Thursday, October 30, 2008

Does Length Of Clue Affect Its Complexity?

I looked at the New Indian Express (NIE) crossword after a gap of a few months. My usual mode of solving the NIE puzzle is without grid; I go to the Orkut Crossword community, glance through the clues on the clue-sheet and give the answers that I can.

This is pretty easy to do with the NIE, it is not a taxing puzzle (though an enjoyable one). This time, I also noticed that the clues are short, much shorter than those of The Hindu. I recalled thinking that Neyartha’s puzzles in The Hindu were quite wordy, and wondered if clue length influences the difficulty of the clue in some way. After all, the higher the number of words in a clue, the more the permutations by which the solution can be derived.

Compare these two anagram clues:
NIE Oct 30 2008: Saves an agitated girl (7)
The Hindu 9362: Beat around the bush when asked to quote advice by mistake (10)

Both anagrams, but the second is more difficult to identify than the first. Among other reasons for this, one surely is that the first has single-word definition and anagram indicator, the second has multi-word ones.

A regexp check shows average clue length (number of words per clue) of the NIE as below:

Puzzle Date Average Clue Length
30-Oct-08   6.29
29-Oct-08 5.44
15-Jul-08* 5.64

*The last puzzle attempted before the hiatus.

The average in NIE based on the above data is 5.79 words per clue.

A similar analysis of the Hindu crosswords published between 26-Sep-08 to 26-Oct-08 threw up some interesting results.

The average in The Hindu is 7.50 words per clue.

There were 4 compilers at work in this duration - Nitaa Jaggi, Gridman, M.Manna and Neyartha. Of these, Gridman and M.Manna tend to write shorter clues, Nitaa Jaggi and Neyartha longer ones. The individual averages are:

Puzzle Nos. Compiler    No. Of Puzzles Average Clue Length
9338 - 9347    Nitaa Jaggi 10 7.86
9348 - 9353    Gridman 6 7.11
9354  -9360    M. Manna 7 7.20
9361 - 9362 Neyartha    2 7.90*

*of which 17% of the clues excluded definition

If assigning an absolute complexity rating, Nitaa Jaggi's puzzles would be termed Easy, Gridman and M.Manna Medium and Neyartha's Complex. So, there does not seem to be a direct correlation between clue length and complexity.

Another thought is that very long clues either obfuscate or overexpose, so sway towards the extremes - Complex or Easy, but seldom middling.

Anyway, here's a graph showing average clue length per crossword for a whole month, for you to mull over and draw your own conclusions!  

Average Clue Length

Related Post:
Thoughts On Crossword Complexity

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Killer Clue

A Quiver Full of Arrows - Jeffrey Archer What do you think of this clue?

           Skelton reported that this landed in the soup (4,4)

Not easily solvable, but anything more portentous than that?

This clue had a critical role to play in a Jeffrey Archer short story. It led the hero to take his own life!

Read "Old Love" from Jeffrey Archer's short story collection A Quiver Full Of Arrows to know more.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thoughts On Crossword Complexity

How does one rate a crossword puzzle as Easy, Medium or Complex?

Complexity is tough to measure objectively for something as nuanced as cryptic crosswords. Apart from the clues themselves, the solver's ease with the crossword depends on many other factors.

Take natural flair for certain clue types. Some of us are have a knack for cryptic definitions, for example, others find them impossibly tough. A puzzle that's heavy on cryptic definitions will be easy for one and difficult for the other. Similarly, clues that require specialized knowledge are easy for those who work in those domains.

Familiarity with the setter's style also makes a difference. From solving a series of puzzles by the same setter, we learn little details about what to expect. Wordiness of clues, "noise" (connector words) content, style of surface reading, vocabulary, contemporary or old-fashioned references - different setters have their own quirks and the solver finds crosswords easier when he gets attuned to those quirks.

A solver calls a puzzle Complex if his speed or percentage completion with it does not match up to his personal average. If a community of regular solvers meet with the same result, we can then perhaps make a definitive statement about the puzzle's complexity.

