Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Battlefield promotion (Solution No. 3,349)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,349 is below the fold.

Besides hockey, I also referee fencing (because I didn’t have enough slashing and spearing in my life).  Last weekend I worked a Regional Youth Circuit tournament up in Jersey City. It’s a charity event, and since the organizer was a friend of mine, I was happy to volunteer my time.

The organizer also is a member of the Fencing Officials’ Commission, and she uses this tournament as a chance to give new referees a chance to work a higher-level competition.  She and a couple other FOC members observe and evaluate them for a possible increase in their ratings.  When I checked in, she asked if I wanted to be observed.  I answered no, because I wanted to have at least one more large event under my belt first.

My day started with the girls’ 12-and-under épée event.  Things went pretty smoothly in my group for the preliminary round, but then in the eliminations we had both of the wire reels that connect the fencers to the scoring machine fail during the same bout.  I handled the situation well: first giving then rescinding yellow cards because the symptoms of the reel failure are the same as those when the fencer’s equipment fails.  Then there was another bout where I had to call non-combativity twice.    After the finals of that event were over, I worked the 14-and-under girls. 

I’d seen the organizer walking around the floor, checking on everyone, and she was watching while I dealt with the reel problems.  While I was getting some lunch between rounds, the organizer came over.  She asked: “In your heart of hearts, which weapon do you want to referee?”  Great question!  I replied that I like saber, but I’m better at épée.  So she told me she was increasing my épée rating. 

Then she asked me to go take over the boys’ 14-and-under, which was the top event at the tournament.  Despite getting a rules interpretation wrong at one point (when a coach called me on it, I did the right thing by getting a ruling from Bout Committee before we went on), I got to work all the way to the semifinals and run a bout on the center strip.  I was elated, since one of my goals for the season was to increase my rating and work a big event, and I accomplished it before the season was half-over. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Under the weather (Sunday brunch: December 28, 2014)

I’m down with a cold today: let’s get straight to the links.

Māyā sends us a couple of Boxing Day gifts from New Zealand: one with a Dr. Who theme.  She also posted another cryptic earlier in the week.  From the Aussie side of the Tasman (Sydney, to be precise) comes the weekly Stickler.

North of the border, Hex make a topical reference in their National Post cryptic.   There’s also the weekly Globe and Mail puzzle.  

Hex also set a variety cryptic for the Wall Street Journal, continuing editor Mike Shenk’s trend towards slightly harder puzzles.  The puzzle is called Twenty-Six Out, since one letter of the alphabet has been taken away from  each row and column.  Solution and hints are posted elsewhere on the blog.  And the regular Hex acrostic is in the New York Times: Deb Amlen at Wordplay (spoiler warning) enjoyed the new words in it.

You might want to get ready for the new year by signing up for one of the subscription puzzle series My favorite is the biweekly Rows Garden by Andrew Ries.  He’s thoughtful enough to set each puzzle up with four levels of difficulty (withholding enumerations and cluing the blooms in random order).

I usually leave the straight crosswords to other bloggers, but I’ll make an exception for this puzzle by Andy Kravis with audio clues.  

Wall Street Journal hints: December 27, 2014

Below the fold are some hints for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: a variety cryptic by Hex called “Twenty-Six Out.”  In it, one letter of the alphabet has been omitted from the answers in each row and column.  Some solvers who posted comments noted their difficulty in getting a toehold because they don’t know which letter to omit.  If you need one of those letters, click and drag on the appropriate square below to see it,

Wall Street Journal solution: December 27, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle, a variety cryptic by Hex called “Twenty-Six Out.”

The letters omitted from each row and column are shown at the end of those rows and columns.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas to all (Puzzle No. 3,349)

May the season be bright and merry for you and your family, whatever particular holidays you celebrate!

Link to puzzlehttp://www.thenation.com/article/193625/puzzle-no-3349

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate—not as easy as you might think at first.

Hozom’s comment: Making One’s Mark, in which Hot and Trazom explain the circumstances under which they’ll alert you “something’s going on here” with a question mark

Weekly cluing challenge (at Word Salad): INTERROGATE

Back with the solution and annotation on Monday.  Join us this weekend for Sunday brunch!

An angelic chorus, directed by The Other Doctor Mitchell

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Clear Tuuks (Solution No. 3,348)

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

With the clear holders, you could see how the runners
were attached to the skate.
Adding to the “cool” factor of my old plastic skates were the clear Tuuk blade holders. Tuuks were the first molded plastic skate chassis; they were introduced in the 1970s and quickly replaced the traditional tubular steel blades.

I wore the plastic skates for my entire playing career from high school through grad school. One night while I was playing for Penn, I blocked a dump-out with my skate, and the puck cracked the holder.  The blade stayed on though, and I managed to finish the game.  But the holder had to be replaced, and from then on I had one white holder and one clear one.

The skates gave out about the same time my shoulder did.  Though the rivets were redone a couple of times, the holder got loose at the heel, so I bought my next pair of skates in 1989.  By then, clear was out, and that pair was in plain white.

Monday, December 22, 2014

New York Times solution: Dec. 21, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this week’s New York Times variety puzzle: a Puns and Anagrams by Mel Taub.  It happened to use the same grid as the August P&A, and like most of this genre, I think it’s a hit or miss puzzle.  You have to work through a lot of dreck to get to the really clever bits.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Plastic skates (Sunday brunch: Dec. 20, 2014)

Not quite my old skates
When I was in high school and college, it was a time for a lot of new technology to find its way into sports.  I played in a pair of Daoust skates that had boots made of plastic instead of leather.

I can’t find a picture of the Daousts, but Lange (the ski boot maker) made a lot more of them, and they were pretty similar.  A hard outside shell hinged with a rivet at the ankle, and a soft inner liner that was very comfortable.  I think a lot of people bought the skates for their comfort, but were disappointed with their performance. So plastic skates are pretty much gone except for the learn-to-skate, little kids, and rental markets.

One practice from my plastic-skate days persists to this day though: the way I lace my skates.  With the plastic skates, I actually cut my laces in half and laced the tops and bottoms separately, so I could keep the laces tight over my instep and still have some flex in the skate.  Now my laces are one piece, but I put a half-turn in them between the lower and upper parts of the boot, for more control over where the laces are tightest.  I haven’t seen anyone else do it, but I think it helps.

A lot of puzzles to keep you occupied during the holidays.  Just what we needed.

We’ll start with the weekly straight cryptics for a change.  Falcon reports he was seeing double doing Hex’s cryptic in the National Post.  I had a good run through the Stickler earlier this week, but I haven’t had time to get to the Globe and Mail syndicated yet.  Maybe someone can share a comment on it.

Regular weekly non-cryptics: Patrick Berry offers a Candy Canes (his third) at the Wall Street Journal—it’s much harder than the average WSJ variety puzzle.  The New York Times has a Puns and Anagrams by Mel Taub (solution to follow).  Deb Amlen grumbles (note spoilers) at Wordplay, but notes that the PandA are a healthy “gateway drug” to cryptic crosswords, so they are to be encouraged.  I’m fairly satisfied with one of those every few months or so as is current NYT practice.
Speaking of the Times, Willz has a guest post at Wordplay that’s well worth reading.  In it he explains the process of editing a puzzle.  Solvers may be surprised at how many clues are changed in the process; constructors may not be surprised.

