Saturday, August 15, 2015

Running in circles (Solution No. 3,370)

Call me Dopey if you like: I didn't spot the theme of this one until I got around to the bottom, though that came about because it was a smooth solve.  Usually I like to work in a circle around the puzzle rather than jumping ahead to fill in the easy answers first.  If I have to do the latter, it's a sign of a hard puzzle.

Link to puzzle

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

Agility factor: moderate

Themework: The across clues incorporated the names of the Seven Dwarfs from the tale of Snow White.

Clearing the spindle (Puzzle No. 3,370)

Let's get caught up, shall we?  I found myself slapping my forehead after taking so long to recognize this was a themed puzzle.  How about you?

Link to puzzle:

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

Agility factor: moderate

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Multiplication (Puzzle No. 3,369)

Stickler’s solution pages usually include a comment or two on his constructing philosophy or on other crossword matters, so you should check them out even if you got through the week’s puzzle on the first try.  Last week’s solution page noted that Stickler is not fond of double definition clues.  I think he’s got a point: they’re usually more work than play, and not all that hard to solve.

So Stickler’s got the answer (which Hot and Trazom also use sometimes).  Triple the definition, or maybe even quadruple it!  Go visit the post for some clever work.

Meanwhile, this fortnight’s The Nation puzzle is of moderate difficulty.  Good solvers will find it smooth.  If you’re more of a novice, the key is steady effort.  Getting one answer will lead you to the next, and onward until the grid is completed.

Link to puzzle

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

Agility factor: low

Back with the solution and annotation Monday.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Testing, 1, 2, 3 (Sunday brunch: July 12, 2015)

[Apologies for the late post: I got called for a fill-in referee job.]

The codes for each step of this ice dance
you what edge to be skating on:
LFO is 
left skate, forwards, outside edge
Congratulations to Bangle, who passed two figure skating tests yesterday.  When she resumed skating after her concussion last winter, she wasn’t cleared to do jumps and spins until well after she was fully recovered.  So instead, she worked on ice dance, which requires precise and strong skating skills more than the speed and power for jumps and spins.

Competition is one way of proving your skills, but skating also has a series of tests, where you aren’t competing against other skaters: you’re trying to skate well enough to earn a passing score from the judges.  The tests come in a series of levels: from pre-preliminary to senior for freestyle, and from pre-bronze to gold for ice dance (which for testing purposes does not have to be skated with a partner).  Each successive level has harder and harder required elements, and a higher standard of skating needed to pass.  In order to skate in competition at a particular level, you have to pass the corresponding test.

Since Bangle hadn’t done much dance before this season, she started with the beginning-level tests a couple of months ago, and has been racking up nice comments from the judges along the way.  On the right is the pattern for one of the bronze-level dances: the Fiesta Tango.  The lines show the pattern that should be traced on the ice, and numbered steps detail how each step should be skated.  Skate the pattern twice, and would be right back where you started: two times around and the dance is finished.  

Now test your mind against the weekend’s new puzzles.

Stickler is back from his winter R&R (it’s midwinter Down Under) and has two new puzzles: numbers 85 and 86.  Glad to see them!

Other weekly block cryptics are in the National Post and the Globe and Mail, as usual.  Falcon is getting his R&R (I think he’s in the lake country of Ontario, but he’s blogged the National Post for us.

Meanwhile, it’s time for a couple of periodic variety cryptics by Sondheim-inspired constructors: the Tom Toce puzzle in Contingencies and the Mark Halpin puzzle unveiled at a special event at the Arden Theater Company here in Philadelphia recognizing Sondheim.

The Wall Street Journal variety puzzle is Changing Directions by Patrick Berry.  Another one of those ones where getting a toehold is the hardest part, so I have a hint grid up for you as well as the solution.

