Monday, January 26, 2015

Not getting away with it (Solution No. 3,352)

The solution and annotation to The Nation crossword No. 3,352 is below the fold.

Saturday I worked a game for 10-year-olds, and the quality of play wasn’t very good.  More than a few instances of players lining up on the wrong side (usually they get that figured out by December).

One of the visiting team players (they actually were at home but since this was a make-up game, they were nominally the visitors) took three penalties, which is a lot at this level, and might have been whistled for one or two more had we been especially strict.  They weren’t very good penalties: a couple for holding and a tripping.  Between periods, my partner reminded me that we needed to keep an eye on this player and his violations.  I said they were pretty blatant, to which my partner replied: “he hasn’t learned to get away with it yet.”
In the dressing room, I recalled how late in my career I was moved from playing wing to defenseman, and how I soon learned that you could get away with an awful lot of holding if you did it right.  It was all in the placement of your arms and stick, and keeping your legs moving so as to make it look like you’re skating along and maintaining your position when you’re actually restraining the opponent.

With the new (post-lockout) standard of play in the NHL, refs are watching out for even the artful kind of holding and interference, and those actions are now getting called.  Now you have to watch football to see skillful holding, but the principle is the same: illegally controlling an opponent’s movement while making it look legal.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wall Street Journal hints (January 24, 2015)

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle is a variety cryptic by Hex called “Guidelines.”  Since none of the answers are numbered, it’s up to you the solver to figure out where they go.  Hex have shaded three rows and three columns as “guidelines” and given you a subset of clues for those rows and those guidelines, but you still have to work out which go where.

To figure out the guidelines, note the third, seventh, and eleventh letters in each pair of guideline answers.  A couple of them are uncommon letters: there’ll be only one place in the grid where each can go, and that will give you the respective guidelines.

As you fill in the rest of the answers, be aware of two things:

  1. Not all letters are checked: each square will have a letter in it, but some will be filled only by an across or only by a down.
  2. The puzzle has regular crossword symmetry except for the center (guideline) row and column.

Below the fold are some hints to get you started.  I’ve provided the row or column in which each answer goes.  As usual, click and drag to see the hint.

Wall Street Journal solution (January 24, 2015)

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

Not a spoiler (Puzzle No. 3,352)

Synchro teams also make good use of rotational symmetry.
This club skates at a rink where I referee frequently.
Usually Hot and Trazom don’t talk about a particular puzzle in Word Salad until a few weeks after it’s run in the magazine, so as not to post any spoilers.  This week is an exception, since the subject of the comments are obvious.

The puzzle is built around a long theme comprising several long acrosses.  Because the parts of the theme have different letter counts, the grid couldn’t be symmetric unless some words broke across lines the way they do in an acrostic, and that would be even more jarring to the eye.  So Hot and Trazom discussed symmetry and its exceptions in their post this week.  It’s important for crossword solvers to understand how rotational symmetry (standard crossword symmetry) works: you need it to work out grids for diagramless puzzles, and it comes in handy with some variety cryptics like this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle.

The other notable thing about the puzzle (and I think this was intentional on Hot and Trazom’s part) is that the remaining clues are pretty easy.  You won’t have any intersecting letters until you figure out the theme, then once you do have it, you’ll get all of them.  So once you crack the theme, you’ll race through the rest.  Not necessarily the most desirable solving experience (by comparison to what I call a “smooth” solve), but one that might be worth it for a particularly clever or amusing theme.

Sometimes, when time is short, I’ll solve just the theme parts of a New York Times puzzle: I find less value in the rest of the fill.  Give that approach a try, and you might get more enjoyment for your puzzling time.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): easy.  I didn’t have too much trouble figuring out the theme and the variation

Hozom’s comment:  “A Fine Balance,” in which (as I said above) Hot and Trazom discuss symmetry and asymmetry in crosswords.

Cluing challenge (at Word Salad): MIRROR.  It’s not quite the right theme, since most crosswords use rotational symmetry rather than mirror symmetry.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Solution and Annotation (Solution No. 3,351)

Below the fold is the solution and annotation to this week’s The Nation cryptic.

New York Times solution (January 18, 2015)

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s New York Times variety puzzle: a diagramless by Fred Piscop.  I thought it was easier than most diagramlesses.

WSJ hint (January 17, 2015)

Below the fold is the enumeration of the answers in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: Telescopes by Patrick Berry.  I found it was easy, but in case you didn’t or you want to check an answer you think is right, click and drag in the table below to find out how many letters each answer has.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Up all night? (Puzzle No. 3,351)

Link to puzzle:

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

Hozom’s comment: Many Puzzles in One, in which Hot and Trazom call our attention to the growing number of puzzle extravaganzas.  These are sets of multiple puzzles (which may or may not be the same type of puzzle), where each solution contributes a piece to a final puzzle (usually involving some story or theme).  Do it in person, take away sleep, and you have a Puzzlehunt (like the MIT Mystery Hunt which is happening this weekend).

The puzzle extravaganza isn’t as new a concept as you might think: Cliff Johnson created some famous computer games in the 80’s (starting with the extraordinary “The Fool’s Errand”) that we would now recognize as extravaganzas.  And as far as I can tell, there’s no one constructor who lays claim to introducing the extravaganza; in fact several use the term for some of their projects, and they all seem to be welcoming each others’.

Cluing challenge (at Word Salad): MULTIPLE

Back with the solution and annotation Monday.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Catching up (Puzzle No. 3,350)

Slowly getting over the cold, so regular commentary will resume later.  Here’s this week’s puzzle:

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard.  Nothing unfair in it, just a little deception and some less than obvious (at least to me) definitions.  I bounced around from section to section.

Hozom’s comment: And Liberally So, in which Hot and Trazom catalog all their and lits as well as calling out some times when an exclamation point is just an exclamation point.

Cluing challenge (at Word Salad): VERBATIM

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Wall Street Journal hint: January 3, 2015

Below the fold I’ve put a hint grid for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle, a Labyrinth by Mike Shenk.  If you want less of a hint, click and drag to get enumerations of each of the answers.

Wall Street Journal solution: January 3, 2015

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

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Appreciation of American cryptics (Puzzle No. 3,202)

Double issue of The Nation this week, so we’ll go back for one of Hot and Trazom’s earlier puzzles.

Link to

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

Cluing challenge: Let’s take two!  In honor of New Year’s Day in Philadelphia, let’s clue MUMMERS and STRING BAND.  Submit your clues in the comments.

I came across some nice comments from David Stickley: the Australian constructor, in an interview posted at Crossword Unclued.  Crossword people often brag about setting and/or solving particularly challenging puzzles, but Stickley understands that making tough cryptics is easy: it’s a license to get sloppy with cluing.  On the other hand, following American cryptic rules (every clue has a definition and wordplay) requires a lot more discipline.

Stickley also recognizes the reward in that: puzzles that welcome new solvers at the same time they satisfy experienced solvers, as they will eventually (and reliably) yield to sustained effort on the part of the solver.  You don’t need to know any tricks: just tumble around the words enough and you’ll find the answer.