Friday, April 17, 2015

Elementary Deceptions

As chemistry taught us, every chemical element has a unique symbol, a short character representation usually derived from the element's name. Fe = Iron (from Latin ferrum), O = oxygen, K = potassium (from Latin kalium) are a few popular examples.

Elements Periodic Table

Element name <-> symbol substitution forms the basis of some ingenious wordplay in crosswords.

Chemical elements whose names coincide with other meaningful words fit beautifully into cryptic clues. For example, 'lead' isn't just a metal - it can, among other things, stand for 'leash' or 'precedence' or a verb meaning 'guide'. Similarly, 'tin' can be can, 'copper' a policeman, 'iron' a verb about the pressing of clothes. The non-element meaning can misdirect the solver on the clue's surface while the element symbol contributes to the answer.

Sunday Indy 1292 (eXternal): Female's accepting lead on family film, new actress (7) HEPBURN
HER (female's) around Pb (lead) on U (family film, from the U certificate) N (new)

FT14789 (Io): Take 7Up out of tin at all? (4) EVER
R (recipe, take) + SEVEN 'out of tin' i.e. without Sn, with 'Up' implying reversal.

Further jugglery can happen with the element name <-> symbol substitution:

Sunday Times 4486 (Tim Moorey): Restrain dog with the small part of lead (4) CURB
CUR (dog) b (the small part of 'lead' i.e. the lowercase letter of 'Pb')

Sometimes, in place of the element name, a broader definition can get used.

FT14642 (Mudd): Precious thing, wind, in summer (6) AUGUST
Au (precious thing – the symbol for gold) GUST (wind)

Times 25065: Most curious split appearing back on shiny metal (4) AGOG
GO (split) reversed, after Ag (shiny metal – the symbol for silver)

Uppercase Illusions

What's more devilish is the use of the element symbol on the clue's surface when it happens to match another unrelated English word.

Guardian 25872 (Arachne): I have supper after ten (6) IODINE
DINE (have supper) after 10 (ten). The personal pronoun is also the chemical symbol for iodine.

Guardian 25818 (Paul): At sea, Titan at sea (8) ASTATINE
(SEA TITAN)*. 'At' is also the chemical symbol for astatine.

The initial capital of the chemical symbol poses a hurdle in clue-writing: since false lowercasing is not OK, the clue cannot say "at" when it means "At" for Astatine. The workaround is to make the initcap of the chemical symbol look like an inconspicuous punctuation-driven uppercase.

A D-by-E that uses this trick with two such symbols:

Guardian 24730 (Arachne): They're essential. Am I? (8) ELEMENTS
Am and I are examples of elements: Am is americium, and I iodine.

Other such words to watch out for: As = arsenic, He = helium. But don't rule out yet element symbols that by themselves mean nothing, as the setter can do this:

FT 13938 (Crux): Pub's empty – could indicate some kind of poisoning (4) LEAD
Empty 'Pub' = Pb, the symbol for lead. And then there's lead poisoning.

Solve These

Enjoy solving these cryptic crossword clues that play on element names and symbols.

Times 24143: Lead put into gold (two billion) in only a bit of a lather! (4,6)
Times 25767: He, I, and then you, we hear, occupying leadership position (6)
Guardian 26234 (Arachne): White copper put black boy in cell without clothes (3,4)
Indy 8817 (Monk): Tough guy possibly viewed as female? (4,3)
Indy 8847 (Anax): As is one kind bearing malice, running after the man (8,7)

Also try this Guardian puzzle by Brendan, themed on chemical elements. And see the blog on FT14457 by Loroso (the crossword is no longer available on the FT site), in which all the Across clues have an element symbol omitted from the wordplay.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

A Puzzling Difference Between Crossword Solvers and Non-Solvers

Why don't we do a crossword puzzle. It'll only take us five minutes. Or, in your case, six.

– says Joan Clarke to Alan Turing in the 2014 film The Imitation Game.The Imitation Game

Something about the dialogue between these wonderful solvers seemed off to me.

People who solve crosswords call it 'crossword' or 'puzzle' in conversation.
People who call it 'crossword puzzle' are usually those who don't solve crosswords.

Is this an Indian thing? Would seasoned solvers elsewhere, when they get together, talk of 'crossword puzzles' instead of 'crosswords'?

