Each week, at the end of our regular blog post, we include a link to The Nation Cryptic Crossword Forum, a blog that serves as a helpful companion to our puzzle. And not only ours—the blog is a vehicle for commentary on a range of other cryptic crosswords and variety puzzles as well.
The proprietor is Braze (a k a Matt Mitchell), from Glenside, Pennsylvania. By day, Braze does research and writing for the University of Pennsylvania Health System, but his main extra-puzzling activity is as a hockey referee. Hence his puzzler’s nom: Braze is “zebra, with two twists.” We talked to him once before for this blog, asking about his judgments on the level of difficulty in the Nation puzzles. Today, we find out more about him.
What made you think of starting a blog about our puzzle?
When The Nation held its competition to select a successor to Frank Lewis, I solved all the puzzles, and sent a rather detailed note to the editors making the case for the constructors who eventually won that competition. That made me realize that while I don’t have the time to commit to creating puzzles, commentary could be a way to get more involved in the pastime.
Tell us more about your blog.
The Nation Cryptic Crossword Forum is a place where solvers can get a complete explanation of each clue, and find other new puzzles they might enjoy. Solutions are posted Monday or Tuesday, following the online release of each week’s puzzle. Whereas the solution published in the magazine tells you how each answer is put together, I go deeper to explain where the pieces came from in the clue and how the clue indicates the type of wordplay. I call out features of the clue like misdirection, and comment on clues I particularly like or disagree with. On Thursdays, I post a link to the new puzzle and to the discussion at Word Salad, and a quick review of the degree of difficulty and themework, but no spoilers until the following week!
Not long after I started the blog, I added a feature called Sunday Brunch, in which I share links to new cryptic and variety puzzles each weekend. It’s a one-stop shop for those puzzles, like Diary of a Crossword Fiend is for straight crosswords.
There’s usually something extra coupled to each post: the Thursday comments are always puzzle- or wordplay-related, while the weekend and Monday posts can be more eclectic: anecdotes from the hockey rink, an interesting piece of music I heard or maybe something about my family (two figure skaters and a fencer).
How did you get interested in cryptic crosswords?
I did straight crosswords for a long while, and the occasional cryptic from Games magazine. The 8×10 puzzles in The New Yorker got me hooked on the genre. After that, the variety cryptics by Hex (Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon) quickly became favorites. As more and more cryptics went online, my solving interest shifted towards them.
Were you a Frank Lewis solver?
I had a little book of his puzzles early on, and struggled with them, but that was before I started doing cryptics in earnest. Now I’ve gotten to appreciate the nuances of his style, and I’ll sometimes blog one when The Nation skips a publishing week.
What is the Nation puzzle’s niche in the American cryptic landscape?
The Nation puzzle is one of the few intermediate-level American-style cryptics in existence. It’s more challenging for those solvers who have figured out the basics of cryptic solving, and it presents them with some of the twists they’ll find in the harder and more creative niches the hard-core cryptic enthusiasts frequent. For those of us already in the latter category, the Nation puzzle is a must-solve.
Thank you, Braze!
This week’s clueing challenge: HOCKEY. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.