But all that is in retrospect, after the puzzle has been solved. Are there parameters that can identify the difficulty level of a crossword before it is published, as it is done with Sudoku puzzles? I have been thinking of the varying complexity of puzzles published in The Hindu of late. Crossword numbers 9361 and 9362 were tough by The Hindu standards - completing them took me twice the time I normally spend on The Hindu puzzle. I thought why, and have some ideas. Will write more about it in a couple of days.

On a related note, here are a couple of articles from the Guardian's crossword editor about puzzle complexity:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/crossword/update/story/0,,1159727,00.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/crossword/update/story/0,,2236763,00.html

Related Post: Does Length Of Clue Affect Its Complexity?

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

GridmANalysis

Guest post by Chaturvasi, co-owner and moderator of the Orkut community The Hindu Crossword Solutions.

This is an analysis of the lattices that Gridman uses for his puzzles published in The Hindu.

Puzzles that were published for the first time with the pseudonym are: 9348 to 9353 (on weekday/publication dates between Wed., Oct. 8 and Wed., Oct 15, 2008.)

Number of grids used: six. These may be numbered 1 to 6.

All the grids are based on the lattice shown below, with extra squares blocked out to divide words off:

  BasicGrid  
9348  Grid 1 9349  Grid 2 9350  Grid 3
CGR blank grid 1 CGR blank grid 2 CGR blank grid 3
9351  Grid 4 9352  Grid 5 9353  Grid 6
CGR blank grid 4 CGR blank grid 5 CGR blank grid 6

 

As far as I know all these grids have been in use since mid-2001. So it is safe to assume that the compiler has been at work all these years but only lately has he got credit, though even now he uses what is apparently a pseudonym.

All the grids follow these rules:

  • at least half the letters checked in every word
  • there are not even two unchecked letters in succession, leave alone three or more unchecked letters in succession
  • no part of the grid is isolated from the rest

All the grids have a clue numbered 1 Across. In all grids, except Grid 3, it starts in top left cell.

All answers are in odd rows and odd columns. The lengthiest entries in Grid 1 and Grid 3 are in the middle of the lattice whereas in all other grids they are in the perimeter.

"Big black shapes" such as those seen occasionally in the grids that are used for the Sunday crosswords are rare, if not totally absent. Only Grid 3 (THC 9350) has an area of 5 blocks making a solid shape, which also includes a 2x2 square of blocks. None of the other grids has a 2x2 square of blocks.

Grid 1 (9348) has words of 10 letters and less. The constructor has for each succeeding grid increased, step by step, the length of the slot with the maximum number of cells. Thus, Grid 2 (9349) has words of 11-letters and less, 3 - 12 and less, 4 - 13 and less, 5 - 14 and less and 6 has words of 15 letters and less. This enables the composer to fit in words/phrases of varying length. In each grid these long slots are only two - in symmetrical positions.

None of the grids has words of less than four letters.

Grid 1 has 34 answers (16 Ac. and 18 Dn.). All the other grids have 30 answers each (16 Ac. and 14 Dn.).

For the statistical-minded here are some figures:

  Blocks Letters %Blocked  Interlocking squares  Non-interlocking squares  Mean word length
Grid 1 69 156 30.67 54 102 6.18
Grid 2 71 154 31.56 60 94 7.13
Grid 3 71 154 31.56 56 98 7
Grid 4 63 162 28 58 104 7.33
Grid 5 65 160 28.89 62 98 7.4
Grid 6 59 166 26.62 58 108 7.47

Length Distribution In Grids (Click to view larger image)

                       Length Distribution In Gridman's Grids

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Themed Clues With A Twist

themed-clues-with-a-twist

The twist is that these clues are without definition. The same definition would hold good for all.

