Showing posts with label straight crossword. Show all posts
Showing posts with label straight crossword. Show all posts

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Abuse of officials (Sunday brunch: June 8, 2014)

The last two hockey posts were about abuse of officials, which is an unfortunate but inevitable part of the referee’s job.  Aside from the garden-variety four-letter outbursts, I’ve only had two such incidents in my career: both of them were in the 90s.

One was a men’s league game.  I was the deep official, down in the corner as the puck was cleared out of the zone.  I started skating up-ice to follow the play when one of the defensemen who’d been there in the corner reached over as he passed and gave me a two-handed shove, but not quite a cross-check.

While he used the typical four-letter words as he was shoving me, I decided that the action was not intended to be abusive: the player was just upset that I was in his way.  But we can’t really tolerate that kind of physical abuse.  I was skating in my normal lane, and I was skating at my normal speed, letting the players get ahead so I could watch everyone from the trailing position.

So rather than giving the player a gross misconduct, the kind of penalty Dan Carcillo got for elbowing a linesman, I gave him a ten-minute misconduct for interference with an official (what you’d get for shooting the puck away when the referee is coming to pick it up).  He wasn’t happy with it, but I pointed out that all the other options would be a lot worse: he’d be back in the game later and his team wouldn’t have to kill off a power play. Not purely by the book, but I felt that justice was served.

How about letting some great puzzle constructors hit you with their best shots?

Patrick Berry is back in the The Wall Street Journal.  His puzzle is called Magic Cabinet.  Do it in pencil because it requires you to alter answers for entry in the grid and you’ll probably need to do some erasing on the way.  Do this and the The Nation puzzle, and you’ll be prepared to tackle a variety cryptic like the ones in Cryptic All-Stars.  I’ve got hints if you need them, and the solution elsewhere on the blog.

The New York Times has a vowelless crossword this weekend (behind the paywall).  It’s by Arthur Schulman.  Definitely a different test of your crossword skills.

Want to try some of Matt Gaffney’s metas as discussed over at Word Salad?  Click here for the Vulture.
Regular cryptic service resumes at the National Post Cryptic Crossword Forum after Falcon’s vacation, and the Fraser Simpson cryptic is its reliable self at the Globe and Mail.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Long words (Sunday brunch: March 30, 2014)

Apologies for the late post, I was down in Maryland most of the day yesterday and am running a tournament today.  —Braze

Congratulations to Bangle, who finished second in the Morris Open skating competition yesterday: second in her preliminary flight even though she went the wrong direction after a spin and had to adjust on the fly, and then second in the championship round.  Kid sports are a good place to learn resiliency.

The week’s puzzles include a diagramless from Ed Stein and Paula Gamache (fun--a double byline) in the New York Times (behind the paywall, comments [and spoilers] from Deb Amlen).

It’s a weekend for long words in puzzle grids.  Hex’s block cryptic in the National Post is a picture frame of 15s, and the rest of the grid is nicely interlocked.  Falcon was impressed.

See the reflection of the skate way down there?
The Wall Street Journal has a Spell Weaving by Mike Shenk.  He must have had fun with this one: there’s a 19-letter answer, a 16, and some other long ones too.

From large to small.  Nathan Curtis’s weekly puzzle is a Mini Rows Garden.  Go over and read the whole post for more news about what Nathan is up to.

Master Rows Gardner Andrew Ries has announced a weekly straight crossword to go with his Rows Garden series.

And the regular weekly Brit-style cryptic from Fraser Simpson can be found at the Globe and Mail in Java and print formats.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Centennial (Sunday brunch: December 22, 2013)

I have to day that the week in puzzles didn’t live up to my expectations for the week of the centennial of the crossword.  Google ended up being the big surprise, putting an interactive crossword in their doodle Friday and Saturday.  It was a nice puzzle with a theme that paid tribute to Arthur Wynne’s original.  If you didn’t see it already, it’s archived at  I did it in 7:34, though I would have worked faster if I knew there was a timer on.