The New York Times variety puzzle is a Hex acrostic, blogged (with spoilers) by Deb at Wordplay.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Diversity (Solution No. 3,368)

With Bolivians, Irish dancers, and even a green thing, there’s never been a doubt that the annual Fourth of July parade in Glenside represents the glorious diversity of America.  But this year, the cause brotherhood and harmony of took another great step forward: the motorcycle drill team included a Honda and a BMW as well as the usual collection of Harleys (video below).

A few grumbles about the puzzle, though I didn’t find it difficult.

Link to puzzle:

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

Agility factor: light to moderate

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

RUBBER (“masseuse”) + DUCK (“to avoid”)
*SOUP (anagram indicated by “prepare”)
<t_OTAL P_anic< (reversal indicated by “retreats”, hidden word indicated by “in”)
11a, 12a
*INFORMED MECHANIC (anagram indicated by “in criis”)
OFF (†) + ICES (“frozen sweets”)
BOOS (“complains loudly”) + *BRACELET (anagram indicated by “broken”)
INSTIGATOR (“troublemaker”) containing (“on both sides of”) ^V^enic^E^ (first and last letters indicated by “borders”)
<NIP (“bite”) + EELS< (“fish,” reversal of the whole thing indicated by “after turning over”)
BITTE (“please [in] German”) + REND (“tear”)
AL (“Albert” [Einstein]) + IKE (“Isaac” [Newton})
Both were physicists, which would distinguish them from some other random Als and Ikes.  Fun clue.
nas_TY PE_rson (hidden word indicated by “at heart”)
*A DULL PRIZE (anagram indicated by “shockingly”)

REP (“member of Congress”) + AIR (“appearance”)
B (“second rate”) + RANCH (“farm”)
*COMES INTO (anagram indicated by “play”)
<FACED< (“braved,” reversal indicated by “getting up”)
^A^ristocracy (first letter indicated by “leader”) following (“goes after”) COMMONER (“peasant”)
*SPACE BID (anagram indicated by “exploded”)
<DESSERTS< (“cakes,” reversal indicated by “upside-down”)
Double definition
^K^afkaesqu^E^ (first and last letters indicated by “superficially”) + HE (“man”) contained in (“captivated by”) SPIEL (“sales pitch”)
Double definition
^B^atter^Y^ (first and last letters indicated by “terminals”) contained in (“into”) BIT BIT (“a quarter” [two bits])
The only real challenge to work out in this one.
*VOTERS (anagram indicated by “messing up”) + EP (“record”)
Can we retire “EP”?  It’s not been seen outside of crosswords in decades.
R (“runs”) contained in (“into”) SPITZ (“Olympic swimmer”)
Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in Munich in 1972.  How many solvers of any age would have remembered that?
*RUNE (anagram indicated by “mysterious”) + AD (cross-ref to 5d: “common era”)
APE (“primate”) + X (“times”)
I thought the “at” in the clue violates Ximenean principles.
sudane_SE DER_vish (hidden word indicated by “maintained by”)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cryptical Envelopment (Sunday brunch: July 5, 2015)

Some of you will instantly recognize the title of this post: it’s one of the standards of a Grateful Dead concert, and as good a summation of their life and work as anything else.

The bus came by and I got on—that’s where it all began;
There was Cowboy Neal, at the wheel, of a bus to never-ever land.

The song, written in 1967, is the first part of a three-part piece called “That’s it for the Other One.” It refers to the events of that summer and two of the people who accompanied the Dead in their early travels: Owsley Stanley, who made and supplied much of the LSD that fueled the psychedelic events of the time; and Neal Cassady, one of the Merry Pranksters on Ken Kesey’s bus. 
The tune starts light, and then an ominous roaring drum riff kicks off the second movement, which gets fast and dark and trippy.  Then it turns into an extended improvisational jam.  Eventually, the jam winds up and comes back to the first theme.  Then sometimes they carry that theme around a while and other times they’d segue into a different song.  The “Cryptical” in the name doesn’t have any significance: they just needed to assign a name to the song for publishing reasons.

