Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Brunch (March 29, 2015)

We’ll try the streamlined format again, since The Other Doctor Mitchell was out of town all weekend working a skating competition, and I've been functioning as orchestra roadie, caterer, usher, cook, and more.


National Post (Hex, blogged by Falcon): “Monkeys With a View
   Peculiar in that the bottom right was a lot harder than the rest of the puzzle.

Stickler: #76 (congratulations, Australia!)

Maya: no new puzzle, but well played, Black Caps!

Harpers (Richard Maltby): “Search Warrant
   Which means that the March puzzle (“Tetris”) is blogged by our friend Erica,
   who’s made a very big commitment: not to Vlad (yet) but to a dedicated domain.

Globe and Mail (syndicated): themeless, but hard.

Variety puzzles

Wall Street Journal: “Hunting Season” by Patrick Berry
   Great puzzle, hints and solution provided elsewhere on the blog

NY Times: Marching Bands by BEQ (blogged by Deb Amlen)
   And Deb provides ACPT commentary at Wordplay.
   Note also that BEQ is looking to kick off a subscription Marching Bands series
      like Aries’s Rows Gardens (which I highly endorse)

WSJ hint (March 28, 2015)

Below the fold is the enumeration for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: “Hunting Season” by Patrick Berry.

Click and drag to see the enumeration (number of letters) for the answers in each row and column.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

WSJ solution (March 28, 2015)

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: “Hunting Season” by Patrick Berry.  I'll offer a hint grid elsewhere on the blog.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

No wordplay (Solution No. 3,358)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,358 is below the fold.

The contrast between the cluing approaches of Hot/Trazom and Frank Lewis is really apparent in this puzzle.  If the Frank Lewis clues hadn’t been italicized, I probably would have been able to identify five or six of them.  The most obvious ones are clues like 1a and 25a, which lack the Ximinean construction of “a definition, wordplay, and nothing else.”  In most cases, Hot and Trazom hew pretty carefully to the Ximinean line. 

That’s not necessarily better or worse:  it’s different.  It takes a little more effort to make sure clues are neatly constructed, but it misses out on some of the associative possibilities that make you nod your head and smile when you figure out the answer. 

On the other hand, the British-style free association clues leave you grappling if you don’t see the clue phrase the same way the constructor does.  I find I have to rely more on intersecting letters, and often I need to see nearly all of them before the answer pops into my mind’s eye.  If you don’t have accessible answers crossing the clever ones, whole sections remain unsolved, and that’s where I think a lot of potential solvers give up on cryptics. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Worth the Wait (Puzzle No. 3,358)

The 150th Anniversary number of The Nation is finally out, and Hot and Trazom found a unique way to mark the event.  They paid tribute to their predecessor, Frank Lewis, by including ten of his best clues in the puzzle.  Too bad they didn’t leave it as a second puzzle to the solver to figure out which clues were Lewis’s and which were Hozom’s.

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard—Frank Lewis was more liberal in his application of cryptic cluing standards.

Agility quotient: high (see above)

Hozom’s comment: “Envoi,” in which Hot and Trazom wrap up their work at Word Salad and hand the baton off to your humble servant. 

Cluing challenge (at Word Salad): ADIOS

Back with the solution Thursday. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Take out (Sunday brunch: March 2, 2015)

Not quite a full service post today, but here are some recent cryptics for your enjoyment:

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Hot informs me that The Nation is on a revised publication schedule due to a special issue coming up, so no new puzzle today.  That makes it a good time for a subject calling for an extended post.

If you solve British crosswords (and if you’re a cryptic solver, chances are you will eventually tackle some British puzzles), you will sometimes encounter references to the game of cricket.  The ICC World Cup is going on this month in Australia and New Zealand; and amazingly enough, highlights are turning up on SportsCenter in the mornings.  There was a full minute and a half on the Ireland-India game last week, and the American anchors (or the people who wrote the copy for them) managed not to mangle the accounts and descriptions of the game.

If you’re curious about the game, the best place to go is Cricinfo, which has recaps and highlights of all the games, along with live ball-by-ball commentary. 

Unlike most American solvers, I look forward to seeing cricket references in a puzzle, since I actually played the game when I was younger.  I learned it as a freshman at Haverford College, which has the only varsity cricket team in the country.  After graduation, I played for Commonwealth Cricket Club (a West Indian club where I was the first native-born American on the team), the University of Pennsylvania, and Ardmore CC.  The shoulder injury that ended my playing career in hockey also brought an end to my cricketing, but I still follow the game: checking the World Cup results while waiting for the train and watching the Boxing Day Test on my computer.

Cricket is a bat and ball game like baseball, but there are more differences than similarities.  “Wicket” has three definitions: the set of three wooden sticks (“stumps”) with two “bails” balanced on top; the ground between the wickets where the ball is pitched (a “sticky wicket” is a rain-softened field that makes it hard for the batters), and the dismissal of the batsman. 

