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!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Congratulations, Erica and Vlad! (Sunday brunch: May 17, 2015)

Well as promised, this is a weekend for variety cryptics.   Wall Street Journal solvers are doing some “Spring Cleaning” with assistance from Hex.  It’s a nice easy task with some unclued answers and a theme that you’ll pick up just when you need it.

We’re wishing you
many blissful years together
Meanwhile, the latest Harpers is out, including a Diametricode from Richard Maltby, which the URL tells us is number 8.  If it’s anything like the previous ones, it will be a tough solve.

The publication of the new Harpers brings Erica’s solution and comments on the last one:  she and Vlad are still debating one of the answers, and their post brings news that they intend to cross words and lives for a long time to come.  I’m thrilled—I had a sense that the two of them were going to do something like this: there’s a happiness in Erica’s blog when she thinks about Vlad.

The New York Times puzzle is a Hex acrostic (blogged–with spoilers–by Deb).

Weekly cryptics

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Home again (Puzzle No. 3,363)

Back from a trip out of town.  Puzzle observations and comments will return next week.

Link to puzzle

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

Agility factor: moderate

Back with the solution Monday: join us this weekend for a Sunday brunch featuring variety cryptics.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bach Sunday (Solution No. 3,362)

The solution and annotation to puzzle No. 3,362 is below the fold.  Happy birthday, Raydoc!

If you like to solve cryptics, you probably also like to listen to Bach’s music.  I had plenty of opportunity to do both yesterday.  In the morning, the church choir (with Sabers augmenting the tenor section and The Other Doctor Mitchell steadying the sopranos) sang portions of two Bach masses.  I particularly liked the Kyrie from the Missa brevis in A.  There’s a simplicity in it, and it’s in a key you don’t hear often.

Right after that we had to leave for Germantown, where Sabers performed with the Philadelphia Sinfonia Players, the intermediate ensemble of Philadelphia’s top youth orchestra program.  They take a very professional approach to rehearsing and performing, and they play a lot of standard repertoire, all of which which is good preparation for the next level.  The added challenge helped with the school orchestra too, where Sabers was promoted to principal bass (or as we put it: first bassman) this year.

Along with the Bach Little Fugue, the PSP played Strauss’s Blue Danube and Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.  That’s the piece with the famous theme that starts in the lowest registers of the orchestra.  The bassoonist did a great job with it, and Sabers and his standmate gave the bass line the ‘tiptoe’ feel of an approaching troll.

Between that and the high school concert Thursday (did I mention Sabers sang the entire school chorus concert tonight, too?--four performances in five days, plus a piano recital next Sunday), I was very impressed with the tone and solid projection of his instrument, which we bought last year and is now pretty well played-in.  So if you’re in the market for a new bass, give the folks at Gollihur’s a call.  If you’re looking for a half-size instrument for a junior high bassist, give me a call.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Lacrosse (Sunday brunch: May 10, 2015)

As the Stanley Cup playoffs go on, May is also the time for the NCAA lacrosse tournament.  And in honor of the 25th anniversary of their victory in Rutgers Stadium, ESPN is premiering “The Lost Trophy,” a film on the 1990 Syracuse University lacrosse team.  (hit the link there for the trailer)

That was the height of the razzle-dazzle era when the Orangemen and their up-tempo offense introduced behind-the-back passes, “Air Gait,” and other breathtaking moves to what was then a tradition-bound sport.  It also was when lacrosse really began to take hold outside its old homes in Baltimore, Long Island, and upstate New York.

Coach Roy Simmons Jr. lived down the road from where I grew up.  My mother (appropriate to bring her inot the story today) played tennis with Nancy Simmons, I played summer ball for him one year while I was in college, and we sold some of Roy’s art at the gallery my mother ran on Nantucket one summer.

Yes, art.  Besides winning six national championships as a Division I coach, Roy was also a full professor at the university.  To Roy, sculpture and coaching were one and the same.  He believed that seeing the field and the flow of the play was essential to playing one’s best, so the first rainy day each season he’d take the team to the Everson Museum to look at art.  It also encouraged creativity, which when mixed with the hard-nosed style of box lacrosse as played in the Iroquois community of Syracuse and its environs (Chief Oren Lyons was Roy’s teammate at Syracuse and a lifelong friend and alter ego), revolutionized the sport.

But the NCAA officially vacated the 1990 title after it was alleged that the Simmons family gave inappropriate benefits to Paul Gait.  The film takes us back for an in-depth look at the clash not just between the SU program and the NCAA, but also between the new vision Syracuse had and the staid, preppy expectations of the rest of the lacrosse world.  I’m looking forward to seeing this film.    

