Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bruise (Sunday brunch: July 27, 2014)

I just got to a fencing exhibition in Allentown when I got a message from my assigner: can you skate two games tonight?  They were part of a charity event and not league, so I figured they wouldn’t be difficult.  Good chance to see what kind of shape I was in.

So I fenced in front of a lot of onlookers, won one bout, and didn’t look out of place. The event was outdoors: it wasn’t as hot as last year, but I was still sweating profusely under the mask. Lost in the quarterfinal as expected, got changed, and hustled home.  Then I had a whole 15 minutes to put down the fencing bag, grab the hockey bag and ref briefcase, make sure (twice) that my sports glasses were in the bag, and leave for the rink (with time enroute to grab something to eat).  When I got to the rink, I exchanged pleasantries with a group of players and wives/girlfriends tailgating in the parking lot, which had me looking forward to a nice friendly skate. 

Not so.  About five minutes in, we had our first scuffle of the night.  Several more ensued, each one more heated than the last.  The last three I managed to get in between the combatants before any punches were thrown, but my partner had had enough.  He called the two captains over to the referee’s crease and read them the riot act.  “You guys are acting like a bunch of five-year-olds arguing ‘he started it.’  This is a charity tournament: we’re here for something more important than the final score… and if we have to break up one more fight I’m calling the game and sending you home!”

That got us through the second period with no more incidents, and by the third, the players were too tired to fight.  They weren’t too tired to play though, and the white team took a 3-0 lead.  Halfway through the third, with the white team shorthanded, one of their good defensemen wound up a slap shot to clear the puck out of the zone.  Instead of aiming up the middle of the ice, he aimed for the boards, right where I was standing.  The puck hit me on the top of the hip, so hard it almost drew blood even though it hit me on the padded girdle I wear. 

Fortunately the second game was much more what we expected: C teams playing for fun and only one or two minor tussles.  I got a bag of ice from the snack bar and stuffed it under the girdle while I skated.  The bruise has been a beauty.  Sunday there was a red diamond with a white center where the puck hit, Monday and Tuesday it turned deep black and blue; a splotch about as big as your fist.  The end of the week was a rainbow of colors; who needs tattoos?  And today there’s still a puck-sized mark more violet than purple, with a knot where I was hit.

So far no pencils have suffered any injuries as I work my way through these puzzles:

Two acrostics this weekend: by Mike Shenk in the Wall Street Journal and by Hex in the New York Times (puzzle behind the paywall,  comments and spoilers at Wordplay).

Block cryptics in the Canadian papers: by Hex in the National Post (blogged by Falcon) and syndicated (Hot informs us it is not Fraser Simpson constructing these) in the Globe and Mail.  Easy and hard respectively.  

Catching up with Kevin Wald, I solved Bachelor Party this week: another example of his amazing ability to hide themes in clues as well as the grid.  

BEQ reminds us that Lollapuzzoola is going on two weeks from now in New York, but you are invited to play from home too.    The ever-useful BEQ also points us to an article in The Atlantic expressing concern about the future of crosswords in an age when fewer and fewer people read printed newspapers and magazines.  BEQ catches the irony of seeing this in a publication that is “covered in Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's blood.”  

Friday, July 25, 2014

BRUISE (cluing challenge: July 25, 2014)

Since The Nation didn’t publish an issue this week, there’s no Word Salad and no new puzzle.  The cluing challenge migrates over here, and I didn’t have much trouble picking a word for you—BRUISE.

Submit your clues in the comments.

Catching up (solution no. 3,331)

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

I thought it was going to be an easy month...  I’ll clear the backlog of posts over the next coupla days, starting with last week’s The Nation solution.

A few people complained about having a variety puzzle, but it’s not like it was unsolvable.  As variety puzzle twists go, this was a very gentle one (clues being wordplay only) and it only affected seven clues.  Further, they were part of a theme that was really easy to identify and finish.  In other words, an ideal first variety puzzle to do.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Seeing a pattern? (solution no. 1,066)

The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 1,066 (from 50 years ago last week) is below the fold.

Boy that was tough.  I had to resort to the answer key six times there, but when a puzzle combines very obscure words with non-Ximenean cluing, it’s gonna be murder.  Much of the rest needed intersecting letters, and in a few cases I still don’t have a clue about what Frank Lewis was intending.  Can any of you figure them out?

On the other hand, I’ve found a Shakespeare reference in each of the Lewis puzzles we’ve tackled so far.  Was this a signature?

Scorecard (Puzzle No. 3,331)

Still owe you a solution to 1,066—it’s pretty hard.

As Hot and Trazom hinted a few weeks ago, we have a variety cryptic this week in The Nation. Variety cryptics usually but do not always have a bar-style grid instead of a block grid.  The thing that defines a variety cryptic is some kind of systematic breaking of the basic rules.  It could be an alteration to some of the clues, an alteration to some answers before they go into the grid, a set of unclued answers or answers which are not numbered so you have to sort out where they go.  It can get much more complicated from there, working up to the well-loved forms seen regularly in The Listener and in Harper’s and the intricate and unique twists Kevin Wald creates.  This puzzle is an invitation to explore that universe.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Easy.  I think that was intentional, as a means of not scaring solvers off from trying a variety puzzle.  Still, there were some good spots of misdirection to trap solvers who want things to be too proper.