Puzzles: sometimes mind-bending, often addictive, but a lot healthier than LSD...

No weekend Wall Street Journal due to the holiday.  Other regular weekly cryptics are found in the National Post (easy this week, but Falcon needed a lot of time) and the Globe and Mail (harder than usual).  Richard Silvestri constructed the New York Times cryptic this weekend: did you like it more or less than the Hex puzzles that usually occupy that space?

Friday, July 3, 2015

The mother country (Puzzle No. 3,368)

With Independence Day around the corner, or as Major Stone of the British Officers’ Club put it “Revolution Day,” it’s a good time to give a nod to the mother country.  American cryptics are the result of a two-way transatlantic voyage.  Crosswords were invented here, but the cryptic subset and the conventions that govern it arose in England.  Ditto for variety cryptics, where the magazine The Listener plays the same standard-setting role as the New York Times does for straight crosswords. Getting a puzzle published in The Listener is a real feather in your cap.

English puzzles are also on my mind since I was traveling last month.  I picked up a variety of British newspapers as well as printing a stack of FT cryptics to solve while I was in airports or on planes. Naturally I overpacked, so I’m only finishing off that stack now.

My favorite was the Times, which at least in their international edition (which was in tabloid format: is the home edition still a broadsheet?) put the puzzle right on the back page, with clues in print size that was easy to read.  I would prefer that they give the constructors’ bylines though; they deserve the credit, plus experienced solvers can get an edge from knowing the cluing tricks and habits of the more widely-published constructors.

Second-favorite, and not for lack of trying, was The Independent’s tabloid version “i.”  Besides their regular cryptic, they have a “five-clue” mini-cryptic plus a two-page spread of new-wave (post-sudoku) logic puzzles.  Clearly the best way to feed a puzzle habit for 40p a day.  The Times also has a spread like that.

Straight crossword solvers won’t be so happy with the choices in the mother country.  Non-cryptic crosswords are frequently called “quick crosswords” over there: they’re probably quick to construct as well as quick to solve.  They’re only 13 by 13, and they’re of a block design with lots more black squares than an American crossword, so there’s a lot less work needed to create the grid.  And while British cryptic clues are often difficult and sometimes unconventional, their quick crossword clues are perfectly straight and simple.  Perhaps their straight crossword fans look to America for puzzles the way we Americans work British as well as American cryptics.

The web editors of The Nation decided to use the holiday weekend to roll out a new web site.  The puzzle pages look neater, and the downloadable PDFs are easier to find.  Anyone having any problems with it?

Link to puzzle

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

Agility factor: light to moderate

Cluing challenge (add your clues to the comments section): INDEPENDENCE

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Coach Paul (Sunday brunch: June 28, 2015)

“Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.”

I was lector in our church this morning, and when I saw those words in St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, I heard the voice of a coach. 

“And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.”

Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to support their brothers and sisters in Macedonia, but I was thinking about Bangle who was off at her first skating competition of the year (after missing the winter and spring events while recovering from her concussion and broken foot) and the teenaged epeeist from our club who is going off to Nationals this week. 

We build our kids and teammates up and teach them, but when it’s time to go out onto the ice, they’re the ones who have to step up and perform.  Those are good words to send them off with.  Paul is not expecting the world from the Corinthians, but he’s challenging them to seize the moment and make the best of their talents and resources.  It may not be enough to win, but a personal best is what to strive for, and Bangle did just that this weekend.   

Put your best effort into the weekend’s puzzles:

There are acrostics in the New York Times (Hex, spoiler alert) and the Wall Street Journal (Mike Shenk) this weekend.  

Falcon reports that the Hex cryptic in the National Post is one of the best in recent memory.  The syndicated puzzle in the Globe and Mail is more conventional (and more British) than last week’s edition. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Physical therapy (Solution No. 3,367)

The solution to puzzle no. 3,367 is below the fold.