Church boredom not for all to see but for one (7)

Outlaw American politician concealing his given name (9)

Uncovered, unwell, unknown (8)

Ban tapes with backed-up content (5)

Pushed back hair unevenly (5)

Jekyll's wicked side seized curate's heart? Vile! (9)

Without leader, march in chaos (6)

Post the solutions in the comments section. Happy solving!

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Double Definitions

A few double definition clues. Have fun solving.

Personalized practice (6)

Drug holder (3)

Searches to steal firearms (6)

Oppose the statistician (7)

Find fault with freshwater fish (4)

Deal with location (7)

Hold back the music (7)

Avoid this garment (5)

Inflates footwear (5)

Underside only (4)

Make up money (4)

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Decoding Double Definitions

A double definition clue, as the name indicates, has two definitions for the same word. This technique is used to clue homographs – words that have the same spelling but different meanings and usually different etymology.

Double Definition Clue Structure: The clue contains two distinct parts 
1. Definition 1
2. Definition 2
The two definitions may be joined together by connectors (prepositions, conjunctions, etc).

Example II (from THC 8422):
Robust author (5) HARDY [2]
Definition 1: Robust
Definition 2: author

Example II (from THC 2611):
Bike was blue (5) MOPED [2]
Definition 1: Bike
Definition 2: was blue

Double definition clues are one of the exceptions to the typical cryptic clue structure (Definition + Subsidiary Indication), the others being &Lit and Cryptic Definitions.

How To Recognize Double Definitions

You probably have a double definition on hand if:

  • the clue is very short – 2 or 3 words, which may be joined together with connectors(articles, prepositions, etc.)
    NIE 05-Feb-10: Business worry (6) CONCERN [2]
    NIE 07-Apr-09: Succession of command (5) ORDER [2]

  • the clue appears to have a separation in the middle
    THC 9353: Dealer in stolen property might be radio equipment (8) RECEIVER [2]

Clues with that structure are likely to be double-definitions, but that does not imply the reverse – not all double-definitions are short with discrete halves - they can be long with the two definitions blended seamlessly. This is one such:
ET 3781: Something on the inside gets one going to sea (5) LINER [2]

This brings us to a few more points worth keeping in mind when dealing with double definitions.

Things To Watch Out For

  • The two definitions need not be straight, either or both could be cryptic definitions.
    THC 9354: Exploits that require to be witnessed (5) DEEDS [2]
    The wordplay here is on the two meanings of DEEDS, but the part "that require to be witnessed" needs to be read along with "Exploits" to arrive at the solution. This works more like a cryptic definition than a double definition. See more clues of this type under Cryptic Double-Definitions.

  • Parts of speech of the solution may be different in its two definitions.
    (From the Times): One making recording
    has to come to the point (5) TAPER [2]
    TAPER is a noun by the first definition, a verb by the second.

  • The clue could be 'multi-definition' (more than 2 definitions for the solution), though this is rare.
    Guardian 24930 (Brendan): Squander money in way that's sad and obscene (4) BLUE [3]
    'Squander money', 'sad' and 'obscene' are three different meanings of BLUE.
  • The definitions should ideally have disconnected meanings, but that is not always the case. The Hindu Crossword often carries double definitions of words with similar meanings or meanings are derived from the same root.
    THC 9346: Eaten up and taken in eagerly (8) DEVOURED [2] 

    The neologism for such clues is duds, short for duplicate definitions.

  • Unless marked by the distinct properties under 'how to recognise…', double-definition clues do not have telltale signs to give away the clue type. There is no 'double definition' indicator. The surface reading can be similar to charades or cryptic definitions. Till other possibilities are ruled out, keep an open mind about assuming that an unsolved clue is a double-definition.

Solve These

NIE 20-Jun-09: Fruit goes out of fashion (5)
FT 13311 (Neo): Me or Adam? (5,6)
FT 13311 (Neo): Spy found (5)

In closing, enjoy Vikram Seth's Distressful Homonyms, a poem that cleverly uses the same word with different meanings in each couplet.