On the cryptic front, we have the Kevin Wald variety cryptic I commented on in my Thursday post: go solve it, it’s a nice moderate-difficulty opportunity to experience the depth of his work.   Māyā has another new straight cryptic, which she did as a 13 x 13 for a change.  Let he know what you think. There’s also a new Harper’s that was published last week (an easy one, in my opinion), which means it’s time for Erica to assess the tackiness of the December puzzle.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Takeaway (Puzzle No. 3,348)

Solving the latest Kevin Wald variety cryptic (which will be in the next Sunday brunch), I noticed that the constructor was able to bring in some new wordplay by informing us that the wordplay component of a number of the clues would yield a result that was missing one letter from the actual answer.  New anagrams and reversals and hidden words all became available as a result.

While Wald’s puzzles often are notoriously hard, and the alterations like his missing letters usually lead to a second- or third-level solution, there’s no rule that says variety puzzles have to be hard.  If you make the alteration simple, like “the wordplay in all the across clues has an extra A in it,” most cryptic solvers should be able to handle it.  Also, a simple alteration like this wouldn’t look unseemly in a block grid, even though variety cryptics usually are block-style.

I’d love to see more puzzles like this: to freshen up the cryptic landscape.  Meanwhile we have a new The Nation puzzle to work on, including a four-part answer and an unusual grid.

Link to puzzle:  http://www.thenation.com/article/193033/puzzle-no-3348

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle: hard

Hozom’s comment: “One Hand Washes the Other,” in which Hot and Trazom celebrate a special form of cross-reference clues: the ones where two clues cross-reference each other, usually by anagram.  It’s not as unfair as you think, since intersecting letters give fodder for both answers. We’ve seen several of these since Hot and Trazom took over setting duties.

Weekly cluing challenge (at Word Salad):  MUTUAL

Back with the solution Monday: join us this weekend and every weekend for Sunday brunch.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

All-Star Game (Solution No. 3,347)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,347 is below the fold.

Pee Wee game Saturday night.  The home team led five to nothing after the first period, outplaying the visitors pretty comprehensively.  As often happens with youth games, the winning coaches don’t want to run up the score, so they make some deliberate changes to the game plan: passing a lot more than shooting.

So in the second period, when the home team got control of the puck in their end, they’d look up to find wingers breaking out into the neutral zone and try to reach them with a long pass.  The TV announcers call this the “home run pass” and some of us call those forwards “floaters.”  Old-time hockey people don’t like floaters, because those wingers aren’t coming back and playing defense. Refs like them even less, because a long pass like that forces you to race the length of the ice to pick up the play, and we don’t get to rest on the bench between shifts.

We got to the bench at the end of the period, and between gulps of water, I turned to my partner and said “looks like the All-Star Game out there [with all the long passes and no defense]: an All-Star Game minus the skill.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Play in the steering (Sunday brunch: December 14, 2014)

I don’t think I’ve commented here about skates much, but they came to my attention yesterday, when I was dressing for my game  The screw holding the front of one of my skate blades came just a little bit loose, so the blade had a little wobble.  I’ve got a lot of stuff in my whistle bag, but not a screwdriver, so I tightened the blade as best as I could with my fingers and hoped for the best.

Fortunately, the screw and the blade stayed on through the game, but a couple of times, I noticed the skate not gliding quite straight; and my C-cuts and turns weren’t quite as sharp as usual, like a car with some play in the steering.

While the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both have acrostics this week, there are still plenty of new cryptics to keep you busy.  You can start by catching up with Māyā, who’s previously appeared in this blog as Xanthippe and LizR.  She has three new puzzles: be warned they’re difficult, but the themework is top-quality.

Another new variety cryptic from Kevin Wald: Let There Be Lightness.  More regular straight cryptics: Stickler, Hex, and the Globe and Mail syndicated (caution: Britishism in 10a).

A couple of year-end posts from BEQ are worth checking out: 701 is an interesting theme, and 698 is his holiday gift guide for puzzlers.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Time windows (Puzzle No. 3,347)

It’s probably coincidence, but in solving The Nation puzzles recently, I noticed a few answers that hit a sweet spot of those of us in middle age.  Stuff like Tenzig Norgay (along with Sir Edmund Hilary, was first to climb Mount Everest) and Petula Clark (singer of the 1964 hit “Downtown”).  And there were some classical music references too.  Meanwhile I hadn’t had to grapple with any rap stars or recent TV shows, so solving-wise, I was on a roll.

Since solvers are a diverse bunch (we hope), constructors need to be careful not to have too narrow a time window for their cultural references lest young or old solvers think they aren’t welcome.  Now there are some puzzles like AV Club which are ripped from the pop culture headlines and are intended to be tests of that kind of knowledge, but cryptics are mostly about wordplay, so they shouldn’t be pop culture (or old fogey culture) tests.

This week’s The Nation puzzle was a test, but not of the cultural type.  How’d you do?

Link to puzzlehttp://www.thenation.com/article/192289/puzzle-no-3347

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

Hozom’s comment:  “To Infinity and Beyond” in which Hot and Trazom interview Kevin Wald, constructor of the most amazing variety cryptics, and tell us how to pronounce “Ucaiomhu.” Read the whole thing.

Cluing challenge (at Word Salad): SPICE

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Critters (Solution No. 3,199)

The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 3,199 is below the fold.

A couple of the rinks I work at are up in Bucks County; weekend drives there can be pretty scenic. Last month I had two trips notable from a nature standpoint.  The first one happened by accident, as I forgot to make the turn off at Route 132 and kept on going up 532.  In the lawn of an industrial park was a big whitetail buck: a big stocky fellow with at least 8 points on the antlers.  

Then a week later there was the deer who didn’t stay on the lawn and was hit by a car.  A couple of turkey vultures were having a feast on its carcass, while a half-dozen more were circling and waiting for a chance to dine.  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Automatics (Sunday brunch: Dec. 7, 2014)

In our last episode, we learned why refs shouldn’t have rabbit ears.  Today we find out that most refs have one thing or another that will instantly draw a penalty if said to them.  If you have one of the growing number of female referees working your game (Hi, Kate!), you’d better not say anything about her gender, or anything sexual in nature.  Every lady partner I’ve had makes that an automatic.

Me, it’s my glasses.  During my playing days and early in my refereeing career, I wore contact lenses.  But as I got older, I found they dried my eyes out uncomfortably.  More importantly, my astigmatism has grown significantly worse, and the contacts didn’t correct for that.  So I got a pair of Rec-Specs, which  are special glasses made with an elastic strap that fits under a helmet. They had the added bonus of protecting my eyes from stray sticks and pucks in the days before they made us all wear visors.

They’re very effective, but they’re also quite obvious (and ugly, I’ll admit).  So inevitably, some wag who thinks he’s being original makes a remark about my glasses being fogged up or something like that when a call goes against his team.  That’s my automatic: two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.  I don’t care what the score is or whether you’ve been a perfect angel the rest of the game. Then once you’re in the penalty box, I’ll explain: “a referee who wears glasses is a referee who gets his eyes checked every season.”

Put on your solving glasses and have a go at this great variety of puzzles.  The New York Times has a diagramless by Paula Gamache (blogged by Deb Amlen–spoiler warning), while the Wall Street Journal has Patrick Berry’s Cigar Boxes.  Hints for both have been posted elsewhere on the blog.

Variety cryptics?  Two of those, and believe it or not, the one by Kevin Wald is easier.  Tom Toce created another of his three-dimensional puzzles.

Straight cryptics?  A pair of them too.  Hex in the National Post (as blogged by Falcon) and the regular syndicated puzzle from the Globe and Mail.

