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.