Since for me now you have no warmth to spare
I sense I must adopt a sane and spare

Philosophy to ease a restless state
Fuelled by this uncaring. It will state

A very meagre truth: love like the rest
Of our emotions, sometimes needs a rest.

Happiness, too, no doubt; and so, why even
Hope that 'the course of true love' could run even?

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Puns: When They Work, When They Don’t

Jam? Which?

Words with multiple meanings not just add richness to language but are also fodder for cryptic crosswords. Typically, the surface of a cryptic clue uses one form of the word, the solution uses the other.

FILM can be a movie, it can also be a membrane. ROW can be an array, it can also mean to propel a boat. Crossword setters exploit different senses of a word to confuse, and you need to think laterally not to fall for the trap. Take the title of Sandy Balfour's book, for example:

Pretty girl in crimson rose (8)

"Crimson rose" makes you think of a red flower, but that's not how this should be read. ROSE in this clue actually means "became active in opposition", and you must read it that way to arrive at the solution, RE{BELLE}D.

Notice something interesting here? ROSE has more than one meaning, but when you're reading the clue above you are most likely to think of the flower, because that is its most popular meaning.

Clues based on words for which all meanings are not 'equal' (i.e. some meanings are more common than others) are more effective when the surface reading involves the more popular or intuitive (primary) meaning, and the solution involves the lesser used (oblique) meaning. Consider this clue from Times 24040:

Land reformer in Indian city taking new look round (8)

"look" is used in the primary sense of "glance" in the surface reading, but is to be used in the oblique sense of "aspect" in the solution. The answer is AGRA {RIA N}<-.

Now take these clues from THC9350 and 9351:

(1) Brown follows hub set up in country (6)
(2) Come to terms with a finally willing grass holding back the last bit (5)

How does one read these clues?
(1) Brown = the tan color, you think, but that does not make sense in the surface reading so you re-interpret Brown as a proper noun. The answer the clue gives is BHU* TAN. The pun on "brown" causes no confusion, because you had first thought of TAN anyway.

(2) Grass evokes the image of lawns and pastures, then you realize it doesn't fit in with the surface reading and say "Oh wait, grass also means police informer", now the clue seems fine. The answer the clue gives is A G REE{-d}.

It takes no effort to fit in brown=TAN and grass=REED into the solution, as those are the meanings that suggest themselves more readily.

How much better it would be to reverse this scenario - use grass to refer to the usual green herbage in the surface, and police informer in the solution.

Clues work best when they challenge the solver to unravel subsidiary meanings for the solution, and not for making sense of the surface.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

The Hindu Crossword 9350: Gridman

I solved this puzzle in fits and starts – filled in 40% of the answers in a hurried first pass in the morning, another 40% in the evening and then resorted to electronic aid (Wikipedia and dictionary.com). There were many words in the puzzle not familiar to me, but as these were derivable from the wordplay it was a matter of verifying online if the solutions were correct.

The emphasis in this puzzle seemed to be on knowledge more than wordplay. Obscure words, easy wordplay. My preference is the other way round. I am also not keen on straightforward definitions, there were one too many in this puzzle.

That said, the surface reading of the clues is pretty good overall and the wordplay plays by the rules, though I would welcome a little more novelty.

Clue-Wise Analysis

ACROSS

1 Original strip remodelled by one new engineering head (8) PRIST* I N E : Anagram + Selected Letters
Easy anagram, direct abbreviations. Good surface reading.

6 Coptic divine for putting two sailors back to back (4)AB BA<- : Charade + Reversal
I saw the wordplay and thought ABBA – had the definition been “pop band” the answer would have been entered right away. But what is “coptic divine”? I didn’t know, so the solution was on hold till the checking letters were confirmed. 

9 Brown follows hub set up in country (6) BHU* TAN : Anagram + Charade
Brown is probably meant to be taken as a proper noun in the surface reading, though it didn’t work like that. With the brown=TAN association the answer was obvious.