Hozom’s comment: “Writing a letter,” in which Hot and Trazom explain how constructors get and use single letters in their clues.  There’s a lot of opportunity for misdirection here if constructors are alert and creative.

Cluing challenge: “HORSESHOE

We got a nice comment a coupla weeks ago correcting an earlier post about the MIT Mystery Hunt.

Erin Rhode wrote:
>>Sometimes I Google myself to see what comes up... regarding the Mystery
>>Hunt cryptic, while I wasn't an author, I was an editor. The original idea
>>was Aaron Bader's, Kevin Der wrote the grid (and holy crap, I still don't
>>know how he did that), and Aaron and Dan Katz wrote the clues.

So I looked up Erin, and interestingly, she fit right into the topic I’d planned on using this week.  The Major League Baseball All-Star Game was held Tuesday, and it brought to mind my habit of keeping a scorecard when I go to the ballpark.  My earliest recollection of scoring a game was watching an All-Start game on TV when I was about 12.  I made up my own form for it, with a ruler and ball-point pen, and eventually used a ditto master to print a bunch of them.  Like so much else, the computer makes it a lot easier today, but I still use a scorecard of my own design, with a few quirks like spaces designated to record hot dogs, cheesesteaks, and beer consumed by the scorer.

So I wonder if the same geek gene that’s responsible for an interest in cryptic crosswords and other odd puzzles also drives an instinct to keep score at the ballgame.  It’s worth doing if you’re at the game: not just for the bleacher cred (Erin subtitles her blog “Don’t try to show up the chick with the scorebook.”), but also because you might end up with the greatest souvenir, as when a college friend of ours went to a Braves game and ended up scoring a no-hitter.

Erin linked a couple more puzzles from the Mystery Hunt: I’ll add them to this weekend’s Sunday brunch.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Germany 2, Argentina 0 (Sunday brunch: July 13, 2014)

It’s a good thing Sabers doesn’t have school tomorrow: he and just about everyone else in Bad Reichenhall going to be up late celebrating a World Cup win for Germany.  No better time for a sports-minded kid to go on an exchange student trip than during the World Cup.

Argentina’s coach thinks his team will have to play a perfect game in order to win, and I agree with him.  The German defense is better than that of the Dutch who managed to figure out Messi and minimize (though not eliminate) his opportunities to create a goal.  The first half will look like the Brazil-Netherlands third-place game, minus the penalty that I thought should have been just outside the box.   Germany will have the majority of possession early on, and Klose will put one away.  Then another goal late as the Argentines press for the equalizer.

While you’re waiting for kickoff, you can solve these puzzles.  Still no World Cup themes in the cryptic realm though.

The Wall Street Journal has an easy variety cryptic by Hex called “Family Reunion.”  As usual, the solution is elsewhere on the blog.  Falcon reports that Hex’s weekly straight cryptic in the National Post is also easier than usual.

Want something harder?  Take on Fraser Simpson’s puzzle in the Globe and Mail.  Or (as we catch up with Kevin Wald) “Catching Four,” his contribution to the Post Hunt in Washington (knowing that fact might help you work out one of the themes).

The New York Times variety puzzle (behind the paywall) is a Hex acrostic.  Commentary (and spoilers) from Deb Amlen at Wordplay.

Before you go, don’t forget that Trip Payne’s 2014 Extravaganza is going to start August 1.  Sign up here.  Ten bucks for twelve puzzles plus a meta, and two solvers with correct answers win $100.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Wall Street Journal solution: July 12, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle, a cryptic by Hex titled “Family Reunion.”

Once you’re done with that one, why not try your hand at writing a cryptic clue?  This week’s cluing challenge is NAT HENTOFF.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cluing challenge (July 10, 2014): NAT HENTOFF

Hot and Trazom frequently work names into their cryptic crosswords, both in clues and in answers.  I like that idea, since it’s a source for fresh wordplay.  Dedicating a post to Nat Hentoff becomes a pretty easy choice when you start looking at all the cluing possibilities.

How would you clue NAT HENTOFF?

Nat Hentoff (Puzzle No. 1,066)

July 6, 1964 puzzle courtesy of The Nation.
Click here for printable version.
As I was browsing through the 1964 reel of The Nation to find this puzzle, I spotted an article by jazz critic Nat Hentoff. I like jazz, and I’ve read one of Hentoff’s books and plenty of his columns—but not this one.  Here’s his June 22, 1964 lede.

Some weeks ago, Eric Dolphy, an explosively original jazz saxophonist and clarinetist, left for Europe as a sideman with a small combo.  He isn’t coming back.  I asked a musician friend of his why Dolphy had decided to become an expatriate.  “Nothing’s happening over here,” was the answer.  “If he has to scuffle over there, at least he’ll have a change of scenery.”

