Sunday, 9 February 2020

Clue Review: LC2 (Across)

Thanks to all the readers who've taken a swing at the cryptic crossword that I put up a couple of weeks ago, I've greatly appreciated the feedback and just getting your reactions to it has been a lot of fun. This post is (the first part of) a run-through of the various clues and their answers, which will hopefully include some explanations for anything that you weren't sure about and will also help me identify the puzzle's weak points so that I can improve in future. That obviously means that it will contain SPOILERS, so this is your last chance to go back and do the puzzle.

I'm not planning to go into a lot of depth here about how cryptics are supposed to work, but if you are interested in learning about that, I do recommend the 31 part series that Mother Owl put together back in Blaugust 2016.


1 It can be changed or possibly silenced (7) 
MUTABLE ~ Double definition (It can be changed / silenced[?] )
Double definition clues are always the first thing that I look for in a crossword, as words with two simple meanings like the answer to 29 down can be any easy way to get a foothold in the grid and the short clues are often easily indentifiable. Clues like this one, with one 'normal' definition and one slightly playful one (using mutable for 'able to be muted' isn't really proper English, after all), can be a bit trickier to notice, but hopefully the addition of the 'possibly' helps prepare the solver that I'm being a little sneaky here.

5 Folds away picked up evening wear (5) 
Folds away = TUCKS ~ 'Tux' (Evening wear) homophone (picked up)
This is the first of an unusually high number of homophone clues in this crossword, which caused me to dig deep in my limited supply of good indicator words (I am pretty rusty at this, after all). I think 'picked up' is a nice definition for 'received' to indicate a homophone, though at last one solver didn't like it. It could be a little bit naughty to have the indicator slap bang in the middle of the clue where it's not obvious if it affects the folding or the evening wear, but since 'tux' doesn't have five letters I think it's fair enough.

8 Briton gives odd introduction (3) 
Introduction = BIO ~ Regular letters (gives odd) from [B]R[I]T[O]N
It's always the short ones that get you. I found this one surprisingly difficult to clue without resorting to the usual double meaning clue. I'm not very happy with this one since 'gives odd' doesn't really imply multiple letters, it should have been something about 'gives odds' but I couldn't make it flow as nicely.

9 Method's missing from Mother Hubbard's  unconventional recipe for pie fruit (7) 
Pie fruit = RHUBARB ~ Anagram (unconventional) of MOTHER HUBBARD with the letters of METHOD subtracted (missing)
Pretty much everyone who solved this got into contact to remind me that rhubarb isn't actually a fruit, which is an excellent point. Let's just pretend I'd make the straight part of the clue 'pie filling' so that we can just sit back and enjoy the anagram, shall we?

10 Buddhist principle proclaimed greater peace (5)
Buddhist principle = KARMA ~ 'calmer' (greater peace) homophone (proclaimed)
I know that with many accent calmer and karma aren't pronounced the same, but with my Aussie drawl they're pretty close. I'm not completely content with using 'greater peace' to mean 'calmer' when something like 'more peaceful' would have worked better, but I couldn't get it to scan into the surface meaning properly. I feel like this one is a clue that I would have reworked if I'd given myself more time to work on the puzzle.

11 Ask yourself introspectively "What is up?" (3) 
What is up = SKY ~ Container (introspectively) for a[SK Y]ourself
The 'straight' definition for 'sky' here being "What is up?" is probably pushing it, too, but throwing a question mark in there hides a multitude of sins, and I can't imagine too many folks getting stuck on this three-letter word because of it.

13 Progressive loses final 2-0 to volleyballer (6) 
Volleyballer = LIBERO ~ subtraction (loses) of AL (final 2) from LIBER(-AL) (progressive) + O (0)
I was a bit worried that this one was a little on the hard side, given that libero is a pretty obscure sports word from a relatively obscure sport, but it seems like people enjoyed it. I like the way that the clue is able to extremely specific about taking 2 letters away and adding an O all in one neat little package.

17 Love all and desire tea (6) 
Tea = OOLONG ~ Charade O-O (love all #in tennis) + LONG (desire)
This was lots of people's favourite clue of the crossword, which I have to put down to the Leaflocker audience's love of tea generally, as I personally thought that the surface of the clue was pretty weak. It was fun to get people to translate love all to the tennis score 0-0 for the double-O on the start, and I think it helps that I was able to use 2-0 in the clue before to warm people up to the idea.

20 Won out this time (3) 
This time = NOW ~ WON anagram (out)
Pretty common anagram-type clue. I'd be very surprised if this exact form hadn't appeared in other puzzles multiple times before.