Turns out there was a helluva story behind the puzzle, as recounted in the Washington Post.   Merl Reagle had a puzzle all ready to go, and then Google learned that Matt Gaffney had just published a puzzle with the same theme.  So they dumped their puzzle, and asked Reagle to come up with a replacement.  Reagle responded like an old pro, and the Google programming team led by Tom Tabanao gave it a very smooth online presentation.

The Post also did a puzzle contest for the centennial, using a Washington theme. The prizes are probably all spoken for now, but it’s still a fun experience.

Kevin Wald has 100 letters in his grid called “In a Century of Letters,” but there’ll be a few more when you’re done.  The grid part is actually pretty easy; it’s the conclusion that will leave you scratching your head for a while until it all comes together.

The National Post cryptic missed the centennial, but did celebrate the start of winter by recognizing two of Canada’s greatest athletes.  One’s a hockey player and the other is a figure skater, so you know it was a hit in our family.

The Wall Street Journal went seasonal too: a Patrick Berry puzzle called Candy Canes.  There's not a lot of interlock between groups of rows, so you really need to get three starting points to finish the puzzle: use a pencil.  I’ve got the solution posted elsewhere on the blog; there’s a fun twist in the finale.

The Times?  They didn’t even give us a crossword for the variety puzzle this week (behind the paywall).  It’s a Boggle-type letter game by Will Shortz in a novel 3-D format.

For some centennial reading after you finish solving, visit the Guardian for a column by Alan Connor or get Connor’s book “Two Girls, One on Each Knee.”

Finally, I got an update from the Cryptic All Stars team.   Their target ship date has slipped from December into January, but the puzzles are being edited now.  The giant poster-sized puzzle is done, and there are extra copies available for $10.00.  I also got the souvenir pencils they’ve promised to their supporters.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hold the whistle! (Sunday brunch: November 3, 2013)

We interrupt this treatise on whistles for an important message to all sports officials: HOLD THE CALL!

Many of the errors officials make happen because they anticipate a play happening and make the call too early.  We had two examples of this in the World Series just finished (hooray for the Sox!). 
In Game 1, umpire Dana DeMuth called “out” on a force play at second base before he made sure that Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma had actually caught the ball.  To his credit, when he saw the ball on the ground, he got help from his partners and crew chief John Hirschbeck overturned the call. 

To be polite, let’s say the post-game press conference was a well-scripted fiction.  DeMuth spun the situation with all his might to say that he saw the drop happening on the exchange (taking the ball out of the glove to throw it) instead of saying he made the call too early, and that he did the right thing by checking to see whether his partners saw it the same way.  Of course the most important thing is to get the call right, which they eventually did. 
Then in the sixth and final game, I jumped up and started ranting at the TV when Hirschbeck rushed his “safe” call on the botched Cardinal rundown of Jacoby Ellsbury.  You’ll see on the replay that Hirschbeck made his call as soon as he saw the missed tag, and didn’t wait until Ellsbury got back to the base safely.

The official instructions to umpires are clear: “Do not come running with your arm up or down, denoting ‘out’ or ‘safe.’  Wait until the play is completed before making any arm motion.”  In this situation, the absence of an “out” call sufficiently communicates that there was no tag.

Holding the call is something I remind myself about every game.  What I lack in skating speed I try to make up for with situational awareness, which is the ability to identify and react to a situation as it develops.  Where situational awareness gets you in trouble is when unexpected things happen, like the shortstop dropping the ball or an attacker with the puck holding up at the blue line instead of bringing the puck over.  If you’ve wound up for a bang-bang offsides call when the puck is still on the blue line, you’ll look like a fool.

Like a lot of other things that happen in sports, there are life lessons there if you pay attention.  Making decisions in haste is the way to make more wrong decisions. No wrong decisions in the puzzle lineup this weekend, though.  