For the better part of a year, I’ve had some pain in my knees: interestingly, it strikes when I’ve been sitting still for a while. Walking, running, or skating, they’re fine. But a long car trip or a day behind my desk is uncomfortable without regular breaks to walk around for a while. It’s probably fencing-related: something in my stance or the additional strength in my legs straining the joint, but not traumatic. I’m fortunate that I’ve never had any knee injuries. And I don’t want to let up on fencing, since it’s been a good way to get more exercise into my routine.

So when the hamstring I injured a couple of months ago took its time healing (the bumpy roads and sidewalks of Oslo were pretty bothersome), I made an appointment to see a physical therapist. We started this week. After a head to toe evaluation of my strength and range of motion, he started me on exercises to open up my hips and reduce quadriceps tightness. The hypothesis is that the quads are pulling on my kneecap, straining the tendons on the other end of it.

For what it’s worth, the knees do feel better after the first week. The pain isn’t gone by any account, but I can notice a difference.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Home brew (Sunday brunch: June 21, 2015)

(wishing Raydoc a happy Father’s Day)

One Oktoberfest isn’t enough for the folks at our church, so they held a beer and brats night yesterday to raise funds for the youth group trip.  Part of the reason people like these events is the very talented guild of home brewers in the parish (motto: “Sharing God’s love, twelve ounces at a time.”

Beer is the official beverage of Father’s Day, so beer making kits are a popular gift around this time. I ran a brewery back when I was in college, and it took a few tries, but we eventually got to the point where the product was pretty good.  Not quite as good as what the “St. Pauli Guys“ were serving last night, but I made a prize-winning malt liquor.  It’s not hard to make beer, but making something good enough to make people put down their professionally-made beer is another story.  So if you want to to try brewing as a hobby, find a local homebrew club and join them rather than just getting a kit.

Kevin Wald would have been a good guest last night: this week he brewed up a tasty variety cryptic to go with German food.  Elsewhere this weekend, the Wall Street Journal published a Labyrinth by Mike Shenk.  Last time out was easy, this one is harder.  I have a hint grid up elsewhere on the blog as well as the solution.

The New York Times variety puzzle is a Split Decisions by Fred Piscop.  Deb Amlen (spoiler alert) notes that Piscop seems to be finding his stride in constructing this unusual style.  Deb is getting better at solving them, but Piscop is starting to make his Split Decisions a little harder.

Of the regular weekly puzzles, the syndicated cryptic in the Globe and Mail is noteworthy: I found it had a strong Puns and Anagrams feel to it.  Be prepared for some clues without indicators: they’re usually going to be anagrams.

And there’s the Hex cryptic in the National Post, blogged by Falcon.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Jet lag (Puzzle No. 3,367)

Well the trip home from Oslo was a lot less eventful than the trip over, but I got back at midnight Friday.  Norway is not a puzzling country—at least not in the sense we use “puzzling” around this blog.  I looked through several of the local newspapers at breakfast time (waffles with berries, hash browns and bacon, and crispbread with ham and cheese or salmon), and found only a few crosswords. While sudoku might be a worldwide phenomenon, it’s not as universal as it is in other countries. One paper had a daily sudoku, another had one of the simplified 6 by 6 sudokus, and the third had no puzzles at all.

The first of those three papers was the only one with any crosswords: it was of the European style with clues squeezed into the unused boxes instead of black squares.  Since I know virtually no Norwegian, I didn’t try any of their crosswords.  I did try and sing in church, but that’s another story.

The Nation puzzle 3,367 was waiting when I got home.  What a fine example: a theme, some clever wordplay, and plenty of clues that take some work to solve.

Link to puzzle:

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

Agility factor: high (and rewarding)

This week’s cluing challenge (share your clues in the comments): a two-parter—OSLO and NORWAY: clue either of them or even both!

Back with the solution and annotation on Monday.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wall Street Journal hints (June 20, 2015)

Backdated to keep this post off the top.

