Thursday, April 30, 2015

What attracts you to a puzzle? (Puzzle No. 3,361)

I don’t think I’m giving anything away by telling you there’s a theme in this week’s The Nation cryptic.  It’s pretty well executed.  I also solved the New York Times puzzle today.

I don’t feel a habitual need to do the Times puzzle, but if I get my hands on a copy (which I did while I was on my morning walk) and the puzzle looks interesting, I'll give it a go.  Usually, “interesting” means some kind of theme or bonus, or an unusual grid or some other gimmick.  There are enough straight crosswords out there that a constructor needs to catch your eye to have you solve his or her puzzle and not someone else’s.

There are probably others whose habits are the inverse of mine: they have a daily straight crossword they solve habitually, and variety puzzles won’t get solved unless there’s something attractive about them.

What kind of puzzles jump up and say “Solve me!” to you?  Share your comments and maybe some of those constructors will see your comment and give you more of them!

Link to puzzle

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

Agility factor: low to moderate.  Clues were driven by the theme, so there weren’t the usual opportunities to be playful.

Back with the solution on Monday. In the meantime, how about cluing the word ATTRACT? Share your clues in the comment section.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Deflections (Solution No. 3,360)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle #3,360 is below the fold.

During the Caps-Islanders Game 7 last night, there was a goal set up by a perfectly-placed shot from the blue line.  Not perfect as in evading the goalie’s glove and finding the top corner of the net, but perfectly set up to be deflected into the goal.

When you see kids playing street hockey or a pick-up game at the rink, they often make a big deal over who can “lift” their shot: getting it up in the air and going towards the top of the goal.  Try a shot like that in a higher-level game against a good goalie, and he’ll glove the puck and say “thank you.”

The place you really want to put a point shot is 5 or 6 inches above the ice.  That’s where havoc can ensue.  The puck is off the ice, so there’s no sliding resistance and you have maximum velocity.  It’s also high enough to evade the defensemen’s sticks most of the time, but not high enough for an easy glove save.  And a shot just above the ice maximizes the chances of a deflection.  Not even NHL goalies are quick enough to react to a puck that changes direction at the last instant.

Were your brains quick enough to handle the challenges Hot and Trazom teed up this week?  Here’s the solution. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pretzels (Sunday brunch: April 26, 2015)

Today is National Pretzel Day.  Being from Philly, I've acquired a taste for soft pretzels.  In fact, I had a couple for breakfast this morning on my way to running a tournament.  Best pretzel?  Any one that's fresh, so the caustic outside has a bit of crust and the inside is nice and doughy.  Most memorable?  A pretzel and beer at intermission of the Berlin Philharmonic.  Plenty of orchestra patrons in their fine attire joined me in picking a mug of beer and a snack over a nice pastry and a glass of champagne.

Will the weekend’s puzzles tie you in knots?  For the first time I can recall, we have a Mike Shenk twin bill for starters.

The Wall Street Journal has a Spell Weaver.  I thought it was going to be easy at first but there was just enough ambiguity in some of the answers to force you to wait for intersecting letters.  It turned out to be a very smooth solve.

The second Shenk puzzle is called Opposable Sums (blogged at Wordplay).  It’s in the Times, and it sounds exactly like something Will Shortz would encourage.

Weekly cryptics
Stickler #80:
Hex in the National Post (blogged by Falcon)
Syndicated in the Globe and Mail

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Puzzle ball (Puzzle No. 3,360)

The rummage sale at church was this week.  We’re fortunate enough not to need to shop there for shoes and other necessities, but we go every year because there are little treasures to be had like my martini glasses and interesting old books.  This time might have been the best though—I have a new puzzle ball.

Perplexus Epic
The first puzzle ball also came from the rummage sale: maybe ten years ago.  I don’t know what it was really called, but it was a clear plastic ball that had seven little cups glued to its inside surface. There was also a marble-sized steel ball inside.  To play the game, you manipulated the little ball into cup number 1 through a hole in the cup’s side, and then tilt the big ball so the little ball would drop into cup number 2.  If you got that, you’d turn the big ball another direction and tilt the little ball into cup number 3.  And so forth.  Very simple—it only took a day or two to master, but it was still a relaxing little challenge.

In doing the Christmas shopping last year, we found a similar toy called “Perplexus.”  Considerably more complicated, and beautiful in its design and manufacturing execution, it works on the same idea: manipulate a little ball around by tilting and tapping the big ball.  I got one for Sabers, but I spent as much time with it as he did.

You can guess what’s next.  As I was about to go pay for my purchases, I did a quick pass by the toy tables.  There, for just $2.50, was the Perplexus Epic.  More obstacles than the original, and even more diabolical. After a couple of evenings, I’ve reached step 49.  76 to go, but I’m not so obsessed with it as to forget the The Nation puzzle though.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard.  I couldn’t get started up top initially, so I started at the bottom right and worked back to the top left.