The Wall Street Journal has a real treat: “Choices”: a variety cryptic by Hex with a quite novel grid.  Be warned it’s harder than most weekend Journal puzzles, but worth your effort.  31a and 8d are pretty obscure: trust the wordplay.  The solution is posted elsewhere on the blog.

Hex also have their weekly straight cryptic in the National Post, solved and annotated for you by Falcon.  I heard half a theme in there about music; it would have been nice for Hex to theme more of the clues.

An uncommon straight bar cryptic is Tom Toce’s latest, published in the new issue of Contingencies.  “No Bells, No Whistles” would be the antithesis of the Mitchell Sunday, as I referee and The Other Doctor Mitchell rings in the handbell choir.  Note a minor printer’s error in that puzzle: there should be another bar immediately under the square numbered 27.

This weekend’s New York Times puzzle (behind the paywall) is an acrostic by Hex, and the monthly bonus puzzle for subscribers is also up: it’s a Fred Piscop puzzle for National Novel Writing Month.

And catching up with Kevin Wald, here’s another small puzzle of his: themed as usual.  Amazing how many puzzles he creates when there must be a lot of work going into each one.

Bonus puzzle: Rock fans should know that BEQ composed a straight crossword in memory of Lou Reed.

Nathan Curtis’s site had a few technical problems last weekend, but it’s working all right now.  No new puzzles yet though.  Xanthippe is feeling emboldened so she is busy creating another new one.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Variety crosswords for better and for worse

The syndicated New York Times crossword usually lags the publication in the Times by three weeks, so I was wondering when this particular puzzle would showed up in the campus paper, reminding me to post something about it.  It actually ran August 29 (Wordplay post with spoilers), so visit your library for a copy.

The best kind of twisted crosswords (the ones where something has to be done to some of the answers when entering them in the grid) are the kind where you’re absolutely sure you know a bunch of the answers, but can’t figure out how they go.  Then there’s a clap of thunder and the trick appears in front of you.  You race through all those entries you now know how to fill in, and all is right with the world.  That puzzle was one of them.

Meanwhile, today’s NYT puzzle came close to meeting that standard.  Deb blogs it (spoiler alert) at Wordplay, including an interview with the constructor, whom we learn is a Haverford alum (I wasn’t into crosswords when I was in college).  We also learn that these kind of puzzles can make life difficult for both programmers and users of Across Lite and other crossword software.  Finally, they noted a few entries that had never shown up in the NYT puzzle before.  To me the reason for one of them was obvious: earlier editors would have quickly vetoed “sucks” in a context other than siphons or vacuum cleaners (I scold my teenage children for such usage too—it may not be profane but it’s a lazy vulgarity: one people ought to have more appropriate words in their vocabulary for.  

Deb also had a nice post on the heuristic topic visited by my main post this week, and why we find these kinds of solutions (and things like fugues resolving) so rewarding.  Go read it.

The ugly part: take Tuesday’s Times puzzle, please.  Unusual symmetry in the grid made it pretty obvious there would be something different with the theme, the theme was left pretty out in the open, and the fill needed to make the theme work left a little to be desired.  And if you’re one of the ones who  do Harper’s too, it didn’t even feel novel.  (I’m sure both constructors came up with their themes independently).  So it met the fate of many NYT puzzles in my hands: do enough of it to complete the theme, then chuck it, the rest of the solve isn’t worth the time.    

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Less contrived than usual

Just a quick note to say I was impressed by the puzzle in last Friday’s New York Times (which I got around to solving today).  The constructors were Mangesh Ghogre of Mumbai and Doug Peterson of the USA, for whom this is not their first collaboration.

I was attracted by the grid, which like a lot of NYT Fridays was something of a show-off piece (just 25 blacks and stacked 15s at the top and bottom).  Usually, you need some pretty contrived entries to fill a grid like this, but the quality of the fill here was excellent from top to bottom, especially in the 15s and their crosses.

