Friday, January 31, 2014

Wall Street Journal hints: February 1, 2014

In case you’re having difficulty, here are some hints for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: a Marching Bands by Mike Shenk.

First I’ll post the enumerations for the row answers, then below the fold a grid with bars showing where the band words start and end.

Click and drag to see the enumeration, and when you’re done, join us for Sunday brunch, featuring a Mystery Hunt cryptic.

5, 3
5, 3
5, 4
4, 3

Wall Street Journal solution: February 1, 2014

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

Once you’re through with this, come join us for Sunday brunch this weekend and every weekend.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What makes a puzzle hard–IV (Puzzle No. 3,312)

I really couldn’t say it better than Michael Sharp did, reviewing Ben Tausig’s book “The Curious History of the Crossword” for the Wall Street Journal (article behind lightly-guarded paywall, PDF here).  Sometimes puzzles are hard because they’re bad.

The article is illustrated with a 1915 puzzle from the New York World (you can see it on the PDF): typical for the early years of crossword construction.  Michael pulls no punches, saying those puzzles are “undoable,” even though the words are short and he’s a skilled solver.  He correctly starts his diagnosis with “clues vague and allowance for arcana broad” and doesn’t let up from there.  Stuff we take for granted in the rules, like agreement of parts of speech in clue and answer, was seemingly random then.

The difference is editing.  When the constructors filled a grid, they patted themselves on the back and sent their puzzle off for publication as-is.  Nowadays, publishers like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal have editors to clean up submissions, and good constructors like Hot and Trazom have a cadre of test-solvers who help them edit their own work.  They catch the glaring mistakes and provide helpful feedback on the rest.

Sometimes puzzles are hard because the constructors did a lousy job.  Fortunately, the The Nation puzzles don’t fit that category.  Here’s the latest.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): mostly easy.  I got the 15 on the left right away, and cruised along from there with just a couple of bumps in the road.

Hozom’s comment: “Going South” in which Hot and Trazom hide a bonus puzzle.  Solve it after you stop groaning at the rest of the post.

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

Monday, January 27, 2014

“No Look Al” (Solution no. 3,311)

Below the fold is the solution to The Nation cryptic crossword #3,311

One of my partners acquired a new nickname this weekend.  It came from his face-off technique, where he tries to keep the players from jumping the gun by dropping the puck when they don’t expect it.  He looks both ways to make sure the centers are properly lined up, and before he’s looking straight ahead again, the puck is down.  It’s kind of funny to watch from across the ice: like he’s throwing a no-look pass.

I think though that if he tried it with some of the centers in the Penn league, they’d figure out that move after the first few times and take his hand off the next time.  Dropping the puck in men’s league is like sticking your hand in a tank filled with piranhas.  NHL players are more predictable and disciplined, which is why their linesmen can get down so low for a draw.  I use the old setup with my weight back and my whistle hand near my thigh so I can fend off sticks if necessary.  If you watch the referees (orange armbands—not the linesmen who handle most of the face-offs) put the puck down at the beginning of each period and after goals, you’ll see most of them use the latter technique.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cold! (Sunday brunch: January 26, 2014)

Definitely not like this.
The word of the day is “unremitting.”  No, I’m not talking about the University of Pennsylvania and referee checks (but I could).  It’s been really [stinking] cold the entire week.  And I’ve got games at an outdoor rink this weekend.  Somehow though, I usually don’t get too cold on the ice.  I might wear an extra t-shirt under my striped sweater, and my face feels it more than it used to, but it’s not uncomfortable.  Besides, there are some indoor rinks that are unusually cold.  After a season or two, you get to know the different facilities and prepare accordingly.

Most importantly, if you’re moving enough, you can get an equilibrium between sweat and chill, so as long as I stay dry, I’m fine with the cold.  I’ve always been that way.  In my playing days, I didn’t wear long johns, and sometimes I’d have just a cut-off t-shirt under my shoulder pads.

Here are the weekend’s puzzles to curl up in front of the fireplace with.

The Wall Street Journal puzzle is a variety cryptic by Hex called “For Starters.”  The solution has been posted elsewhere on the blog.  Hex also have their regular cryptic in the National Post, solved and blogged by Falcon.  He says you should use your imagination with it.