And variety solvers might enjoy Thursday's New York Times straight crossword (Wordplay link)–it’s not so straight after all.  

So with all that puzzling going on, it’s a good week for Stickler to take a week off and celebrate his daughter’s wedding.  We wish them many blissful years together.  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

New York Times solution: December 7, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle, a diagramless by Paula Gamache.  I had fun with it.

There’s more fun here every weekend at Sunday Brunch, where I compile links to the latest cryptic and variety puzzles.  Join us every weekend, as well as on Thursdays for the The Nation cryptic (solved and annotated here on Mondays).

Wall Street Journal hints: December 6, 2014

Having trouble getting a toehold in the Wall Street Journal puzzle (Cigar Boxes by Patrick Berry)? Look below the fold for some hints.  First I’ll give you enumerations of the row answers, so you can check to see if the answer you’re considering has the right number of letters.  The enumerations can also tell you where to put the middle answer in a row.  I‘ll also post a hint grid with colored boxes (you still have to figure out which answer goes in which box.

Wall Street Journal solution: December 6, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: Cigar Boxes by Patrick Berry.  Before you go for the solution, see if a hint is all you need.

Rabbit ears (Puzzle No. 3,199)

Double issue of The Nation last week, so no new puzzle this week.
I’m going back to pick up No. 3,199 from July 4/11, 2011.

Link to puzzlewww.thenation.com/article/161432/puzzle-no-3199

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

Cluing challenge: RABBIT EARS
Weeks there isn’t a new Word Salad post, the weekly cluing challenge comes here to visit.  Share your clues for RABBIT EARS in the comments.

In an online discussion of unsportsmanlike conduct and when to penalize it, I was asked if I ever gave a penalty after someone complained about an opponent’s or spectator’s actions.  The answer was “no”: it’s a bad idea to let participants talk you into penalties.  I added that it’s taking the participant’s “rabbit ears” and putting them on yourself.

Rabbit ears: the ability to hear and overreact to even small bits of misconduct, is a bad reputation for a ref to have: it means you’re overly sensitive to criticism and suggests that you lack confidence in your calls or are too strict and overbearing in your management of the players and coaches.

Once you’ve worked even a handful of games, you realize that there’s much more yelling and griping and cursing than you could ever penalize if you called them by the letter of the rulebook.  So it’s an important skill to learn to distinguish a reflexive and frustrated reaction from someone trying to start an argument.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My lips are sealed (Solution No. 3,346)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,346 is below the fold.

I did a little less refereeing than I expected to do at the fencing tournament Sunday, but for a good reason: I managed to make it to the round of 16 and ended up in 14th place.  After being eliminated, I worked a quarterfinal between a highly-ranked junior (who eventually won the tournament) and one of my Friday night practice partners (who needless to say is a much better fencer than me).

My friend was having a really good day, having beaten the junior in the preliminary round, and he got off to a good start in this bout.  He carried a 10-6 lead into the second period, but his opponent adjusted his distance to make better use of his reach advantage, and my friend’s attacks started falling short, making for easy ripostes.  I could see the bout slipping away but of course I couldn’t say anything (much as I wanted to), and the junior eventually won 15-13.  The one minute break between the second and third periods, with the score 14-13, felt interminable.

Later, he told me he knew he should have fenced more defensively once he had that second period lead, but he kept doing what he’d done up to that point because it was working.  I said I had the same situation in my last preliminary, where I clawed my way to a 4-4 tie with a very good college kid from Colombia, but blew the last point infighting instead of escaping to the back of the strip so I could start over.  Of this lessons are made: thinking and reacting at the same time is very difficult.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pie and bourbon (Sunday brunch: November 30, 2014)

We had Thanksgiving dinner, as we often do, with an old friend of ours who taught biochemistry when The Other Doctor Mitchell and I were in college, and later became TODM’s post-doc boss. Academically speaking, Eileen is my aunt, as she and my graduate boss were both Mildred Cohn’s students.  It’s a testament to Mildred’s talent and mentoring that her scientific descendents can be found in so many different places.  (I did some NMR work for her while I was in grad school and she was an emeritus; I also taught her how to use a Macintosh computer.)

This time, Eileen hosted since her daughter was going to be back from New Jersey.  Liz made the appetizer, The Other Doctor Mitchell made dessert, and I selected the beverages.  Recalling that Eileen appreciated a cocktail on her last visit to our house, I decided to pack a bottle of nice bourbon to go with dessert, which was a deep dish apple pie.  How deep?  Very deep (to recall a favorite phrase of another chem prof).

Eileen took the occasion to get out a tiny little cordial glass for her bourbon, while I went for my usual small glass with one ice cube.  It was a perfect choice: the sour mash aroma slicing the sweet/tart of the pie.  You hardly needed to drink any, just pick up the glass and savor.  I wouldn’t recommend it with pie for breakfast though.

Breakfast or nightcap, these puzzles will go well with your pie.

Kevin Wald composed a Thanksgiving cryptic.  I got through the grid in a flash, but the theme answer was really tough.

Hex have a laddergram cryptic in the Wall Street Journal, their regular straight cryptic in the National Post, and an acrostic in the Times.

The Globe and Mail cryptic is a hard one this week: I've barely scratched the surface.  The Stickler was tough too.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Vowels to Bosnia (Puzzle No. 3,346)

Tom Magliozzi (1937-2014)
With the passing of Tom Magliozzi, one half of Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, Ray and the producers of Car Talk put together a memorial program.  One of the pieces in it was “Vowels to Bosnia,” which originally appeared in The Onion. in 1995  It was perfect for Car Talk because of Tom and Ray’s penchant for skewering their NPR News compatriots and the wall to wall coverage of the Balkan wars going on on the network at the time.

So did you donate vowels to Bosnia?  Have no fear, you can still solve crosswords.  The vowelless is a well-known form of variety puzzles, which add an additional challenge because the answers aren’t enumerated.  Solving them requires a good eye for spotting letter patterns.  Crossnerd has created a bunch, Trip Payne has one, Neville Fogarty has one, Andy Kravis has one, and Arthur Schulman has done four for the New York Times.  The kng f th gnr is Frnk Lng.  The constructors all seem to have fun with them.

Now, back to regular cryptics: here’s this week’s The Nation puzzle.

Link to puzzlehttp://www.thenation.com/article/191345/puzzle-no-3346

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Somewhat hard.  A few of the answers escaped me on the first go, even after I got the theme.

Hozom’s comment: “A Grat Étude,” in which Hot and Trazom give thanks for their test solvers, and introduce the two newest members of the team.  They also give us a few before and after examples of clues the test solvers helped improve.  

Weekly cluing challenge:  GRATEFUL

See you this weekend for Sunday Brunch, and don’t solve like my brother.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two tickets (Solution No. 3,201)

The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 3,201 is below the fold.

Sabers and his coach
Congratulations are in order for Sabers, who had two qualifying events last weekend and succeeded in both.  Saturday was the PMEA District 11 chorus auditions, where he won a place in the three-day chorus festival.

Sunday was the Junior Olympics fencing qualifiers for our division.  This event also functions as the unofficial Philadelphia-area high school fencing championship.  There’s a senior from DVFC who’s the class of the division: he’s won every one of the qualifiers he’s been in, and another senior from our club who’s the number two junior in the division.  After that, there are four others, including Sabers, who on any given day could lay claim to being number three.