Deb Amlen was not quite as impressed, but spoke quite favorably at Wordplay (spoiler warning).  If you get the puzzle in syndication, look for it three weeks from the original publication date, which would be October 11.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Parsing the question (Sunday brunch: September 22, 2013)

I’ve been spending a good deal of time parsing out questions recently, and only some of them were related to cryptics.  I’m teaching Sabers how to read and interpret a rulebook, and while he’s taking the test to referee fencing, many of the same principles I’ve learned from hockey rules exams apply.  You reconstruct the situation as the question puts it, and walk through it one step at a time.

So if fencer X makes an attack against Y’s point in line, and finds Y’s blade, Y places point in line again while X continues the attack and both fencers hit, who gets the point?  Take it one step at a time.  Y’s first point in line establishes right of way, which X must take away.  X does that, and then gets the right of way by doing so.  OK so far?  Once X gains right of way, X keeps it even when Y goes back to point in line because Y didn’t do anything to take it back.  Touch for X.

Parse these puzzles out, and remember they’re for relaxation, not for torture.

The only new cryptic on our side of the pond this weekend is Hex’s in the National Post.  Falcon has worked it out for you as usual, and reports his mind is in better “shape” for the experience

Want another cryptic?  Try Xanthippe’s British puzzle called Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

Kevin Wald has been kind enough to post his variety cryptic (a bonus puzzle) from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

It’s a two-acrostic weekend.  The Wall Street Journal puzzle is by Mike Shenk.   After my first pass through the clues (either having no idea or too many ideas for most of them), I was resigning myself to this one being a real slog.  But surprisingly, I wound up getting most of the quote from partials in it and from discovering a few words that were repeated several times in the quote.  So on one level, I liked the puzzle because it made me approach the answer from a different direction, I also disliked it because of all the repetition making the quote so easy to find.

The New York Times acrostic (by Hex as usual) is also behind the paywall as usual.  Deb Amlen blogs it as usual at Wordplay (spoiler warning).  Note also that the straight crossword in today’s Times (by Mike Selinker) is a prize puzzle.  See Wordplay for instructions on how to win one of their new 2014 calendars.

Nathan Curtis’s weekly variety puzzle isn’t up yet (I’ll post an update when it is), which is probably OK for those of you still working on last week’s Pathfinder.  [UPDATE: Did you finish the Pathfinder? I did.  Nathan now has another Snake Charmer for you to solve.  Thanks, Nathan!]

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Lollapuzzoola 6 will be on Saturday, August 10, 2013 in New York City.  If you’re the competitive crossword type, or you want to meet some of the constructors and your fellow solvers, show up with 25 bucks Saturday at 1157 Lexington Ave.  If you can’t make it, there’s a solve-at-home division too.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tour de France (Sunday brunch: July 14, 2013)

For many years July in our house means watching the Tour de France.  The recent doping scandals and revelations tarnish the individuals involved, but they don't detract from the drama of the event itself.

Once you get to know the event and some of the personalities, your enjoyment of the Tour increases exponentially.  There is a lot more to it than who will wear the yellow jersey in Paris: the effort of the leaders' teammates to set the pace, throw off opponents, and deliver their man to the finish; the opportunistic riders who go off in a breakaway and the tactical riding of the sprinters' teams to keep the break from getting too far ahead; and much more.

The scenery and the crowds also make the event.  There are many familiar faces: human (commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen; The Devil, who shows up during the mountain stages), and non-human (the familiar curves of Alpe d'Huez).

Today is one of two "queen stages" of the Tour: days expected to be the toughest and most decisive.  Today's stage finishes with the long lonely climb up Mont Ventoux, while Thursday the race climbs the Alpe not once but twice.  I'll bet fans are already camping out there today in order to get the best viewing points.  There'll be a quarter million lining the road there by Thursday, and they'll get a fabulous show.  Check your local listings, so you can be there in spirit.

