Thursday, July 31, 2014

Clues with Popular Website Names

website-clues This set of cryptic clues is themed around the names of popular blogs/websites. I wrote them for twitter originally, but after seeing the positive response to the first clue, decided to post them on the blog for a wider audience.

If you don't follow these websites, no problem – the references are only on the surface, you can still work out the wordplay to solve the clues. And I hope the post will introduce you to some interesting non-crossword links to subscribe to :-)

cracked.com: One that leads with sarcasm (7) M_____G

Let's Put Da: Back to good shape (5) A____

Heavyweight captivated by Digital Inspiration (3)

Techcrunch following Top Gear, or possibly Lethal Weapon? (7) H____E_

Any clues on the same theme you can think of? Please share in the comments section.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Writing Easy Clues is not Easy: A Behind-The-Scenes Report

easy-crossword-clues [Last week, Anax posted this delightful clue on twitter:

    It should ensure dental health in the future (also in the past) (10)

The answer, as you've probably worked out, is TOOTHPASTE: TOO (also) + TH(PAST)E. With its explanatory definition and undisguised wordplay, the clue is the kind that'd get solved at sight by a seasoned solver.

So the clue is easy, but it is no less elegant for that. Look at the way the cryptic elements come together in an expressive surface, how the phrases "in the future" and "in the past" balance each other.

It is not easy to write an easy clue, says Anax. Read on for more from him on the topic. – Shuchi]

Much has been written (or at least I've banged on about it myself often enough) about the common novice setter mistake of equating 'hard' to 'good' when it comes to clue-writing, but it's rather hard to explain how a good easy clue should be written.

Anagrams and hidden answers are usually a logical place to start, but most commercial outlets set limits on the number of each which is permitted in a single puzzle and, in any case, clever use of wordplay indicators can make even the most obvious clue deceptively tricky. For me there are two elements/approaches to easy clue-writing:

  1. When breaking the answer down into components – charade, container etc – going with the first idea that jumps out.
  2. Not disguising everything. A part of the answer may be AND, OR, IN, HAS etc; there's no harm in presenting these elements exactly as they are.

We might also consider brevity and/or using only the simplest of wordplay indicators, but these have their own pitfalls. A brief clue isn't necessarily easy and, while simple wordplay indicators are fine, the results can be rather crosswordy.

The TOOTHPASTE clue, I admit, didn't have anything to do with the first approach. After thinking of less obvious things that could be applied with a brush, I'd honed in on TOOTHPASTE and spotted THE SOAP, wondering if it might form the basis of a nice anagram clue. It didn't, so I started looking at other ways to break it down, and at that point TOO + TH(PAST)E was the first candidate. I hadn't imagined keeping both THE and PAST exactly as they appear in the answer, but 'in the past' is such a stock phrase it felt daft to attempt any disguise. The result is an almost shockingly easy clue, but it feels right. You could probably come up with a far better definition, but the wordplay is about as natural as you can get. And, of course, 3 wordplay elements plus container indicator totalling only 3 more letters than the answer is a bonus for fans of concision.

Over the past couple of years, many solvers who used to feel let down by easy puzzles have come to appreciate how much skill is involved in writing them. In terms of what devices you can use and how intricate your clue-writing can be, it's a bit like a cricketer going to the crease with a half-size bat. When I mentioned to Shuchi the idea of an article about easy clues she asked if I could get a few together; after a full day of trying to match the simplicity of the TOOTHPASTE clue I came up with nothing.

Setters such as Roger Squires, Don Manley and, to an extent, John Halpern, employ this skill day in day out, and I envy them.

As I've mentioned at the end I completely failed to write any clues as simple as the TOOTHPASTE one, which shows just how hard it is!

[Thanks for the write-up, Anax. A few good easy clues for you all to savour:

By Rufus: Found bliss intermingled with hate (9)
By Sankalak: An extremely small measure — not grams, silly! (8)
By Afrit: This can be read just as it is, so you needn't do so! (8)

- Shuchi]

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Counting the Ways of Using COUNTER

counter "Counter" is one of those gifted words that map to multiple lexical categories and, like other words of its kind ("about" comes to mind), it lays open a world of wordplay opportunities for the setter. In a typical example, on the clue's surface "counter" would be a noun, in the cryptic reading a verb, an adjective or an adverb acting as wordplay indicator.

Here are some popular ways in which COUNTER gets used in clues.

1. As reversal indicator

Counter implies "in the opposite direction", a meaning used to form reversal clues.

Indy 8510 (Klingsor): Counter-revolutionary avoids opening in Leicester Square (4) NINE
LENIN (revolutionary) reversed, minus L[eicester]. NINE is a square number.

Independent 8191 (Donk): Appropriate stuff when one's expected to burst on the counter (6) PIRATE
ETA (when one's expected i.e. Expected Time of Arrival) RIP (burst), "on the counter" i.e. all reversed

2. In its nounal forms

"counter" has several meanings when it's a noun, and what's more, the word can be swapped in the answer with other crossword-friendly words – bar, chip, fish, table, etc.

