Sunday, August 31, 2014

Doctor Butthead (Puzzle no. 3,334)

Writing comprises a pretty substantial part of my job: I do systematic reviews of medical technology and procedures to help our medical center improve the quality, safety, and value of care.  While the crux of the work involves searching the published literature for evidence from clinical trials (finding the three or four scientific papers that address the question of interest out of millions of papers in the databases), reading between the lines to find possible weaknesses in the research, and doing statistical analyses of the results, there’s also a need to write precisely and fluently: a skill that is enhanced by a crossword hobby.

Sometimes the two worlds intersect, and one of the topics I’m working on now (patient-controlled analgesia for patients with pain from sickle cell crisis) reminds me of one of those times.  It was in in my previous job, and a colleague was working on a report about narcotic drugs for patients with awful pain from cancer.  One of the issues in this topic is that some doctors are afraid to prescribe these drugs for fear their patients will become addicted.  Considering that most of these patients have advanced disease, it’s a pretty heartless position to take (and that’s not my opinion—many clinical practice guidelines note that doctors underprescribe narcotics for patients who really need them).

In our meetings about this report, my colleague coined the phrase “Doctor Butthead” to refer to these clinicians who overemphasized the risks of narcotics.  It got to be such a catchphrase among us that I hatched a plan to hide it in our report.  I made sure that the background section talking about the issue included the phrase “...DOCTOR, BUT THE ADdiction concerns...”

Our boss never noticed.

Have you ever managed to mix cryptics and your work?  Share your story in the comments.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate.  As is Hot and Trazom’s usual practice with themed or variety puzzles, they make the non-standard part pretty easy to pick up.  I stupidly got hung up on one of the theme answers though.

Hozom’s comment: “Puzzling Women” in which Hot and Trazom lament the lack of women constructing and solving crosswords: cryptic or otherwise.

Much as I love smart and articulate women (The Other Doctor Mitchell [who is not a crossword fiend–she does logic puzzles] foremost among them), I’m not so worried about the proportion of women in the crosswording pastime.  It’s their choice, and I’m fine with there being differences in human brains and what they’re most finely tuned to do.  Crosswording, especially in the cryptic mode, is a highly structured activity.  From what I’ve read about neuroscience (and I’m not any kind of specialist in it), it’s something the brains of males are more likely to be be attuned to than the brains of females are.  But it’s a tendency, not a dichotomy, so we’re blessed to know (and encourage) ladies like Emily Cox and Elizabeth Gorski who have made their own mark not as female constructors but as brilliant and creative constructors.  I don’t see anyone doing anything other than encouraging them to be a big part of our world.

Besides, I think there’s more in common among puzzling women and men than there is dividing them. Look at some of the side interests, like Doctor Who (LizR) or scoring baseball games (Erin Rhode). The kind of things associated with structure-oriented brains, regardless of what the chromosomes that gave rise to them are.

Cluing challenge: GENDER GAP

Monday, August 25, 2014

Peaches (Solution No. 581)

The solution to puzzle no. 581 from August 21, 1954 is below the fold

Thanks to a fortuitous combination of circumstances, we had some wonderful fresh and very ripe peaches to eat last week.  We have a little peach tree next to the shed.  It was put in about 15 years ago when we had the landscaping done (took down the ugly norway maple that the previous owners had “lollipopped” [in the words of the landscaper]--the weeping cherry that replaced it died in a hard winter a couple of years ago).  Turns out the tree isn’t in a particularly good place: the ground is too wet, but it’s survived.

Circumstance 1: Cold winter, late spring.  The spring warm-up was two or three weeks late and the garden is still a week or so behind where it usually is.

Circumstance 2: The town cut down the willow tree in the little park over our back fence.  There was a huge willow there—it was big enough to hold an entire flock of starlings (which if you’ve ever seen starlings you’ll understand).  The starlings have gone elsewhere, which means there are fewer birds pecking at the peaches before they’re ripe.  One year we tried bird netting but it didn’t stop the starlings.

Circumstance 3: Sabers and I came back from the family vacation early because he had select chorus “boot camp” at school.

