Monday, January 19, 2015

Can Think Finally, See?

can The surface-friendly modal verb 'can' can helpfully mutate to other meanings in the cryptic reading of a clue. 'Can' is also a slang term for various other words in common usage, and its constituent letters fit neatly into wordplay or in the answer - all of which makes 'can' an important tool in clue-crafting.

A look at some ways in which the word 'can' gets used in cryptic crosswords.

1. Tin

A can is a tin (container), a useful synonym for the frequently-found pattern '…TIN…' in grid fills – for example, words ending in –TING. 

FT 14710 (Armonie): Bill can get girl for performance (6) ACTING
AC (bill) TIN (can) G (girl)

Times 25026: Female and I can be compatible  (3,2) FIT IN
F (female) I TIN (can)

2. Bathroom

'Can' is slang for toilet and matches other terms that mean the same - loo, gents, John, lav, to name a few popular ones.

FT 13279 (Mudd): Can terrifying goddess keep eradicating half - or double (9)? LOOKALIKE
LOO (can) KALI (terrifying goddess) KE[ep]

Guardian 25475 (Enigmatist): Can he? (4) JOHN dd

3. Jail

Like bathroom, jail too has many euphemistic synonyms - 'can' is one among them.

Guardian 26319 (Qaos): Murderer, one in jail (4) CAIN
I in CAN (jail)

Indy 8142 (Anax): A prison full of charming and extremely close contact (12) ACQUAINTANCE
A CAN (prison) around QUAINT (charming), C[los]E

4. Preserve, Record

To 'can' is to preserve by sealing in a can, as in the canning of pickles and jams. It is also to record, as on film or tape.

Guardian 24584 (Brendan): One way to preserve so long a piece of music (7) CANTATA
CAN (one way to preserve) TA-TA (so long)

Times 23687: Preserve what American and Canadian share in different places (3) CAN
AmeriCAN and CANadian contain, in different places, the word CAN (preserve)

5. Stop, Abandon

To 'can' is to put a stop to or to abandon (something). A related American idiom: can it!

Indy 8589 (Phi): Abandon a lake – here's narrower artificial waterway (5) CANAL
CAN (abandon) A L (lake)

FT 14142 (Alberich): John put an end to dance (6) CANCAN
CAN (John, slang for toilet) CAN (put an end to)

6. Fire

In North American slang, to 'can' is to dismiss/sack/fire.

Indy 7818 (Anarche): Uproarious dances as prisons catch fire in America (7) CANCANS
CANS (prisons) around CAN (fire i.e. sack or dismiss in America)

FT 13737 (Jason): Wine can destroy 50s dress (4) SACK
Multiple definitions: wine, can, destroy, 50s dress.

7. Canadian

'Can' is short for Canada or Canadian.

Times Jumbo 1101: Canadian accent's associated with oriental language (9) CANTONESE
CAN (Canadian) TONE'S (accent's) E (oriental)

Guardian 24885 (Chifonie): Boat in a river in Canada (9) CATAMARAN
A TAMAR (river), in CAN (Canada)

8. Headphone

'Can' is an informal word for headphone, usually used in the plural form.

Indy 8039 (Phi): Collection of rubbish filled with 500 mostly genuine cans (10) HEADPHONES
HEAP (collection of rubbish) around D (Roman numeral for 500) HONES[t] (genuine, mostly)

Sun Times 4504 (Tim Moorey): Do shed tea cans (7) HEADSET

9. Bottom

'Can' is North American slang for the buttocks, a meaning that makes rare appearances in daily cryptics, more to be seen in barred grid crosswords.

Indy 8261 (Klingsor): Can German money support Britain? (6) BOTTOM
OTTO (Germa) M (Money), below B (Britain)

10. Verb of Possibility / Permission / Ability

The sense of the word most used in non-crossword language, to denote possibility ('it can happen'), permission ('you can go'), ability ('i can solve').

FT 14746 (Gurney): Is able to operate empty boat (5) CANOE
CAN (is able to) O[perat]E

Note for new crossword setters: can != able, can = is/are able to.

Indy 8638 (Tyrus): One day may come together like Mandela and de Klerk (7) AFRICAN
Charade of A FRI (day) CAN (may); D-by-E

Solve These

Can you solve these?

FT 14379 (Monk): Essentially, designer can supply a basic dwelling (5) ___O_
Times 25972: Medicine can relieve symptoms over time  (8) __N____E
Times 24963: On rising is able to try cold drink (6) _O___C
Times 25735: Can revolvers upset poet and mischief-makers? (6,5) T_____ R____

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Top Ten Clues 2014

Top Ten Crossword Clues 2014 My pick of ten outstanding clues from 2014. Which clues were your favourites this year?