So on Sunday, with three qualifying for JOs, Sabers could earn a spot if he competed up to his potential.  He won his first four bouts, including the one against his biggest local rival.  Meanwhile, one of Sabers’s teammates (a sophomore) upset the DVFC senior, leaving Sabers in first place. Sabers who had already beat the sophomore 5-4, lost to the senior and then inexplicably lost a 5-4 bout to the fencer who ended up in last place for the tournament.  That dropped him from the number 2 slot to number 4, and he’d need to win two bouts to get that third place and the ticket to Richmond.

Sabers, Nick, and Nate, again
The quarterfinal was against one of our teammates: Sabers blew him out 15-6.  The semi against the top seed was just as lopsided the other way.  So it came down to the bronze medal bout, which unfortunately had to be against his teammate.  The teammate hot, and took an 8-4 lead in the first period.  I noticed Sabers’ attacks falling short, so I advised him to pay attention to distance and not make his move too soon.  He got a couple of quick touches, and a minute later, I could see his opponent looked mentally exhausted, even though he was still ahead 10-8 in the bout.  Sabers stepped up his tactical approach, took control of the bout, and closed it out with ease, 15-12.  Some ups and downs along the way, but mission accomplished.

Hockey Fights Cancer (Solution No. 3,200)

Spearing for a cure
The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 3,200 is below the fold.

Each November, I join thousands (I hope) of other refs in dedicating one of our game fees to Hockey Fights Cancer.  Saturday morning was that game: a nice skate with the mites (seven-year-olds) and a partner who looked to be 12 or 13 (with the perfect balance of support and independence from his father).

Want to join us?  Take an hour’s pay or the proceeds from a puzzle you construct, and send it to Hockey Fights Cancer.  The first five people who do so and send an e-mail to thenationcryptic@gmail.com will get a Hockey Fights Cancer decal you can put on your helmet (or fencing mask!).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lake effect (Sunday brunch: Nov. 23, 2014)

With SPIRO GYRA turning up in one of the puzzles a coupla weeks ago, I had planned to make this post about the band with the similar name and about how several other performers of “smooth jazz” (cue Chuck Mangione) got started in upstate New York.  But the region made bigger news this week with the gigantic snowstorm that close to paralyzed Buffalo.

Normally, upstaters take snow in stride.  I’m a Syracuse native: the city gets 10 to 11 feet of snow per year on average, the snowiest major city in America.  Buffalo actually gets less snow (8 feet or so) but it gets more publicity.  Part of the reason may be that Buffalo can get more of it all at once.  This was definitely one of those instances. Like Sandy’s storm surge coming on top of an particularly high tide: there were a combination of circumstances that made for a huge snowfall.

To understand them, let me first explain the Lake Effect.  Lake snow happens when prevailing winds blow across the Great Lakes, picking up moisture from the lake and dropping it as frozen precipitation when it comes across dry land.   This week, two factors combined to amplify the snowfall.  First, we had an unusual cold snap for mid-November.  The air and the ground were unusually cold compared to the surface of the lakes, which were warmer because lake temperatures change more slowly.  Second, the winds blew very steadily and from the east-southeast instead of the east-northeast.  They blew right up the long axis of Lake Erie, giving them ample opportunity to store up moisture, which funneled right into Buffalo and Niagara Falls at the end of the lake.  By contrast, Syracuse only got a few inches of snow, because the winds off the lake were all off to the north this time.  

Snowed in?  Here are some puzzles to keep you occupied.

The Wall Street Journal variety puzzle is a tough one: a Belt Line by Patrick Berry.  Bring an eraser: you’ll probably need to make some guesses.   The New York Times has one of Willz’s non-crosswords: a letterbank puzzle with a twist: you must double one of the letters in each of the words you come up with.

I hadn’t noticed these before, but Todd McClary has constructed a cryptic and a variety crossword called Hopscotch as well as a bunch of straight crosswords.  Give them a try.

Falcon found himself disturbing a Medusa while solving Hex’s weekly cryptic.  Sounds dangerous. No snakes found in the Globe and Mail cryptic, but it was pretty challenging.  This week’s Stickler was a nice smooth solve.  

In (mostly) straight crossword news, Patrick Blindauer has announced his latest Puzzlefest, scheduled to go live next month.  And Cross Nerd (Peter Broda) and his team are inviting a guest constructor to provide a puzzle for the Indie 500 crossword tournament.

Chuck Mangione: Land of Make Believe (Esther Satterfield, v.)

Spyro Gyra: Morning Dance

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cluing Challenge (Nov. 21, 2014): SNOWFALL

Didn’t realize until Thursday that last week’s was a double issue of The Nation, and then I’ve been preoccupied with researching and writing an evidence report on rehydration treatments for Ebola patients, so I owe you a cluing challenge and a back puzzle to work on.

In honor of tomorrow’s Sunday brunch topic, the cluing challenge is SNOWFALL.  I can think of tons of ways to clue this, so multiple submissions are encouraged.

And the puzzle I’m solving and will annotate on Monday is No. 3,200.

See you at brunch tomorrow.

P.S.  Happy Birthday to Liz today!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sanding both sides (Solution No. 3,345)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,345 is below the fold.

Getting a smooth surface on a cryptic clue can be hard sometimes, as Hot and Trazom pointed out at Word Salad.  Just think how hard it must be to get a clue to work two different ways and give two different answers—Kevin Wald accomplishes that in the second of his two new puzzles from last week.  That’s a trick he specializes in: some of those special clues are very well camouflaged,  I had to work backwards from the final message to find the last double clue.  Hall of fame stuff.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hall of Fame (Sunday Brunch: November 16, 2014)

This weekend is the annual Hockey Hall of Fame induction in Toronto.  Canton has its bronze busts, and Cooperstown its history, but the Hockey Hall of Fame is the best of all.  It’s in a former bank building in downtown Toronto, and you walk into the bank vault to see the Stanley Cup.  Unlike the HOFs for the other major sports, the Hockey Hall of Fame has welcomed great players and coaches from outside North America like legendary Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak, along with female champions like Cammi Granato.  Referees and linesmen take their place alongside the players too, which obviously I agree with: no sport is more demanding on its officials than hockey.

This year’s class features Bill McCreary, who for a decade was the finest referee in the NHL (no offense to Kerry Fraser though).  There’s no greater honor for an official than to be chosen for the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals, and McCreary got that call several times.  Also in the class of 2014 is Sweden and NHL star Peter Forsberg.  He had the same shoulder operation I had, the same week that I did, but the opposite side.

Some Hall of Fame constructors have puzzles for us this weekend: let’s start with Hex, who have an acrostic (spoiler alert) in the New York Times along with their weekly straight cryptic in the National Post.

Kevin Wald posted two new birthday cryptics this week.  I managed to finish the first of them in one sitting, including the ending pieces—that doesn’t happen very often.  Remarkable how Kevin can tie up so many loose ends in a puzzle so neatly.

Richard Maltby in the new Harper’s?  I managed to finish that one pretty quickly too.  Can’t say more because it’s a prize puzzle, but I’ll share some notes once the entry deadline passes. Meanwhile, Erica blogs the November puzzle at Tacky Harper’s Cryptic Clues.

Mike Shenk set the acrostic in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Stickler has his weekly Australian cryptic, and our friend Anonymous has the weekly Globe and Mail cryptic.

How about something different?  If you solve sudokus, you should try Thursday’s Samurai Sudoku (hit the link and then select November 13--Evil).  These puzzles are five interconnected grids, and when they’re on, they really have a lovely rhythm where you have to move from one grid to the other to get the missing answer.  Once you figure out the logical key to the November 13 one, it goes down very smoothly.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

First impressions (Puzzle No. 3,345)

Speaking of hidden in plain sight (Word Salad this week),
can you see the owl here?  More at Gizmodo.
Last week, Hot and Trazom explained the concept of “surface” in a clue.  It’s the first impression you get from it.  The surface can make a clue easier or harder, depending on whether it makes the indicator obvious, disguises it, or sets up a misdirection.