10 One who can give cover for life (7) INSURER [CD] : Straight/Cryptic Definition
All right, cryptic definition but was straightforward enough to get solved quickly.

13 Seriously, tanneries cleaned up (2,7) IN EARNEST *  : Anagram
Easy anagram. (Doesn’t the word EARNEST appears really often in crosswords?)

14 Right to have more than eight coming back for an enzyme (5) R ENIN<- : Charade + Reversal
Coding NINE as “more than eight” is rather tame!

15 Rex to employ a trick (4) R USE : Charade
Jaded wordplay.

16 From where a tourist would like to see a scenic spot? (5,5) IDEAL POINT : Straight/Cryptic Definition
A clue ending with ? makes one think that there is something cryptic or witty about it. To find a direct answer after all is quite anti-climactic! Also, if a phrase appears in the solution, it should have standard/popular meaning. The clue here does not lead to any definite solution, only a likely answer to the question. IDEAL POINT is a standard term in geometry, perhaps using that definition would have been more apt.

19 It allows you to locate a point on a map (4,6)GRID SYSTEM : Straight/Cryptic Definition
Direct clue.

21 City, in fine, is backward in parts (4) IFNI [T]<- : Reversal + Telescopic
The reversal and hidden word indicators were immediately identified, and a quick glance at the fodder confirmed that this was not a city I knew. With F entered, the answer fit in.

24 You take out round primarily colourful California flower (5) Y{-o}U C CA : Charade + Deletion + Selected Letters
Shaky surface reading, though the word breakup is fine. Yet another encyclopaedic word.

25 Descending and halting roughly to capture one gangleader (9) ALIGHT{I}N* G : Anagram + Container + Selected Letters
Very nice clue. Good surface reading, good SI – fair without being obvious. Many will be pleased that the setter did not use the A=I substitution. (“…capture a gangleader” would have made better surface reading)

26 Contemptible person showing a sense of guilt (7) HANGDOG [2] : Double-definition
Not sure if this works as a straight clue or a double-definition. OK clue, not one of my favourites.

27 Obstruct spies returning deep-set (6) IM<- PEDE* : Anagram + Reversal
Weak surface reading - what are spies returning deep-set?

28 Revolutionary following for head cook (4)CHE F : Charade
Quite like this short crisp clue, though I don’t recall seeing the following=F substitution before. (Update: It turns out that this notation is used in research papers. In notes you have pp. 52f. where f. means following and glances at 53 only. 52ff. will be following when it goes beyond 53 as well.)

29 These periods are for recouping from work (4,4) REST DAYS [CD] : Straight/Cryptic Definition
Another straight definition.

DOWN

2 Again tilts to one side as that woman comes up with slippery characters (7) REH<- EELS : Charade + Reversal
Fine clue, and the surface reading evokes the comical picture of someone trying to dodge a female escorted by obnoxious chaperones.

3 Swift writing, perhaps (6) SATIRE [CD] : Straight/Cryptic Definition
At last an actual CD in this puzzle, but somehow the Swift=author connection was very easily got. Has this been used before in THC?

4 Edison and nun make malicious implications (9) INNUEDOES* : Anagram
Good anagram. Surface reading is neat too.

5 Order cited as being incorrect (5) EDICT* : Anagram
Interesting clue. I like the fact that both sides of CITED can pass for anagram indicators. CITED also opens the possibility of it being a homophone. However, the cited=edict transformation was so evident that none of these interesting facets caused confusion for this simple anagram.

7 Rubicund, hundred leave disturbed country (7) BURUNDI(-c)* : Anagram
The word RUBICUND is so jarring here, it was only a matter of working out which country the letters RUBIUND make. Those with limited knowledge of Geography might have had to look this up, as I did.

8 As a grown-up, one shouldn’t be tied to these (5,7) APRON STRINGS [CD] : Straight/Cryptic Definition
Ah, a multi-word solution in this puzzle that is not straight! Clever one, I like.

