# Weekend Update

Dave and I saw CalShakes’s production of GBS’s Candida Friday night. It’s a play I’ve seen several times, but this has got to be the best production I’ve seen.

Dave and I saw Part I of Butterfield 8’s Pride and Prejudice Saturday night. I liked it even better than Part II, which we saw last week. Not sure how much of that is due to the acting being more confident, as it’s another week into the run, and how much to the first half of the novel being livelier than the second. I thought the direction was more varied and inventive in Part I, too, but then, there’s more variety in the first half of the story and thus more to play with; the second half of the novel is more dramatic and more focused on the tumult caused in the Bennett household by — well, if you know the novel, you know what I mean, and if you don’t, I’m not going to spoil the surprise.

I finished the Listener puzzle on the train on the way to Pride and Prejudice. Meh. An interesting idea but not a lot of fun to solve. Too much methodically slogging through possibilities and not enough finding logical inferences.

The rest of my weekend has been spent working on Tamino’s Magic Flute and doing laundry and dealing with the headache I’ve had on and off since Thursday. Now I’m feeling kind of queasy from the painkillers I’ve taken and too wiped to post more right now. I may write more about the plays later after I’m feeling livelier myself.

# Pushover!

I’ve been working on this week’s Listener puzzle — a number puzzle this week, called “Number or Nummer” — for only about twelve minutes, and I’ve already narrowed down the possibilities to just 393,120.

Later: Is too much to ask in a number puzzle to have math that looks like math? With minus signs (HTML code: `&minus;`) or at least en dashes (`&ndash;`) instead of hyphens, and exponents that are actually raised (`<sup>2</sup>`) and not just in a different font?

Plus: In the clue for 13 Across, which is in the form X − Y / Z, could you maybe have added parentheses so we could be 100% sure whether you mean X − (Y / Z) or (X − Y) / Z? I hope I find out I’m wrong, but I have a growing suspicion that you mean the latter.

Still later: The order of operations in 13 Across is correct.

# Toga

I finished this week’s Listener puzzle, “Toga” by Nod, this morning. I really thought I was going to finish last night — around 9:00 I had only solved about half the clues, but that turned out to be enough for me to figure out the “advice” spelled out by the extra letters, how to apply it, and what to do with the result. By figuring out in advance what was supposed to be the final step in the puzzle, I obtained several letters in the grid that I hadn’t actually solved yet, and that quickly gave me a few more answers. I was quite sure that I’d have it all nailed before I went to bed. But I got sleepy and ended up crashing with one clue still unsolved, and two more for which I was pretty sure I had the right answer but hadn’t yet worked out how the wordplay was supposed to work.

I finally solved them this morning — I was right about the two answers and worked out the wordplay, and the third clue turned out to involve some proper nouns I didn’t know that aren’t in Chambers Dictionary; thank goodness for the Internet. All in all, an enjoyable and not overly brain-busting puzzle.

# More Collusion

Just now finished this week’s Listener puzzle, “More Collusion” by The Magpie. I’m grumbling a bit because I think there’s some ambiguity about the extra letters to be deleted from some of the clues, and I had to backtrack from the finished grid to figure out the exact path I was probably supposed to have taken to get here. However uncertain I am about a couple things along the way, though, I don’t see any ambiguity about the finished grid, so I’ve got my entry ready, and a Friday night finish.

# Weekend Update: Listener Puzzle and Harry Potter 7

I finished this week’s Listener puzzle, “OZ and WR” by Theod, on Friday evening. There’s a Playfair cipher involved in this one: Four answers must be encrypted before being entered, and you don’t know what the keyword for the cipher is, so you have to crack the cipher by comparing the answers for these four clues with what you can get of their encrypted versions from the crossing letters in the grid.

Until you’ve cracked the cipher, then, these four words must be solved without any help from crossing letters. I left these four to work on later after I’d solved the rest.

It didn’t take me all that long to fill the rest of the grid, but I could only figure out two of the four Playfair entries. I figured that that wasn’t going to be nearly enough information to crack the cipher, and that I’d be stuck until I could solve at least one of the other two. But when I finally took a crack at the cipher with the information I had, I was surprised to find that it was enough to give me what were almost certainly the first, fifth, and sixth letters of the keyword and an additional three-letter sequence that was likely to be somewhere in it. That was plenty, and the keyword and the rest of the puzzle fell quickly after that.