Below the fold is a hint grid for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: a Labyrinth by Mike Shenk. It shows you where the winding words start and end.

Once you’re through with this one, try some Sunday brunch.

Wall Street Journal solution (June 20, 2015)

Backdated to keep this post off the top.

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: a Labyrinth by Mike Shenk.  I also have a hint grid up in case you’re having a hard time getting off the ground.  It shows the starting and ending squares for each of the “winding” answers. Try it if you don’t want quite as much help.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Reindeer steak (Solution No. 3,206)

The solution to The Nation puzzle 3,206 is below the fold.

After a long day of museuming and hiking (I didn’t have any conference sessions to attend yesterday), a light dinner was not going to cut it.  And as much as possible, I want to sample local foods.  So tonight’s dinner was reindeer with grape-sized potatoes, vegetables, and wilted arugula. The Sami and other peoples of the far north have been herding reindeer (also known as caribou, especially in Canada) for centuries—even now it’s still an important part of their economy.

The meat was excellent: lean but not tough.  The slightly gamy flavor reminded me (for some unknown reason) of duck.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Scenes from Oslo (Sunday brunch: June 14, 2015)

Rather than the usual diet of scenery and art, I'll share a few brief experiences from my Oslo trip:
How many motifs from classic albums
can you spot in the picture?
  • I attended services at the cathedral (domkirke) this morning, doing my best to follow along (my ability to read music only slightly exceeds my ability to read Norwegian).  But I saw a familiar sight: the ribbons of the bookmark for the hymnal had been braided together.  Kids fidget in church wherever you happen to go.  
  • The design museum has a special exhibition of record album cover art (how could they leave out the minimalist style of the ECM jazz albums of the 70s and 80s, many of which were recorded in Oslo).  In the foyer, they set up two stereos, with headphones and an eclectic collection of records for visitors to play.  There was a family there with a kid about 12 who was playing with the turntable.  So I picked out a record (which turned out to be Janis Joplin) and showed him how it worked.  Then gave him and his parents the headphones so they could listen.
  • After the museums closed, I took a hike down from Frognereteren (the end of Metro line 1) down the mountain to the Holmenkollen ski jump.  In the stadium, there was a biathlete and her coach doing shooting practice.  So I made like the spectators at the Olympics and cheered when the shot hit the target and groaned when it missed.  Perhaps it gave her a more realistic practice experience.  
New variety cryptics this week:  Kevin Wald went off on a picnic, while we have a Sixes and Sevens from Richard Maltby (blogged by Erica).

Hex cryptics in the Wall Street Journal (variety) and National Post (straight) and a Hex acrostic in the New York Times (blogged [with spoilers] by Deb Amlen)

And the regular syndicated cryptic in the Globe and Mail (who’d like to blog that one?).

See you tomorrow!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Vera City (Puzzle No. 3,206)

(double issue of The Nation last week, so we’re going back for an archive puzzle this week).

There’s a kind of clue that is pretty popular among some constructors, particularly in Great Britain.  We rarely see it in The Nation because it doesn’t fit the Ximinean model of “definition, wordplay, and nothing else.”  For lack of a better term, I’m going to call it “deconstruction.”  Here’s an example from the Globe and Mail syndicated puzzle two weeks ago.  

In truth, she is head of a big place. (4)

I’ll give the answer and explanation below the fold. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Ice dance (solution no. 3,366)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle 3,366 is below the fold.

While I was working the desk at the weekend’s fencing tournament, the conversation among a few of the parents turned to competitive ballroom dancing and the judging system (which needless to say isn’t like Dancing With the Stars).

It was timely from my perspective, because Saturday night was the big ice show at the skating club—Bangle being in several pieces (The Other Doctor Mitchell is on the 30-day DL while she undergoes physical therapy on the hip that’s been bothering her).  The choreography was good, and the kids learned their routines pretty quickly.  But the ice dancers were just as impressive, even though most of them were just skating their regular routines.