21 Masterplan for gag order after a period (6)
Masterplan = AGENDA ~ NDA (non-disclosure agreement) after AGE (period)
How common is usage of NDA? I feel like it's on the border of common parlance, but probably seen in the wild often enough that it can be used in a simple charade clue like this. I wouldn't want to try and clue it as indirectly as 'gag order' if I were doing anything weird with it, but for these purposes I feel like it worked.

22 Coalition without a mandate is rudderless (6) 
Coalition = TANDEM ~ Anag. (rudderless) of M(-a)NDATE missing (without) A mandate.
Not completely confident that this one is fair, as not only is tandem a bit of a weird definition for coalition (something that you do 'in tandem' could also be done 'in coaliation' but they don't really mean the same thing standing alone), but the wordplay is a bit sloppy, as it requires you to read 'without a mandate' as 'mandate without an a', which I suppose you could, if you squint. I'm also not completely sold on rudderless as an anagram indicator, but in the end I decided to let this one slip through just because the surface reading seemed like fun. Would 'coalition is rudderless without a mandate' have been fairer? Or should I have gone with something else entirely? What do you guys think?

23 Slime is just part of baby talk (3) 
GOO ~ Double definition (slime/part of baby talk)
Babies say googoo gaagaa, right?

24 Insert gobbledegook and let's call it a dialect (6) 
Let's call it a dialect = STRINE ~ Anag. (Gobbledegook) of INSERT
Is Strine a dialect? Sort of? I tried to convey that almost-kinda vibe with the clue and I think it worked out relatively well, although I feel like there should have been a good way to really punch this one up a bit.

27 Officer study subsequent to conflict (6) 
Officer = WARDEN ~ DEN (Study) after WAR (Conflict)
Another pretty straightforward charade clue where I ended up cluing the last part first and then working my way back in order to try and have the surface reading be a little more interesting. I think it more or less worked, but having a word like 'subsequently' in there really telegraphs the wordplay too much and makes for an easy clue.

31 A handy place to fortify (3) 
ARM ~ Double definition (A handy place / to fortify)
Another double definition with one punny meaning, handy places bringing back shades of groanworthy jokes about Napoleon. This one got an ! in the copy of the filled in crossword that my parents sent me, but I hope that was a 'ha ha' ! and not a 'see me' !

33 He has priors! (5) 
ABBOT ~ Cryptic Definition
One of the things that got me writing this crossword in the first place was the over-reliance of my local paper on punny single-definition clues. This is the sort of clue that isn't really properly cryptic, as it doesn't have any wordplay element, the sort of thing that I'd expect to see in an American style crossword, or in one from before cryptics evolved into their current form, but I feel like they're fine in moderation, especially if the surface meaning really pops. I like this one a lot.

34 Release auditor's reckoning (7) 
Release = EDITION ~ homophone (auditor's) of 'addition' (reckoning)
I couldn't resist the idea of an auditor as one who both plays with numbers and listens. Another clue with the indicator just dropped in between the elements, but since 'addition' is one letter too long I feel like most folk will stumble across this one pretty quickly.

35 Tallest test cut out everything (3)
Everything = ALL ~ TALLEST with TEST subtracted (cut out) (-t)ALL(-est)
Have I said yet that I hate cluing short words? Subtractions are a good way to do them but I feel like they can be hard to pitch at the right difficulty level. This grid originally had another big open space to the left of the first letter of this one, but in the end I cut it because it didn't reduce the number of three letter words I had to clue and was very constraining.

36 Iron Maiden and others (5) 
Iron = METAL ~ M (abbr. of maiden in cricket) + ET AL.
I am in two minds about this one. You can't really get away with cluing a class of objects (metal) by one of it's parts (iron) in the way that can the other way around. In the end I decided to keep it just because I could sort of justify is as almost an &lit.clue, since 'Iron Maiden and others' are indeed fully metal and the clue is just a popper, but I don't feel good about it.

37 Hide 35 devastated by notorious stylist (7)
Notorious stylist = DELILAH ~ Anag. of HIDE and ALL (answer to 35 across)
The other clue that got an ! from my parents, but I think 'notorious stylist' works for the biblical character of Delilah, and has the nice extra bonus of including a red herring word like 'stylist' which just screams anagram indicator.

That's it for the across clues. This post is already getting pretty long, so I think I'm going to cut it off here for now and come back some time in the next few days to talk about the down clues. Please let me know in the comments if there's anywhere that I haven't explained things well or where you disagree with my assessments, as I really do want to make crosswords more often and I'm sure you all have some good advice to impart.