Related to that is the first impression you get from the topmost acrosses and the leftmost downs. They’re usually where solvers dig into a puzzle, and if they get those right off the bat (*), we feel the puzzle will be easy, and if those first answers are tough to get, we feel the puzzle will be hard.

So those first clues are another way that a diabolical constructor can mess with your mind.  While it’s good form to have a fairly consistent range of difficulty among the clues (it’s what I refer too as a “smooth” solve), the firsts are the best place to adjust the perceived overall difficulty of the puzzle.

This week’s puzzle, at least for me, was one of those that started out harder than it finished.  How about you?

Link to puzzle:  http://www.thenation.com/article/190265/puzzle-no-3345

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  moderate, once I bypassed 1a and 1d

Hozom’s comment:  Free Lunch, in which Hot and Trazom reply to critics who don’t like answer pieces appearing verbatim in the clue (these are the elements that I indicate with a †).  My experience is they show up about twice a puzzle on average.  Most of the time it’s necessary to make the clue read in a sensible fashion, but with a good misdirection that supposedly-easy bit can effectively camouflaged.
Weekly cluing challenge (at Word Salad):  FREEBIE

Back with the solution Monday.  Join us this weekend for Sunday brunch.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Train time (Solution No. 3,344)

The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 3,344 is below the fold.

I thought this week’s puzzle was not hard.  The wordplay was around the usual level of difficulty, but there were fewer misdirections or other tricks.  Since Hot was wondering how I appraise the degree of difficulty, maybe I should use the train trip as a reference.

Back in my first stint of taking the train to work, before I started solving cryptics, I often worked the puzzle from the daily newspaper on the ride home.  Being on paper rather than a computer or a mobile device, there’s no handy timer.  So I used the train as a timer.  If I had the puzzle all done by Wayne Junction, it was easy.  If it took a few more stops, it was moderate.  And if I didn’t finish it by the time I got home, it was hard.

With the The Nation puzzle, I usually type up the annotation on the train Friday and/or Monday.  Usually I can get almost but not quite half the puzzle (acrosses or downs) explained before I get to the city.  This one I got into the last across before I had to get off Friday morning.  I think that was farther than I ever got on a day the train wasn’t delayed.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

New York Times solution: Novembr 9, 2014

Difficulty-wise, this is about on a par with the National Post cryptics by Hex.  Less inventive than the The Nation puzzles.  Interestingly, the grid is the same that Silvestri used for his July NYT cryptic. I won’t complain about that.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Warm spot (Sunday brunch: Nov. 9, 2014)

The rink where I had a came a couple of Sundays ago is one of the nicer places I skate.  The ice is kept in good condition (they have a well-regarded figure skating club), the referees’s dressing room is spacious and even has a hot shower (so I can be presentable when I get to church), and the place is well-lit.  I also like it because there’s an area near the blue line on the far boards where the ventilation system blows warm air.  It must be misadjusted, because the warm air is supposed to be aimed at the bleachers, but I’m not going to complain.

The rink is not that cold otherwise (the one up north from me is very cold), but the warm spot still is a very comfortable place.  It’s calming in a tense game, but it can also get my attention as I skate through and keep me alert in an easy game.

We haven’t had a new Kevin Wald puzzle in a while, so maybe it’s a good thing that the grid of “Many a Day” is pretty easy to fill (by standards of Uc’s puzzles, which are pretty darn hard).

The WSJ variety puzzle is a new type (right?) by Mike Shenk.  It’s called “Alternation” and it reminded me of a Nathan Curtis puzzle.  It’s probably easier to construct than a straight crossword, and quicker if not easier to solve.  With that in mind, I posted a challenge grid as well as the usual solution and hints.

The New York Times has a cryptic this week: it’s by Richard Silvestri. Among the spoilers (read her post after you solve) Deb Amlen has a good description of the attraction of cryptics: “The reshaping of our train of thought is what makes cryptic crosswords so much fun.”  She also informs us that the Times is preparing to make some of their cryptics available in their mobile app.

Regular weekly straight cryptics are found at the Stickler, the National Post, and the Globe and Mail. The Stickler was hard: I haven’t had time to solve the others yet since I need to be Mr. Mom this weekend (more precisely, to do figure skating and orchestra taxi service).  

Wall Street Journal challenge grid: November 1, 2014

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle is by Mike Shenk and is called Alternations.  The words form a spiral in the grid, and alternating letters from that spiral form two more sequences of words.  The grid includes numbers for placing the main words, but if you want more of a challenge, try doing it in this grid, which has no numbers.

Wall Street Journal solution: Nov. 8, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: Alternations by Mike Shenk.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Patterns (Puzzle No. 3,344)

(Sorry for the delay finishing the post: I had a battery problem.)

Do you find yourself following a pattern when you solve?  All the acrosses first?  Outside to inside? Or maybe no pattern: just solve whatever clue your eye falls on?  When I solve straight cryptics I usually try to challenge myself by making a chain: only solving clues that intersect answers I’ve already got instead of picking off the easy ones first.  For some reason, I did this one acrosses first though.

What’s your solving routine?  Share it in the comments.

Link to puzzlehttp://www.thenation.com/article/188105/puzzle-no-3344

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

Hozom’s comment: Rising to the Surface, in which Hot and Trazom explain what makes a clue read well: the natural (non-cryptic) reading of a clue is called the surface.  They also share a few clinkers. When I try cluing, I usually overdo it on shaping the surface.

Weekly cluing challenge (at Word Salad): MILLIONS, OREGANO, and PARODY—a three-way challenge (the aforementioned clinkers)

Back with the solution Monday.  Join us this weekend for Sunday brunch:  there’s a great variety cryptic on the menu.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Body contact (Solution No. 3,343)

The solution and annotation of The Nation puzzle no. 3,343 is below the fold.

In the latest edition of their rulebook, USA Hockey redesignated its checking and non-checking categories “Body Checking” and “Body Contact.”  I applauded the change because there is plenty of banging and crashing in the non-checking levels, and it might cut down on parents who scream at the ref because someone hit their kid and he’s down on the ice.

Of course you’re not supposed to body-check the ref at any level of hockey, but we take our lumps too.  One of the more dangerous times for a referee is when the puck gets dumped in over the blue line and players are chasing it.  Normally, I bump out away from the boards to give the defenseman a straight line to the puck; otherwise, the players try to go through me rather than around.  This time though, there was also a forward chasing, and he didn’t expect me to make the move.  He hit me at full speed and I got rocked.  That’s why we wear all that protective equipment.

D players are such bad skaters that if you can’t get out of their way, it’s time to retire.  Cs will run into you, but more often than not, they’re the one who lands on the ice.  Senior As are good skaters, and if you get in their way, they shove you aside and drop a few four-letter words on the way.  Bs have all the size and speed, but not the agility, which is a recipe for collisions.  We should get combat pay at that level.

This week’s puzzle referred to a much less physical pastime.  Read on to find out what one...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Great Game (Sunday brunch: November 2, 2014)

Seeing as how Election Day is this Tuesday, I figured I should read one of the new books by a prominent politician.  No, not one of the people angling for the 2016 presidential nomination.  The author isn’t even American: it’s Stephen J. Harper, Prime Minister of Canada.