As frequently happens, acrostics show up together this weekend.  The Wall Street Journal's acrostic (Java link) is by Mike Shenk.  Not many comments posted so far, but the majority note it is fairly difficult.  I don't think it had the polish of Hex's acrostics (of which there is one behind the New York Times paywall), but I liked the fill (aside from the one which obviously was the last one Shenk clued--J): a reggae artist, a backgammon game popular in the Navy, and a nice, happy pop song.

The new Harpers is out, with Richard Maltby's variety cryptic, but there are no recent posts over at Erica's blog.  She must be busy with her video directing.  Nathan Curtis also informs us he doesn't have much to say, but there is an Around the Bend puzzle for us this week.

There's a BEQ cryptic I missed last week (#553 if you're counting), and the regularly scheduled Hex cryptic in the National Post.  For the latter, a little French will help, but I think there's not enough there to call it a themed puzzle.

And hooray, hooray: Xanthippe is now offering printer-friendly versions of her (British) cryptics, starting with her Opus 10.  Go visit, solve, and comment.  Xanthippe is eager to improve her work, and she's blogging about the constructing experience as well as sharing her puzzles with us.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Some more words on four-letter words (Sunday brunch: March 23, 2013)

Read on: new puzzles at the bottom of the post!

A few months ago I commented on the subject of four-letter words: the type you aren’t supposed to say on television.  I didn’t intend to get back to the subject so soon, but some recent reading and puzzles deserve comment. 

In particular, the sports page of the Wall Street Journal (yes, they really do have a sports page, though they continue to hold the line against comics) had a feature on how broadcasters have to adjust their language when they move from the locker room to the microphone.  Dan Dakitch says he reads the newspaper out loud to himself for ten minutes before going on the air just to hear himself speak without swearing. 

And last week, the Journal had a feature on comedians who work clean, noting how many in the business know that obscenity can be a crutch to lean on to get the audience’s attention, but eventually its shock value wears off.  It takes more work to prepare a routine that doesn’t use the seven words George Carlin built his most famous routine on, but real talents like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby do so and you hardly realize it. 

As I said before, crossword constructing is largely a G-rated enterprise, with some notable exceptions like The Onion, which revels in double entendre and toilet humor.  Mainstream setters rarely go near the line, let alone over it.  When they do, it’s usually to facilitate a particularly clever or playful clue.  With the indirect way words are clued in cryptic crosswords, such opportunities present themselves regularly.  Hex had one in their variety cryptic this weekend at the Wall Street Journal (solution below the fold, hint grid posted previously).  The second “n” clue prompted titters from the commenters who got there first.  While the grins were fading, the solvers figured out that this puzzle is not as hard as you think 

Brendan Emmett Quigley also has an alter ego who works blue.  Very blue.  His Bawdy Crosswords are definitely in the "not safe for work" category, but they provide another dimension in constructing and solving.  Take "Tunnel of Love" for example (repeat warning: NSFW).  There's a visual double-entendre to the theme entries in that one as well as the wordplay.

Back to the usual weekend fare.  Hex is in the kitchen for us, and the National Post takes a peek at them while they're working.  The New York Times has a Hex acrostic (behind the paywall, Hex's comments and spoilers over at Wordplay).

And we have another chef and another course in our menu:  Nathan Curtis offers a tasty mix at Tortiseshell Puzzles.  His latest is a Rows Garden, which compares well to the Patrick Berry originals.  He also constructs cryptics, like "What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?"  Welcome, Nathan: we look forward to seeing more of your work every week.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Do you like snow too? (Sunday Brunch: December 30, 2012)

Bangle and Sabers are looking forward to the weekend's forecast snow almost as much as I'm looking forward to the Hex snowflake that will be on the lawn tomorrow morning in a Wall Street Journal hidden under some of that white stuff.