Friday, 7 February 2020

What I played on my holidays

Whoops, this thing was sitting unfinished in the drafts folder, where it has been languishing for almost a month now. Be free, my pretty, be free!

I've just gotten back from three weeks spent home in Australia over the Christmas break. It was a precious, refreshing time for Mrs. Owl and I to check in with friends and family, have some good discussions, share many good hugs with people that we love and miss, and to look forward to a time when we won't be living so far away, if indeed such a day will ever come.

It was also a good time to sit down and play some board games. I'm not going to say they were needed quite as much as the hugs, but I have been sorely missing my board games in the last few months since moving to Southampton, and spending time around the table with old friends was balm for this gamer's soul. Along with a few old favourites, I got my hands on a bunch of new games, and thought it might be fun to share my first impressions.


This classic dice-rolling bluff game was a staple at the Oxford gaming club and is one of those games that always seems to happen somewhere around me, but that I've somehow managed to avoid having to partake in for years. My streak finally came to an end during a League catch-up, and as is my wont for push-your-luck games, I was first eliminated and went to make the tea while I waited for everyone else to finish. While it's fine for what it is, especially given that it's two hundred years old, I can't help but feel like I'd rather pull out Love Letter than this one any day of the week.

Century: A New World

Having played and enjoyed Century: Spice Road for the first time just a month or so ago (I have a draft blog post about it sitting around somewhere that this one is going to relegate to the bin), I was keen to partake in the maiden game of this part of my father-in-law's Christmas gift horde so that I could compare the two entries in the series. I was pleased that New World keeps the central resource-chain mechanic that I'd liked from Spice Road but that the interaction with other players on the worker-placement board adds a satisfying level of complexity that makes it a more meaty game, at the cost of only a little unpredictable gristle. If I had to choose just one of them to add to my collection, it would definitely be New World, but I'm not rushing out to door to buy either, just because they feel like the sort of games that will feel a little overly-mechanical once the shine has worn off them. Guess the only way to find out for sure is to play them a few more times, and I'm looking forward to doing just that just as soon as I can find a friend or friendly cafe that has copies.

Dragon Castle

Unsurprisingly, the game that stuck the most in my head during the trip was one introduced at a Nerd Club gathering. Dragon Castle is the solitaire mahjong game that I was first introduced to on Windows 3.1.1 as Taipei, re-imagined for we board game hipsters by introducing some neat little tile-placement and point-scoring mechanics. As soon as I saw it I knew that we were in for a good time, it just looks fabulous and plays unlike anything else I've met without being at all complex or difficult to pick up.

I was slightly annoyed by the way that despite being very clearly inspired by Mahjong, the creators seem to have gone out of their way to make the game unplayable with a normal Mahjong set (or at least one without a horde of extra tiles). The stuff that you get in the box is definitely enough to encourage people to buy Dragon Castle, but it just feels so close that the slight changes feel like they don't think their game is good enough for people to buy if they could just play it with their old family mahjong tiles, which just rubs this old chess variants aficionado the wrong way.

So once I got home I cracked out my tiles and used them to home-brew a version of the solitaire version of the game (yes, a solitaire version of the multiplayer variant of a solitaire version of a multiplayer tile game). It worked pretty well for someone familiar with mahjong tiles, but having done it I can see that a custom set that more clearly differentiated tiles would be a good idea, especially if you were trying to introduce the game to newer players. I used the 1s of each suit as replacement dragons, the dragons and blank tiles (also known as the good white dragons) as the replacement flowers, the 2-7 of each suit as the basic tiles and the 8s and 9s (turned vertically) as the shrine caps. I might try it again sometime if I'm with a mahjong crowd that just want to try something different, just to see if other people enjoy it as much as I did.


The end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 was just about the time that I was moving from an open gaming group where people regularly bought and brought new games and into a smaller one that I ran where we had a smaller, stable collection of games, so I never got a chance to enjoy Imhotep when it was all the rage.

Thankfully, I have friends that own it, and we finally sat down to a game years down the track. I was truly awful at it, and when you've got a very tight limited-action game like this one in which you have very little control (because in an action you can either load or unload a boat, but not both, so you're at the mercy of your opponents) and you're playing against people who have a better understanding of the rhythms of the game that's a thing that's going to happen. I'd love to play this one again and see if I can get the hang of the flow, as it seems like a game that has real potential to be an interesting puzzle for two, three or four players. It also has perfect information, so it's the sort of thing that we could play over the internet with friends back home in Oz, so that's a big positive.