Your other weekend cryptic is from the Globe and Mail: in a Java version or a print version (try it at 90% scaling to make it all fit a single page).  It’s harder than the National Post puzzle, and closer to a British style.  We still need a blogger for this puzzle: want to do it?  I’ll be glad to help you get started.

The New York Times puzzle (behind the paywall) is a Hex acrostic.  Deb Amlen thinks it’s somewhat harder than usual.  Speaking of the Times, they have a couple of notes in the blog that you should pay attention to.  They say the Thursday puzzle is better in PDF or print form than the Java version, and there was a sequencing error in the print paper.

That sequencing error involved a very special collaboration: the organizers of the MIT Mystery Hunt enlisted Will Shortz as a confederate, and Hunt participants had to figure out that one of their puzzles would be founs in the Times.  Much of the Hunt (which did not include any cryptics) is now online: see for the announcement, and for the puzzles themselves.  Congratulations to the winners: a team called “One Fish Two Fish Random Fish Blue Fish” won in a time of 38.5 hours.

Wall Street Journal solution (January 25, 2014)

The Everson Museum in Syracuse
I.M. Pei (1968)
Below the fold is the solution to today’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: “For Starters” by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon.

I’ve also identified the “initial changes” for the themed answers.  The instructions say “eleven or twelve cases” because 31d is altered twice.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What makes a puzzle hard–III (Puzzle No. 3,311)

I think one of the unheralded keys to solving a crossword, cryptic or otherwise, is the intersecting letters.  Sometimes letter patterns are enough to get an answer; often they are sufficient to narrow down the possible answers from the definition down to a single correct one.  Since we do a lot of this intutitively (see Aunt Minnie), we don't pay a lot of attention to that tool.  

In cryptics, intersecting letters are great because they greatly reduce the number of anagram possibilities.  A seven-letter anagram has 7! (factorial: a math term) or 5,040 possibilities.  Get the four intersecting letters, and there are only three left to place: just six possibilities.  You can roll each of them around in your mind or on a piece of paper and get the answer by trial and error.  

Intersections are also a big reason why variety cryptics tend to be harder than straight ones.  Let's look at two examples. 

The latest Harper's puzzle (prize puzzle, so no hints please) has 12 unclued entries.  So a lot of the intersecting words won't be filled in the first time you run through the puzzle and the clued entries will be harder.  You can't do anything with the unclued answers until you get enough intersecting normal answers to get two or three theme answers solely from intersecting letters.  But then once you have those, the rest of the theme answers come in in a hurry.  

Another type of variety cryptic alters the entries before they go in the grid.  In that case while you might get a possible entry from the intersecting letters, you then have to back-transform it (another math term) into the definition and wordplay as given in the clue.  Sometimes that's the key to cracking the alteration instructions.  

The Nation cryptic No. 3,311 

Link to puzzle

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

Hozom’s comment: The Short and Long of It, in which Hot and Trazom share some of their favorite three-word clues and point out that charade clues and double definitions do not need an indicator. Playing with the spacing (i.e. removing the space between words in a clue) can let you create two- and one-word clues that still have the essentials of definition, indicator (if necessary), and wordplay. Exclamation point clues (those where the definition incorporates the wordplay or vice versa) also lead to brevity.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Two-sheeter (solution no. 3,310)

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle no. 3,310 below the fold.

Well that was a helluva donnybrook Saturday night in Vancouver.  I tuned in just to see the referee drop the puck and the centers immediately drop their gloves.  Moments later there were five separate altercations going on.

I’ve never had to deal with a total line brawl like that, but I have had some multiple fight situations. There’s not much you can do, especially in amateur hockey, where the players are a lot less predictable.  NHL players mostly understand and follow the unwritten rules, but some mens’ league players tend to go apes*** when a fight breaks out (a little professional jargon there...), which is why we officials don’t go in to break it up until the combatants stop throwing punches.
Even in the NHL, two (linesmen) is less than five (fights).  So while the referees watch what’s going on so they can assess the proper penalties (as Kyle Rehman demonstrates above), the linesmen separate the combatants one pair at a time, starting with whichever fight is over first, or the worst mismatch (where there’s a risk of a player being injured).  So Lonnie Cameron and John Grandt are intervening in the altercation where the Calgary player is on top of the Vancouver player.

Back in the days of paper scoresheets before Pointstreak and other computer systems (which are common in a lot of leagues now) we’d call a game like that one a “two-sheeter” since there wasn’t enough room on one score- sheet for all the penalties.

