Thursday, October 30, 2014

Welcome, Word Salad readers (Puzzle No. 3,343)

Thank you for the plug, Hot and Trazom; and thank you readers, for visiting.  I hope you'll bookmark the page and come back weekly.

What will you find?  On Thursdays, a link to the new The Nation puzzle and to the latest Word Salad post.  Weeks that The Nation doesn’t publish, I usually locate and link to a puzzle from the archive. Over the summer, we went back through the years to solve some Frank Lewis puzzles and see how the American cryptic form has evolved since Puzzle No. 1.  They’ve been alternately frustrating and enjoyable.

Mondays, I post a full solution and annotation of the current week’s puzzle.  Each clue is parsed in depth, showing what words are the indicator and what words are fodder for the wordplay.  This is a lot more complete than the solution you get in the magazine or pretty much any other cryptic blog out there.  The idea is that by breaking each clue down to its component parts, you’ll learn to spot the keys and become a better solver.  That’s then the bridge you need to take on the harder puzzles you see in other places like the National Puzzlers' League, British newspapers, and long-running variety cryptic series.

So you read the blog and get the tools: now where can you find more puzzles to solve?  Right here! On weekends, I post Sunday Brunch, with links to assorted cryptic and variety puzzles.  

It’s Thursday, so here’s this week’s The Nation puzzle:

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Hard.  Many of the fours and fives come along nicely, but they don’t necessarily give you easy partials.

Hozom’s comment: The Iceman Bloggeth, in which Hot and Trazom encounter a zebra with two twists.

Cluing Challenge: HOCKEY

Back with the solution on Monday.  Comment, or ask for help below.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ask a stupid question... (Solution No. 3,342)

The solution to puzzle no. 3,342 is below the fold.

Scene: Sunday morning on an ice rink somewhere in the Philadelphia area: the third period.  A pee wee player gains control of the puck and skates into the neutral zone, followed by another pee wee player, with a referee trailing them.  The second player wraps his stick around the first player.  The referee raises his arm.  The three continue into the neutral zone where another player knocks the puck away from the first player.  The referee blows his whistle and directs the second player to the penalty bench. 

Referee (to scorer):  44 white holding!  Minor penalty.  Four four.

Coach (to referee):  You’re killing us! How did he hold him?

Referee (to coach):  With his arms and his stick.

Referee skates away.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pits (Sunday brunch: Oct. 26, 2014)

Monday, I groused about the ice at one of my home rinks and the management’s ongoing problems. It’s been like that as long as I’ve been skating there, and I’ve been skating there since Ian Walsh was working Pee Wees.   But there were some years I didn’t skate there.  Around 2000, they fully enclosed the rink (it used to be partly open-air) and reconfigured the boards, moving the benches from one side to the other.

Not surprisingly, they cheaped out on the job.  Instead of buying new glass or at least some replacement panes for the relocated bench doors, they transferred the glass from one spot to another, cutting where the panes were too big.  That left two spots with gaps in the glass about six inches to a foot wide: just enough to catch an arm.  And when the put up protective nets behind the end glass, the eye bolts they bought were too long, and stuck out into the playing area.  If I put up my hand for a penalty in one of those spots, I could cut it on the bolt.  And then the bottom of the Zam door was worn, and if it wasn’t shut tight enough, a puck could slip under.  

All accidents waiting to happen.  If a player got hurt on one of those danger spots during a game I was refereeing, the family would probably sue everyone in sight.  We refs get liability insurance from USA Hockey, but even if it didn’t hit me in the bank account, a lawsuit would be a real pain in the tail.  So I reported the situation to the Risk Management department at USA Hockey, and when the rink didn’t do anything about the problems.  I told my assigner not to give me any more games there. About five years later they finally replaced the boards and glass, and I resumed skating there.  But the place is still a pit.

Much better quality in the puzzles, as always.  First off, don’t forget the annual NYT crossword contest.  You need the solutions to all six of the week’s puzzles to get some kind of meta.  Answers are due at 6:00 tonight, New York time.

The new Harpers is out, and this month’s Richard Maltby cryptic is too.  That means it’s also time for Erica to take apart last month’s Playfair Square.   Even though she and her Sweet Vladimir were winners (again: good for you!), her blog brings the smack from the get-go.  “This was some real bulls***” she says.  But Erica and Vlad were smart enough to pull out a bag of Scrabble tiles to solve the cipher.    I got partway through the cipher (the puzzle wasn’t unduly hard) but never got around to finishing.  I’ll try Erica’s trick.  Bonus in her post: her mom makes an appearance.