It was really great to watch, because the club is figure skating only: one of the few rinks in the country that doesn’t have any hockey program.  In fact there are no dasher boards, which makes it a great place to watch skating.

If you know what to watch, it’s even better.  While most spectators and the people watching on TV watch the faces and upper bodies of the skaters, our family and the judges watch the skates.  Are they tracing a smooth line?  Are the two skaters keeping their feet close together and working in unison? Are they making nice deep edges on the turns?  With no glass and no boards, and seats right next to the ice, you get a perfect view.

New York Times solution (June 6, 2015)

I solved the first New York Times Puns & Anagrams by Mark Diehl today.  It is certainly true to the type as Deb Amlen noted, and both Will Shortz (NYT puzzle editor) and Mel Taub (longtime P&A constructor) should be pleased.  However, I didn’t think this was a particularly smooth solve.  A few bits were jarring, and while I eventually figured out all the clues, I found a few of them ambiguous. The key to a good P&A clue is that there should be logic to decoding the type of clue and not guesswork.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Take-out (Sunday brunch: June 7, 2015)

Quick post to catch up.

Kevin Wald (I can’t spell Ucaoimhu) is back with a good medium difficulty variety cryptic he set for the Washington Post’s Post Hunt puzzle contest.  It’s called “Saturday? Unknown.”

We have a new Puns and Anagrams constructor in the New York Times today: Mark Diehl.  Deb Amlen interviews him at Wordplay (spoiler warning).  Deb also informs us that the P&A will now appear every 8 weeks, with Diehl and Mel Taub sharing construcing duties.  Meanwhile, Hex’s cryptics will appear in the NYT less frequently: every 8 weeks.

Speaking of new constructors, Tom Toce has a guest puzzling for him in Contingencies.  Jerry Levy didn’t crete a cryptic, but cryptic solvers will appreciate the kind of wordplay he uses.  Will Shortz would appreciate it too: maybe we’ll see Jerry’s byline in the Times.

The Wall Street Journal puzzle is a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  I found it easier than usual.  I’ll post hints for the WSJ and the NYT solution shortly.  If you enjoyed that, remember that Andrew Ries publishes a bi-weekly Rows Garden that’s every bit as good.  Subscribe at

Stickler is taking a winter break (remember he’s in Australia) for R&R.  Wish him well at

Falcon reports that he weekly Hex cryptic in the National Post was on the stormy side.  I haven’t gotten to the Globe and Mail cryptic yet.

Summer schedule (Puzzle No. 3,366)

The Nation is into its bi-weekly summer schedule.  We’ll use the off weeks to go back through some earlier puzzles from The Nation, so don’t miss a week,

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard, though not uniformly hard.

Agility factor: high

This week’s cluing challenge (share your clues in the comments): BI-WEEKLY

Back with the solution and annotation Monday.

Wall Street Journal hint (June 6, 2015)

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.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Ice show (Solution No. 3,365)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle no. 3,365 is below the fold.

Are you in the Philadelphia area?
A little put off by the sudden onset of warm weather?
Looking for something fun on a Saturday night?

Come see Bangle and her friends perform in the annual skating show at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society(*), titled Fairy Tales and Fables. Along with Bangle, the cast includes some national medalist ice dance couples and the junior national champion of India. Perhaps some of them might be skating in the Olympics in 2018 or 2022.

The show will be this Saturday, June 6, at the Skating Club in Ardmore, on the Main Line.  E-mail me at for ticket information

*--yes, that’s their real name: going back to when the club was located on the Schuylkill River and part of the club’s mission was to rescue people who fell through the ice.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Two refs (Sunday brunch: May 31, 2015)

It’s the season for soccer championships: the leagues decided last week, the Europa and a bunch of domestic cups this week, and the Champions League final next week.  So I’ve been watching some soccer when there isn’t hockey on.  The only thing I detest about soccer more than penalty kick shootouts is all the diving and playacting done to try and influence the referee.  Players react to a routine foul by falling and rolling around like they’ve got a broken ankle, then pop up and continue playing once the ref has shown the opponent a yellow card.  And there are plenty of cases where a foul is called on the player chasing the ballcarrier even when the ballcarrier is pushing and shoving just as much.

