Monday, June 30, 2014

Sleep of the dead (Solution No. 1,303)

The solution to the June 23, 1969 The Nation puzzle is below the fold

Man, it was good to finally be back in my own bed after two weeks on the road and that 4:15 am arrival.  It took two or three nights for the sleep deficit to get worked off, and with no orchestra or fencing anything else to take children to Saturday morning, I could leave the alarm off.  When I finally began to stir, it felt remarkable: my mind seemed completely powered down.  I imagine a lot of you solvers are also the type whose brains seem to be constantly humming.  It was quite refreshing to be the opposite for a while.

As for the Frank Lewis puzzle I posted last week, which you will recall was from 1969, I made a pretty good run at the top half and then got bogged down between some obscure answers and more single definitions than I was expecting.  I was over-thinking it and trying to find wordplay where it didn’t exist.  Maybe I should try and get my brain back into Saturday morning mode next time.

See you in 1964, two weeks from now.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Planes, trains, automobiles, and boats (Sunday brunch: June 29, 2014)

Rounding Brant Point in Nantucket Harbor
Four trips, nine states, three hotels, and just about every mode of transportation short of a horse.  Business, family, and sports.  One drive that started before 6:00 am and another that ended after 4:00 am.  Can’t call it a vacation since I read only one book and I didn’t get to solve as many puzzles as I would have liked.  But I’m home and regular service resumes.

We have acrostics in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal this weekend.  As always, both Hex and Mike Shenk craft them well.  One of the hallmarks of a well-crafted acrostic is clues that hint at the quote or its source, and both constructors hit the mark.  

Cryptics?  The National Post (Hex: easy, comment and spoilers at Wordplay) and the Globe and Mail (Fraser Simpson: hard).  But the highlight of the weekend is the gigantic (25 x 25) puzzle LizR posted this week in honor of Matariki, the Maori new year.  Maybe I can convince Bangle to make another pavlova to celebrate.

Sure enough, Erica did blog the June Harper’s cryptic last weekend.  She’s trolling for comments so stop by and say congratulations to Sweet Vlad, who successfully defended his dissertation.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cluing challenge (June 26, 2014): MICROFILM

At Hot and Trazom’s invitation, I’m hosting the weekly cluing challenge for The Nation cryptic solvers on weeks that the magazine doesn’t publish.

In honor of the source of these puzzles, this week’s word is MICROFILM.

Share your clues in the comments!

Microfilm (Puzzle No. 1,303)

[update: the original version of this post had the wrong grid: it’s fixed now]

How do you get your hands on more of these old The Nation cryptics?  There is an online digital archive of The Nation, going back all the way to its founding, but it’s text-only, so you won’t find the puzzle there.  Unless you have an uncle with boxes and boxes of magazines in his garage, it’s likely the only place is the microforms section of a university library (which I conveniently have three blocks from my office).
Microfilm: it's not just for Soviet spies!

If you went to college during the internet age, you probably have never used or even seen a microfilm reader.  But if you like crosswords, it’s a skill you should learn.  Old New York Times, New York magazine (Sondheim originals), the New Yorker (the wonderful 8 x 10s that helped get me hooked on cryptics), and more are all there for you to explore.

The latest microfilm readers work in conjunction with a computer, so you can scan pages right to disk or print them out.  That’s a lot more convenient than the photostatic copies that the microfilm reader made back when I was in college thirty-some years ago, though I missed the characteristic smell. The picture quality on the computer monitor is much better than the bluish (and often dirty) projection screen of the film reader.

At least you still have the sounds: the squeak of the reel drives, the whisshh of film sliding through the glass plates, and the flip-flip-flip-flip-flip if you weren’t careful to slow down and stop rewinding when the film got back to the beginning.  If you’ve never used a microfilm reader, why not try it today?   Pick a newspaper or magazine from the day you (or your parents) were born, or some big day in history.

But if you want to solve a 45-year-old cryptic first, here is The Nation puzzle no. 1,303 (below the fold).  Click on this link for a printable version.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Congratulations, Bangle (Solution No. 3,329)

Another trip to Maryland, another gold medal.  Bangle made it a three-peat at the Chesapeake Open, winning her compulsory and finishing eighth in the free skate with a personal best score (well, it was her first competition with IJS [Olympic] judging).  And The Other Doctor Mitchell placed third in her event.  Next up is Sabers at fencing nationals.