Though his degree is in economics, Harper has long had an interest in history.  Being a native of the Toronto area, he’s an avid Maple Leafs fan.  When the Society for International Hockey Research was formed, it inspired Harper to pursue that avocation.  He says the research and writing for the project, which began in 2004, was a pleasant release from the stress of politics and work in Parliament.  He had assistance in researching the book’s contents, but the writing is all Harper’s.

A Great Game: the Forgotten Leafs and the Rise of Professional Hockey is centered on the emergence of professional hockey in Toronto, from the beginnings of the Ontario Hockey Association around the turn of the century to the first Stanley Cup for Toronto, won by the Blue Shirts in 1914.  Much centers on the tension between the ideals of amateurism in sport and the rise of professional sport as popular entertainment.  This story, which played out in other sports too, like golf and football, was driven by rising prosperity and the emergence of a middle class.  The upper class no longer had a monopoly on sport or other leisure-time activities.

In the manner of the best popular history books, A Great Game is both scholarly and accessible. There are plenty of anecdotes to illustrate the ways of life before the Great War, and intriguing bits of hockey history like the introduction of goal nets and the practice of dropping the puck in a face-off instead of laying it on the ice (which is how face-offs are conducted in lacrosse, which was an equally big sport in Canada at the time).  Harper also does a nice job fleshing out the main characters: not just the players, but the association presidents and promoters too.

Quotes from newspaper stories of the time knock down the myth that society’s preoccupation with sports is a modern thing: only fans gathered around newspaper and telegraph offices for play by play instead of around a television screen.  The parade welcoming a returning Stanley Cup challenger, even in defeat, was just as much of an event then as it is now.  That points to the only shortcoming of A Great Game: though it is well-illustrated, I would have liked to see more photographs of games and of the surrounding hoopla.

Amateur or professional, try solving these crosswords...

The highlight of the weekend is Hex’s variety cryptic in the Wall Street Journal: Spoonermania.  I don’t think I need to say any more other than some of the clue types will be obvious.  But a few aren’t so much, and in case those give you trouble, I have hints posted.  The solution is also up  Hex also have their usual straight cryptic in the National Post (blogged by Falcon).  More moderate difficulty than easy, but a smooth solve.   If you remember Hex’s fondness for second definitions, you’ll do well.

More straight cryptics are found in the Globe and Mail, and Down Under courtesy of the Stickler.  I found the latter to be a tough one, but I got through it.

BEQ posted a new Marching Bands he brought to Crosswords LA as a bonus for the entrants.  Small (11 x 11 instead of the usual 13 x 13) but creative as BEQ’s work always is.  The other puzzles from that tournament (all straight crosswords, I think) are available for just five bucks, proceeds going to charity.

The New York Times variety puzzle is an acrostic, blogged (with spoilers) by Deb Amlen at Wordplay.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Wall Street Journal hint: November 1, 2014

Need a hint for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle?  In this puzzle, 12 entries have a Spoonerism in their clues, 12 others have their answers Spoonerized before entry, and the rest are normal.

Below the fold, I've posted a table of which entries have altered clues, which have altered answers, and which are normal.  If you want to find out which group a particular entry is, click and drag over the box next to its location.

Wall Street Journal solution: November 1, 2014

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

Did you solve the Richard Maltby variety cryptic from Harper’s?  It’s linked in the latest edition of Sunday brunch.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Welcome, Word Salad readers (Puzzle No. 3,343)

Thank you for the plug, Hot and Trazom; and thank you readers, for visiting.  I hope you'll bookmark the page and come back weekly.

What will you find?  On Thursdays, a link to the new The Nation puzzle and to the latest Word Salad post.  Weeks that The Nation doesn’t publish, I usually locate and link to a puzzle from the archive. Over the summer, we went back through the years to solve some Frank Lewis puzzles and see how the American cryptic form has evolved since Puzzle No. 1.  They’ve been alternately frustrating and enjoyable.

Mondays, I post a full solution and annotation of the current week’s puzzle.  Each clue is parsed in depth, showing what words are the indicator and what words are fodder for the wordplay.  This is a lot more complete than the solution you get in the magazine or pretty much any other cryptic blog out there.  The idea is that by breaking each clue down to its component parts, you’ll learn to spot the keys and become a better solver.  That’s then the bridge you need to take on the harder puzzles you see in other places like the National Puzzlers' League, British newspapers, and long-running variety cryptic series.

So you read the blog and get the tools: now where can you find more puzzles to solve?  Right here! On weekends, I post Sunday Brunch, with links to assorted cryptic and variety puzzles.  

It’s Thursday, so here’s this week’s The Nation puzzle:

Link to puzzlehttp://www.thenation.com/article/186361/puzzle-no-3343

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Hard.  Many of the fours and fives come along nicely, but they don’t necessarily give you easy partials.

Hozom’s comment: The Iceman Bloggeth, in which Hot and Trazom encounter a zebra with two twists.

Cluing Challenge: HOCKEY

Back with the solution on Monday.  Comment, or ask for help below.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ask a stupid question... (Solution No. 3,342)

The solution to puzzle no. 3,342 is below the fold.

Scene: Sunday morning on an ice rink somewhere in the Philadelphia area: the third period.  A pee wee player gains control of the puck and skates into the neutral zone, followed by another pee wee player, with a referee trailing them.  The second player wraps his stick around the first player.  The referee raises his arm.  The three continue into the neutral zone where another player knocks the puck away from the first player.  The referee blows his whistle and directs the second player to the penalty bench. 

Referee (to scorer):  44 white holding!  Minor penalty.  Four four.

Coach (to referee):  You’re killing us! How did he hold him?

Referee (to coach):  With his arms and his stick.

Referee skates away.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pits (Sunday brunch: Oct. 26, 2014)

Monday, I groused about the ice at one of my home rinks and the management’s ongoing problems. It’s been like that as long as I’ve been skating there, and I’ve been skating there since Ian Walsh was working Pee Wees.   But there were some years I didn’t skate there.  Around 2000, they fully enclosed the rink (it used to be partly open-air) and reconfigured the boards, moving the benches from one side to the other.

Not surprisingly, they cheaped out on the job.  Instead of buying new glass or at least some replacement panes for the relocated bench doors, they transferred the glass from one spot to another, cutting where the panes were too big.  That left two spots with gaps in the glass about six inches to a foot wide: just enough to catch an arm.  And when the put up protective nets behind the end glass, the eye bolts they bought were too long, and stuck out into the playing area.  If I put up my hand for a penalty in one of those spots, I could cut it on the bolt.  And then the bottom of the Zam door was worn, and if it wasn’t shut tight enough, a puck could slip under.  

All accidents waiting to happen.  If a player got hurt on one of those danger spots during a game I was refereeing, the family would probably sue everyone in sight.  We refs get liability insurance from USA Hockey, but even if it didn’t hit me in the bank account, a lawsuit would be a real pain in the tail.  So I reported the situation to the Risk Management department at USA Hockey, and when the rink didn’t do anything about the problems.  I told my assigner not to give me any more games there. About five years later they finally replaced the boards and glass, and I resumed skating there.  But the place is still a pit.

Much better quality in the puzzles, as always.  First off, don’t forget the annual NYT crossword contest.  You need the solutions to all six of the week’s puzzles to get some kind of meta.  Answers are due at 6:00 tonight, New York time.