I think the answer is for big-time soccer to do what big-time hockey has done (NCAA and top-flight juniors as well as pro): use two referees instead of one.  Then the referees won’t have to cover as much ground, and they’ll be closer to the play.  More importantly, they’ll each have different angles on a play, which makes it a lot easier to see the retaliation and see what really caused a player to fall down.  That would then take away a lot of the incentive for diving.

The bad argument against a two-ref system is tradition.  The better argument is that the two officials can (and usually do) have two different standards of enforcement.  But hockey (where the same argument was heard) showed that two refs are better than one.  Of course it helps that lower-level games have been played with two referees for as long as I’ve been in the game: they just don’t have linesmen working with them like they do in the games that used to be one ref.  There was already some variability in how calls were made: the second ref didn’t add as much to it as feared.  And good communication between officials helps them adjust to each other and set a consistent standard.

Not a lot of new American puzzles this week: so I went for a couple of Financial Times puzzles, which I’ll comment on next Thursday.  Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal published acrostics this weekend (by Hex and Mike Shenk respectively).

Regular weekly cryptics:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Care for a quickie? (Puzzle No. 3,365)

Will Shortz has persuaded the editors of the New York Times to give him the rest of the magazine section page that houses the variety puzzle.  Where there used to be a jump from one of the articles, every week there are now three more puzzles.  The first is a letter bank puzzle (Willz loves these) by Frank Longo, the second is a mini variety crossword by Patrick Berry, and the third is a logic puzzle by Wei-Hua Huang.

Patrick’s recent creations have included a miniature Rows Garden he called Hex Nuts and a version of his snowflake puzzles.  The logic puzzles will appeal to sudoku fans, and give them a different challenge just like variety crosswords do for straight crossword solvers.  If you remember the old Windows game Minesweeper, you’ll be interested in these.

It’s good to have puzzles that can be solved in a few minutes, while you’re waiting for the train or to take a break from some mindless task.  These little puzzles also can serve as an invitation to try out puzzles one doesn’t normally do.  How many cryptic solvers were born of the little 8 by 10s in the New Yorker?  And support for small formats can provide an entry point for new constructors; it’s a much less daunting task than filling a full-size grid.

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

Agility factor:  low

This week’s cluing challenge (share your clues in the comments): TAPAS

Back with the solution and annotation on Monday: join us this weekend as usual for Sunday brunch.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Props to the laundryman (Solution No. 3,364)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle #3,364 is below the fold.

If I counted right, I did 20 loads of laundry from Friday night to Monday night, about half of which were the choir robes from our church.  It was ideal drying weather: sunny with a light breeze in the evening that kept the dry cycle running after sunset, and with three clotheslines in the back yard and a big washer, I’m in a good position to do all the laundry.  Not to mention that my meager talent is put to better use behind the scenes than in the choir.

The prop also keeps afghans from dragging on the ground.
The house in back was Victoria’s.
The robes are long, so when they go out on the line, I need a couple of prized possessions: my laundry props.  They’re eight-foot aluminum poles with a wire loop at the end.  They hold the middle of the clothesline up nice and high so you can put long things on it without their dragging on the ground.  You can’t find them any more; even in my fairly traditional neighborhood, not many people dry their wash on the line.

Not long after we moved into our house, I found the hooks on the corners of the shed and on the back of the house, strung up clothes-lines, and put our wash on them.  The lady across the back fence (her name was Victoria, and she had literally had been born in that house and lived there her entire life) called me over to say how pleased she was to see a husband out sharing in the housework.  Some months later, when it became apparent that it wasn’t just that one time I was helping do the laundry, she called me over again, and seeing as how she wasn’t hanging out her wash much any more, gave me the props.  That was about twenty years ago.  Victoria died maybe ten years ago, but I’m sure she’d be pleased to know her props are still at work.