Dave and I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 at home Saturday night and then saw Part 2 in a theater Sunday night. It’s a beautiful pair of movies — one gorgeously shot scene after another, terrific acting all around — but as with all the other movies in the series, I was rarely swept up in it. The story is full of exciting sequences, but it also rambles a lot and contains a lot of derivative and predictable elements. I especially kept being reminded of this or that plot element or scene from The Lord of the Rings, both the book and the movie. Characters are thin and mostly defined by their quirks — one apiece for the minor characters, two or three for the major ones — and though many of these quirks are surprising and whimsical, once you know what they are, there’s no more surprise left and you can see well in advance how they will respond to each new situation that arises.

I’m sure the series is magical if you come to it at the right age and without having read or seen a lot of similar stories already, but I am so not in that group.

# A Keep

This weekend’s Listener puzzle, A Keep by Phi, took me till Saturday morning to finish. I found it a challenge the whole way — blank diagram, numerations omitted, misprints in some but not all of the definitions, good grief — but all in all a very satisfying puzzle. The completed grid is a handsome piece of construction.

The clues are mostly nicely done, though one of the definitions seems to me to be oblique to the point of not being a definition at all; the fact that, say, sentimentality can be a definition for cheese doesn’t mean that sentimentality can also be a definition for Camembert. But then, maybe I’m missing something about how the clue works.

The clues are in their normal order, from the first of the acrosses to the last of the downs. The introduction omits to say this, inadvertently I’m sure, but it’s crucial information for solving.

# “Jumping to Conclusion”

It’s 8:20 pm on Saturday and I just finished this weekend’s Listener puzzle, “Jumping to Conclusion” by Sabre, over dinner. It’s a stinker, and despite some nice clues and a surprise at the end, this may be my least favorite Listener puzzle in quite a while. A number of the words and parts of words have to be entered not in a straight line but in a series of chess knight’s moves, which opens up the number of possibilities so greatly that it’s kind of tedious to work out the right answer.

Also, there are ten clues that you need to solve with no help available from crossing letters at all, and an eleventh (34 Down) that you have to solve with the only possible help being the first letter (from solving 33 Across). These clues are entered entirely in knight’s moves, but you can’t work out more than a few of the knight’s moves until you have solved every one of those eleven clues. When I went to bed last night I had all but three clues solved, yet I still had 19 empty squares in the grid, 19 squares where there were too many possible paths for the words to take to be able to fix any more letters. I took another stab at the puzzle this afternoon and solved two more clues, but I still had 11 squares I couldn’t nail down. Eleven squares left indeterminate because of one unsolved nine-letter word! And what I had worked out didn’t give me so much as one single certain letter to help with solving the last clue! It looks as though, for the knight’s-move portion of the diagram, the constructor gave the absolute minimum number of clues you need to determine where all the letters go once you’ve solved all the clues. That seems kind of stingy, and it’s not hard to find several more words of five letters or longer that the constructor could also have given.

Even once I did have the last clue solved, working out the one possible way to enter the letters so that all the words could be made took me quite a while because of all the possible paths that had to be considered and narrowed down. There were a couple of nice surprises at the end as a reward for trudging through all of that, so I wouldn’t say it was a bad puzzle, but all in all not an interesting enough puzzle to reward the amount of slogging needed.

# The X-factor

A Friday finish this week: I finished this week’s Listener puzzle, “The X-factor”, a little after 11 pm. It’s a numerical and an ingenious one with a lot of subtle deductions to be made along the way. Very tough at first — I think after my lunch hour I’d identified the value of one letter and filled one cell in the grid. But the pace picked up steadily as I chipped more and more of it away and I must have filled in the last quarter or so of the grid in under fifteen minutes.

# “Cruciverbalism”

10:53 pm and I just finished today’s Listener puzzle, “Cruciverbalism” by Poat. It looks incredibly tough at first, and I was wondering whether I’d be finishing this one by Monday at all. The puzzle is another diagramless sort, and I had to solve about half the clues cold, without any help from crossings, before I was able to start to fit even a few of the answers together; but the puzzle became quite a bit easier once I’d gotten the first few words into the grid, and then when I saw what the omitted letters were going to spell, the rest fell together pretty easily.

# “All New”

It’s about 3 pm on Saturday and I just finished this week’s Listener crossword, “All New”. A workout, but a really enjoyable one, and with some nice surprises cropping up at the end.