ll look again in the afternoon at the clues I didn’t get on the first go-round, and usually I’ll find myself slapping my head and thinking “man, that was obvious--how could you be so dense as to miss that one?”  That was definitely the case this week (not getting 16a?  I really am dense.)

But I think it’s only been once or twice the last six months that I’ve had to resort to the Anagram Server to finish a solution.  I’ll keep on striving for zero.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate, with a couple of obscure words

Hozom’s comment: “Deep Grammar” in which Hot and Trazom describe the grammatical conventions that govern clue writing and point out how one could bend those rules for the sake of a more-clever sounding clue.

I agree with them that there are some constructors who make good use of these grammatical twists, especially Richard Maltby and Stephen Sondheim, who both are professional lyricists.  You know they’re good with verse.

Monday, September 16, 2013

German in crosswords (Solution No. 3,294)

Tobi goes back to Germany this week, so I’ll take the opportunity post on another German theme; or more particularly, why we don’t see so much German in American crosswords (straight or cryptic).

From my experience, French appears to be the foreign language most often used in clues and answers; this is especially so in cryptic cluing.  I think that’s because French gives you so many convenient digraphs to splice into a charade clue, like “le,” “la,” and ”de.”  Spanish runs second, with Italian and German neck and neck for third.  It’s not surprising that French and Spanish are common: they’re the foreign languages most often studied in America (I’m equally awful in both).

The German I’ve seen in puzzles is mostly numbers (“eine” and “drei” give you useful letters to cross) and articles.  Those wonderful assembled nouns (around the dinner table a coupla nights ago we were talking about “kummerspeck”–literally “grief bacon”–which means overeating when one feels sad) are often too long for constructors to use, but maybe a half dozen of them could be the theme words in a Friday Wall Street Journal puzzle.

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,288 below the fold.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Moon pie (Sunday brunch: September 15, 2013)

Actually, I’m making Belgian waffles Sunday morning, not marshmallow-graham cracker sandwiches, but you know you lead a blessed life when the answer to the question “how do you spell the name of that city anyway?” is right there on the wrapper of the snack you’re eating while you work on a puzzle between segments of referee training camp (about which more below the puzzles).

The puzzle was Patrick Berry’s “Border Crossing” in the Wall Street Journal and the answer was a particular city in Tennessee (which itself is a spelling challenge--how about a puzzle with hard-to-spell place names like Poughkeepsie, Rensselaer, and Cynwyd?).  My knowledge of useful facts (and my appreciation of junk food in moderation) is such that when I hear the name of said Tennessee city, my first thought is “moon pie.”

So besides the aforementioned WSJ puzzle, for which both solution and hint grid are now posted, there are lots of other good puzzles to work on this weekend (but please, only one moon pie per day).

Hex have cryptics in both the New York Times (behind the paywall) and the National Post.  In the interest of traffic, the NYT solution is now posted to the blog, while Falcon will solve and annotate the National Post cryptic: a puzzle themed to Fashion Week.

The October Harpers with Richard Maltby’s latest puzzle is out.  It’s called “Alphabetical Inserts” in which 26 of the answers are modified before entry.  You can figure out the rest of the modification, but I won’t help since it’s a prize puzzle.

Nathan Curtis’s Pathfinder is a tribute to a great poet now deceased.

I like the title of Xanthippe’s puzzle this week: “London Underground is Not a Political Movement” (though it’s decidedly a movement movement).  Even if you don’t solve Brit cryptics, go over for the beautiful picture at the top of the blog this week.

How was camp?  I had to go to Lehigh this year, since I have other commitments for the day the Philadelphia camp is scheduled.  So I didn’t see many of my regular partners.  The program also wasn’t as all-encompassing as last year’s in Philadelphia.  But the on-ice session was more productive.  We did a lot more advanced stuff than just dropping pucks.  It included edge exercises, drills where we skated on one foot to improve our balance and edge awareness, a bump-out drill, and an altercation drill in which instructor and ex-NHLer Harry Dumas called out your humble blogger as an example for everyone (yes, a good example).

Most of the guys just stayed quiet and immediately jumped into the fray to try and separate the instructors who were playing at fighting, which is the wrong thing to do in a bunch of ways.  But this is one place where my particularly vocal approach to the job helps.  First, as the instructors were spinning around looking for an opportunity to throw a “punch,” I yelled at my partner to stay out.  Linesmen shouldn’t intervene in an altercation while the players’ arms are still free, because they’d be at risk of getting punched out themselves, and keeping you and your partner safe is always the first priority.

Next, as the players got into a clinch and we could move in, I called out “I’ve got red! You get black!”  This matters since you want one official on each combatant.  If you both go for the same guy, you end up controlling him while giving his opponent an opportunity to take a few more free whacks (nailing you or your partner in the process).  Finally, once we got their arms wrapped up, I talked to the players to tell them the fight was over and we’re skating them to the penalty bench.  Most of the time, the players stop fighting as soon as they know both they and their opponent have been neutralized.