The ball is a little smaller, a little harder, and a little heavier than a baseball.  It can be red or white, depending on the format of the game being played.  The bat is a big flat paddle made out of willow; it feels really solid in your hands and makes a very satisfying “thwack” when you hit the ball with it. 

Each team has eleven players, which is why “team” or “side” can clue “eleven” or “XI” in a crossword  They bat two at a time; and when one is dismissed, another one comes out to join the remaining batsman.  When the last batsman is left without a partner (after ten wickets have fallen), the innings (always pluralized in cricket) is over. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Routine ejections (Solution No. 3,357)

This weekend I was managing a fencing tournament rather than refereeing hockey (I have hockey playoffs next weekend).  One of my refs, a promising 17-year-old, handed out his first black card (a black card in fencing is the equivalent of a game misconduct in hockey), so I had my hands full handling the paperwork and making sure nothing really stupid happened, and missed a concert that Sabers was singing in. Fortunately, there were no parents going bonkers, and no appeal.  In fact, the penalized athlete pretty much just ran out after the card was issued and we never saw him again.

No good official ever wants to dump a player or coach (even the notorious Earl Weaver), because it’s a hassle if not for any other reason.  But the paperwork here was a breeze and an appeal wouldn’t have stood up even if the fencer had stayed and appealed.  Though he was leading his bout and in a good position to win and move on to the quarterfinal, he got upset at a call and kicked his mask across the strip into the wall.  About as obvious a black card offense as you can get.  No second-guessing yourself: ideal for your first ejection.

So as I talked the ref through the process of writing up the report, we could focus on what to say and not to say: stick to the facts, keep it brief, and try and use the exact wording from the rulebook (with words like “vociferous”) to describe the offense as you saw or heard it.  The point being to demonstrate to anyone reading the report that the ref had no reasonable option other than pulling the card.

Good week of puzzles, particularly the Stickler, which had a few clues which had been buffed to a glow.  I agree with Falcon that this week’s National Post puzzle was unusually easy.  After I saw his post, I tried it golf-style, running through the clues to see how many I could get on first glance without any crossing letters (I didn’t fill anything into the grid, just to protect me from the temptation to cheat. Got all but three answers on the first pass.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Teaching solving (Puzzle No. 3,357)

Hot’s commentary this week is right on point vis a vis the challenge of a good puzzle.  At first it should look daunting, but there should be a place to at least get a toehold.  Then there should be parts where if you follow instructions and use the tools that have been explained in class.  Then there should be an “aha” moment where you come up with a particularly clever answer and see the logic of it, and then the denouement where the answer you just got helps you wrap up the remainder of the grid.

A long time ago, I taught x-ray and MRI physics, and today I still do some teaching in biostatistics. Most of the undergrads I taught had not taken a lot of math, so I couldn’t take their understanding of algebra and exponents for granted. The things which came automatically to me were like gibberish to them, and some of the students would just throw their hands up when confronted with even a fairly elementary numeric problem (just like Hot’s students).  I found that giving the students a script for breaking down the numbers and units and fitting them into the proper equation was the key to overcoming their insistence that they couldn’t solve the problem.

So if you’re trying to encourage novice solvers to take up cryptics (and I hope you are), you might keep a “teaching file” of puzzles with particularly good examples of advanced clue types: ones that are fairly obvious to recognize and straightforward to solve.  Then when your pupils see they really can work these out, they’ll be encouraged to tackle the next puzzle.  

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): medium to hard—some uncommon words but nothing obscure.

Agility quotient (as described last week): moderate

Hozom’s comment: “Problems that can be Solved,” in which a week after Trazom describes the intersection between his work and his constructing, Hot does likewise.

Cluing challenge (at Word Salad): MATHEMATICS

Back with the solution Monday.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Did you get your exercise? (Solution No. 3,356)

The solution to The Nation puzzle no. 3,356 is below the fold.

I said when I introduced this puzzle that it required more than the usual level of mental agility, and that solvers who prefer to grind out anagrams and rebus clues would find this one harder.  Keep reading and I’ll explain my thinking.

Agility (Puzzle No. 3,356)

I think I’m going to add a puzzle characteristic called “agility” for the weekly The Nation puzzle. This week’s puzzle is a good example. It has several clues that are better tackled with creative thinking than by grinding out the indicator and the fodder. Hot and Trazom enjoy the “play” aspect of wordplay, and construct puzzles so that you can too.

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate (though it will be hard if you are trying to solve by brute force)

Agility quotient: high

Hozom’s comment: “Notes from the Opera,” in which Trazom (who is a music critic when he’s not constructing puzzles) shares how Wagner’s Die Meistersinger is an inspiration.

What about it, solvers: do you have some musical muse?  Music to solve by?