11 Overly sweet: why are you heard to be entangled with a secret agent? (6) S{YRU{~why are you}}PY : Container + Homophone 
The container+homophone combination is uncommon, and is done well here. The split between the definition and wordplay is too abrupt perhaps, but if you imagine this out loud as chitchat between two girls, then that works perfectly too.

12 Go! He chirpily will produce a writing system (12) HIEROGLYPHIC* : Anagram
Anagram fodder makes for an awkward sentence.

17 Last word on one site fixed with things that put you at ease (9) AMEN I TIES* : Anagram + Charade
Good one! Anagram indicator blends well with the sentence.

18 “___ ___ visible?”: the shipwrecked’s concern (2,4) IS LAND : Charade
Another straight/cryptic clue, but somewhat better than the others of this type. 

20 Cause anger with something smouldering maybe (7) INCENSE [2] : Double-Definition
Both the definitions have the same root. Not the best candidate for a double-definition.

22 When the weather condition is acceptable (4,3) FAIR DAY : Straight/Cryptic Definition
Straight clue.

23 Did a potter’s work — or a topiarist’s (6) SHAPED [2] : Double-Definition
Fair enough double-definition.

25 Soothsayer’s drill, say (5) AUGUR [CD] : Straight/Cryptic Definition
All right, but unexciting. I read this as a straight/cryptic clue, did I miss a homophone here? The ‘say’ makes me wonder. (Update: This was indeed a homophone. AUGUR{~auger})

Wordplay Breakup

The breakup of wordplay techniques used in puzzle 9350 shows a leaning towards anagrams and straight definitions.  Anagrams lead the list with 5 whole anagrams, 1 almost whole (ALIGHTING), the rest in combination with other clue types. 3 whole anagrams occur consecutively.   

Wordplay Breakup Graph 
When compared with yesterday’s puzzle (9349), a positive observation is more equitable distribution across different clue types.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

(Re)Writing THC's Acrostics

In my last post I talked about the unvaried style of clueing acrostics in The Hindu crossword in the series of puzzles 9338 to 9347. I had picked these three for illustration:
9338: Initially, mix enough sweet herbs in net like material (4) M E S H
9340: Initially, get nets and trap a fly (4) G N A T
9346: Initially, put a little mud on an oar blade (4) P A L M

Here’s my attempt at writing clues for the same words, using the same acrostic style but with experimentation in structure.
Grid management experts scorn hardware beginners (4) M E S H 
Starts to get nervous, about to fly (4) G N A T
To begin with, poisoning affects leg muscles, the surface of the hand (4) P A L M

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Evaluating The Hindu Crossword: 9338 to 9347

the-hindu-crossword-9338-9347 On the Hindu Crossword Community that I am a member of, plenty of discussion is happening about the quality of clues puzzle nos. 9338 to 9347 by compiler Nita Jaggi.

Summarizing here some problematic aspects of the clues.

1. Giveaway definitions
While the definition should be specific enough for the clue to be fair, it need not be so obvious that the subsidiary indication becomes redundant. Clues like these can be solved even if one omits the wordplay.
9340: Father left a Catholic Earl at the king’s residence (6) PA L A C E
9346: Master reference for a female horse (4) MA RE

9347: Sound of a donkey right in bay (4) B{R}AY

2. Wrong placement of homophone indicator
The homophone indicator should appear adjacent to the secondary word. This set of puzzles had several clues where the indicator was next to the main definition, without sharing an edge with the secondary word. 
9340: Act of seeing a place of a significant event, overheard (4) SITE {~sight}
9341: Bird is fashionable, overheard (4) CHIC{~chick}
9342: Give over plant ovule, I hear (4) SEED{~cede}

3. Weak double-definitions
Double-definitions work well only when the two definitions are very different from each other. The clue is hardly cryptic when the two definitions have similar meanings.
9338: An abdominal sac having an inflatable inner bag (7) BLADDER [2]
9346: Eaten up and taken in eagerly (8) DEVOURED [2]
9347: Sufficient quantity in a large number (8) ABUNDANT [2]