So instead of watching the players in a hockey fight and debating who won it, watch the officiating crew sometime to see the teamwork and leverage they use to defuse a dangerous situation.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

New York Times solution (September 15, 2013)

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle, a block cryptic by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, who in cryptic circles are known as “Hex.”

It’s a good weekend to come here, since Joshua Kosman (“Trazom”) and Henri Picciotto (“Hot”), who are constructors of the weekly cryptic found in The Nation and proprietors of the Word Salad blog took time this week to pay tribute to Hex, and I did likewise.  We’re fortunate to have so much of Hex’s work available to us in so many places and in so many forms, all of which is polished to a lovely sheen.  Read on, and feel free to add your kudos to the comments here or at Word Salad.

Browse around some more, click the “Hex” label, and you’ll find links to much more of their work.  Happy solving, and come back every week!

Wall Street Journal hint grid (September 14, 2013)

In case you’re having difficulty with “Border Crossing” by Patrick Berry, the variety puzzle in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, read the instructions again, particularly the part about extrusions being three to five letters.  I didn’t pay attention at first, and thus couldn’t mesh the first row with the downs that cross it.

If it’s still too tough, here below the fold is a hint grid to work from.

Wall Street Journal solution (September 14, 2013)

Below the fold is the solution to this week’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: “Border Crossing”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hooray for Hex! (Puzzle No. 3,294)

Henry Rathvon and Emily Cox at the ACPT
photo by Nancy Shack
This week, Hot and Trazom pay tribute to Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, who together are “Hex” in Cryptic Nation.  But they hold passports from other lands too, including acrostics (where they have a twice-monthly gig in the Sunday New York Times), and straight crosswords (Boston Sunday Globe, a gig shared with another fine cryptic constructor: Henry Hook).  Cryptically, they publish a weekly block puzzle in the National Post, a monthly variety puzzle in the Wall Street Journal, and an occasional block puzzle in the Sunday Times) Splicing all those jobs together, they might be the most successful American puzzle constructors working today.

As I mentioned over at Word Salad, one of the many things that impress me about their work is their attention to detail, resulting in finely polished work.  You see it in bar cryptics with proper symmetry,  acrostics where words relating to the quotation are worked into the clue answers, and variety puzzles where the metas work like whipped cream and a cherry on an ice cream sundae.

Detractors might get on them for being too safe in their work, not pushing the limits of “American” rules like Hot and Trazom do.  But like Hot and Trazom, they know they are in business to satisfy their customers; and when you’re seen as the people who define the American cryptic style, you’re loathe to tamper with it.

In an earlier post, I shared my observations on Hex’s cluing style, which in both their cryptic and straight puzzles frequently use secondary definitions of words as a means of making things more challenging and sometimes getting the bonus of tying clues in more closely to their theme.  I think it's a compliment to their ability that I’ll find myself murmuring “now that’s a Hex clue” as I solve.

A .  This couple not only finishes each other’s sentences, they do it for a living.

Link to puzzle

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

Hozom’s comment: Cryptic Royalty, in which Hot and Trazom lead three cheers for Emily and Henry.

Solution and annotation posted Monday.  Join us as always for Sunday brunch this weekend.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Wienerschnitzel (Solution No. 3,293)

No, we weren't wearing lederhosen and
dirndls at the table.
How about another picture of Bad Reichenhall.  Since Tobi cooked wienerschnitzel last night, let’s enjoy some food!

Themework:  None that I found, though I was wondering if “Chariots of Fire” had a scene set in Constantinople.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): easy to moderate all the way through (that’s really hard to accomplish without having to resort to crosswordese or really obvious clues.

Political content: Were you looking for “Biden” in 4d?  I was for a little while. 

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,288 below the fold.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bad Reichenhall (Sunday brunch: September 8, 2013)

City Hall
Sabers has been taking German since he started junior high, and the teachers here have an exchange student program each summer.  The exchange is with a school in Bad Reichenhall: a Bavarian town in the very far southeast of Germany, not far from Salzburg, Austria.

One thing I learned is that Bad Reichenhall is the “Salt City” of Bavaria, so I mentioned my home town of Syracuse and shared my salt potato recipe with our guest Tobi.  Meanwhile, Tobi has been attending school with Sabers, doing some sightseeing, and getting a taste of what life is like for an American high schooler.

So the next few posts will intersperse some culture and scenery with the puzzling.

The Wall Street Journal has a variety cryptic by Hex called “Alphabet Soup.”  Like some of their other WSJ puzzles, this is not as hard as it looks, so be sure to give it a try.  If you can’t figure out where to start, I’ve posted some hints elsewhere on the blog.
The Bavarian Alps

Hex’s straight cryptic in the National Post is blogged remotely by Falcon.  There’s no thumbnail in the post, but the link works.  Harder than usual.  There’s some name-checking going on too.

The New York Times has a Hex acrostic this week (behind the paywall).  Subscribers also have their monthly bonus puzzle from Fred Piscop.

The new issue of Contingencies is out, and rather than a cryptic, Tom Toce has an anagram puzzle in it.

Xanthippe has aimed for a little more polish in her British cryptic titled “Marge lets Norah see Sharon’s telegram (So many dynamos!)”.