The New York Times has a Hex acrostic, which if pattern holds will escape the paywall in its Java form on Saturday (UPDATE: nope--they fixed the paywall).  They've also posted a January "bonus" puzzle behind the paywall: another Fred Piscop creation.  Is it a diagramless or something else?  It's not tagged as diagramless, and Piscop did have a diagramless in last Sunday's Times.

Meanwhile, Deb Amlen is raving over Saturday's New York Times puzzle, in which Joe Krozel managed to construct a stack of five fifteen-letter words.  The rest of the puzzle had to be compromised to make the stack work, but Joe's place in constructing history is assured.

And while there wasn't a The Nation puzzle this week, Hot and Trazom do have a new post in Word Salad.  They decry the tendency of North American constructors to slavishly adhere to the [unwritten] rules, which they think stifles the opportunity to create some fun clues (I agree with that part) and also takes away an element of individuality from constructing (I disagree with that part: I can pick out a Hex puzzle from the way they use secondary definitions, and correctly identified them when The Nation held its puzzle auditions).  So do you think Hot and Trazom are right?  Go over and join the debate.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's a skating game (Sunday brunch: December 16, 2012)

As we were getting dressed for a game last Saturday afternoon, my partner informed me that the visitors were a team of ten-year-olds while the home team was made up of twelve-year-olds.  We reminded each other of the mercy rule in their league, expecting we'd need to apply it.

Sure enough we did.  It was 6-0 in the first period, but it was the visitors doing all the scoring.  A couple of breakaways, a couple of wraparounds.  The home goalie wasn't all that good, but the game really was that one-sided.  The visitors all skated faster than the home team, so they got the loose pucks, they got out on odd-man advantages, and they even chased their opponents down on defense better.  They fully earned that lead.   The younger kids couldn't carry on that pace the whole game, so it got more even by the third, but it still finished 10-1.  

Lesson?  Hockey is a skating game, first and foremost.  The visitors' coaches must have focused on teaching the kids to skate well, and to use that advantage to play the game the right way.  I had a situation in the second where one of the home players was carrying the puck across the blue line, with a visitor in hot pursuit.  I watched the stick and the skates, anticipating a possible hooking situation, but the defender just kept skating first, got position on the puck-carrier, and tipped the puck off his stick.  As easy as a no-call will ever get.

On to more sedentary pastimes...  Falcon is getting ready for Christmas with Hex and their National Post cryptic.

It's another two-acrostic week, so if you want more cryptic crosswords, have a go at the Financial Times.  I'm catching up on last week's puzzles, but look for the In the Pink tags for some British cryptics that are approachable for American solvers, or at least have some rewarding answers to get even if you can't get more than halfway through the puzzle.

Be warned that you'll need a dictionary to solve the Wall Street Journal acrostic this week.
The New York Times acrostic is online with the new Java app.   It's by Hex, so the clues may clock for you faster than for other solvers who don't do cryptics.

Meanwhile, cryptic solvers might find the New York Times Sunday puzzle (in syndication next Sunday) enjoyable.  Deb Amlen (warning: spoilers) tells us its full of puns.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Polishing a ...

It came to mind today while I worked on today's syndicated New York Times puzzle (original of Nov. 1) why I've found the Times puzzles unsatisfying of late.

There was some clever cluing, which caused Deb Amlen to like the puzzle, but altogether too much mushy fill.  Perhaps Will Shortz thinks that if the  clues are novel ("Group organizing booster shots"), it's OK to fill the puzzle with ho-hum entries like "NASA" and "ESTE."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pun-filled afternoon (groaners)

I spent a little time today working on the WSJ straight crossword from a coupla Fridays ago: "Element of Surprise" by Myles Callum and Michael Blake.  Thought the theme would be fun, and it was.  (theme answers are below the fold if you want to see them).  I'll bet they started with 43d and looked for some others to go with it.

Besides the groaners in the theme answers, there were a lot of puns and other twisted clues like 56d–"it might make a lot": MACADAM (as in paving a parking lot).  So if you like the puns and anagrams style, try this one.