How did you do on the puzzle?  Landed all the wordplay cleanly?  Look for the solution below the fold.

New York Times solution: June 22, 2014

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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Wall Street Journal hints: June 21, 2014

In case you’re having trouble getting a toehold on the Wall Street Journal puzzle this weekend: Patrick Berry’s “Tackle Boxes,” here are some hints.  First is the enumeration of the row answers, which can help check if your initial guess is right and/or place the middle word correctly, and then below the fold is a hint grid showing the configuration of the boxes.

After you’re done with this one, come have the rest of Sunday brunch.

Click and drag to see enumerations:


Wall Street Journal solution: June 21, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: “Tackle Boxes” by Patrick Berry.  If you want just a hint, we’ve got that covered too.

After you’re done with this one, come have the rest of Sunday brunch.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Without a grid (Puzzle No. 3,329)

Link to puzzle:

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

Hozom’s comment:  “The Spice of Life,” in which Hot and Trazom explain the differences between the block cryptics that are the usual fare in The Nation (and other publications we link to in Sunday brunch) and the variety cryptics you see in various other places (which are usually in barred grids).

They also plug Cryptic All-Stars (which is what I’m currently working on in Puzzazz—though I’ll dissent a little bit and say that some of those puzzles are better worked on paper) and their own Enigma cryptic book, available for free (!) in PDF.  I can’t say enough about how good that book is, though it’s definitely aimed at expert solvers. Maybe we need a collection of easy-to-moderate variety cryptics to get more people hooked on the genre.

Cluing challenge:  DEVICE

In the middle of a two-week series of trips (New Jersey, Washington, Nantucket, Columbus), I didn’t have easy access to a printer, so I tried solving this without a grid.  Not so effective.  I got about half the clues the first time through, though I might have gotten a few more that way with some concerted effort.  Lessons learned: crossing letters not only help you with the tricky clues, they make the obvious ones easier to solve, particularly anagrams.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hotel bar (Puzzle No. 1,542)

Don’t forget the cluing challenge: hosted here the weeks The Nation isn’t published.

I’ve been on a business trip this weekend, and I used the train ride to type up the solution.  I’m in Washington at one of the quirky boutique hotels there instead of the main conference hotel.  Cheaper, nicer accommodations, and a nice martini on the house.  The other part I liked is that they have a couple of complimentary puzzles (“for the commute”) printed out.  Ordinary straight crosswords and sudoku, but their heart is in the right place.  Maybe someone should offer to be their puzzle curator, and offer some weekend novelties.

A forty-year-old cryptic would be too hard for the casual solvers, but it is definitely a novelty.  How did you do on it?  I had less difficulty with this one than with the last Frank Lewis puzzle we solved.  The wordplay is less complex than Hot and Trazom do, but some of the grid words and definitions are quite obscure.  However, Lewis knew to balance a tough word with an easier wordplay: see 13a for example.

The other thing I’m finding helpful in working these puzzles is to just let my mind loose and noodle around with phrases in the clue.  That let me get answers like 3d and 23a, which in turn helped with some of the intersecting words.  Between that and not panicking when I only parse out a single definition in the clue, I’m starting to get the hang of Lewis.  How about you?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bonus hockey (Sunday brunch: June 15, 2014)

I think it was Bill Pidto who popularized the phrase “bonus hockey,” and it’s so much a part of the Mitchell vocabulary that you’ll find “bonus fish” on the table, and “bonus laundry” being done late on Sunday.  Bonus hockey is great in the regular season, but in the playoffs it’s much more.

Congratulations to the Stanley Cup champion LA Kings, and also to the officials who were selected to work the Finals:  referees Steve Kozari, Wes McCauley, Dan O’Halloran, and Brad Watson, and linesmen Derek Amell, Scott Driscoll, Shane Heyer, Brad Kovachik.  

Good weekend for cryptics: Hex have a great variety cryptic in the Wall Street Journal (“Flower Cuttings”) as well as their weekly straight cryptic in the National Post (Falcon has interrupted his vacation to post it).  I’ve got hints for the WSJ puzzle elsewhere on the blog.