Then after the fights were broken up, Vancouver coach John Tortorella was screaming at his Calgary counter-part and waving a stick at the Calgary bench.  I thought the refs should have dumped Torts then and there, but then I realized that at this level there’d be suspensions and fines, so the refs didn’t need to dole out the coaches’ punishment themselves.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fraser and Fraser (Sunday brunch: January 19, 2014)

Hot and Trazom’s chat with Fraser Simpson points out to me that I’ve overlooked one of the regular North American cryptics.  So starting this week, I’ll add the Globe and Mail puzzle to our weekly brunch menu as well.  This week’s is here.

Second, we need a Fraser Simpson/Globe and Mail cryptic blog.  There apparently was a Saturday Globe Cryptic Blog a few years ago, but the cat must have gotten the unknown blogger’s tongue.  Here’s a great opportunity for someone to get into crossword blogging.  Interested?  Send me or Falcon an e-mail and we’ll lend you a hand.

Kerry Fraser at the Winter Classic in Philadelphia: 2011
In the meantime, here’s another Fraser blog to follow.  If you watched NHL hockey in the 80s, 90s, or 2000s, you’ll recognize Kerry Fraser, and even if you didn’t remember his name, you remembered his hair.  He was one of the last officials to work without a helmet (they’re required now), and he was one of the refs you could count on seeing in the Stanley Cup finals.  After working more NHL games than anyone else in history plus the Nagano Olympics, he retired in 2010 (and is living in South Jersey), wrote a memoir, and does some analysis for TSN (Canada’s version of ESPN).
His blog is titled “C’mon Ref!” and it’s notable because he’s quite willing to second-guess today’s officials and point out missed calls.  Plus Fraser shares some anecdotes from his own experience (we call it “pit” because it’s the kind of stuff refs talk about around the Zamboni pit after the game).  I don’t always agree with him, but I read him regularly.    

Good week for cryptic solvers.  Besides the regular Hex puzzle in the National Post (Falcon says it’s tricky), we have another straight cryptic in the New York Times (behind the paywall). Daniel Raymon is a constructor I haven’t heard of before, so I’ll be looking forward to Deb Amlen’s post at Wordplay.  Solution will be posted Sunday afternoon.

Harper’s is out this week. Prize puzzle, so no hints, but I got this one without too much trouble.  No post from Erica yet, but I expect she’ll have her take on the January puzzle very soon.  I thought this month’s is a better puzzle than usual, though some will find it particularly hard because of all the unclued entries.  But stick with it: once you get the theme, those answers will fall in quickly.

And on top of that, the Cryptic All-Stars crew have finished and mailed their print books for those who pledged accordingly.  Electronic copy is in progress, and will be provided in Puzzazz format.

The Wall Street Journal puzzle is a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  See elsewhere on the blog for hints if you need them.  If you like Rows Gardens, have you tossed some $$ in for a subscription from Andrew Ries?

New York Times solution (January 19, 2014)

Below the fold is the solution to the New York Times variety puzzle of Sunday, January 19: a cryptic crossword by Daniel Raymon.

Want more cryptics and other puzzles now that you’re done with this one?  Slide over for Sunday brunch today and every Sunday.  Also linked here are the cryptics by Hot and Trazom, published in The Nation most Thursdays.  Solutions and explanations of each puzzle are posted the following Monday.

[note that solutions are sometimes underposted to keep Sunday brunch on top of the blog.]

Wall Street Journal hint: January 18, 2014

Below the fold is a hint to help you solve this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  Click and drag to see the enumerations for the row answers.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What makes a puzzle hard–II (Puzzle No. 3,310)

Link to puzzle

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

Hozom’s comment: “A Conversation with Fraser Simpson” in which Hot and Trazom introduce us to Canada’s foremost constructor.  Simpson has been setting the weekly cryptic in the Toronto Globe and Mail for two decades (I’m not aware of any regular blogging of that puzzle; I’ll have to ask Falcon if he knows anyone), and he pretty much has licence to define the Canadian style of cryptics.

Themework (no spoiler here): obvious cross-referencing to 10a

As I was saying last week, there are several dimensions of difficulty in a cryptic crossword.  I think though that most people will say “that one was hard” or “that one was easy” based on how much effort it took to finish filling in the grid.  You have three ways to get an answer in a cryptic: the wordplay, the definition, and the intersecting letters.  To get stumped, you have have to go 0 for 3.  So even if the wordplay is unconventional (such as a rebus clue from Hot and Trazom or a Brit clue that doesn’t quite follow Ximenean rules), there’s the other two to fall back on.