Independent 8425 (Radian): Counter counter (6) ABACUS
cd; A frame used for counting with beads (counters) sliding on wires.

Times 24825: Chip against the bar (7) COUNTER
Triple definition: chip, against, bar.

Independent 8396 (Dac): Who might be unearthing rubbish on counter? (7-6) BARGAIN-HUNTER
(UNEARTHING)* on BAR (counter), &lit

3. As anagram fodder

The letters in "counter" can be sorted/combined with more letters, to produce other words/phrases for the answer.

Guardian 25964 (Rufus): Counter-productive defeat (7) TROUNCE
(COUNTER)*

Independent 8245 (Hob): Name given to counter-revolutionary piece (8) NOCTURNE
N (name) (COUNTER)*

4. As part of the definition

FT 14498 (Jason): Possibly Selma saw no person on the counter? (10) SALESWOMAN
(SELMA SAW NO)*

FT 14577 (Rosa Klebb): Counter-agent has Sunday off, stationed abroad (8) ANTIDOTE
(STATIONED – S)*

Solve These

Times 25232: Original chicken counter in popular Indian (5) N____
Times 24338: Scene showing gold under the counter (7) T______ 
FT 14471 (Wanderer): Counter with winning counter, an asset in trading (10, 4) B_________ ____

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Web App to Solve The Hindu Crossword Online

If the lack of an online solving platform for The Hindu Crossword has been your lament, it is now time to rejoice.

Venkatraman Narayanan, a PhD student in Robotics at CMU and a Hindu crossword enthusiast, has developed an application that lets you solve the daily Hindu Crossword interactively. The application is available at the-hindu-crossword.appspot.com. The site requires no registration/login, is clutter-free and intuitive to use. The home page takes you to the latest puzzle; arrow buttons on the page can be used to navigate to past puzzles.

the-hindu-crossword-online-540

For those interested in the technical nitty-gritties of how the app works: the backend is in Python, which downloads and parses the crossword grid and clues from The Hindu website. This is done using image processing on the grid, and regular expressions for parsing the clues from the HTML source code. The front-end is built upon Jesse Weisback's open-source crossword UI, with a few new features and design changes. Finally, the entire thing is wrapped into a Google app which is automatically updated everyday when a new crossword becomes available at The Hindu website.

The complete app took Venkatraman Narayanan about 10 days to create from scratch. "It initially started off as a hack to help few of my friends and me to solve the crossword online, but I then realized I could polish it and make it useful for THC enthusiasts around the globe", he says.

The app is currently in beta stage, with features like "Save Grid", which saves the solved crossword to disk, in progress. At the time of writing this, the app works for crosswords 1st July 2011 onwards. Development is on to make older crosswords accessible too. Try the app and if you have feedback/suggestions, write to the author venkatraman@cmu.edu.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Questioning Many

Do you know why crosswords use "many" to clue "M"? I couldn't find any sound justification for it, but I'm pretty sure I've seen it done in
published grids.

- reader Martin DeMello wrote in to ask.

manyM

"many = M" is indeed a controversial abbreviation. Chambers Crossword Manual by Don Manley marks "many = M" with a †, the dagger to indicate "unsound/not liked by all Ximeneans". The equation comes from the Roman numeral M for 1000, which one could call a large number. As there are two levels of indirection going on here: "many" to "thousand", and "thousand" to "M", purists do not approve.

This is a handy shorthand for the setter though - the word "many" can fit into variety of clue surfaces. Examples of use abound in published grids.

Guardian 25036 (Rufus): Many a shipwreck could be bad luck (6) MISHAP
M (many) (A SHIP)*

Indy 8306 (Alchemi): Moves very quickly, leaving many animal homes (4) ZOOS
ZOOMS (moves very quickly) - M (many)

You may well ask, if "many" is "M" because thousand is a large number, why not any other large number such as C (hundred) or D (five hundred)? You have your answer below.

Guardian 24852 (Rufus): Many have soft features (6) DOWN
D (many) OWN (have)

FT 14298 (Cinephile): Many persist to smarten sports facility (8,4) CHANGING ROOM
C (many) HANG IN (persist) GROOM (smarten)

I can't recall the use of "many" to clue a Roman numeral in the Times crossword, though.

What do you think of this cryptic abbreviation?

Solve These

Clues in which "many" leads to a large number. Enjoy solving.

Guardian 24722 (Shed): Writer securing many books in end of administration (12)
FT 14559 (Cincinnus): China provides many a garden feature (8)
Guardian 25505 (Arachne): Many large moons oddly observed in the universe (6)
Guardian 25736 (Araucaria): Spell Shah Jahan's city with many a starry figure (8)
Guardian 25976 (Rufus): Gong brings many in to dinner, for example (5)

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