Guardian 26373 (Nutmeg): Like Mum and Dad, I complain vigorously about doctor (11) P__________

FT 14737 (Alberich): A tall tree tumbles, trapping one? That will do (10) A_________

Times 25800: Bodywork with bumper off finally exposed (8) W______T

Guardian 26295 (Pasquale): Embarrassed about sexes sitting next to each other, ensconced on sofa? (5) C____

Sun Times 4605 (Dean Mayer): Put too much money into space travel, do I? I must be mad (15) O______________

Clue by Mohsin @ 1ACross: (twelfth of seventy-eight) + (fourth of five) + (eighth of eighteen) (3) 

Azed CWC 2170 (T.C.Borland): Utter it leaving terminal in Tokyo Narita? (8) S_______

Times 25906: Flying Gulf Air, one goes into Economy? (6)

FT 14778 (Redshank): Somehow deflecting praise, suppressing ego (4-11)

Guardian 26182 (Paul): Intercepting express, criminal is armed, one holding up a train (10) B_________

Best wishes to you for 2015 – have a fantastic new year!

[Answers next week.]

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Monday, December 22, 2014

At the Indian Crossword League 2014 Finals

The second edition of IXL (Indian Crossword League) was bigger than its debut in 2013, in every sense – heavier participation, a more streamlined final round, a superior solving battle – and bigger surprises.

This year, the top 20 of the online rounds were invited to participate in the finals (instead of the top 10, as was in 2013), and the weekly round winners were given wildcard entries. The last bit proved to be a game changer – in the end, the top three slots went to the wild card entrants. Here's how it all unfolded.

Prelim Round

The prelim round this time did away with the asides of logical reasoning/GK/clue-writing; it gave us two crosswords (15x15 and 13x13) to be solved in an hour. The crosswords were THC-style and well-suited for the prelims I thought, of moderate difficulty and with a good mix of clue types.

Sanjay Vinoo was the first among us to hand in his answers at around the 30 min mark. After him, the all-correct submissions went in this order, spaced a few minutes from each other: Ramki Krishnan, Arvind Ramaswamy, Mohsin Ahmed and Kishore Rao. Abhay Phadnis was the final entrant into the top six, with one error (a misspelling of SATISFIED!).

[My bugbears geography and the deletion clue type joined hands in a clue for {-l}ESSEN, which I didn't get. That, combined with the befuddling B(EST*)RIDE, meant a deadlocked top-left quadrant in the 15x15 for a long time.]

I spoke to the top-ranked solvers of today about the clues they struggled with, and found a classic example of "What is food for one is poison for another". One solver had trouble with BASIL, another solved it cold. One said lift = ENNOBLE was tricky, another thought it was but obvious. The only consensus appears to be on two points:

(1) AHOM got answered based on wordplay alone (hidden reversed in 'Mohandas') and a guess that this must be an 'old kingdom'.
(2) Most solvers did not pause to parse what "Bibi" was doing in the CHANDELIER clue. They saw the crossings, they saw LIE – and dunked the answer in.

Pictures we clicked before the start of the game:

IXL 2014 Participants and Audience 
A mixed bunch - contestants, organisers and members of the audience. (L to R) Kishore, Rahmat, Sohrab (the youngest finalist, just out of school), Venkatesh, Shachii, Shuchi, Nagendra, Satyadeo, Padmasree, Jose, Bhargav, Chaturvasi (Rishi), Colonel Gopinath, Ramki, Arvind.

Sowmya Ramkumar Shuchismita Upadhyay 
First non-virtual meeting with Sowmya Ramkumar.

IXL 2014 Colonel Gopinath
The participants exchange pleasantries. The “Chief Arbiter" (ahem) strikes a pose.

IXL 2014 Finalists 
"The Early Birds" – 13 of 20 (?) Finalists Group Photo: IXL Finalists who traveled from other cities/countries reached the venue before most of the residents of Bangalore did. (L to R) Arvind, Vinayak, Kishore, Ramki, Jose, Sowmya, Prithwiraj, Anish, Venkatesh, Rahmat, Shachii, Sohrab, Abhay, Shuchi.

Close to noon, we walked in to the auditorium and took our seats. 

IXL 2014 Lahar Appaiah 
Lahar (apologies for the out-of-focus face) meets THC setter Gridman (Rishikesh).

On a Break

After the prelim round was a short break while the judges shortlisted the candidates for the on-stage round.

IXL 2014 Tea Break
Post-solving notes exchange?

Abhay Phadnis
Abhay Phadnis taking his wife over some of the clues of the prelims crossword.

IXL 2014 Tea Break 
Banter during the break. Ajeesh looks happy!

Final Round

The top six of the prelims went in for the final on-stage round: Sanjay Vinoo, Ramki Krishnan, Arvind Ramaswamy, Mohsin Ahmed, Kishore Rao and Abhay Phadnis. This round was much the same as last year's: interactive solving of a crossword displayed on screen, in which the clues were put to the contestants one-by-one in quiz style. This time, the infinite bounce format was used, and participants had to attempt two grids instead of one.