As a result, I got to pick a bowl full of delicious, juicy peaches that were a perfect four or five bites big.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Shore or inland? (Sunday brunch: August 24, 2014)

Quick trip back to New England today, so I was definitely in the mood for Kevin Wald’s three-part NPL convention cryptic series: NH, VT, and ME.  Like him, I’m traveling by train (though I’m driving back with The Other Doctor Mitchell), and also like him, I was in Cape Cod, so the geographic and train references were a snap.

A train trip always poses the question of which side of the train to sit on (by contrast to my daily commute, where I usually take the same seat every day). Going between New York and Boston, the right side offers views of the shoreline, thought the sun glare can be a bother if you’re riding in the morning.  I opted for scenery, and hit the jackpot, spotting two herons perched on a bridge piling in New York and an osprey standing at its nest in in the salt marshes between Branford and Guilford, Connecticut (near milepost 84).  UPDATE: several more herons and ospreys in Rocky Neck, around MP 114

Two acrostics this weekend in the big papers: Hex in the New York Times (puzzle behind the paywall, comments and spoilers at Wordplay) and Mike Shenk in the Wall Street Journal.  In the latter, I found myself virtually erasing some of the clue answers because of conflicts in the grid, only to find I was right all along.

I got about three quarters of the way through the Globe and Mail cryptic before having to resort to the computer.  30a took a while to get: “Won’t livestock be sold by it?”  Both HEAD WEIGHT and DEAD WEIGHT fit, and it wasn’t until I recognized the contrast with LIVEstock that I was sure which was right.  The Hex cryptic in the National Post was considerably smoother.

There’s a fun package of themed crosswords with little twists that’s been posted by Eric Berlin.  It’s a salute to Mad Magazine and all its great contributors.  Eric makes lots of references to the little details of the magazine: the things that rewarded your second or third reading of each issue.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cluing challenge: WAYBACK

Since there‘s no post at Word Salad this week, the weekly cluing challenge is here.  Set a cryptic clue for WAYBACK and post it in the comments.  I can think of several ways to set it—how about you?

Wayback machine (Puzzle No. 581)

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to August 1954.  The armistice in Korea was holding, campaigns to vaccinate children against polio were underway, “Sh-Boom” by the Crew-Cuts was at the top of the charts, Raydoc was getting ready for his senior year of college at Ohio University, and my mother had just graduated from Indiana State.

Sixty years ago this week, The Nation published Crossword Puzzle No. 581.  In order to solve puzzles of this era, you have to take yourself back in time; sweep more recent events, songs, and books out of your mind; and think about what was going on then.  The key that unlocked this puzzle was an item that is obsolete now but would have been in many solvers’s desks in 1954.  Can you find it?

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (compared to the current The Nation puzzles): Very hard

Hozom’s comment: No blog post this week—the magazine is on its summer schedule

Cluing challenge: posted here

Monday, August 18, 2014

Dark skies (Solution No. 3,333)

The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 3,333 is below the fold.

A very clear sky tonight, a newish moon, and being twenty-some miles out to sea made it an excellent night for stargazing here.  Amazing how many stars can be seen with the naked eye when the sky is so dark.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The happiest dump in the world (Sunday brunch: August 17, 2014)

Take It Or Leave It
Back in ‘Sconset for another short vacation. One of the activities last time we were here was helping to clean out my parents’ garage and haul some scrap wood, cardboard, leftover paint and other things to the dump. Sabers went along to assist, and I promised him his choice of three books in return for his help.

He gave me a puzzled look, and we drove off. He didn’t know about an island tradition called Take It Or Leave It: a shack next to the main trash and recycling trailers where all kinds of people drop off unwanted stuff and collect wanted stuff.  The tradition of Yankee thrift is so ingrained that people from all walks of life come to the dump and pick up someone else’s unwanted items.  They brag about their finds to nobody in particular and go on about how tastes have changed.

There are enough books there to stock a small library, jigsaw puzzles for rainy days, old clothes and various linens, unmatched linens, and much more.  I brought a couple of pair of very old cross-country skis and some touch-up paint for a Toyota, which were gone by the time we came out from hunting for books.  We didn’t take anything besides a few books, since we already had a carload of stuff to take back home with us from my parents’.  Furthermore, we already had stuff like martini glasses from the church rummage sale, which is just like Take It Or Leave It, except that we make a donation to some very good causes in exchange for the stuff others brought.

