Word Salad

One Hand Washes the Other One Hand Washes the Other

Cross-references in cryptic clues

Dec 18, 2014 / Word Salad / Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

To Infinity and Beyond To Infinity and Beyond

Creative complexity in cryptic crosswords by a clever constructor

Dec 11, 2014 / Word Salad / Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

A Grat √Čtude A Grat √Čtude

A couple of years ago, we put up a thankful post, expressing our deep appreciation for the test-solvers who go over our puzzle before it sees print. Our gratitude hasn’t diminished in the slightest since then—if anything, it’s become even more heartfelt—so with Thanksgiving upon us, it seemed like a good time to thank them all over again. It’s not an exaggeration to say that without these attentive and exacting collaborators, the Nation puzzle would not be possible. Every week, without fail, they save us from inadvertent errors and lapses of diction, suggest improvements both large and small, and generally add an inviting gloss to our efforts—and they do it without recompense or hesitation. We are indebted to them beyond measure. Since our last thank-you note, we’ve added a couple of new helpers to the roster. Katherine Bryant, an editor of science books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is well-known to us through the National Puzzlers’ League, where she was a longtime editor of the monthly puzzle magazine, The Enigma; she can always be counted on to correct any scientific misapprehensions on our part. Bart Laws, a professor at the Brown University School of Public Health, came to our attention because he was already checking for our errors—only after the fact, when it was too late to save us from embarrassment. After the second time Prof. Laws sent us a correction e-mail, we decided it was time to get him on our team. Happily for us, he accepted. The other testers, who have remained with us from the beginning of this enterprise are: • Mark Halpin, the theater designer and puzzlesmith whom we interviewed on the subject of Stephen Sondheim; his own remarkable puzzles can be found here • Sally Picciotto (Henri’s daughter), a dancer and public health researcher • Greg Pliska, a film and TV composer/orchestrator, Broadway music director (War Horse), and puzzlesmith who appears occasionally as puzzle guru on NPR’s Ask Me Another • a group of solvers that meets over breakfast in Berkeley, including Ann Daniels, Jutta Degener, Joe Fendel, Erica Klarreich, Dunn Miller, Barbara Selfridge and Jon Zingman. And as always, our tireless editors at The Nation, Judith Long and Sandy McCroskey, are an invaluable source of advice and wisdom. Here are a few examples of how these folks have improved the puzzle just over the past few weeks: • In Puzzle 3345 we originally clued NYMPH as    Goddess seen in New York unit (5) There was universal pushback on that definition, so “goddess” became “spirit.” • Puzzle 3343—which, incidentally, was written in direct response to Ms. Long’s plea for a knitting-themed puzzle—included the entry PURLOINED LETTER, which led to a long discussion of whether “letter” in the sense of “one who lets [an apartment]” was better clued by “landlord” or “tenant.” The consensus pointed to “landlord.” • In Puzzle 3339, we had clued ODIN simply as    God of noise (4) relying on the Irish O’ for “of” (which is attested by Webster’s). The testers unanimously agreed that that was too cute, which is why the clue wound up as God of boundless joy and noise (4) Naturally, any mistakes that remain in the puzzle are entirely our own. But because of these folks, there are fewer than there would have been otherwise. So: Thank you. (And thanks also to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll, from whom we borrowed the title of this post.) This week’s clueing challenge: GRATEFUL. 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.

Nov 26, 2014 / Word Salad / Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

Free Lunch Free Lunch

A recurrent criticism of our cryptic cluing style has surfaced among some of our test solvers. They don’t like part of the answer to appear as is in the clue. For example: IMPETUS I’m American, having internalized animal energy (7) The answer’s IM is there, in plain sight, at the beginning of the clue. The objection may stem from a feeling that this makes the clue too easy. Of course, by and large, our test solvers are sophisticated cryptic crossword solvers, and their “too easy” may be someone else’s “finally a clue I can solve!” We don’t mind having some “too easy” clues in every puzzle, as we know our solvers’ experience with cryptics ranges all over the map. And in fact, even an experienced solver may need some easy clues to provide an in to an otherwise tough puzzle. Another reason to object is the lack of consistency between different parts of the clue. In the example above, the beginning is given in plain text, as it were, but the remaining two parts of the charade require the solver to start by taking the extra step of finding synonyms or near-synonyms to “American” and “animal.” We admire consistency as much as anyone, but we don’t think it trumps all other considerations. For example, a better surface reading for a clue is reason enough to do this, to produce something that’s either less awkward or more entertaining. We’d rather be consistent with our overall priority (entertainment) than with abstract principles. It’s not that there are no alternatives. For example, we could have used “Yours truly is” instead of “I’m,” but that seems silly. Or perhaps “Instant message American, …” but is using an abbreviation (especially one that may not be familiar to everyone) an improvement? Those are the sorts of conversations we have with each other, and with our test solvers. Once in a while, we do end up giving away part of the answer. Here are some more examples: IONIC One-on-one chat to begin with ancient Greek dialect (5) ITALICIZE Emphasize it with unnatural zeal around here (in Marseilles) (9) LAMASERY Scurrilous smear lay outside Buddhist cloister (8) LINGONBERRY Alien warrior loses head by swallowing stray fruit (11) You will note the giveaway is usually very short, no more than three letters. That’s rather mild in the scheme of things—especially if you compare it to a famous crossword puzzle created by Mark Gottlieb for the 1997 MIT Mystery Hunt. His goal was to make his puzzle harder by breaking a rule all solvers take for granted: that no form of an answer word can appear in its own clue. So Gottlieb used “Mosaic tile” to clue TILE, “Muenster or gouda” to clue MUENSTER, and so on through literally every clue in the puzzle, hiding each answer in plain sight. Now, that’s a free lunch. Today’s clueing challenge: FREEBIE. 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.

Nov 13, 2014 / Word Salad / Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

Rising to the Surface Rising to the Surface

It’s not easy making sense.

Nov 6, 2014 / Word Salad / Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

The Iceman Bloggeth The Iceman Bloggeth

A referee for the Nation puzzle

Oct 30, 2014 / Word Salad / Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

Between the Cracks Between the Cracks

Puns and other clues that resist easy classification

Oct 23, 2014 / Word Salad / Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

Reading the Dictionary Reading the Dictionary

What does "it" mean?

Oct 16, 2014 / Word Salad / Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

Interview With a Fiend Interview With a Fiend

A chat with the queen bee of crossword blogging

Oct 9, 2014 / Word Salad / Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

A League of Our Own A League of Our Own

The wordplay of the National Puzzlers’ League

Oct 2, 2014 / Word Salad / Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

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