So I find puzzles hard if there are obscure words in the fill or if strange definitions(*) are being used.  That’s why it’s easier for constructors to make hard cryptics than to make easy ones, and why it takes good constructors like Hex to make a ‘smooth’ puzzle of easy to medium difficulty.  When the constructor gets down to the last few pieces of a puzzle to fit together, often he or she resorts to an obscure word or to crosswordese to get the job done (I’m looking at you, New York Times...)

Cryptic definitions don‘t have to be as precise as those of straight crosswords, since we’ve got another way to check them.  A constructor who wants to make a fair but difficult puzzle can take advantage of this by leaving enough uncertainty in the definition to make you parse out the wordplay to confirm you have the right answer.  That can be pretty rewarding from the solver’s perspective, since you’ve had to exercise both parts of the clue to get done.

Test solvers can help constructors by making note of which of the three elements they used to get a puzzle solved.  If you make people use two or even three at a time, constructors, you’re doing well.  If people can get nearly all the answers on wordplay, you need to obfuscate your wordplay better.  If people can get nearly all the answers on definition, you need more complicated fill.  And if everyone is getting hung up on the same answer, then you need to change that part.

Part III next week: why variety cryptics are harder than straight cryptics.  And join us this weekend for a new Harper’s and more for Sunday brunch!

*--secondary definitions are another story.  They’re not hard, they’re just not obvious.  You get the word from the crossing letters or after you’ve looked at the puzzle a third or fourth time, and you slap your forehead for being dumb and missing it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Congratulations, Julia (Solution No. 3,309)

Julia and Philipp
Look below for the solution to Puzzle No. 3,309

One of the more rewarding aspects of blogging is to be able to give a shout-out to friends for their successes in their officiating careers.  But I’ve been remiss in not mentioning one of those people: Julia Rey, Bangle’s and The Other Doctor Mitchell’s skating coach.  With her brother, Julia was an international-level ice dance competitor, and she’s making a career out of skating by officiating as well as coaching.

Julia gets back today from two weeks at Nationals, where she served as Technical Specialist or Assistant Technical Specialist for every ice dance event in the competition, of which there were five.  Besides working Nationals, Julia has officiated at Junior Grand Prix and other major international competitions. The Technical Specialist is part of the new and rather complicated scoring system for figure skating, put in after the Olympic judging scandal in 2002.  Sometime before the Olympics, I’ll give you a layman’s explanation of how it works.
The Technical Specialist watches the skater’s performance on video and confirms what jumps and other elements the skater completes.  If the skater does not do a planned element properly (such as if he or she doesn’t complete the full revolutions or takes off or lands on the wrong edge, the Technical Specialist calls it, and the skater’s score will be reduced accordingly.

One of the unique parts of a skating official’s job is to watch the competitors in practice, so they can familiarize themselves with each skater’s program (which rarely changes over the course of a season) and identify which parts of it are most likely to be done improperly.  Julia also goes to training camps with our future national and international competitors to analyze their performance and help them improve.  Later this week, she’ll be part of the team helping Meryl Davis and Charlie White make their final preparations for Sochi.

Solution to The Nation Puzzle No. 3,309

Link to puzzle

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

Legend: "*" anagram; "~" sounds like; "<" letters reversed; "( )" letters inserted; "_" or lower case: letters deleted; "†" explicit in the clue, “^” first or last letter or letters, “{“ relocated letter or letters; “§” heteronym, “¶“ letter bank

EXPECT (“be prepared for”) + ORATIONS (“speeches”)
~LOX MYTH (“the story of salmon,” homonym indicated by “narrated”)
ENVY (“deadly sin”) containing (“hiding”) O (“love”)
^P^ulaski (first letter indicated by “chief”) + *DIES OR I (anagram indicated by “fail”)
<in_TERCES_sion< (reversal indicated by “when withdrawn,” hidden word indicated by “shows”)
^E^xterrestrial ^L^ines ^F^irs ^I^n ^N^ankeen (initials indicated by “caps”)
I don’t get the phrase choice here.
AIDE (“assistant”) containing (“wrapping”) LONGS (“pines”)
~SELF OWN (homonym indicated by “when talking”), exclamation point because the wordplay is the same as the definition
*ARTSY (anagram indicated by “strangely”)
*NO ONE (anagram indicated by “bamboozled”) containing (“capturing”) ^C^ommittee (first letter indicated by “leadership”)
<RECAP< (“to go over,” reversal indicated by “backward”)
Of course such thoughts about sports officials are depraved…
¶SIMPLETON (letter bank indicated by “letters–sometimes more than once”)