Or has the lingo changed with time, just as 'crossword' gets shortened to 'crossie' among the younger Indian solvers nowadays?

An online search shows interesting evidence.

On Alan Connor's Guardian Crossword blog, the term 'crossword puzzle' appears either when emphasizing a difference from other types of puzzles, or when quoting from non-crossword sources: e.g. an announcement on The Imitation Game publicity puzzle, an excerpt from the script of The American President, a crossword story in Orlando Sentinel. Elsewhere it is 'crossword' or 'puzzle', sometimes 'cryptics' in the plural.

In this Will Shortz interview on Bitter Lawyer (a non-crossword legal humour site), the interviewer uses the term 'crossword puzzle' in a question, but Will Shortz responds with 'crossword' or 'puzzle'. In another interview with him, this one on Wordplay (NYT crossword blog), neither interviewer nor interviewee says 'crossword puzzle' except when referring to ACPT.

In a crossword-focused Q&A with David Kwong (crossword consultant for The Imitation Game), the only time he uses the expression 'crossword puzzle' is when he quotes from the film's script - “[Alan,] you just defeated Nazism with a crossword puzzle".

So, do you do 'crosswords' or 'crossword puzzles'? How do you refer to them when you talk to other crossword people?

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Quadruple Pangram in THC

The Hindu Crossword 11335 by AfterDark featured a technical marvel – a quadruple pangram in a 15x15 British-style grid.

Quadruple Pangram, The Hindu Crossword  

Why is it a technical marvel?

Fitting the entire English alphabet four times in a 15x15 blocked grid requires the setter to predetermine 104 letters in an about 160-letter grid. Doing this with meaningful, clueable words, while also meeting the requirements of symmetry and checking, is an extraordinary achievement - not just rare, but possibly the first-ever in a British-style 15x15 grid. [If you have come across any other, please let me know.]

First-ever quadruple pangram in a 15x15?

Quadruple pangrams have appeared before in American-style grids. The first quadruple pangram in the New York Times (NYT), created by Peter Wentz, was published in Nov 2010. To accommodate the quadruple pangram, a non-standard 16x15 grid was used for this puzzle. In Dec 2012, American setter Matt Gaffney took up the challenge of fitting a quintuple pangram into a 16x15 grid. He didn't quite achieve it, ending with a grid six letters short of the goal.

In March 2013, Raymond C Young's crossword created a quadruple pangram in an American-style 15x15.

British-style grids have fewer lights in comparison with American-style grids, which makes the quest for a quadruple pangram even harder.

How did AfterDark do it?

In the setter's own words:

The first step was to choose the right grid. I had to look for a 15x15 that had a high letter count, yet avoided 3-letter solutions (in THC, 3-letter solutions are rare). Also, I had to find a grid that didn't have long words (they pose a big challenge in fitting in rare letters) and could accommodate more words. Fortunately, Crossword Compiler software helps in giving out such stats. I zeroed in on a grid with a mean word length of around 6, and an option of 38 words.

The second step was to deal with the difficult letters like Z,Q,J. In general, I chose slots where these letters could avoid a crossing. I then started from the NW quarter, trying to optimise the usage of difficult letters. And moved anti-clockwise, quarter by quarter, constantly checking for the number of times I had used the letters.

That was only the beginning. Each quarter ended up changing many times.

Strangely, after trying too hard to fit in the rare letters, in the end I was stuck with K, H & G. This happened because, every time a word choice was given, I opted to ignore the easy letters as I believed I could fit them in any time. When it came to the NE quarter at last, I was left with just 3 words but 7 letters to be included. This, again, led to a total alteration of two quarters.

There were words I deliberately avoided for one of these reasons: they were obscure (the barometer for that essentially was whether I had heard of the words somewhere or not), they didn't lend themselves to good definition, or they were "unclueable". Despite that, a few obscure words crept in, but I ensured that the wordplay and crossings would help the solver.

The last word that fell in place was – ironically - 1A, which throughout the process had remained intact (it was the first to be filled). To make place for a G in the end, DAZZLE became DANZIG (I had a luxury of an excess Z). Then what was taking EONS (3D) came out GUNS blazing.

AfterDark (Shrikanth Thirumalaiswami as he's known outside of crosswords) is no stranger to crossword grid artistry. Some of his past specials have been: every answer containing double letters, a pangram of end-letters of answers, 3 lipograms (A, E and T) with the letter excluded from the grid as well as the clues, a triple pangram.