New York Times solution: May 24, 2015

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle: a diagramless by Paula Gamache.  Come back often for more discussions of cryptic and variety puzzles: we have the The Nation cryptic by Hot and Trazom on Thursdays and a roundup of puzzles around the net each weekend for Sunday brunch.

(backdated to keep the The Nation solution on top)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Trust the force, Luke (Sunday brunch: May 24, 2015

This weekend’s puzzles require a diverse set of solving skills, and a degree of confidence in your solving abilities.  Unlike straight crosswords, some of these make you figure out where some (or all) of the answers go.  If you hesitate at filling in a box because you aren’t sure about the answer, you’re going to run into a wall very quickly.  Get a pencil and an eraser, and trust your instincts.  They worked solving this week’s The Nation puzzle didn’t they?

We’ll start with a diagramless, in the New York Times, by Paula Gamache, blogged (with spoilers as usual) by Deb Amlen.

The Wall Street Journal puzzle is a Patrick Berry box creation called Chatter Boxes.  Hints are posted elsewhere on the blog, and so is the solution.

If you’re needing more structure in your puzzling life, solve the regular weekly cryptics:

Wall Street Journal hints (May 23, 2015)

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle, Chatter Boxes by Patrick Berry, is one where you have to cross row words with words contained in boxes, but you aren’t told where any of the boxes go or even what shape they are.  These puzzles are pretty hard: first you have to get a couple of row answers in rows atop one another, then you have to use that partial to place a box word, and then that might give you enough to solve the next row word.

If you have one of the row words wrong, you’re in a lot of trouble, since the puzzle depends so much on working back and forth.  That’s when a hint might be pretty valuable.  So click and drag to see the enumeration of each row answer.  The enumerations can confirm or rule out your guesses, and they can also tell you where to place the answers for the middle of the row.  If you need even more of a hint, look below the fold for a hint grid showing you the boxes (but not telling you which answers go in them).

Enumerations: click and drag to see them


Wall Street Journal solution (May 23, 2015)

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: Chatter Boxes by Patrick Berry.  Some hints are also posted, and that post also explains how to solve this kind of puzzle.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Regular customers (Puzzle No. 3,364)

There used to be a Japanese restaurant a couple blocks from my office in Philadelphia that I patronized frequently: frequently enough that when I came down the escalator and started walking towards the counter, I could put up one finger and the cook would start my usual order (shrimp tempura bento, salad instead of soup).  And even though I only got there a couple of times a year, the bartender at The Pearl in Nantucket remembers me as the two-twist martini.  It’s nice to be a regular customer at places.

The subject came to mind when I read Hot’s reply to my post on last week’s puzzle.  I thought that we solvers didn’t need as much of an indicator for a letter bank clue as was published in 9a (which by the way was a great letter bank: 15 out of 5).  Hot replied that since most constructors don’t use this kind of clue, they feel a need to point it out more clearly.

Point well taken, but I think that by this point the The Nation solving community has gotten pretty familiar with Hot and Trazom’s style and innovation.  We’re mostly regulars around here.  We’ll hope that new solvers are coming to the puzzle every week, but it’s never going to be like the straight crossword in a daily newspaper that attracts lots of casual solvers.  And if you’re even trying a cryptic crossword, you probably have more mental agility than those casual solver.  So you’re probably prepared to figure out unusual wordplay.

Obviously there’s a theme to this week’s puzzle.  You’ll probably get to the clue to the theme pretty quickly, but using it is more tricky.  I’ll leave it at that until I post the solution.

Link to puzzle

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

Agility factor: high.

This week’s cluing challenge (sorry I forgot to give you one last week while I was on the road): LETTER BANK.  Share your clues in the comments.

Back with the solution and annotation Monday: join us this weekend for Sunday brunch!