The Wall Street Journal variety puzzle is a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  It was the easiest Rows Garden I’ve ever solved.  But there are hints elsewhere on the blog if you need them.

Likewise, the Fred Piscop diagramless (Wordplay link: spoilers!) in today’s New York Times posed little difficulty as well. I’ve posted a solution in case you’re stuck on anything.

For your straight cryptic pleasure, there are three weekly puzzles by Hex, Stickler, and the syndicate for the Globe and Mail.  These will be harder than the WSJ and NYT puzzles.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

New York Times solution: October 26, 2014

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

Once you’re done with it, stay around for Sunday brunch.  This weekend we have all kinds of new puzzles on the menu: straight and variety cryptics, a Rows Garden, and the Times puzzle contest.

Wall Street Journal hint: Oct: 25, 2014

Below the fold are two sets of hints to today’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  It’s an easy one, so you probably won’t need much of a hint, but you can also use this to check your answers.

First is a list of enumerations for the answers in each row.  Click and drag to see the number of letters in each one.  Then there’s a table of the locations for each of the blooms.  They’re identified by the row number for that color and then A/B/C/D in order.  So the rightmost bloom straddling rows F and G (it’s a dark) would be 2D.

Finished?  Like Rows Gardens?  Subscribe to Andrew Ries’s bi-weekly series.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gavotte in 225 squares (Puzzle No. 3,342)

When I checked out Peter Schickele’s page for definitive information on P.D.Q. Bach, what should I find there but crossword puzzles?  Thinking a little more about it, I wasn’t surprised. An academic and entertainer, one who puns for a living?  Of course he’ll have an interest in crosswords.  And so Professor Schickele has taken the leap and constructed some puzzles of his own.

I solved one of the later ones in the collection: it’s not to the standard of a Times puzzle, but it’s better than many amateur compositions.  As is often the case with novice constructors, parts of the fill leave something to be desired, with a lot of threes and fours and some clues designed to legitimize non-words as grid entries.  The cluing is better, with plenty of musical references (not obscure, but definitely not common), as one might expect, but several groaners as well.

And the theme entries and clues were excellent (you’ll have to solve for yourself to see them).  The kind of wordplay in the themes hints that Schickele might have a knack for cryptics. Maybe some constructor could invite him for a collaboration.

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate to hard.  Not exceptionally difficult, but at least to me it wasn’t as smooth a solve as some other recent puzzles.

Hozom’s comment: “Between the Cracks” in which Hot and Trazom try and categorize a few of their less common clue types.  Like me, they often resort to “pun” as a means of explaining wordplay. Generally, these are the ones with emphasis on the “play” part of “wordplay” and the I think the puzzles are much richer for them.  The best of them I’ll share with The Other Doctor Mitchell at cocktail hour, and she’ll alternately cheer and groan.

Cluing challenge: CATEGORY

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Don’t leave without the check (Solution No. 3,341)

The solution to puzzle no. 3.341 is below the fold

Yesterday started at the hockey rink (well, actually it started at church) and ended at the figure skating rink.  In between, I refereed both a hockey game and a fencing tournament (hadn’t ever done both the same day before).  The hockey game was at the nearby rink where the ice feels dead.  This year, I know they melted down and remade the ice over the summer, since there’s a ‘heads-up’ line around the perimeter.  It was marginally better than it was last year, but it’s still by far the worst ice of any rink I ref at.

While we were at the season-opening cocktail party (it’s the Main Line, you don’t need much of an excuse for cocktails) at the figure skating club, I mentioned to the manager and the Zamboni driver the contrast between their ice and where I had skated in the morning.  The Zam driver actually had worked at that rink a coupla years ago, and the manager hears all the rink scuttlebutt from around the area (rink people frequently need to borrow parts and equipment from each other).  Both of them weren’t surprised at the conditions at the other rink.  They apparently have a couple of floor and refrigeration problems they can’t afford to fix (an old story at this place, even under the previous management—I’ll tell you about it another time), and everyone knows the ice there is crummy.

That they were having money problems didn’t surprise me either.  Before the season started, we got a directive from our supervisor: don’t leave that rink without the game check.  Apparently a couple of guys got their checks three months late last season.  There’s too much history of rinks failing to pay their refs when they get into cash-flow trouble, so when something like this happens, the rink is kept on a very short leash.  If we don’t get our money right after the game, we notify our supervisor, and very soon that rink isn’t going to have any refs.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Marshy (Sunday brunch: October 19, 2014)

This is being posted on Saturday because 25 years ago today, The Other Doctor Mitchell and I were honeymooning in Toronto (after a few days in Niagara Falls—how traditional can you get!), and on October 18, 1989, we attended the Toronto-Vancouver game at Maple Leaf Gardens.  The home team won (we didn’t have a rooting interest), but to my delight, Leafs’ veteran defenceman Brad Marsh played a memorable game.