4. Inappropriate anagram indicators
The anagram indicator should give a sense of scrambling or rearrangement. "at large" is all right; "largely" or "loudly" not really.
9343: Largely neared to gain (6) EARNED*
9345: Loudly cry tune for a hundred years (7) CENTURY*
9346: Largely use clog for a sugar form of energy (7)GLUCOSE*

5. Abbreviation clues
Standard abbreviations are fine for clueing short sections of the clue, but a clue that ONLY contains standard abbreviations strung together is unexciting.
9338: Sheet of glass for Father in Nebraska (4)PA NE
9342: A street ray is away from the right path (6) A ST RAY
9344: Florida or one way a shop selling flowers (7)FL OR I ST

6. Repetitive style of acrostics
Every time an acrostic clue comes up, it is neatly prefixed with the indicator "initially".  A little variety and complexity for this clue type would be welcome.
9338: Initially, mix enough sweet herbs in net like material (4) M E S H
9340: Initially, get nets and trap a fly (4) G N A T
9346: Initially, put a little mud on an oar blade (4) P A L M

7. Words from the clue used as is in the solution 
If a large portion of the solution is given away gratis, it should at least involve some pun – such as a change of meaning or part of speech. Many clues in this set handed out words to be substituted in exactly the same sense in the solution. 
9338: A detailed report of a short trip made down (7)RUNDOWN
9340: Producer of a show is a gifted entertainer (7) SHOWMAN
9346: A set of people following in a nearby area of a group of galaxies (5,5) LOCAL GROUP

8. Flawed surface reading 
A minimum expectation from a cryptic clue is coherent, grammatically correct surface reading. Many of the clues had poor or no surface meaning at all.
9339: Blotch of street article in (5) ST A IN
9345: Like back from travel even exemplary leaders put he to rest (6) AS LEEP
9346: Ringing sound of a brown head girl (4) TAN G

---

I’ll be writing in detail about THC 9350 to be published on Saturday 11th October 08, for the Hindu Crossword Community. Will post my article here as well.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Well-Greased

oil-well

The term OIL WELL fits nicely into the double-definition clueing style, the two meanings being -
1. (Noun) Underground shaft that produces oil
2. (Verb) Lubricate generously

This clue appeared in today's Guardian crossword No. 24514 (Araucaria), which made use of the double-definition.
Eliminate all friction from fuel source (3, 4) OIL WELL [2]

Another similar double-definition for this term appeared in ET Crossword No. 3570 last year.
Boring to make revolution much easier? (3,4) OIL WELL [2]

And here's one more from The Hindu Crossword No. 2696, which uses a different clueing style: combination of charade + reversal + container.
Boring old Lew turned in sick (3,4) O I{LEW<-}LL

The last two clues use the same pun on the word BORING - the surface reading leads you to think of BORING(Verb)=dull, when the underlying definition is BORING(Noun)=drilled hole.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Thirteen Problems

mystery

I wrote this set of clues for a crossword forum on Orkut. Have a go at solving them.

The solutions to the clues have something in common. Can you figure out what?

1. For a biker, city limits nearly shorten the way (7)
2. Deal with unknown agreement (6)
3. Famous, but suits our ill-design (11)
4. Oozed out of an empty conch and became colorless (8)
5. I need medical care for a little spat I entered into (7)
6. Weary again, he gave up work (7)
7. Game that provides an overpass? (6)
8. Single creator of Illusions with an unconventional role (8)
9. Nearly red - else almost with fury (6)
10. They say she cried, but not openly (6)
11. Clark's titles for peaked roofs? (6)
12. My sense of self - and I injure it. Why? (8)
13. Salaam to those that launch box office wonders (3)

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Tune In To Homophones

homophone Homophone clues play on words that have the same pronunciation but differ in meaning. EARN/URN, KNOW/NO, WAIT/WEIGHT are some examples of homophones.