Meanwhile, the new Harper’s is out, with another Sixes and Sevens (and Twelves) from Richard Maltby.  That means Erica will be around soon to blog the June puzzle in her unique style.

LizR has your Brit cryptic needs satisfied with another new puzzle, while Fraser Simpson has his regular Brit-Canadian cryptic in the Globe and Mail.

The weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle (behind the paywall) is a Hex acrostic.  Deb Amlen blogs it (with spoilers) at Wordplay.

Add to that the 1974 Frank Lewis puzzle we started on Thursday, and a cluing challenge, and we’ve got a great variety of puzzles to have your brain working overtime.

More hockey below the fold.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Wall Street Journal hints: June 14, 2014

Hex have done a great job with this month’s variety cryptic for the Wall Street Journal, which is called “Flower Cuttings.”  They’re making their WSJ puzzles a little more challenging than they had been earlier, which I guess opens up a few more opportunities.

This puzzle’s challenge is twofold.  First, some of the answers have to have a letter removed before they go in the grid (the results will not necessarily be valid words).  Second, clues are given in pairs: one clockwise and one counterclockwise, and it is left for the solver to figure out where to put them.

One additional thing to note: instead of pairing the clues at the very outermost letter (which would mean each of the answers in the pair would start with the same letter), Hex numbered the spaces between those letters.  But you still can use the first letter of an answer you have to get one of the neighboring answers, even if you don’t know which way they go in the grid.  So if (hypothetically), the first letter of a #1 answer is X, then one of the #2 or #18 answers must begin with X.

So start there, and if you still need help, look below the fold for hints.

When you’re through, join us for Sunday brunch, with more cryptics by Hex, Richard Maltby, and other fine constructors.  Or take the challenge of a The Nation puzzle from 40 years ago this week!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Forty years ago this week (Puzzle No. 1,542)

Ads that accompanied
the 1974 puzzle.
As I mentioned below, The Nation has been kind enough to grant permission for me to republish a selection of Frank Lewis puzzles, most if not all of which have never been available online before.

This is a great opportunity for all kinds of solvers.  The ones who complain that Hot and Trazom’s puzzles are too hard are going to get some real brain-busters.  Those of us in the middle are going to improve our solving skills and gain confidence.  And even if you don’t get more than just a few of the answers without looking at the solution, the amusement value of seeing Lewis’s wordplay is great.

So here we go!  Below the fold is the Frank Lewis cryptic published in The Nation 40 years ago this week: June 15, 1974.  Click here for a printable PDF version.

I’m going to transcribe these as they were published, typos and all (in this puzzle, some of the enumerations were missing, along with a cross-reference at 6 across, which is clued with 5 down).  Looking at the full page from the magazine, I’d guess at least some of that was for space reasons.

Cluing challenge: FRANK LEWIS

I am very happy to make two announcements this week: both made possible by our friends at The Nation.

First, I’ve been granted permission to republish a selection of Frank Lewis puzzles from The Nation, which we’ll do on the weeks this summer when The Nation does not publish, starting today.  So there’ll be a new puzzle for you each week: here or at  And for those of you who couldn’t get a copy of 1,634, I’ll post one here later on.

Second, on the off-weeks for The Nation and for Word Salad, the weekly cluing challenge (which has really picked up steam the last few weeks) is going to be hosted here(*).  So in honor of our summer study subject, your answer is FRANK LEWIS.  Bonus applause from your fellow solvers if you can work something from Frank’s life into your clue, or create a clue in Frank’s style.

*--separate posts so your clues and discussion of the old puzzle will be in separate threads.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Proofreaders wanted

[Welcome Times solvers!  Scroll down for the solution to the vowelless crossword, and then scroll down some more for Sunday brunch.  Bookmark this blog for more new puzzle links each week.]

I’m looking for two or three proofreaders to help with a puzzle project (which will be announced soon) over the next few months.  It’ll be very easy: just looking for typographical errors.

Want to help?  E-mail

Monday, June 9, 2014

Happy Birthday, Peggy (Solution No. 3,328)

And today it’s time to celebrate my mom’s birthday: she turns 34 today.  She doesn't even look 26, or even 72, does she?