Being an old, slow defenseman myself (I wasn’t old or a defenseman until the end of my playing career, but I had a lifetime of slow), I was especially thrilled. The Leafs, who had had a pretty bad start to the season, got the go-ahead goal early in the third period, but the Canucks mounted a furious effort to tie the game.
One of the last NHL
players without a helmet
(not that I endorse that).

Late in the third, Marsh had a shift where he blocked two shots: dropping to the ice to put his shins in front of a slap shot (one of the unsung aspects of the game you can’t appreciate without having played it).  After the second one, he picked up the puck and lugged it up ice into the Canucks’ zone.  After all, even a stay-at-home defenseman knows that sometimes a good offense is the best defense.   The crowd roared its appreciation and Marsh was named one of the three stars of the game despite having no goals, no assists, and only one shot on goal.
A few years later, when I earned a place refereeing in one of the high school leagues here, and my number 5 wasn’t available, I took number 8, in honor of Marshy, who wore that number for the Flyers.  

Now it turns out that Marshy has joined Hockey Buzz and contributes a few blog posts each month. Maybe he’ll share a few memories of that game in T.O. with us.

Speaking of slow, it continues to be a slow cryptic month: nothing new recently from LizR or Kevin Wald, Harper’s is off this month, and in the national papers it’s a two-acrostic week: Mike Shenk in the Wall Street Journal and Hex in the New York Times (blogged with spoilers by Deb Amlen).  Solvers note: the week-long New York Times crossword contest will be going on all next week.  20 solvers who figure out the correct answer to the challenge will win a full year NYT puzzle subscription.  I got my win already, finding out (on my birthday no less!) that I’d won Aries’s Rows Garden meta sweepstakes, and another year of his timely and thoughtful puzzles

The National Post cryptic (blogged by Falcon) was a little disappointing because of the large number of ‘ing’ words. Probably an easier grid to construct, but it made it easy to get partials, and the words those partials intersected.  The syndicated puzzle in the Globe and Mail is your other new cryptic today.

So I solved some Sticklers this week.  Go out and give them a try.  Stickler’s an Aussie, but he’s quite welcoming to us Northern Hemisphere solvers, providing “overseas help” in the form of definitions of Australian slang and cultural references that show up in his weekly puzzles. Every constructor should be so considerate: making the explanations available to those who need them but not forcing them on those who don’t.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Overkill (puzzle no. 3,341)

One of the good features of the The Nation puzzle is its use of uncommon wordplay categories such as letter banks and relocations.  They have the ability to make a puzzle harder, even when the clue itself is easy.  That’s because solvers who aren’t expecting them try and parse some other kind of wordplay out of the clue and wind up going down a blind alley.  The trick is even more effective when there’s a misdirection in the clue: something that looks like an indicator but isn’t.  Hot and Trazom are good at those.

But like anything else, too much of a good thing spoils the effect.  If a constructor uses an uncommon feature too often, solvers will learn to be ready for it.  I see this when I fence.  One of the tactics I like to use is to move quickly off the line when the director says “go” and get right in my opponent’s grill. An inexperienced opponent or even an experienced one who hasn’t seen me before will often react in a way that leaves some part of the body undefended or messes up his balance, allowing me an easy touch.  But if the opponent knows I’m coming and makes a simple extension, I run right onto his blade.

Good constructors think strategically so they can lead solvers down those blind alleys and then make them realize the answer was sitting right in front of them.  Not-so-good constructors ride their horses

Link to puzzle

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

Hozom’s comment:  “Reading the Dictionary,” in which Hot and Trazom respond to a solver who questions one of the constructors’ guidelines.

Weekly cluing challenge: WEBSTER (I guessed this one before I saw the rest of the Word Salad post!)

Monday, October 13, 2014

25th (Solution no. 3,340)

The solution to puzzle no. 3,340 is below the fold.  

Tomorrow, The Other Doctor Mitchell and I officially celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary (we had the party yesterday, and I’ve been waiting for the pictures to show up).  She likes puzzles and games, but she’s not a crossword person.  That’s OK because she’s just about perfect in all other respects.