No junk here: just fine new puzzles.

The Wall Street Journal puzzle is a Seven Sages by Patrick Berry.  Aside from one mistake which I quickly noticed (but didn’t rectify as quickly), I found it easier than the last one of these he set, but it’s still a challenge which requires logic and adjoining answers in order to get a toehold.  Some may find these more frustrating than other variety crosswords, since you can lose momentum quickly even after you get the first few answers in.  You might also like the Friday straight crossword, which is on a Woodstock theme for the 45th anniversary of that concert.

The New York Times variety puzzle (behind the paywall) is a Puns and Anagrams by Mel Taub.  Carrying on with the recycling theme, it re-uses the same grid from the April P&A.  Deb gives it the staredown (and spoilers) at Wordplay.

The new Harper’s is out, with a Richard Maltby variety cryptic called One Upmanship.

Kevin Wald’s latest variety cryptic is his Lollapuzzoola puzzle called “Fearful Symmetry.”  Since it was set for in-person tournament solving, it’s not as intricate as some of his other cryptics, and will take less time to solve. Still just as good.

The Hex cryptic in the National Post (blogged by Falcon) has an interesting (but not very connected) grid.  The syndicated cryptic in the Globe and Mail is pretty hard.

BEQ has a wrap-up of Lollapuzzoola, and reminds us you can still purchase the puzzles (six of them, by top-flight constructors) at  And while we’re on the subject of BEQ, he’s sounding out interest in a possible subscription series (bi-weekly) of Marching Bands.  See here for a sample.  Like good variety crosswords?  Send him an e-mail of encouragement.

New York Times solution: August 17, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle, a Puns & Anagrams by Mel Taub.

Anyone else notice that this puzzle used the same grid as the April P&A?  More recycling this weekend in Sunday brunch!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It’s here (Puzzle No. 3,333)

Well we learned from Hot that the puzzle wasn’t going to be themed, and we learned from 2,222 and 1,111 that there wasn’t a tradition of doing anything special for milestone puzzles.  And we also know from the times there’s been a bar-grid puzzle in The Nation that some customers don’t take too well to a change in the routine.  But puzzle no. 3,333 is not a disappointment, since it features a nice variety of clues, an ‘and lit.’ and a well-connected grid.

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard, though not as much so if you can get the four outside entries right off the bat.

Hozom’s comment: “Try It, You’ll Like It” (anyone remember the commercials that made that line famous?) in which Hot and Trazom lament the abovementioned demanding customers and point out that the even the variety cryptics they’ve constructed for The Nation aren’t that different from the regular straight puzzles.

In this respect, Hot and Trazom are returning the favor Hex did for cryptic solvers with their weekly National Post puzzles, which are an easy introduction to cryptic crosswords, from which you can step up to the moderate-difficulty The Nation puzzles.  Now Hot and Trazom have set some easy variety cryptics in The Nation, getting solvers ready to tackle Hex’s moderate puzzles in the Wall Street Journal.   Not everything has to be (or should be) a brain-buster.

Cluing challenge:  NOVELTY

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An easy one

Bookmark this week’s National Post cryptic by Hex, or print out some extra copies to share with new solvers.  I found it was the easiest cryptic I’ve solved all year; I managed to get all of the answers on first reading and without needing the intersecting letters.  A few required some more thought than usual, but they all went first try.

Solution no 2,222

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 2,222, originally published in 1969, is below the fold.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Garden (Sunday brunch: August 10, 2014)

It’s been a mild summer: the garden has done more relaxing than working, but we finally have some cukes and green peppers this week, along with a big batch of tomatoes.

Great weekend for cryptic solvers: if you’re about to go on vacation there’ll be lots of puzzles for your relaxation.  There are the regular straight cryptics from the National Post and the Globe and Mail.  I managed to complete the entire Globe and Mail puzzle this time (though needing a lookup of one answer), which is a rare feat.  LizR has a new one for us too (I haven’t started it so someone can tell us in the comments if it’s themed or not and how hard it is).