The Bloody Inn

In Imhotep, I enjoyed the tightness of having only a few options and a limited number of opportunities, but in The Bloody Inn I found myself drowning in all the different things that I could do, but starved of turns in which to do them. Each turn you only get two actions, but it takes multiple turns to work up the resources to be able to do anything useful, and you just don't get that many turns.

I love the murdering-visitors-to-your-country-hotel-and-burying-the-bodies theme, it definitely appeals to me as an idea, but even though it clearly worked as a game mechanically and the final scores were all relatively close, I just spent so much time second-guessing and regretting my decisions that it just felt too much like work. Perhaps having played it a few more times would let it soak in, but I honestly can't imagine that I'm likely to give it a chance unless I'm in company of folks who really want to play as murderous innkeepers for the night.

6 nimmt!

I've actually played the classic card game 6 nimmt a bunch of times over the years, but for some reason I've never logged it over on boardgamegeek. Either that's because I actually haven't played it in the four years that I've been logging games, or more likely it's just something I missed. 6 nimmt! is the kind of forgettably simple card game that, while enjoyable when you're playing, just doesn't stick in your head.

Camel Up

Another day, another bunch of games. This one was spent at the new local board game café that has opened up in our home town while we've been away. First up was the lovely new edition of Camel Up, complete with pop-up palm tree and 'crazy camels'. I've admired this one from afar before, but never had a chance to play it, and I was keen to give it a go. 

I was pleasantly surprised by how unpredictable the camel race really is, despite the rules of the game being so simple. Of course, there wouldn't really be a game if the outcome was clear, since the whole thing hinges on betting on the outcome of the race, and it's nice when things just come together as nicely as they do in this game. I can just imagine the grin on Steffen Bogen's face when he came up with the mechanics, and I can only assume that it was joined by maniacal laughter when he devised the joy that is the chaotic element of the crazy racers that run backwards and disrupt the race. The little camels are just so cute when they're jumping on each other's backs, too! All in all it's an excellent little package, and while I'm not going to be rushing out to get a copy, I can see why folks might want to and fully endorse the idea of playing it again some time.


Next up was the only game that I encountered on my trip that I've never heard of apart from Dragon Castle, but unlike that gem, there's a clear reason that I'd never heard of Yoz. We were attracted by the very lovely wooden chest that it comes in, but as soon as we grabbed it we were warned by the proprietor of the café that "it was a kickstarter". Foolishly, we took no heed. Even his demand to see the cards "so that I can take out a bunch of them" didn't warn up away sufficiently, so we sat down to generic a co-op swords and sourcery adventure game that turned out to commit both of my cardinal board games sins, being a truly frustrating combination of the 'pray and roll some dice' and 'turn over some cards and see what random crap happens to you' mechanics. About ten turns in I turned up the "go back to the start" card, closely followed by the "everyone go back to the start" card. Ugh.

Needless to say, we lost. But hey, there were smiles on our faces anyway, so maybe it's not all bad.

Clank!: Gold and Silk

Finishing up the gaming extravaganza was embarking on an expansion to Clank! with the in-laws. I'd not enjoyed Clank! the one time that I'd played it in the past, but figured that if they enjoyed it enough to invest in an expansion then the least that I could do was give it a second chance.

Clank! is a deck-building dungeon crawl game in which the players try to steal as much treasure as possible and get out before they all get eaten by the monster. I employed a fast in-and-out strategy, that I was informed was unlikely to yield results, trying to grab a tiny bit of treasure and then bring on the end of the game before my opponents had a chance to escape with theirs. I feel like the strategy went pretty much as flawlessly as it possibly could have, despite a couple of near-misses, and yet two of my three opponents managed to get themselves out, both with more than twice my haul.

This probably encapsulates my feeling about the game. If going fast isn't a viable option, then the only workable strategy is to delve as deeply as possible and come back heavy laden and risk your chances against the draws from the bag of doom, and if everyone is doing essentially the same thing, then the difference between them just comes down to luck. That said, if you like that sort of thing Clank! is a pretty, well executed game, and this expansion is a cool variation on the theme, it's just that I guess it's just not my cup of tea.

All in all, Christmas 2019 wasn't such a bad little haul on new plays, including some games I definitely want to come back and revisit sometime. If you look at this to this handy graph from Friendless Stats, it looks like I tried only 9 games compared to 12 during our Christmas 2017 visit home, but last time actually included 5 games that I'd played in pre-history (I only began the somewhat obsessive recording of board game plays in 2016), compared to only 1 this time around, so they turn out about the same.

Hopefully, our next biennial trip back to Australia will see us playing just as many games with as many old friends. With any luck that trip will mark our moving back home for good, though, so we won't need to cram all our gaming into such a short frenetic period, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see.