Good puzzle this week: couldn’t tell you too much on Thursday, or else I would have given away the theme.  (continued below the fold)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

New season (Sunday brunch: October 12, 2014)

While my hockey season started last month, the NHL had its opener this past week (and the Flyers are winless in 3)  A few rules changes were made, most of them pretty minor.

  • Larger area where the goalkeeper can handle the puck (an easing of the Marty Brodeur rule).
  • Wider spacing of the hashmarks where wingers line up on a face-off (will lessen interference).
  • New fines for players who dive or act like they’re hurt in order to draw a penalty against an opponent.
  • Face-offs will no longer go out to the neutral zone when a shot is deflected out of the rink.
  • A change to face-off procedures to keep teams from stalling after an icing violation.
  • Tripping will now be called when a player takes out an opponent with his body or arm, even if he contacts the puck first.
  • More situations where the league office can use video replay for goal/no-goal calls.
  • Automatic suspension for two game misconducts involving physical fouls.   
  • Changes to overtime procedures: a dry scrape of the ice before OT and teams change ends. 
  • The “spin-o-rama” move is now outlawed on penalty shots.

Care for opinions? Retired NHL referees Kerry Fraser and Paul Stewart have blogged on the new rule.  Care for puzzles?  Look below.

Our regular cryptics are in the Globe and Mail (watch out for a British degree in 25a) and the National Post.

The Wall Street Journal has a novel Patrick Berry crossword called Changing Direction.  Amazing are the ideas he comes up with.

The New York Times has a Split Decisions by Fred Piscop, blogged (with spoilers) by Deb Amlen.  I just can’t get into those.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wall Street Journal solution: Oct. 11, 2014

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: Changing Directions by Patrick Berry.

[post back-dated to keep Sunday brunch on top]

Friday, October 10, 2014

Straight vs. Variety (Puzzle no. 3,340)

While Hot and Trazom have occasionally constructed some variety cryptics for The Nation (for which they’ve been thanked with gripes by a few solvers), the The Nation puzzle is usually a straight cryptic.  That’s not to say there won’t be a few twists now and then.

Where do you draw the line between straight and variety cryptics?  I’d put it at making alterations to the clues before you solve them, or making alterations to the answers before you enter them.  Another definition might be that if you have to give special instructions to the solver, that apply to that specific puzzle, it's a variety cryptic.

That still leaves plenty of opportunity for constructors to be inventive within the straight cryptic format.  Cross-references are probably the most common such element.  They’re quite common at the Financial Times and other British puzzles (including LizR’s). Sometimes they provide an opportunity to group answers together around a theme (which is usually made apparent in one of the clues–to by custom one of the last acrosses); other times they’re just a chance for some different wordplay.

3,337 was one of those, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away by noting there happen to be a lot of arabic numbers showing up in the clues this week.  It’s up to you to figure out what the connection is, but if you’ve done cryptics for a while and consider wordplay to be an exercise essential to good health, you should be able to get it.  If not, use the crossing letters to work out those answers with numbers in their clues, and then look at the cross-referenced answer.

I'll be back with the solution Monday.  See you this weekend for Sunday brunch.

Link to puzzle:

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Hard, getting somewhat easier once you figure out the cross-references.

Hozom’s comment: “Interview With a Fiend,” in which Hot and Trazom introduce us to the solvers who give us Diary of a Crossword Fiend (, a site devoted to the major daily straight crosswords in America.  Amy Reynaldo is the proprietress, and she’s been at it for close to a decade.  Over the years, she’s assembled a team of kindred spirits and created a pretty distinct identity for her blog.  We learn that cryptics aren’t in their future, but that’s what Sunday Brunch is for.

Weekly cluing challenge:  BLOGGER

Monday, October 6, 2014

“E” is for Encore (Solution No. 3,339)

The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 3,339 is below the fold.

If you were following this blog a year ago, you will recall Sabers winning a Philly Cup tournament, and with it an "E" rating from the US Fencing Association.  Well it turned out a few weeks later, when we didn’t ever get confirmation of the rating, that the host club had not properly renewed their sanctioning paperwork for the new season, and as a result, the tournament, its results, and Sabers’ rating were all annulled.  Ever since, he’d been looking for a chance to re-win the "E."

That chance came Sunday.  While the lineup included a hotshot from New Jersey who won last week’s youth event, Sabers went in as the favorite for a change.  He took care of business in the preliminary round, losing only one bout (by one touch to a high-schooler from the Panthers club) and earning a bye to the semifinals.  There he had a comfortable win against a rookie who had upset the Panthers fencer in the quarters.  Meanwhile, the Jersey kid won his semi.  