Below the fold is the solution to this week’s The Nation puzzle.  Come back Thursday for our next installment in the summer-long Frank Lewis retrospective.  I’m pleased to inform you that we’ll be able to post some of those puzzles here for you.  This will be the first time that most of them have ever been available other than in old paper copies of the magazine or on microfilm.

New York Times solution: June 8, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to the New York Times variety puzzle for June 8, 2014: a vowelless crossword by Arthur Schulman.

If you liked that one, try Patrick Berry’s Magic Box and the other puzzles noted in this weekend’s Sunday brunch.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Abuse of officials (Sunday brunch: June 8, 2014)

The last two hockey posts were about abuse of officials, which is an unfortunate but inevitable part of the referee’s job.  Aside from the garden-variety four-letter outbursts, I’ve only had two such incidents in my career: both of them were in the 90s.

One was a men’s league game.  I was the deep official, down in the corner as the puck was cleared out of the zone.  I started skating up-ice to follow the play when one of the defensemen who’d been there in the corner reached over as he passed and gave me a two-handed shove, but not quite a cross-check.

While he used the typical four-letter words as he was shoving me, I decided that the action was not intended to be abusive: the player was just upset that I was in his way.  But we can’t really tolerate that kind of physical abuse.  I was skating in my normal lane, and I was skating at my normal speed, letting the players get ahead so I could watch everyone from the trailing position.

So rather than giving the player a gross misconduct, the kind of penalty Dan Carcillo got for elbowing a linesman, I gave him a ten-minute misconduct for interference with an official (what you’d get for shooting the puck away when the referee is coming to pick it up).  He wasn’t happy with it, but I pointed out that all the other options would be a lot worse: he’d be back in the game later and his team wouldn’t have to kill off a power play. Not purely by the book, but I felt that justice was served.

How about letting some great puzzle constructors hit you with their best shots?

Patrick Berry is back in the The Wall Street Journal.  His puzzle is called Magic Cabinet.  Do it in pencil because it requires you to alter answers for entry in the grid and you’ll probably need to do some erasing on the way.  Do this and the The Nation puzzle, and you’ll be prepared to tackle a variety cryptic like the ones in Cryptic All-Stars.  I’ve got hints if you need them, and the solution elsewhere on the blog.

The New York Times has a vowelless crossword this weekend (behind the paywall).  It’s by Arthur Schulman.  Definitely a different test of your crossword skills.

Want to try some of Matt Gaffney’s metas as discussed over at Word Salad?  Click here for the Vulture.
Regular cryptic service resumes at the National Post Cryptic Crossword Forum after Falcon’s vacation, and the Fraser Simpson cryptic is its reliable self at the Globe and Mail.

Wall Street Journal hints: June 7, 2014

Below the fold are some hints to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: Magic Cabinet by Patrick Berry.  Click and drag over the table to see enumerations for the clue answers and which of the answers in each row and column have to be altered before entry in the grid.

My suggestions for working this before you resort to a hint is to check the enumerations of the answers you’ve already figured out, and to go ahead and pencil in those answers.  There’ll be conflicts, but you might be able to find a pattern.  If you get that, you may not need that hint.

Well Street Journal solution: June 7, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: Magic Cabinet by Patrick Berry.  If you don’t want the full solution, look elsewhere on the blog for some hints.

Friday, June 6, 2014

One at a time? (Puzzle No. 3,328)

In the last couple of posts at Word Salad, Hot and Trazom talked about critics, and their sometimes-unrealistic expectations.  This week they bring up the concept of the “meta,” which is a big deal among the most dedicated solvers, the type who frequent the NPL.  In previous episodes, they lamented the pans they got from critics and commenters who were offended when a clue failed to meet the strict Ximenean guidelines espoused in the solvers’ guide.  Finally, we embarked here last week on a voyage through Frank Lewis’s work, with the observation that most if not all of his puzzles break those guidelines into smitheroons.

Let me try and fit all those pieces together.  What would you solvers think about a puzzle where instead of a set of theme answers you might have to solve with assistance from the other words in the puzzle, you have one or two answers that are the sheer play with words that is the hallmark of Lewis and the best of the British constructors.