E-CLIPS (“electronic excerpts) + w^E^b (middle letter indicated by “central”)
<COP< (“policeman,” reversal indicated by “rising”) + wee^K^ (last letter indicated by “end”) +*FLUTE (anagram indicated by “playing”)
SH (“quiet”) contained in (“found in”) CU ION (“copper atom”)
I (“one”) + *GIANT (anagram indicated by “evil”) contained in (“caught between”) OR + OR (“alternatives”)
Partly a rebus clue.
*EACH (anagram indicated by “contorted”)
cand_ICE BERG_en (hidden word indicated by “concealed by”)
EVE (“first lady”) contained in (“to appear within”) ^N^ewspape^R^ (first and last letter indicated by “covers”)
MY (†) + RE (“note”) containing (“about”) ^T^rai^L^ (first and last letter indicated by “beginning and end”)
FOR (“in favor of”) + EX-AMPLE (“former liberal”)
~INTO WISHIN’ (“passionate about hopin’,” homonym indicated by “to be heard”)
COPY (“ape”) containing (“swallows”) AN (†)
§PRO-GRAM (“for the metric system”)
WELL (“properly”) contained in (“inside”) SUP (“eat”)
RAT (“traitor”) containing (“is about”) ETRE (“to be in French”)
*OUNCE (anagram indicated by “fluid”)
PI (“irrational”) + on US (rebus)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Hawthorne effect (Sunday brunch: January 12, 2014)

An interesting juxtaposition of work and hockey this week.  I’ve been reviewing studies of devices that keep track of when doctors, nurses and other health care personnel wash their hands when entering and exiting a patient’s room.  Their impact is based on the Hawthorneeffect, also called observation bias.

If you have children, you know exactly what that’s all about.  They’re much more likely to obey you if you know they’re watching.  Of course it’s not just children who slack off if they think they’re not being watched.  I had a teenage partner for a squirt game (9 and 10 year olds) last Sunday morning.  Like a lot of teen refs, he’s still a player and sees refereeing as a way to earn some pocket money.  Skate around, blow the whistle when there’s a goal or an offsides or a penalty, pocket the check, save the real effort for practices and games. 

So he hung out in the middle two-thirds of the ice instead of getting down to the goal line to watch the play in the offensive zone.  He called one of the goals from up around the hashmark; fortunately the coaches weren’t the type to yell at us for being out of position, but I quietly got on his case at the next stoppage.  It didn’t really change him much though; all I can do in these situations is skate hard and set a good example.

The game ended uneventfully, and when I got back to the dressing room, I found our supervisor was there.  He’d come to watch the third period and check up on us.  He was pointing out to my partner all the times he was making calls from a bad angle or too far away, and I imagine he must have felt pretty bad on the ride home. 

I’m not immune to criticism, so it was good to have someone looking at my performance.  I was pleased that the main thing Monty wanted me to fix was my line-change routine: I was putting up my had twice when I should be doing it only once.  It’s a little thing, but better to have something of mine critiqued than to hear nothing bad and wonder if there are problems we just didn’t have time to talk about.

As for my partner, we’ll see if the experience will put a little more hustle in him at the times when nobody else is watching. 

Do you solve differently when nobody is watching?  Resort to Onelook or Google or the Anagram Server right away?

Double acrostic weekend.  Wonder what caused Mike Shenk to pick the quote he uses in the Wall Street Journal puzzle this weekend.  It’s seasonal, but a bit dark.  The Times puzzle is behind the paywall.  One good thing about the Times is that Deb Amlen usually gets some comments from the constructors of every puzzle and Hex usually have something good to say.

On the cryptic side, there’s the usual National Post puzzle by Hex, and LizR has a new Brit cryptic up.  Liz borrowed an interesting grid from Nutmeg: it has a ring of threes in the middle.  Usually constructors (especially British ones) cope with something like this by linking the threes with other answers; Liz made a mini-theme out of them, cluing them all in the same way.  Catch the original title of her post too, hidden in the URL.

