Sunday, June 28, 2015

Coach Paul (Sunday brunch: June 28, 2015)

“Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.”

I was lector in our church this morning, and when I saw those words in St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, I heard the voice of a coach. 

“And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.”

Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to support their brothers and sisters in Macedonia, but I was thinking about Bangle who was off at her first skating competition of the year (after missing the winter and spring events while recovering from her concussion and broken foot) and the teenaged epeeist from our club who is going off to Nationals this week. 

We build our kids and teammates up and teach them, but when it’s time to go out onto the ice, they’re the ones who have to step up and perform.  Those are good words to send them off with.  Paul is not expecting the world from the Corinthians, but he’s challenging them to seize the moment and make the best of their talents and resources.  It may not be enough to win, but a personal best is what to strive for, and Bangle did just that this weekend.   

Put your best effort into the weekend’s puzzles:

There are acrostics in the New York Times (Hex, spoiler alert) and the Wall Street Journal (Mike Shenk) this weekend.  

Falcon reports that the Hex cryptic in the National Post is one of the best in recent memory.  The syndicated puzzle in the Globe and Mail is more conventional (and more British) than last week’s edition. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Physical therapy (Solution No. 3,367)

The solution to puzzle no. 3,367 is below the fold.

For the better part of a year, I’ve had some pain in my knees: interestingly, it strikes when I’ve been sitting still for a while. Walking, running, or skating, they’re fine. But a long car trip or a day behind my desk is uncomfortable without regular breaks to walk around for a while. It’s probably fencing-related: something in my stance or the additional strength in my legs straining the joint, but not traumatic. I’m fortunate that I’ve never had any knee injuries. And I don’t want to let up on fencing, since it’s been a good way to get more exercise into my routine.

So when the hamstring I injured a couple of months ago took its time healing (the bumpy roads and sidewalks of Oslo were pretty bothersome), I made an appointment to see a physical therapist. We started this week. After a head to toe evaluation of my strength and range of motion, he started me on exercises to open up my hips and reduce quadriceps tightness. The hypothesis is that the quads are pulling on my kneecap, straining the tendons on the other end of it.

For what it’s worth, the knees do feel better after the first week. The pain isn’t gone by any account, but I can notice a difference.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Home brew (Sunday brunch: June 21, 2015)

(wishing Raydoc a happy Father’s Day)

One Oktoberfest isn’t enough for the folks at our church, so they held a beer and brats night yesterday to raise funds for the youth group trip.  Part of the reason people like these events is the very talented guild of home brewers in the parish (motto: “Sharing God’s love, twelve ounces at a time.”

Beer is the official beverage of Father’s Day, so beer making kits are a popular gift around this time. I ran a brewery back when I was in college, and it took a few tries, but we eventually got to the point where the product was pretty good.  Not quite as good as what the “St. Pauli Guys“ were serving last night, but I made a prize-winning malt liquor.  It’s not hard to make beer, but making something good enough to make people put down their professionally-made beer is another story.  So if you want to to try brewing as a hobby, find a local homebrew club and join them rather than just getting a kit.

Kevin Wald would have been a good guest last night: this week he brewed up a tasty variety cryptic to go with German food.  Elsewhere this weekend, the Wall Street Journal published a Labyrinth by Mike Shenk.  Last time out was easy, this one is harder.  I have a hint grid up elsewhere on the blog as well as the solution.

The New York Times variety puzzle is a Split Decisions by Fred Piscop.  Deb Amlen (spoiler alert) notes that Piscop seems to be finding his stride in constructing this unusual style.  Deb is getting better at solving them, but Piscop is starting to make his Split Decisions a little harder.

Of the regular weekly puzzles, the syndicated cryptic in the Globe and Mail is noteworthy: I found it had a strong Puns and Anagrams feel to it.  Be prepared for some clues without indicators: they’re usually going to be anagrams.

And there’s the Hex cryptic in the National Post, blogged by Falcon.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Jet lag (Puzzle No. 3,367)

Well the trip home from Oslo was a lot less eventful than the trip over, but I got back at midnight Friday.  Norway is not a puzzling country—at least not in the sense we use “puzzling” around this blog.  I looked through several of the local newspapers at breakfast time (waffles with berries, hash browns and bacon, and crispbread with ham and cheese or salmon), and found only a few crosswords. While sudoku might be a worldwide phenomenon, it’s not as universal as it is in other countries. One paper had a daily sudoku, another had one of the simplified 6 by 6 sudokus, and the third had no puzzles at all.