Variety cryptics start with “Target Range” by Hex in the Wall Street Journal.  Some of the regular solvers who comment at the WSJ site took one look and shied away because the grid doesn’t have any bars and the clues were in random order, but Hex are fair to their solvers and they made sure to leave a good starting point.  I have a hint post up to talk you through it, with increasing levels of help if you need it.

If you get through that, try Kevin Wald’s cryptic for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament: Supreme Cohort.  It’s an impressive 12 x 13 size with 58 clues, which will keep you busy for a while.

And it’s time for the quarterly Mark Halpin puzzle, titled “On the Steps of the Palace.”  A Cinderella theme—has Mark finally run out of Sondheim-related cryptic ideas?  No!  It’s a song from “Into the Woods,” a fairy tale mashup that was written before anyone had the idea of a mashup.  Meanwhile, Mark will be launching his Labor Day Extravaganza later this month: watch for details.

The Times has a Hex acrostic that Deb Amlen describes as “unpredictable.”  Deb gives honorable mention to Elizabeth Gorski’s Sunday straight crossword, which is on a doggie theme.  The puzzles themselves are behind the NYT paywall.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Wall Street Journal hints: August 9, 2014

[When you’re through with this puzzle, join us every weekend for Sunday brunch]

Some of the commenters on the Wall Street Journal puzzle blog expressed more frustration than usual with this puzzle, where not only are the clues in random order, you also have to figure out where each answer starts and ends.

It’s not as hard as it looks, and I'll give you some tactical advice here.  If that doesn’t help, there are some more specific hints in hidden text, and finally a full hint grid with the bars filled in below the fold. Don’t go for the hint grid until you try the other tips.

The first thing to know is that except for the center square, this puzzle has normal crossword symmetry. That means that if you rotate the grid 180 degrees, it will look the same.  That will help a lot with the first two rings.  Each of them has pairs of acrosses and downs that add up to 11 letters.  That means all the rows and columns are complete, and consist of one 7 and one 4 for Ring 1, and one 6 and one 5 for Ring 2.

Since the first four clues in each set are acrosses and the last four are downs, there’s only eight ways to fill each row or column if you were to go by trial and error. But you don’t have to: there’s a logical way to get started.  There’s an uncommon letter shared by an across and a down (don’t get trapped by the uncommon letter shared by two downs. Chances are good that that uncommon letter is going to be shared by those two answers, because Hex are kind constructors and want you to succeed with your logic.  Now which corner would it have to be?

Once you have that, you can use the crossword symmetry to place the bars in the opposite row and column.  You now know where another 7 and another 4 have to go, since you crossed off one across of one length and one down of the other length when you placed the words with the uncommon letter.

Now do the same thing with Ring 2.  See, it’s already easier because you have the letters from Ring 1! The remaining rings are going to be harder because the words don’t fill the entire row and column, but you have enough from the first two rings to make smart guesses.  Be willing to guess, remember the symmetry, and you will triumph!

Next hint (bigger):  click and drag in the table below if you really want to know the order of answers in the first two rings. They are presented in clockwise order, so the first letter in the table corresponds to the first across in the top row, and the last letter in the table corresponds to the first down in the left column.

Ring 1
Ring 2

And for emergency use only, there is a hint grid below the fold.

Wall Street Journal solution: August 9, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle, a variety cryptic by Hex called “Target Range.”  Checking your answers?  Look down.  Just need a hint?  I’ve got that covered too.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Picket fence (puzzle no. 1,111)

We have puzzle 3,333 coming up next week, so yesterday I posted 2,222 and today we get 1,111 (PDF formatted for printing here).  This was originally published in the June 21, 1965 issue of The Nation.

Since we solved another puzzle from this era a few weeks ago, this one looks a little less unfamiliar.  There’s less wordplay and more definition, with the playfulness worked into the definitions.  Solving it is closer to a mental pentathlon than to an exercise in clue decoding and solving.  

Back with the solution Monday.  Join us this weekend and every weekend for Sunday brunch, with more cryptics both simple and complex.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Plain black and white (Puzzle no. 2,222)

With the publication of The Nation puzzle no. 3,333 coming up, I went back to the microfilm for a twofer this week: 2,222 and 1,111.

Disappointingly, Frank Lewis did not make anything special out of these puzzles: I can’t detect any themes, though the grids are nice.