Kevin Wald has posted his MIT Mystery Hunt warm-up.  This year’s hunt begins Friday at noon.  Some people participate without being on campus, and some teams will be willing to accept extra hunters who are looking for a team to participate with.  I think that his “Tripling Hither, Tripling Thither” is new too.

An interesting variety crossword this week too.  BEQ posted a “From A to Z” where you have to figure out the missing first letter of each clue, which in turn will tell you where some other answer will go.  A couple of bugs in it though.  Philip Morris hasn’t been making the product in answer 23 for years, and I can think of at least two possible answers that would fit in 7d.

Finally, if you’re looking for more puzzles, Will Johnson has updated his links page for 2014.  However, most of the cryptic links are to series that have stopped posting new puzzles.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What makes a puzzle hard (Puzzle No. 3,309)

Link to puzzle

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

Hozom’s comment: “Response to a Solver” in which Hot and Trazom elevate their dialog with “Bent Franklin,” a regular commenter over at Word Salad.  Comment over there and you too can be the focus of Hot and Trazom’s attention.  Bent thinks the indicators for letter banks and rebus clues are too hard, and the indicators for anagrams are too obvious.  Hot and Trazom make a splendid parry/riposte by noting that if you don’t need indicators to pick out anagram clues, then Puns and Anagrams crosswords are made for you.  As for the letter banks, I side with Hot and Trazom: the reason they seem hard to recognize is that few other constructors have made much use of them.  They’re something of a signature creation.  So consider the Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto byline your indicator for letter banks and heteronym clues.

In the world of cryptic crosswords, “hard” comes in several dimensions.  Mostly, we think about how long it takes and how much anguish we go through in getting the grid filled correctly, but for cryptics, there’s also the degree of difficulty in understanding the clues and wordplay.

My regular Thursday posts linking the puzzle usually come after I have finished solving it, so I can report to you whether it is easier or harder than usual.  New York Times solvers usually report/brag about the puzzle’s difficulty by reporting the time it takes to solve, but since I usually do most of the The Nation puzzle on a mid-morning walk across campus (for mental and physical refreshment after digging in to the day’s work), it would probably be a bad idea to solve for time—I’d probably bump into too many people.

If the puzzle is easy, I’ll find myself stopping every few steps to fill in answers.  Actually, if it’s that easy, I won’t stop every few steps, but instead stop in the middle of the block to fill in two or three answers, and then another two or three at the corner.  If I get to the coffee shop and the puzzle is less than half-done, it’s probably a hard one.  (That doesn’t mean I usually finish the puzzle by the end of the walk; if I can’t make inroads into one section immediately, I move on to another.)

Doing the puzzle on a walk also gives me a good feel for how consistently hard or easy the puzzle is. You’ll hear me refer to a “smooth solve” sometimes.  If the degree of difficulty is consistent, there’s a rhythm of solving which can make you feel pretty good about your solving ability.  It also reflects well on the constructors, since a smooth solve means they haven’t had to resort to something obscure to finish putting the grid together.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Shot of the year (solution no. 3,308)

The solution to this week’s The Nation cryptic crossword (No. 3,308) is below the fold

One of my games this weekend was the Wissahickon old-timers’ team versus the Bethlehem Ratz. Wissahickon is probably the best old-timers’ team in the area.  They’ve got several guys who played top-flight college hockey, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them also played minor pro earlier in their careers.  There’s quite a mix of ages, with some guys who looked to be in their early 30s and some who might even be near 60.

A couple of those younger guys were on a line together, and they had three or four goals.  The first was a beauty.  One of them got the puck in the high slot, took one stride to tee it up, and then just crushed a slap shot.  One look at it and you’ll understand why some players are said to have a “heavy” shot.  It was a rising shot, and it went past the goalie, in the goal, hit the top back of the goal frame, and bounced out almost as fast as it went in.