Pangram of End Letters 

Do you like pangrammatic puzzles?

I landed on this very interesting article which reasons that pangrams don't matter in puzzle-making and, with their Scrabble-y words, tend to annoy the solver.

Compassionate solvers, not wanting to hurt a puzzle's feelings, might soft-pedal a bad solving experience by saying: "This puzzle is lame, but at least it's a pangram."  My friends, it's probably lame because it's a pangram.

Another puts forth a defence against that argument.

Like all technical accomplishments, it has nothing to do with whether a theme is clever or the fill is fresh. It’s completely artificial.

By the way, so is the syllable count in haiku or the meter in a sonnet.

Solvers and setters, which side of the debate are you on?

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Holi ki Paheli: Hal Karein

What an experience! Putting together Holi ki Paheli (puzzle for Holi) has been exhilarating to say the least - exchanging over a hundred emails with the creative setters who wrote clues for the puzzle, bouncing ideas off each other, discovering untried techniques that work in Hindi clue-writing and learning new lessons along the way.

Presenting for you to solve Holi ki Paheli, set by 18 of us. It is an open puzzle: post two answers in the comments section, with an explanation of how the answer is derived. To type in Hindi, you can use quillpad. We would love to hear your feedback too – which clues you enjoyed the most, which you struggled with, was the crossword hard/easy, anything else you'd like to say.
Holi 2015 Cryptic Crossword

आर - पार

6 आज-कल मनुष्य के पास लिखने का साधन है (3)
7 हिम्मत है तो नाचते हुए गिरजा से बाहर आ (3)
8 इस के भाव बिकना कौन अनाड़ी दिलफेंक चाहेगा (2)
9 "किताबों के अंदर छुपा है" - उल्टा बोल (2)
10 फ़िल्मों के देव की सर्वप्रथम रचना - "मेरी शपथ" (3)
12 घर में कमान इधर-उधर है (3)
16 मध्य पूर्वी लोग अब रुपये अपने कब्ज़े में रखते हैं (3)
18 जीत के जश्न में दिया हार? (4)
21 बैंगनी - 20 में मिला ये रंग (2)
22 चिंतन का साथी मन लगाकर पहली नसीहत को अपनाता है (3)
24 मुश्किल हरकतों में ही बसी है तरंग (3)
26 "लीडर" का अभिनेता अभी नहीं है (2)
27 हिन्दी क्रॉसवर्ड में एक क्लू बनाने के लिए कितना _______ पड़ता है न, मटर खाते हैं (4)
30 सीधा हो तो बने शुल्क, उलट-फेर से अपना मुल्क (3)
32 सहरसा ने पलटी मारकर दिखाई आखिरकार बिहार से विभाजित होने की दिलेरी (3)
34 बर्दाश्त कर, एकाध लात खा ले - यही हिदायत है (3) 
36 एकटक ताक रकम को, मिलेगी थोड़ी सी रिश्वत (2) 
37 लेकिन उड़ने के लिए इनकी ज़रुरत है (2) 
38 असल में अजित साहा मिदनापुर में है (3)
39 बेकसूर मार्वेल सूपरहीरोज़ के प्रधानों के साथ गेम का दूसरा भाग (3)