Between warm-ups (one of the good parts of the sport is how fencers can support and help each other one moment, then turn around and compete the next) and the preliminary bout, Sabers had figured out  this particular opponent and had a game plan: defend his initial attack (either with a parry or distance), and catch an easy riposte.  Brainwork rather than a physical battle.  It worked well, but the opponent changed his timing and got a couple of favorable calls from the referee to take an 8-6 lead at the halfway break.

Tweaking his strategy during the break, Sabers threw a feint into his defense to slow things a little more.  The kid’s attacks started to fall short again, and Sabers got three easy touches and the lead. After that, it was a cruise to the finish with four chances for the winning point–comfortable enough for his old man to get video of the victory.  15-12 final, and this one they won’t take away.

No gold medals or official ratings for finishing this puzzle, but the smarter solvers who can anticipate Hot and Trazom’s moves will feel good about themselves.  I especially liked the three-part clues and other misdirections.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Personal best (Sunday brunch: October 5, 2014)

This morning, Bangle skated at the USFSA South Atlantic Regional: the first step on the road to nationals and her first competition far enough away to have to go by plane.  Seeing as how it was only her third competition at this level (Intermediate: step 6 out of 9 from beginning official competition to the senior (Olympic) level and she’d jumped two levels in less than a year, expectations were modest. (It also helps that we try not to be parents from hell).  The main goal of the trip was for Bangle to get experience at a big-time event like this and to gain confidence that she belonged at this level.

With that in mind, she got the job done.  She didn’t get enough points to move on (she was 13th out of 18 with the top four advancing), but she beat her personal best by more than 4 points.  She landed five double jumps and had no falls.  And with the Olympic judging system, she has a detailed readout of each element in the program and how the judges saw it.  That will help shape the plan for the next year’s training, so next year she can have a shot at advancing.

Falcon reports that he’s had to step up his game to solve the National Post cryptic (it’s been a bit harder than usual the last few weeks), but he’s up to it.  Are you?

Hex also have a variety cryptic in the Wall Street Journal.  It too was a little harder than most WSJ variety puzzles, but you can solve it if you have a little persistence.

The New York Times variety puzzle is a Hex cryptic.  Deb Amlen blogs it at Wordplay, reporting that it didn’t quite mesh with her knowledge.

Richard Maltby offers a Playfair Square in Harper’s.  The cryptic part is easy (compared to other Maltby puzzles): now I have to figure out the code.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Junior high (puzzle no. 3,339)

Let’s try and get back towards something resembling a normal schedule.  Hot and Trazom are up to puzzle no. 3,339.  I liked this one: a couple of twists made it harder than usual, but nothing unfair.  If you’ve been doing these for a while, you won’t be too surprised.

Meanwhile, Bangle’s junior high open house was Monday  I had not met her English teacher before, though he taught Sabers when Sabers was in eighth grade.  This particular teacher likes to teach vocabulary by playing with words, especially their roots, so of course I passed along a link to Kegler’s page and the puzzles there that were constructed by and/or for middle-schoolers.

One unexpected way that I think cryptics benefit your brain (and your writing) is the variety of indicators you’ll see.  Constructors love to hide the ball, so variety in indicators is a must.  Seeing more of them will expand your options, particularly for action words, when writing.

Difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle):  Hard.  I got off to a good start top left, but hit a bit of a roadblock, exacerbated by the relatively low interconnectedness of the grid this week.  But on my second pass through, I got a couple of the answers that had been vexing me

Hozom’s comment: “A League of Our Own,” in which Hot and Trazom introduce us to the National Puzzlers’ League, and to The Enigma, their magazine, which includes cryptics from a variety of interesting constructors as well as other puzzles that may catch your interest.  One more thing about the NPL site, is that it includes a comprehensive list of members and their noms, frequently with explanations of their derivation.  So you can see what makes Hot Hot and makes Trazom Trazom (the Word Salad post tells you the noms of a few other prominent constructors).  

Weekly cluing challenge:  ENGIMA

Back with the solution Monday, and yes, there will be Sunday brunch this weekend!   

Driver ed (Solution no. 3,338)

Solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,338 below the fold.

Sabers and I were late to orchestra today.  A tree fell onto our usual route, and then when we got to the highway on the detour route, there was a multi-car accident right in front of us.  After a half hour going nowhere, the road was reopened, and about three or four miles down the way was an overturned car by the side of the road (looks like the passengers were OK).

Driver ed lesson for Sabers: light rain is dangerous—it makes roads more slick than heavy rain does. Longer following distances, no sudden lane changes.