Perhaps if they were limited in number (one or two per puzzle), set off either by a prominent location (edges, center, the longest answers in the grid) or with an asterisk or some other kind of notation in the clues, and able to be reasonably guessed at from intersecting letters, the more fastidious among us might smile on such innovation.

There are some tremendously creative and amusing bits of wordplay out there, but they’re closed off from most solvers because they don’t think the reward of seeing the answer is worth the struggle through the rest of the puzzle.  Why not make them more accessible?

Like the idea?  Hate it?  Have your say in the comments: Hot and Trazom stop by regularly.

Link to puzzle

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

Hozom’s comment: Meta-Physician, in which Hot and Trazom introduce us to Matt Gaffney and to the meta: a final puzzle within the solved puzzle.

Back with the solution and annotation on Monday.  
Join us this weekend for Sunday brunch, won’t you?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The critics would have a field day (Solution No. 1,634)

Since there wasn’t a new issue of The Nation last week, we launched a summer-long look back through Frank Lewis’s puzzles, starting with the last one he constructed for the magazine, No. 1,634 in May of 1976.

I’m a little late with the post because it took a lot longer for me to get the solution.  I needed to look up the answers a couple of times, but they gave me enough other letters to allow me to solve some more of the clues.

It’s also a lot harder to write up the solution because of the clues that don’t fit the Ximenean rules: they go way beyond where Hot and Trazom consider the limits to be.  Part of it is the British influence; another is that Lewis didn’t have all the electronic tools today’s constructors and solvers take for granted, so the universe of conventional constructions of a word or phrase was more limited.

So there’s much more of a Puns and Anagrams feel to these puzzles, or at least the Puns part.  The best way to open your mind to them is to be prepared for a word association game.  So here goes...

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ref strike (Sunday brunch: June 2, 2014)

Puzzles first this week, then the hockey story.

Two acrostic weekend: the New York Times has a Hex acrostic behind the paywall: blogged (with spoilers) by Deb Amlen.  The weekend Wall Street Journal puzzle is an acrostic by Mike Shenk.  Mike made it a satisfying one by putting enough easy answers at the beginning that most solvers would have enough letters from the first time through the clues to be able to complete some words from the quote and have hints for the next time through.

Falcon is back from vacation to blog the National Post puzzle by Hex and post the ones that were published the weeks he was off in Europe.  This weekend’s puzzle was very easy.  As usual, there’s a harder cryptic in the Globe and Mail.

LizR is back too, with one of her Brit cryptics, and a diet of worms (see the comments for explanation).

Last week I hinted there were some league commissioners who weren’t so good about suspending players who got third-man-in penalties or engaged in otherwise egregious misconduct.    They’re how leagues get reputations as “goon leagues.”

Most men’s league players have a family to go home to after the game and a job to go to the next morning.  Brawling is not the reason they play hockey.  But like there are some hooligans among soccer fans, there are hockey players (who probably watch too much TV hockey) who make fighting (or at least scuffling) a big part of their game.

Most leagues, when they’re faced with players like this (or worse yet, a team of players who egg each other on), think of the guys who are going to work the next morning, and invite the brawlers to go find another place to play.  There are exceptions though, and usually for the same reason.  Men’s league is a pretty important source of revenue for most rinks.  Kicking a player or team out of the league costs them money, so they’ll avoid taking that step.  And some players have figured that out, so they’ll threaten to quit and take their money with them if a player is kicked out or suspended too long.

I had to deal with one of those teams in the Penn league a few years ago.  My partner and I gave one of their players a triple game misconduct (spearing, then fighting and pulling off the opponent’s helmet, all in the same incident) and we saw him back on the ice the next week.  He had a few more run-ins with the law that season, but fortunately, he didn’t come back the next season.

The officials in the Washington area (where I worked the 93-94 season) have a strong and well-run association.  They handle all the scheduling and payment of officials for most of the hockey in the region.  One time, a league gave in to a captain who threatened to take his team out of the league if the suspension of one of his players wasn’t overturned.  After finding the player back in action, the association stopped assigning refs to that league and instructed its members to stay away from that rink until the suspension was enforced.  The league tried to go on with refs who weren’t association members and a few who ignored the boycott, but that didn’t work for long, and the forces of order and gentlemanly hockey prevailed.

I wish I had that kind of backing in my day job.