The first of those three papers was the only one with any crosswords: it was of the European style with clues squeezed into the unused boxes instead of black squares.  Since I know virtually no Norwegian, I didn’t try any of their crosswords.  I did try and sing in church, but that’s another story.

The Nation puzzle 3,367 was waiting when I got home.  What a fine example: a theme, some clever wordplay, and plenty of clues that take some work to solve.

Link to puzzle:

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

Agility factor: high (and rewarding)

This week’s cluing challenge (share your clues in the comments): a two-parter—OSLO and NORWAY: clue either of them or even both!

Back with the solution and annotation on Monday.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wall Street Journal hints (June 20, 2015)

Backdated to keep this post off the top.

Below the fold is a hint grid for this weekend’s Wall Street Journal puzzle: a Labyrinth by Mike Shenk. It shows you where the winding words start and end.

Once you’re through with this one, try some Sunday brunch.

Wall Street Journal solution (June 20, 2015)

Backdated to keep this post off the top.

Below the fold is the solution to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: a Labyrinth by Mike Shenk.  I also have a hint grid up in case you’re having a hard time getting off the ground.  It shows the starting and ending squares for each of the “winding” answers. Try it if you don’t want quite as much help.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Reindeer steak (Solution No. 3,206)

The solution to The Nation puzzle 3,206 is below the fold.

After a long day of museuming and hiking (I didn’t have any conference sessions to attend yesterday), a light dinner was not going to cut it.  And as much as possible, I want to sample local foods.  So tonight’s dinner was reindeer with grape-sized potatoes, vegetables, and wilted arugula. The Sami and other peoples of the far north have been herding reindeer (also known as caribou, especially in Canada) for centuries—even now it’s still an important part of their economy.

The meat was excellent: lean but not tough.  The slightly gamy flavor reminded me (for some unknown reason) of duck.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Scenes from Oslo (Sunday brunch: June 14, 2015)

Rather than the usual diet of scenery and art, I'll share a few brief experiences from my Oslo trip:
How many motifs from classic albums
can you spot in the picture?
  • I attended services at the cathedral (domkirke) this morning, doing my best to follow along (my ability to read music only slightly exceeds my ability to read Norwegian).  But I saw a familiar sight: the ribbons of the bookmark for the hymnal had been braided together.  Kids fidget in church wherever you happen to go.  
  • The design museum has a special exhibition of record album cover art (how could they leave out the minimalist style of the ECM jazz albums of the 70s and 80s, many of which were recorded in Oslo).  In the foyer, they set up two stereos, with headphones and an eclectic collection of records for visitors to play.  There was a family there with a kid about 12 who was playing with the turntable.  So I picked out a record (which turned out to be Janis Joplin) and showed him how it worked.  Then gave him and his parents the headphones so they could listen.
  • After the museums closed, I took a hike down from Frognereteren (the end of Metro line 1) down the mountain to the Holmenkollen ski jump.  In the stadium, there was a biathlete and her coach doing shooting practice.  So I made like the spectators at the Olympics and cheered when the shot hit the target and groaned when it missed.  Perhaps it gave her a more realistic practice experience.  
New variety cryptics this week:  Kevin Wald went off on a picnic, while we have a Sixes and Sevens from Richard Maltby (blogged by Erica).

Hex cryptics in the Wall Street Journal (variety) and National Post (straight) and a Hex acrostic in the New York Times (blogged [with spoilers] by Deb Amlen)

And the regular syndicated cryptic in the Globe and Mail (who’d like to blog that one?).

See you tomorrow!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Vera City (Puzzle No. 3,206)

(double issue of The Nation last week, so we’re going back for an archive puzzle this week).

There’s a kind of clue that is pretty popular among some constructors, particularly in Great Britain.  We rarely see it in The Nation because it doesn’t fit the Ximinean model of “definition, wordplay, and nothing else.”  For lack of a better term, I’m going to call it “deconstruction.”  Here’s an example from the Globe and Mail syndicated puzzle two weeks ago.  

In truth, she is head of a big place. (4)

I’ll give the answer and explanation below the fold. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Ice dance (solution no. 3,366)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle 3,366 is below the fold.

While I was working the desk at the weekend’s fencing tournament, the conversation among a few of the parents turned to competitive ballroom dancing and the judging system (which needless to say isn’t like Dancing With the Stars).