Nathan Curtis’s weekly puzzle is a Snake Charmer.  Nice bonus in that Nathan is also sharing some observations with us from the constructor’s perspective.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Wall Street Journal hints: September 7, 2013

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent variety cryptic by Hex this weekend.  I think it’s a lot easier than it looks.  While there are no indications of where the answers are supposed to go, you can figure many of them out if you’re able to get both clues in each set.

If you do that, you’ll know which space within each word has the shaded letter, and which space in the intersecting word is the shaded letter; so you’ll be able to eliminate most of the possible locations and hopefully narrow your possibilities down to one.  So if you get one of the ten letter words and the fourth letter is B, you can be pretty sure it’s going to go in the top row, and the first letter of the six-letter B answer will have to be B.

But in case you still have trouble, or want to confirm a guess, I’ll post below the fold a listing of the shaded letters in order from top to bottom, left to right (anyone notice they’re in proper crossword symmetry?  Impressive!).

Wall Street Journal solution: September 7, 2013

Do not finish reading this post.  The puzzle is not nearly as hard as it looks at first.  If you can get a small number of the answers, you will have enough of a toehold to place them and get started.  As some other commenters mentioned, the enumerations of each pair of answers narrow down the possibilities considerably, and if you know where the key letter is in both parts of a pair, you almost certainly can place them.  So go try it first before running to me for help.  I want my cryptic teenagers to be able to trust in their independence.

I’ve also given you a set of hints that you can click and drag over if you really need help.  But in case you’re really that obtuse (or untrusting of your cryptic skills), the full solution is below the fold.

So go ahead and solve this without my help.  And then if you do, I’ll give you dispensation to brag in the comments.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Renoir vs. Dali (Puzzle No. 3,293)

The Persistence of Memory
Summer is over, the campus is busy again, and we’re back to weekly puzzles from Hot and Trazom.  It was a nice day for a walk this morning, and I managed to get all of this puzzle done by the time I got to the coffee shop except for 21d, which I solved about ten paces out the door on the way back.

That’s not to say this was an especially easy puzzle.  The thing that struck me about this one was how consistent it was.  No crosswordese or bits of dodgy last-quadrant fill you need to check on Google, no tritely obvious clues, and just enough challenge in most of to make you tick through the definition and intersecting letters to make sure you have the right answer.

Madame Renoir
That’s an art in itself.  Most of the time, cryptic fans talk about the brain-bustingly difficult puzzles they’ve solved (such as works by Henry Hook or Richard Maltby to name a few), or a brilliantly-executed theme from Hex or Kevin Wald.  They can be mind-bending like a Dali painting, but a good easy puzzle like this one is like a Renoir: finding and expressing the beauty in an everyday person.  Something you never get tired of looking at.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): easy to moderate, the whole way through.  Worked it right from top to bottom.

Hozom’s comment: “Grammatical Strictures,” in which Hot and Trazom teach us how the rules of grammar both govern the construction of clues and provide opportunities to introduce some misdirection.  Solvers, especially those who are fairly new to cryptics, should pay considerable attention to this post; it is worth its pixels’ weight in gold.  Keep those points in mind, completely parse out all the answers of a few well-constructed puzzles (like we do with the solutions here), and pretty soon you’ll find your solving skills improving.

Back Monday with the solution.  Join us as always this weekend for Sunday brunch, and l’shana tova to all our Jewish readers.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Notes on notes (solution No. 3,292)

After some easy puzzles for summer, Hot and Trazom took us back to school and did not bother with starting off slowly: this is postgraduate puzzling.

Themework:  A large part of the theme is the names of musical notes on a scale: (“do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do”), though there are a few clues trading on other definitions of “notes” (10 across).  The latter could really trip people up if they were expecting that once they got the theme there would only be one definition in play.  

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard.  Even after you got the theme, the clues trading on other definitions of “notes” were a banana peel waiting to trip up unsuspecting solvers.

Political content: 12a

Musical content:  See themework.  Also 27a, which is one of the first electronic musical instruments, working on principles of variable capacitance in tuned circuits that were also part of the MR probe tuning R&D I did as part of my graduate work (see my patent on the DoubleDrive circuit: there were variable capacitors to tune to the two or more desired frequencies and then you would tweak the inductors to match both resonances to 50 ohms impedance).  The theremin is the instrument you hear in the theme of the original Star Trek TV show.
Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,292 below the fold.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

New York Times diagramless solution (September 1, 2013)

Below the fold is the solution to this week’s New York Times variety puzzle: a diagramless by Philly’s own Joel Fagliano, who may now also be the youngest constructor to have a diagramless appear in the Sunday Times.

Get this one?  Come have a late Sunday brunch at the Old Sconset Golf Course.  There are more puzzles for you there, including a cool variety crossword by Nathan Curtis called “Four Winds” (appropriate to the conditions on the links).  It’s similar to the Marching Bands that appeared in the Times a few weeks ago, but more challenging.  Then come back every week, for regular features including the cryptic crosswords by Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto in The Nation (link and comments on Thursday, solution and annotation on the following Monday) and a buffet of links to cryptic and variety puzzles served each weekend for Sunday brunch.