The new Harpers is out, and this month’s Richard Maltby cryptic is too.  That means it’s also time for Erica to take apart last month’s Playfair Square.   Even though she and her Sweet Vladimir were winners (again: good for you!), her blog brings the smack from the get-go.  “This was some real bulls***” she says.  But Erica and Vlad were smart enough to pull out a bag of Scrabble tiles to solve the cipher.    I got partway through the cipher (the puzzle wasn’t unduly hard) but never got around to finishing.  I’ll try Erica’s trick.  Bonus in her post: her mom makes an appearance.

The Wall Street Journal variety puzzle is a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  It was the easiest Rows Garden I’ve ever solved.  But there are hints elsewhere on the blog if you need them.

Likewise, the Fred Piscop diagramless (Wordplay link: spoilers!) in today’s New York Times posed little difficulty as well. I’ve posted a solution in case you’re stuck on anything.

For your straight cryptic pleasure, there are three weekly puzzles by Hex, Stickler, and the syndicate for the Globe and Mail.  These will be harder than the WSJ and NYT puzzles.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

New York Times solution: October 26, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle: a diagramless by Fred Piscop.

Once you’re done with it, stay around for Sunday brunch.  This weekend we have all kinds of new puzzles on the menu: straight and variety cryptics, a Rows Garden, and the Times puzzle contest.

Wall Street Journal hint: Oct: 25, 2014

Below the fold are two sets of hints to today’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  It’s an easy one, so you probably won’t need much of a hint, but you can also use this to check your answers.

First is a list of enumerations for the answers in each row.  Click and drag to see the number of letters in each one.  Then there’s a table of the locations for each of the blooms.  They’re identified by the row number for that color and then A/B/C/D in order.  So the rightmost bloom straddling rows F and G (it’s a dark) would be 2D.

Finished?  Like Rows Gardens?  Subscribe to Andrew Ries’s bi-weekly series.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gavotte in 225 squares (Puzzle No. 3,342)

When I checked out Peter Schickele’s page for definitive information on P.D.Q. Bach, what should I find there but crossword puzzles?  Thinking a little more about it, I wasn’t surprised. An academic and entertainer, one who puns for a living?  Of course he’ll have an interest in crosswords.  And so Professor Schickele has taken the leap and constructed some puzzles of his own.

I solved one of the later ones in the collection: it’s not to the standard of a Times puzzle, but it’s better than many amateur compositions.  As is often the case with novice constructors, parts of the fill leave something to be desired, with a lot of threes and fours and some clues designed to legitimize non-words as grid entries.  The cluing is better, with plenty of musical references (not obscure, but definitely not common), as one might expect, but several groaners as well.

And the theme entries and clues were excellent (you’ll have to solve for yourself to see them).  The kind of wordplay in the themes hints that Schickele might have a knack for cryptics. Maybe some constructor could invite him for a collaboration.

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate to hard.  Not exceptionally difficult, but at least to me it wasn’t as smooth a solve as some other recent puzzles.

Hozom’s comment: “Between the Cracks” in which Hot and Trazom try and categorize a few of their less common clue types.  Like me, they often resort to “pun” as a means of explaining wordplay. Generally, these are the ones with emphasis on the “play” part of “wordplay” and the I think the puzzles are much richer for them.  The best of them I’ll share with The Other Doctor Mitchell at cocktail hour, and she’ll alternately cheer and groan.

Cluing challenge: CATEGORY

Back with the solution on Monday.  Join us this weekend and every weekend for Sunday brunch.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Don’t leave without the check (Solution No. 3,341)

The solution to puzzle no. 3.341 is below the fold

Yesterday started at the hockey rink (well, actually it started at church) and ended at the figure skating rink.  In between, I refereed both a hockey game and a fencing tournament (hadn’t ever done both the same day before).  The hockey game was at the nearby rink where the ice feels dead.  This year, I know they melted down and remade the ice over the summer, since there’s a ‘heads-up’ line around the perimeter.  It was marginally better than it was last year, but it’s still by far the worst ice of any rink I ref at.

While we were at the season-opening cocktail party (it’s the Main Line, you don’t need much of an excuse for cocktails) at the figure skating club, I mentioned to the manager and the Zamboni driver the contrast between their ice and where I had skated in the morning.  The Zam driver actually had worked at that rink a coupla years ago, and the manager hears all the rink scuttlebutt from around the area (rink people frequently need to borrow parts and equipment from each other).  Both of them weren’t surprised at the conditions at the other rink.  They apparently have a couple of floor and refrigeration problems they can’t afford to fix (an old story at this place, even under the previous management—I’ll tell you about it another time), and everyone knows the ice there is crummy.

That they were having money problems didn’t surprise me either.  Before the season started, we got a directive from our supervisor: don’t leave that rink without the game check.  Apparently a couple of guys got their checks three months late last season.  There’s too much history of rinks failing to pay their refs when they get into cash-flow trouble, so when something like this happens, the rink is kept on a very short leash.  If we don’t get our money right after the game, we notify our supervisor, and very soon that rink isn’t going to have any refs.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Marshy (Sunday brunch: October 19, 2014)

This is being posted on Saturday because 25 years ago today, The Other Doctor Mitchell and I were honeymooning in Toronto (after a few days in Niagara Falls—how traditional can you get!), and on October 18, 1989, we attended the Toronto-Vancouver game at Maple Leaf Gardens.  The home team won (we didn’t have a rooting interest), but to my delight, Leafs’ veteran defenceman Brad Marsh played a memorable game.

Being an old, slow defenseman myself (I wasn’t old or a defenseman until the end of my playing career, but I had a lifetime of slow), I was especially thrilled. The Leafs, who had had a pretty bad start to the season, got the go-ahead goal early in the third period, but the Canucks mounted a furious effort to tie the game.
One of the last NHL
players without a helmet
(not that I endorse that).

Late in the third, Marsh had a shift where he blocked two shots: dropping to the ice to put his shins in front of a slap shot (one of the unsung aspects of the game you can’t appreciate without having played it).  After the second one, he picked up the puck and lugged it up ice into the Canucks’ zone.  After all, even a stay-at-home defenseman knows that sometimes a good offense is the best defense.   The crowd roared its appreciation and Marsh was named one of the three stars of the game despite having no goals, no assists, and only one shot on goal.
A few years later, when I earned a place refereeing in one of the high school leagues here, and my number 5 wasn’t available, I took number 8, in honor of Marshy, who wore that number for the Flyers.  

Now it turns out that Marshy has joined Hockey Buzz and contributes a few blog posts each month. Maybe he’ll share a few memories of that game in T.O. with us.

Speaking of slow, it continues to be a slow cryptic month: nothing new recently from LizR or Kevin Wald, Harper’s is off this month, and in the national papers it’s a two-acrostic week: Mike Shenk in the Wall Street Journal and Hex in the New York Times (blogged with spoilers by Deb Amlen).  Solvers note: the week-long New York Times crossword contest will be going on all next week.  20 solvers who figure out the correct answer to the challenge will win a full year NYT puzzle subscription.  I got my win already, finding out (on my birthday no less!) that I’d won Aries’s Rows Garden meta sweepstakes, and another year of his timely and thoughtful puzzles

The National Post cryptic (blogged by Falcon) was a little disappointing because of the large number of ‘ing’ words. Probably an easier grid to construct, but it made it easy to get partials, and the words those partials intersected.  The syndicated puzzle in the Globe and Mail is your other new cryptic today.