I was in ideal position to see it, right on the goal line, and I had a great view of the puck going in and going out.  Plus there was the sound of it hitting the goal frame: loud, but not as solid and resonant as a puck off the crossbar.  I immediately pointed emphatically at the goal, yelling “it’s in, it’s in.”  Nobody argued the call, not even the guys on the visitors’ bench.  Too bad we didn’t have someone videotaping the game; it was the best shot I’ve seen in years.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

New York Times diagramless solution: January 5, 2014

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

Did you like that?  Why not take on one or three of the other new variety and cryptic puzzles out there this week: check out Sunday brunch each weekend.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

High definition (Sunday brunch: January 5, 2014)

A double Salchow by Bangle
Santa Claus brought a high-definition TV this year (we’re kind of slow on the uptake that way; I had a black and white set through most of grad school).  I’ve said that one of the great things of watching a hockey game in person is how much more detail of sound you hear: like players slapping a stick on the ice to get a teammate’s attention.

This is the visual equivalent.  You can see that the linesman in a World Junior Championship game is using an Acme whistle. Are you ready for your close-up?  Get out a nice sharp pencil and solve these:

I think the week’s highlight is the Marching Bands with cryptic clues that Tom Toce created for the accounting journal Contingencies, with a little help from his friends.

The Wall Street Journal has a Patrick Berry puzzle called “Jury Boxes.”  It’s one of the ones where a jigsaw of rectangles is intersected by clued rows.  I’ve posted the solution as well as the row enumerations as a hint (they can help you place those middle answers) elsewhere on the blog.

Hex are continuing to ring in the new year, with this week’s puzzle in the National Post, and Falcon is back for another year of blogging it.

The New York Times variety puzzle is a diagramless by Fred Piscop (behind the paywall).  Look for the solution here on Sunday afternoon, connectivity permitting (Sabers is going to be at his twice-postponed District 11 orchestra audition today).

A bouquet of roses for the gold medalist in your life?  Certainly—especially if she likes puzzles!  Aries has great news for us; he is bringing back his Rows Gardens, bi-weekly, on a subscription basis.  Sign up now: the sooner you do, the more puzzles you get.

BEQ used Boxing Day as a time to offer a year in review post.  Worth reading, and maybe solving some of the linked puzzles.

Puzzazz has an update out this week, and it’s a significant one.  They’ve set up a way to offer free puzzles like the ones you often see in .puz format.  It’s not discussed on their blog, but the info is at the app store for your particular device.   On top of that, they had an all-day improvisational construction festival, the results of which are posted for everyone to solve.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Wall Street Journal hint (January 4, 2014)

Below the fold is the enumeration of the row clues in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: “Jury Boxes” by Patrick Berry.  If you’re stuck, this might help, since it will allow you to place the middle answer of a row even if you don’t have one of the others in that row.

Click and drag to see the enumerations for the row and/or answer you're looking for.  The solution is posted here.

Wall Street Journal solution (Jan. 4, 2014)

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: “Jury Boxes” by Patrick Berry.

If you just want a hint, see this post.

I’m not an epee referee, but I play one on the hockey rink (Puzzle No. 3,308)

The Nation Puzzle No. 3,308

Link to puzzle

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

Hozom’s comment: Happy New Year, in which Hot and Trazom share the virtues of resolving and re-solving.  Most of the time, I strive to parse out and understand every clue I solve, and I have to with the The Nation puzzles so that I can blog them comprehensively.  In my case, the re-solve resolution ought to address the unfinished Kevin Wald cryptics on my clipboard: in most of them the grid is completely or almost completely filled, but I haven’t been able to figure out the secondary puzzle and answers.  Those are always rewarding to get, so after the hardest work is done, I ought to go back and get the payoff.  

Since there were nine epee fencers in the Christmas Eve tournament, the director decided to have everyone in one big round robin instead of dividing into two pools.  Thus there were a lot of bouts to be fenced.  After the foil event was over, we took over the strip they were using so three bouts could go at a time instead of two.  But there were only two referees.  The director calls the next bout, looks at me and asks, can you ref them?

Now my entire epee experience consisted of about four or five bouts, but I knew that in most respects, epee is less complicated than saber to ref.  The director’s seen me ref saber, so I figured he knew what he was getting into.  So I went over, found the weight and the shim and checked the weapons, and then let instinct take over.  Fortunately, there was nothing out of the ordinary in the bout.  The only significant call I had to make was when one of the fencers went off-strip, and I knew what to do with that.  I worked a couple more bouts when I wasn’t competing, and they went just as smoothly.

When I got through with the event, my first thought was “I think belong here now.”  It was nice to be treated as just one of the competitors and not a sideshow or someone who wouldn’t know which end of the weapon to hold.