This week’s new puzzles:

The Wall Street Journal has a Patrick Berry variety crossword called “Curly Quote.”  Another nicely assembled and novel puzzle.  Hints are elsewhere on the blog in case you have trouble figuring out which direction to place your first few answers.

The New York Times has a straight cryptic by Hex, which Deb Amlen of Wordplay (spoiler warning) enjoyed immensely.

Mark Halpin has his quarterly Sondheim Review puzzle up.  It’s called “A Deadly Game” and refers to the movie “The Last of Sheila,” which Sondheim co-wrote.

Regular straight cryptics:
Hex in the National Post: Woman in Red (blogged by Falcon).  A quick solve.
Stickler: (taking a week off)
Syndicated in the Globe and Mail: The syndicate does not identify its constructors, and I’d really like to know who set this one.  If you expect Ximenean cluing, you will have a very hard time with it.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Wall Street Journal hint (May 9, 2015)

This week’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle is a variety crossword by Patrick Berry caled “Curly Quote.”  All the answers have seven letters and you’re given the location, but you have to figure out the direction.  As with most these puzzles of this type, some solvers might have trouble getting the first word or two into the grid even though they may have a lot of the clue answers.

One way to get a toehold is to try and find two adjacent answers that have only one letter in common. That letter has to go in the shared space, and with luck, there’s only one way to make the words fit. Get those, and you’re off and running.  The up and down pairs have two letters in common (remember they might not always be consecutive letters).  That takes a bit more thinking to find, but increases your chances of nailing down words once you find that pair of letters.

If you’re still stuck, look below the fold.  There’s a table of answer directions.  Click and drag the appropriately numbered box to see whether the central letter of the “curlicue” contains the first or last letter of the answer, and whether the answer runs clockwise or counterclockwise.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Fifteen squared (Puzzle No. 3,362)

I spent my lunchtime last Friday on the New York Times straight crossword.  Typical Friday construction, showing off a stack of three fifteens at the top and bottom.  But wait—there’s something unexpected in the top right corner: a “16.”  This puzzle is 16 by 15 instead of 15 by 15. Besides giving David Steinberg a chance to use a half dozen answers that haven’t been seen in the puzzle before, it got me thinking about how convention has given us 15 by 15 weekday crosswords and block cryptics, along with 21 by 21 Sunday puzzles.  The consistent size might have been something newspaper publishers called for: once they laid out the diversions page (puzzles often appeared on the same page as the comics), it would be the same every day with no additional work necessary on their part.  And with an odd number of squares on each side, it’s easier for constructors to apply the conventional rotation symmetry, or even 90° symmetry.  15 by 15 has the same kind of natural “fit” as 90 feet between bases on a baseball diamond.

There’s a little less convention in bar cryptics, though 12 by 12 is the most common (it works out to be pretty close to the 15 by 15 block in number of letters to fill in).  They don’t even have to be square.  Mark Halpin might be the constructor who’s dispensed with convention most often, but plenty of other constructors have felt free to make unusual grids.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): easy, even easier than last week

Agility factor: mild

This week’s cluing challenge: FIFTEEN

Monday, May 4, 2015

Hockey games should be two periods (Solution No. 3,361)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle No. 3,361 is below the fold.

For every game where the the finish is exciting as the trailing team tries desperately to get the tying goal while the team that’s leading tries to hold on, there are three or four where the contest is over well before the third period even starts.  I had one of those Saturday afternoon.  It was a middle school game, the yellow team vs. the lawn chairs (they fold up when you push them).

The lawn chairs had one decent line, while the yellow team had much more depth and skill overall. Interestingly, the lawn chairs dominated the face-offs, but it was the opposite way in shots on goal and on the scoreboard, even though the yellow team coach had instructed his players to ease up midway through the second and not run up the score.  It was 5 to 1 after two periods.

I would have preferred not to have a third period in that game.  The yellow team got two more goals, the lawn chairs had two more injuries and two more miraculous recoveries (I was sure the kid with the bright green sweater was going to the hospital when he was helped off the ice unable to put any weight on his right leg—he was back skating five minutes later).  My partner got mouthed-off at by a 12-year-old from the yellow team, another one leveled an opponent with a two-hander in the back at the end of the game (I banged that penalty out right then and there, not waiting for a change of possession to blow the whistle—the coach might still be chewing out the kid for that one).  And about halfway through the third, I reinjured the hamstring I hurt fencing last weekend.

In the third, the players get tired, the ice gets slow, the coaches get frustrated, and the fans get bored. Refs get tired and bored too, but we don’t show it.  You might notice me stopping for a second when I hand off the puck or my partner.  I’ll say a few words to help us stay motivated or be alert for a situation that could result in a penalty, or to commend my partner’s hustle or a call he just made.

And no, I don’t really think hockey games should be just two periods.