It was timely from my perspective, because Saturday night was the big ice show at the skating club—Bangle being in several pieces (The Other Doctor Mitchell is on the 30-day DL while she undergoes physical therapy on the hip that’s been bothering her).  The choreography was good, and the kids learned their routines pretty quickly.  But the ice dancers were just as impressive, even though most of them were just skating their regular routines.

It was really great to watch, because the club is figure skating only: one of the few rinks in the country that doesn’t have any hockey program.  In fact there are no dasher boards, which makes it a great place to watch skating.

If you know what to watch, it’s even better.  While most spectators and the people watching on TV watch the faces and upper bodies of the skaters, our family and the judges watch the skates.  Are they tracing a smooth line?  Are the two skaters keeping their feet close together and working in unison? Are they making nice deep edges on the turns?  With no glass and no boards, and seats right next to the ice, you get a perfect view.

New York Times solution (June 6, 2015)

I solved the first New York Times Puns & Anagrams by Mark Diehl today.  It is certainly true to the type as Deb Amlen noted, and both Will Shortz (NYT puzzle editor) and Mel Taub (longtime P&A constructor) should be pleased.  However, I didn’t think this was a particularly smooth solve.  A few bits were jarring, and while I eventually figured out all the clues, I found a few of them ambiguous. The key to a good P&A clue is that there should be logic to decoding the type of clue and not guesswork.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Take-out (Sunday brunch: June 7, 2015)

Quick post to catch up.

Kevin Wald (I can’t spell Ucaoimhu) is back with a good medium difficulty variety cryptic he set for the Washington Post’s Post Hunt puzzle contest.  It’s called “Saturday? Unknown.”

We have a new Puns and Anagrams constructor in the New York Times today: Mark Diehl.  Deb Amlen interviews him at Wordplay (spoiler warning).  Deb also informs us that the P&A will now appear every 8 weeks, with Diehl and Mel Taub sharing construcing duties.  Meanwhile, Hex’s cryptics will appear in the NYT less frequently: every 8 weeks.

Speaking of new constructors, Tom Toce has a guest puzzling for him in Contingencies.  Jerry Levy didn’t crete a cryptic, but cryptic solvers will appreciate the kind of wordplay he uses.  Will Shortz would appreciate it too: maybe we’ll see Jerry’s byline in the Times.

The Wall Street Journal puzzle is a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry.  I found it easier than usual.  I’ll post hints for the WSJ and the NYT solution shortly.  If you enjoyed that, remember that Andrew Ries publishes a bi-weekly Rows Garden that’s every bit as good.  Subscribe at

Stickler is taking a winter break (remember he’s in Australia) for R&R.  Wish him well at

Falcon reports that he weekly Hex cryptic in the National Post was on the stormy side.  I haven’t gotten to the Globe and Mail cryptic yet.

Summer schedule (Puzzle No. 3,366)

The Nation is into its bi-weekly summer schedule.  We’ll use the off weeks to go back through some earlier puzzles from The Nation, so don’t miss a week,

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard, though not uniformly hard.

Agility factor: high

This week’s cluing challenge (share your clues in the comments): BI-WEEKLY

Back with the solution and annotation Monday.

Wall Street Journal hint (June 6, 2015)

Below the fold are two sets of hints to today’s Wall Street Journal variety puzzle: a Rows Garden by Patrick Berry. It’s an easy one, so you probably won’t need much of a hint, but you can also use this to check your answers.

First is a list of enumerations for the answers in each row. Click and drag to see the number of letters in each one. Then there’s a table of the locations for each of the blooms. They’re identified by the row number for that color and then A/B/C/D in order. So the rightmost bloom straddling rows F and G (it’s a dark) would be 2D.

Finished? Like Rows Gardens? Subscribe to Andrew Ries’s bi-weekly series.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Ice show (Solution No. 3,365)

The solution and annotation to The Nation puzzle no. 3,365 is below the fold.

Are you in the Philadelphia area?
A little put off by the sudden onset of warm weather?
Looking for something fun on a Saturday night?

Come see Bangle and her friends perform in the annual skating show at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society(*), titled Fairy Tales and Fables. Along with Bangle, the cast includes some national medalist ice dance couples and the junior national champion of India. Perhaps some of them might be skating in the Olympics in 2018 or 2022.

The show will be this Saturday, June 6, at the Skating Club in Ardmore, on the Main Line.  E-mail me at for ticket information

*--yes, that’s their real name: going back to when the club was located on the Schuylkill River and part of the club’s mission was to rescue people who fell through the ice.