So I solved some Sticklers this week.  Go out and give them a try.  Stickler’s an Aussie, but he’s quite welcoming to us Northern Hemisphere solvers, providing “overseas help” in the form of definitions of Australian slang and cultural references that show up in his weekly puzzles. Every constructor should be so considerate: making the explanations available to those who need them but not forcing them on those who don’t.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Overkill (puzzle no. 3,341)

One of the good features of the The Nation puzzle is its use of uncommon wordplay categories such as letter banks and relocations.  They have the ability to make a puzzle harder, even when the clue itself is easy.  That’s because solvers who aren’t expecting them try and parse some other kind of wordplay out of the clue and wind up going down a blind alley.  The trick is even more effective when there’s a misdirection in the clue: something that looks like an indicator but isn’t.  Hot and Trazom are good at those.

But like anything else, too much of a good thing spoils the effect.  If a constructor uses an uncommon feature too often, solvers will learn to be ready for it.  I see this when I fence.  One of the tactics I like to use is to move quickly off the line when the director says “go” and get right in my opponent’s grill. An inexperienced opponent or even an experienced one who hasn’t seen me before will often react in a way that leaves some part of the body undefended or messes up his balance, allowing me an easy touch.  But if the opponent knows I’m coming and makes a simple extension, I run right onto his blade.

Good constructors think strategically so they can lead solvers down those blind alleys and then make them realize the answer was sitting right in front of them.  Not-so-good constructors ride their horses

Link to puzzlehttp://www.thenation.com/article/182110/puzzle-no-3341

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

Hozom’s comment:  “Reading the Dictionary,” in which Hot and Trazom respond to a solver who questions one of the constructors’ guidelines.

Weekly cluing challenge: WEBSTER (I guessed this one before I saw the rest of the Word Salad post!)

Monday, October 13, 2014

25th (Solution no. 3,340)

The solution to puzzle no. 3,340 is below the fold.  

Tomorrow, The Other Doctor Mitchell and I officially celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary (we had the party yesterday, and I’ve been waiting for the pictures to show up).  She likes puzzles and games, but she’s not a crossword person.  That’s OK because she’s just about perfect in all other respects.

Good puzzle this week: couldn’t tell you too much on Thursday, or else I would have given away the theme.  (continued below the fold)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

New season (Sunday brunch: October 12, 2014)

While my hockey season started last month, the NHL had its opener this past week (and the Flyers are winless in 3)  A few rules changes were made, most of them pretty minor.

  • Larger area where the goalkeeper can handle the puck (an easing of the Marty Brodeur rule).
  • Wider spacing of the hashmarks where wingers line up on a face-off (will lessen interference).
  • New fines for players who dive or act like they’re hurt in order to draw a penalty against an opponent.
  • Face-offs will no longer go out to the neutral zone when a shot is deflected out of the rink.
  • A change to face-off procedures to keep teams from stalling after an icing violation.
  • Tripping will now be called when a player takes out an opponent with his body or arm, even if he contacts the puck first.
  • More situations where the league office can use video replay for goal/no-goal calls.
  • Automatic suspension for two game misconducts involving physical fouls.   
  • Changes to overtime procedures: a dry scrape of the ice before OT and teams change ends. 
  • The “spin-o-rama” move is now outlawed on penalty shots.

Care for opinions? Retired NHL referees Kerry Fraser and Paul Stewart have blogged on the new rule.  Care for puzzles?  Look below.

Our regular cryptics are in the Globe and Mail (watch out for a British degree in 25a) and the National Post.

The Wall Street Journal has a novel Patrick Berry crossword called Changing Direction.  Amazing are the ideas he comes up with.

The New York Times has a Split Decisions by Fred Piscop, blogged (with spoilers) by Deb Amlen.  I just can’t get into those.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wall Street Journal solution: Oct. 11, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: Changing Directions by Patrick Berry.

[post back-dated to keep Sunday brunch on top]

Friday, October 10, 2014

Straight vs. Variety (Puzzle no. 3,340)

While Hot and Trazom have occasionally constructed some variety cryptics for The Nation (for which they’ve been thanked with gripes by a few solvers), the The Nation puzzle is usually a straight cryptic.  That’s not to say there won’t be a few twists now and then.

Where do you draw the line between straight and variety cryptics?  I’d put it at making alterations to the clues before you solve them, or making alterations to the answers before you enter them.  Another definition might be that if you have to give special instructions to the solver, that apply to that specific puzzle, it's a variety cryptic.

That still leaves plenty of opportunity for constructors to be inventive within the straight cryptic format.  Cross-references are probably the most common such element.  They’re quite common at the Financial Times and other British puzzles (including LizR’s). Sometimes they provide an opportunity to group answers together around a theme (which is usually made apparent in one of the clues–to by custom one of the last acrosses); other times they’re just a chance for some different wordplay.

3,337 was one of those, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away by noting there happen to be a lot of arabic numbers showing up in the clues this week.  It’s up to you to figure out what the connection is, but if you’ve done cryptics for a while and consider wordplay to be an exercise essential to good health, you should be able to get it.  If not, use the crossing letters to work out those answers with numbers in their clues, and then look at the cross-referenced answer.

I'll be back with the solution Monday.  See you this weekend for Sunday brunch.

Link to puzzle: http://www.thenation.com/article/181893/puzzle-no-3340

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Hard, getting somewhat easier once you figure out the cross-references.

Hozom’s comment: “Interview With a Fiend,” in which Hot and Trazom introduce us to the solvers who give us Diary of a Crossword Fiend (www.crosswordfiend.com), a site devoted to the major daily straight crosswords in America.  Amy Reynaldo is the proprietress, and she’s been at it for close to a decade.  Over the years, she’s assembled a team of kindred spirits and created a pretty distinct identity for her blog.  We learn that cryptics aren’t in their future, but that’s what Sunday Brunch is for.

Weekly cluing challenge:  BLOGGER

Monday, October 6, 2014

“E” is for Encore (Solution No. 3,339)

The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 3,339 is below the fold.

If you were following this blog a year ago, you will recall Sabers winning a Philly Cup tournament, and with it an "E" rating from the US Fencing Association.  Well it turned out a few weeks later, when we didn’t ever get confirmation of the rating, that the host club had not properly renewed their sanctioning paperwork for the new season, and as a result, the tournament, its results, and Sabers’ rating were all annulled.  Ever since, he’d been looking for a chance to re-win the "E."

That chance came Sunday.  While the lineup included a hotshot from New Jersey who won last week’s youth event, Sabers went in as the favorite for a change.  He took care of business in the preliminary round, losing only one bout (by one touch to a high-schooler from the Panthers club) and earning a bye to the semifinals.  There he had a comfortable win against a rookie who had upset the Panthers fencer in the quarters.  Meanwhile, the Jersey kid won his semi.  

Between warm-ups (one of the good parts of the sport is how fencers can support and help each other one moment, then turn around and compete the next) and the preliminary bout, Sabers had figured out  this particular opponent and had a game plan: defend his initial attack (either with a parry or distance), and catch an easy riposte.  Brainwork rather than a physical battle.  It worked well, but the opponent changed his timing and got a couple of favorable calls from the referee to take an 8-6 lead at the halfway break.

Tweaking his strategy during the break, Sabers threw a feint into his defense to slow things a little more.  The kid’s attacks started to fall short again, and Sabers got three easy touches and the lead. After that, it was a cruise to the finish with four chances for the winning point–comfortable enough for his old man to get video of the victory.  15-12 final, and this one they won’t take away.

No gold medals or official ratings for finishing this puzzle, but the smarter solvers who can anticipate Hot and Trazom’s moves will feel good about themselves.  I especially liked the three-part clues and other misdirections.