नीचे की ओर

1 निर्माता का साथ होना (3)
2 डटकर काम करना है तो इसे कसो (3)
3 रंग जिस शब आधे दिखेंगे, बस शिकायत रह जाएगी! (3)
4 क्रोधी मगर चलता है (3)
5 लोकप्रिय फ़िल्म मध्यांतर के बाद - सवाल परिचय का? (1,2)
11 कैसे भी हमें दी लगाए शादी का रंग (3)
13 कलाकार, ना कर गिरा हुआ ऐसा धंधा? (2)
14 प्रेमचंद की रचना में घोटाला? (3)
15 बौद्ध सन्यासी, माला को ऊपर फेंकिए (2)
17 अँग्रेज़ी शराब और थोड़ी ताड़ी का आनंद उठाता (3)
19 नीचे इसके ऊँट आये तो टूटे अकड़, राई का बने तो हो बात का बतंगड़ (3)
20 छोटे शाहिद अफ़रीदी शर्म से ऐसे हो जाते हैं (2)
21 कमल-रजनी की रचना (3)
23 पहले नहीं, मगर अंत में है आदमी (2)
25 ए! लगे तो प्रभु की पुकार, नमक डालो तो बने गद्दार (3)
28 गणेश तिवारी की पहली रफ़्तार (2)
29 स्वामी, थोड़ा ऊन लेकर आइए निजी तरीके से, भारत-चीन सरहद पर इस जगह (2,1)
31 हूर? भटकती आत्मा! (2)
32 हिसार, सरिस्का के भीतरी क्षेत्रों में दिखता है यह लंबी टाँगों वाला पक्षी (3)
33 आसरे सहित पराजित हुए? (3)
34 संसद मेले में मिलने वाले झटके (3)
35 मेरे नवाबी पैंतरे? हे राम! (3)
36 दूसरें स्थानों में रितेश और ममता (ज़रा घूँघट लिए!) गड़बड़ करते फिरते (3)

Crossword by: Abhay Phadnis (Pluralist), Anish Madhavan (Spiffytrix), Chaturvasi, Deepak Gopinath (Doppelganger), Kishore Rao (Incognito), Lakshmi Vaidyanathan, M.V.Narayan, Mohsin Ahmed (Mac), Raju Umamaheswar, Richard Lasrado, Sanjay Prakash, Shachii and Pratima Manik, Shuchi, Vasant Srinivasan, Vidyadhar Gadgil, Vinayak Rao Ekbote, Vinod Raman (Textrous)

Big thanks and compliments for the puzzle contributors. It was amazing to see the range of ideas and devices used, especially since this was a debut attempt at Hindi clue-writing for most of the setters. And a shout-out to my partner in cruciverbal crime - Kishore Rao - who made the whole project possible, right from creating the grid to vetting every clue.

Get solving! Post two answers/feedback in the comments section (unmoderated on this post).
Puzzle contributors: you can post answers too, for clues other than your own :-)

PDF/Print version available here: Holi ki Paheli (PDF).
Update (5th March 2015): Solution grid and annotations available here: Holi ki Paheli Solutons (PDF)

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Clue Challenge: Annotate These Answers X

annotate-clues The parsing of these clues stumped me even after I knew their answers. Sharing with you the clues along with their answers. Can you see how their wordplay works?

Post the annotations in the comments section.

Update (25th Feb 2015): Annotations added

1. FT 14700 (Wanderer): Number given in exchange (6) NINETY
Annotation:XC (given in 'eXChange') is 90 in Roman numerals; definition: number.

2. FT 14705 (Alberich): Unscrupulous sort will be back shortly after retiring (7) SHYSTER
Annotation:STER[n] (back, 'shortly' i.e. before its end) after SHY (retiring); definition: unscrupulous sort.

3. Indy 7848 (Nimrod): Love apple core to be spewed out by robots? (6) TOMATO
Annotation:core of auTOMATOns (robots) ; definition: love apple.

4. Guardian 26396 (Tramp): Main virtually left in Pizza Hut served with cold sauce (7) KETCHUP
Annotation:KE[y] (main, virtually i.e. almost) {P (left in 'Pizza') + HUT with C (cold)}*, 'served' as anagrind; definition: sauce.

5. Guardian 26482 (Pasquale): Troubled and more like an invalid, it seems (8) BOTHERED
Annotation:OTHER (more) in BED (like an invalid, it seems); definition: troubled. See Tricky Indicators II for more examples of implied indicators.

6. Sunday Times 4614 (Dean Mayer): Double yellow lines throw ordinary F1 team (4,5) TORO ROSSO
Annotation:double yellow => 2*OR (yellow, from heraldry) 'lines' i.e. fills TOSS (throw) O (ordinary); definition: F1 team.

7. Guardian 26469 (Paul): Far from bloody outstanding article – deservedly so? (6) UNREAD
Annotation:UN-RED (far from bloody i.e. not red) 'outstanding' i.e. outside of A (article); semi-&lit: an article that's 'far from bloody outstanding' would be deservedly UNREAD.

8. Guardian 26492 (Arachne): About to receive a broadcast (see below) (5) INFRA
Annotation:sounds like 'IN FOR A'; definition: see below.

Visit our past clue annotation challenges: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX.

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