First clue of the on-stage final: Rough soundtrack (6), which Vinoo passed and Ramki cracked with ease.

We witnessed some top-notch solving in the final round. Applause-worthy were Ramki's ACCREDIT and COARSE, Mohsin's WIRELESS and GALLIUM (done without checkers, despite an error in the clue!), Kishore's EMIR, and the unsolved question passed to the audience - Prithwiraj's GESTURES. And then there was there that 'googly' clue, which nobody could answer [Hang outside stellar body (7)].

The Down clues were easier with the checkers from the Across clues in place.

IXL 2014 Final Grid
Clue 6d: Take back with reference to demand (7) _E_L_I_

At the end of the on-stage round, Kishore, Arvind and Ramki were tied with the same score for the top position. The prelim round performance was considered as the tie-breaker, which led to this order of the top three:

1. Ramki Krishnan (the winner)
2. Arvind Ramaswamy
3. Kishore Rao

Ramki Krishnan wins IXL 2014
The winner's name is announced.

Top 6 IXL 2014
IXL 2014 Top Six with the organisers

IXL 2014 Group Ic 
At the end, a day well spent.

[Update (23-Dec-2014)]

Q&A with the IXL 2014 Champion Ramki Krishnan

In between phone calls and congratulatory messages, Ramki sportingly made time for a quick Q&A with CU after his win.

Q. How did you start on your crossword journey?
I started solving crosswords in my teens, was inducted into it by my father and aunt - both were avid crossword buffs. I used to solve Indian Express, TOI, ET, and the occasional THC, quite regularly till college, but it became rather sporadic once I started my career. In 2012-13, the interest was rekindled thanks to THC, the Facebook Crossword groups and also your blog :-)

Q. Which crosswords do you solve now?
I now attempt the Hindu crossword daily, and the Guardian as well.

Q. Your favourite setters?
In the Guardian, Rufus and Arachne (no surprises :)), and in the Hindu I don't have a particular favourite, I like them all! I also have learnt from some of the fantastic setters and solvers on the Facebook groups of CCS and 1ACross, many of whom also participated in the IXL - Sowmya, Prasenjit, Aravind, Sanket, Ajeesh, Mohsin, SSv Avtaar to name just a few.

Q. In the IXL prelims, did you struggle with any clues?
I struggled a bit with BASIL (the word was also used as Tulsi in another clue!), AHOM (was a guess in the end), BESTRIDE. The crossing letters created by the easier clues helped. For some, it was a case of solve first and figure out the annotation later!

Q. Why didn't you score higher in the online IXL rounds?
On most of the Sundays, I had some other commitments and could not start on time (in fact I solved Round 1 from inside a bus!) Also made silly mistakes in a couple of rounds (DALMA!)

Ramki's response on the experience of playing at the IXL as a 'wild card entrant' and winning the contest [video]:

[RSS/email subscribers – if you cannot see the embedded video, please visit the blog: IXL 2014 Finals]

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Fill In The Blanks

Fill In The Blank Clues In a good cryptic clue, the surface is a standalone piece of prose with a real-world/relatable meaning. But you will occasionally come across this exception: a surface containing blank(s), which need to be filled based on the clue's answer to become meaningful.

A fill-in-the-blanks (FITB) clue prompts the solver to supply the missing chunk that, when inserted into the blank(s), makes its surface sense complete. The missing chunk is generally indicated with a series of underscores.

Example 1:
FT 13284 (Viking): Solemn? Yes, if rendered ____ (9) MONEYLESS
The clue works on the anagram (rendering) of (SOLEMN YES)*.
One would understandably be solemn if rendered moneyless, as the surface says when the answer is plugged into the blank.

Sometimes it isn't directly the clue's answer that completes the surface, but wordplay associated with it.

Example 2:
Guardian 24043 (Paul): Successful author's ____ in it, you might say! (7) ROWLING
The answer is the successful author Rowling, but the word that goes into the blank is its homophone (indicated by 'you might say') 'rolling'.

Solve These

A few fill-in-the-blank clues for you to relish.

THC 11176 (xChequer): Seek charity at home because that's where it should _____? (5)

[From Tim Moorey's book] If one cold toe is numb, two must be ____ (4,6)

TIB16 (Diogenes): Naughtily ogle at her when model's caught in the ____ ? (10)

Guardian 25488 (Araucaria): "Bedtime: that's all ____" — no love this time (9) F________

Guardian 26051 (Paul):  Though analogue isn't a poisoner ___ ? (9) D________

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Some Offbeat Crossword-Themed Gift Ideas

When you look for a crossword-themed gift, you probably pick a crossword book. That's a fine choice, one you can't go much wrong with - but if you want to try something unconventional, here are a few interesting options.

[Links to Amazon will give me a 5% referral benefit if you buy through my link. The price for you will remain the same.]

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