Saturday, January 24, 2015

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.

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