Agility factor: high.  A Spoonerism and several other clues that require more playfulness, and some other clues where the definition isn’t where you might initially think it is.

Back with the solution on Monday.  In the meantime, how about cluing the word PERPLEX? Share your clues in the comment section.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Congratulations, Devo (Solution No, 3,359)

[whoops--left this on draft status: sorry, solvers]

The solution to this week’s The Nation cryptic crossword is below the fold. 

There is no other sport that does better by its retiring officials than hockey. Paul Devorski, one of the last of the old-time referees from the era of the three-man system, nameplates on your sweater, and officials without helmets, hung up his skates two weeks ago.  As it has done for other retirees, the NHL gave Devo his choice of where to work his final game (here in Philly—Devo lives in Harrisburg) and which partners to work it with (among them Paul’s linesman brother Greg).

The players all skated over to the referee’s crease for a handshake line at the conclusion of the game, and to their great credit, the TV producers for NBC made sure to show it and take a moment to recognize some of the highlights of Devo’s career (including a seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final and the gold medal game of the 2006 Olympics).

Jake Voracek wishes Devo a happy and healthy retirement. 
Devo’s retirement had particular meaning for me, since he was the last active NHL official who was older than me.  Brad Watson, now the oldest ref remaining, is two weeks younger than I am.

There’s a few more years left in my legs, especially since I don’t have to keep up with the greatest players in the world like Devo did; but I’d be lying if I said retirement has never crossed my mind.  I’ve stepped aside from working high school and top-level midget games: they need younger and faster officials than me.  I also do a lot fewer three-game days than I used to.

There’s still plenty to skate for, even on the tail end of your career: working with younger officials, seeing players improve over the course of a season, nailing a close call on the line or an unusual situation and rules interpretation, and coming home with a story to share.  That’s why we lace ‘em up and blow the whistle.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Brunch (April 19, 2015)

Hex created their best WSJ cryptic ever—it’s called “Minor Adjustments.”  Why am I raving about this one in particular?  Not because they had a nicely polished grid with full symmetry and no weak fill—nearly all their monthly puzzles manage that.  Not because of the cluing, which was solid as always, making you think a little.  I really appreciated this puzzle because it hit the sweet spot of a variety puzzle that applied an alteration to every entry yet still was approachable to the average solver.  Print extra copies to give to friends of yours who haven’t tried cryptics before.  The gimmick is easy to get and to apply, and the answers you get can stand alone, unlike some more complicated puzzles (they have their place too) where you can’t start filling in the grid until you have a fairly large amount done.  

For those of you who are disappointed by easy-to-moderate puzzles, Kevin Wald has a pencil-breaker for you: “World of Graphite.”  I’ve been working on it off and on for a couple of weeks and still am missing part of the theme.  I’ll keep plugging though.

The new Harpers is out, and Richard Maltby’s puzzle is a Theme and Variations–a classic format introduced by The Listener.  Haven’t started on this one yet; share your comments below or over at Erica’s blog, where the tackiness of last month’s puzzle is reviewed at length.  

Hex in the National Post (blogged by Falcon)
Syndicated in the Globe and Mail (I got all of this one on the first try!)
Stickler 79 (your hard puzzle for the week)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wall Street Journal hints (April 18, 2015)

Great variety cryptic by Hex in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal!  All the words have to be altered before entry, according to a formula provided in a superfluous word added to the respective clue.  Not too hard, not too easy—a perfect introduction to variety cryptics.

Below the fold is a set of hints in case you need them.  Click and drag over the respective box to see what the superfluous word is in each clue and how to interpret it.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Fighting cognitive decline (Puzzle No. 3,359)

The Nation is finally back to regular publication after the anniversary issue.

There’s been research concluding that crosswords and other puzzles are a good way to keep your mind sharp as you grow older (note to young solvers: it’s never too early to start), but perhaps that’s not enough.

He just missed me there, but Sabers won the bout.
Working out clues exercises your mind, but you get to do it at your own pace.  This Washington Post article, and the scientific study it references say that having to see, interpret, and react to an action is also important to maintaining cognitive abilities.  Playing tennis has it; golf doesn’t.  Refereeing definitely fills the bill, and so does fencing, but fencing is a little more forgiving to the body.  Plus there’s the opportunity to be a competitor again after 25 years where I’ve never been the winner (or the loser) when I come off the ice.

So here’s a shot of me and Sabers from an article about the national collegiate championships, where Sabers refereed and I was assistant director.  And there’s a TV clip (click here and here) where you can see your humble blogger in action (the left-hander in the background).  If you’d like to try out fencing, drop me a line, and I can point you towards a club in your area.  It’s never too late to start: the vet 60 women’s national and world saber champion got into the sport as an adult.

Choose your weapon (pen or pencil) and challenge puzzle no. 3,359!

Link to puzzle:

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

Agility factor: light to moderate—trust your ability

This week’s cluing challenge: REACT.  Add your clue to the comments.

Back with the solution and annotation Monday!

A few errors in form, but an on-target hit.