So here’s no. 2,222 (click for PDF file), which was originally published in 1988.  Back with no. 1,111 soon, and solutions for both on Monday.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Anticipation (Solution no. 3,332)

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,332 below the fold.

Who’s thinking about 3,333?  It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a specially themed puzzle.  Will Hot and Trazom go for it?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Boy among men [and women] (Sunday brunch: August 3, 2014)

We have a good young fencer at the club, whom I don’t see very much of since his weapon is foil and my son’s is saber.  Like my son, he’s also been encouraged to do some refereeing, and the coach decided to have him work the tournament at the club last Sunday.  One important difference: he’s 10 or 11 years old.
[continued below the fold]

You’re never too young to try a new puzzle though, and there are lots to choose from (see Kegler and scroll to the bottom for a pair of cryptics created for middle schoolers).

The new Harper’s is out, with a Richard Maltby variety cryptic called “4 Across.”  No hints since it’s a prize puzzle, but I will say it makes up for what Erica thought was a shortfall of tackiness in June.  See her blog for a rundown of last month’s Sixes and Sevens (and Twelves).

In the Wall Street Journal, we have a Double or Nothing by Patrick Berry.  Each space in the grid is filled with either two letters or none: never one.  Enumerations are not given so you have to figure out the length of each answer and which spaces have to be left blank as you fill it in.  It actually isn’t as hard as you think.  Getting the first few words in is tough, but once you have that, the rest is very satisfying.  Give it a shot, and if you really can’t hack it, I’ve posted a hint grid and solution elsewhere on the blog.

Also on the blog is the solution to this weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle, a diagramless by Paula Gamache.  Solve it (puzzle is behind the NYT paywall) and then click over to Wordplay for solvers’ notes from Deb Amlen.

Weekly straight cryptics are in the National Post (by Hex) and the Globe and Mail (syndicated).

Saturday, August 2, 2014

New York Times solution: August 3, 2014

This weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle is a themed diagramless by Paula Gamache.  The solution is below the fold.  There are all sorts of other new and interesting puzzles this week, including a Patrick Berry variety crossword and cryptics by Richard Maltby and by Hex.  All this and more are linked at Sunday brunch this week and every week.

Wall Street Journal solution: August 2, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: Double or Nothing by Patrick Berry.  There are more variety and cryptic puzzles coming up for Sunday brunch, so join us!

Wall Street Journal hint grid: August 2, 2014

Below the fold is a hint grid for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: Double or Nothing by Patrick Berry.  The hint grid makes the puzzle very easy, so before you resort to it, write down the answers you’ve got, two letters at a time, and look through them for uncommon pairs.  If you see the same pair in both an an across answer and a down answer, see if they intersect.  If they do, you know where that pair goes.

Once you have some pairs in place, you may be able to figure out that some spaces have to be blank because you have the first or last pair already in place.  Put a dot in those boxes as a reminder, and you may then have some more words with the right number of spaces and no more blanks remaining.

One more hint before you resort to the grid.  Click and drag over the text below to see the two answers that use all their spaces.  There are no blanks in those spaces.
First answer with no blanks: [42 across]
Second answer with no blanks:  [25 down]

Once you’re done, please peruse the Sunday brunch menu for more puzzles, including cryptics, diagramless, and more.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Reds (Puzzle No. 3,332)

Looks like the theme for the month is avoiding the trite and overused.  Hot and Trazom talked about single letter clue components in this week’s Word Salad as well as the previous installment, and puzzle 3,331 gave us a simple color theme.  That got me thinking about REDS, which often gets clued as a political reference.  How about some alternatives?

  • Carmine and Rose
  • Bench and Morgan
  • Republicans 

Link to puzzle:

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Hard.  A lot harder than the previous puzzle, but that one drew the gripes. 

Hozom’s comment: “In Brief,” in which Hot and Trazom admit their use of clich├ęd single letters. Being a music person, Trazom frequently thinks “soft” and “loud” for P and F, which also conveniently make for double letters too.  If you’re a novice, read the whole thing for a catalog of single letters.  If you’re an aficionado, read it for some notes on how Frank Lewis clues single letters.

Cluing challenge: INITIALS