Dolphy and a few others excepted, the younger avant-garde jazz players remain, although their expectations are increasingly bleak.  Jazz was never a popular music; but by contrast with the present, there have been periods during which it made partial breakthroughs to a sizable public, thereby providing reasonably steady work for the uncompromising improvisers as well as for the popularizers.   

Fifty years later, Hentoff is still on the beat (pun intended).  Last week, his column, now in the Wall Street Journal, explains the thinking of his friend Charles Mingus:

Mingus never believed his music was "too difficult" for players of any age once they knew their instruments and were driven by his music to find themselves in it. As Mrs. Mingus wrote in her absorbing book, "Tonight at Noon: A Love Story," that I reread when I need to be lifted by both of them, Mingus used to holler to his musicians "Play yourself!"

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hup Holland! (Solution No. 3,330)

The solution to puzzle no. 3,330 is below the fold.

Now that the USA has been eliminated from the World Cup (after a more than satisfactory run), I can cheer in good conscience for The Netherlands.  I’ve visited Holland three times, one of those trips coinciding with their hosting the European championship in 2000.  The whole country turned orange, and the fans were raucous.  Crazy often, drunk sometimes, but never out of line.

I was there for a scientific conference in The Hague, and on the last day, I wore a necktie I bought at one of the local stores.  It was bright orange with a soccer player and a Dutch flag.  Perfectly versatile: it clashes with everything.  I still have the tie, and get it out every four years for the World Cup.

I also appreciate the Oranje style of play: more unscripted than the Spanish and German teams, more disciplined than the Brazilians.  And how about that use of a designated goalie for the penalty shootout against the determined Ticos?  I did the same thing in 2008 when I was coaching Sabers’ soccer team. We survived the shootout and went on to win the championship.  Can the Oranje do the same?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Long weekend (Sunday brunch: July 6, 2014)

Joey has the right idea for
 a long, restful weekend
Early edition of Sunday brunch for this long weekend.  Good thing too, since there are plenty of new cryptics to keep you busy.  We start in the New York Times (behind the paywall).  Richard Silvestri is the constructor.  Look for the solution here.

North of the border, it was Canada Day Tuesday, but neither Fraser Simpson nor Hex marked the event with their weekend puzzles for the Globe and Mail and the National Post respectively.  And in case you missed it, there was a new The Nation cryptic (and a cluing challenge) Thursday.

Multiple variety cryptics too this weekend.  The change tracker I was using to follow Kevin Wald’s page doesn’t seem to have worked too well, so I missed a few recent puzzles.  I’ll post links over the next few weeks to catch up, starting with 6/28, which logically (of course Kevin does things logically) was posted last weekend.  Great puzzle, and not as difficult to finish as some of Kevin’s other cryptics.  Give it a try.

Tom Toce has his bi-monthly variety cryptic in Contingencies.  It’s a Double Trouble, where there are two grids and each clue is actually two clues, one for each grid.  You have to figure out which one. Note there are a couple of errors in the grids: there should be a bar to the left of square 19, so the enumeration of 17a is (5), and the square at the bottom left corner should be numbered 27.

In other puzzling pastimes, the Wall Street Journal has a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  Medium difficulty.  If you’re feeling creative, you can also add to the comment thread for the Friday non-puzzle.

Nathan Curtis is back!  He’s been preoccupied with BAPHL, which went off in Boston last weekend, so there hasn’t been time for any new puzzles.  With that done, he’s posted a new mini Rows Garden.

New York Times solution: July 6, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle, a straight cryptic by Richard Silvestri.  If you want explanations of any of the answers, just ask in the comments.

Once you’re done, why not stick around for Sunday brunch.  Many more cryptics and other puzzles on the menu this week: so many that they’re being served up early.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Paper (Puzzle No. 3,330)

It was clean-up time at the office this week: we have to make room for a few more people moving over to our location, so cubicles that had been used for storage are being cleared out and the supply closet got gone through.

Being the frugal sort I am, I gladly took a bunch of colored file folders, saving them from being tossed out and having folders for another three or four years worth of projects.  But the treasure I was particularly happy at capturing was about half a ream of letterhead paper, left over from when one of the other departments was located in a different building.
“Covenant” by Alexander Lieberman, 1974

Say what you will about the basketball team or some of the sculptures on campus, but the University of Pennsylvania has good taste in paper.  Nice and thick (which helps with erasures), with a laid finish that slows down your pencil a little and makes the lines a little more bold.  Better yet, it’s white rather than the beige color they used while I was in grad school (a change to our mail code system left me with a ream of that paper a long time ago).  Ideal for printing out puzzles on.

Find some of your favorite paper and print out the latest puzzle from The Nation.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standard of this weekly puzzle): hard.  I got off to a quick start but then ran into some less obvious clues.

Hozom’s comment: “States of Play,” in which Hot and Trazom appreciate the 50 states and how they find their way into cryptic clues.  One bit they didn’t mention is that some of those abbreviations are sources for convenient consonants like NY or MS or SD.

Weekly cluing challenge (at Word Salad): WYOMING

Back soon with a early long weekend edition of Sunday brunch.