Homophone Clue Structure: The clue contains 3 parts:
1. Definition of the solution
2. Definition of the word that sounds like the solution
3. Homophone indicator - Signal for the presence of similar-sounding words e.g. 'we hear', ''by the sound of it'', 'orally', 'reportedly'. The homophone indicator is placed next to the secondary word.

Example: Refer to a location, reportedly (4)
Here, "Refer to" defines the solution, "location" defines the word that sounds like the solution, and "reportedly" is the homophone indicator. The answer is CITE, which sounds like SITE. (Notation: CITE{~site})

Homophone Clue Characteristics

The homophone indicator is a word/phrase that conveys the idea of sound, such as 'it is said', 'on the radio'. Homophone clues are most easily identified by the indicator; from there on you think up similar-sounding words to match the definitions.

Once you have classed the clue as a homophone type, how do you decide which of the two definitions is the solution? A good clue precludes ambiguity, so at least one of these rules would hold:

(A) The homophone indicator is placed adjacent to the secondary word, not the solution.
(B) The words are of unequal length. This is particularly important if the indicator sits in the middle of the two definitions and not at the other end of the secondary word.

Consider these clues:

Speak of that such as iron spirit (6) METTLE {~metal} – The indicator placement conveys that "that such as iron" is the secondary definition

Employ sound sheep (3) USE{~ewes} - The indicator placement does not highlight the definition, but only USE fits in as the 3-letter solution.

All clues are not so precise though; you will sometimes come across clues like:
Expressed regret orally for having been impolite (4)
The answer could as easily be RUED as RUDE, and the only way to know is to wait till the 3rd or 4th crossing letter gets filled into the grid. (Meanwhile, fill in whatever is common to both words!)

Homophones can also be used for a portion of the solution instead of the whole, such as:
A goddess reportedly intended as a diversion (9) A MUSE MENT{~meant}
Figure that reportedly ruined a point of view (9) RECT{~wrecked} ANGLE

It gets more complex when the two parts of the clue do not have the same number of words in them. For example:
Festival the solver will broadcast on the radio (4) YULE{~you'll}
Pagan God with Hebrew bread, one might say (7) JUPITER{~jew pitta}

Solve These

Try solving these homophone clues:
Plain to cater for any whim, it is said (5)
Wouldn't allow recitation of Shakespeare? (6)

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cryptic Abbreviations

Many words/phrases that appear in cryptic clues have standard abbreviations associated with them. Saint for example is ST, operating system is OS and book is NT or OT (for new/old testament).

Abbreviations are used to substitute bits and pieces of the solution. They can appear in a variety of clue forms such as charades, deletions, containers or anagrams. Take this for example:
Pilot goes about a mile in vessel (7) STE{A M}ER
This is a container clue that uses the contraction M for mile.

Another one:
Fragrant drops born from a dreamer (8) A ROMA{-n}TIC
This is a combination of charade and deletion. It uses the contraction N for born (nee).

Common Abbreviation Types

Cryptic abbreviations originate from a wide range of subjects – mathematics, geography, medicine, to name a few. The table below lists the most common types found in crosswords.

Category Instances Remarks
Places ISO Country Codes – CH (Switzerland), ES (Spain), etc.
USPS codes of the states of USA - AL, CA, SC, etc.
City short names – NY, LA, LON

For Indian crosswords, the short notations of multi-word Indian states - UP, MP, TN.
You need not remember all short codes, just the ones that easily form other words. So, if you see a clue that goes: "Withdraw from American state by a small measure (6)", the American state referred is more likely to be Florida (FL) than West Virginia (WV).
Famous personalities Lincoln = ABE
Indian crosswords also use abbreviations for Indian celebrities, such as Rajaji = CR and NT Rama Rao = NTR
 
Roman numerals 1-10 (I-X), 50 (L), 100 (C), 1000 (M) Remember those that can be part of meaningful words. The abbreviation for 2000 (MM) has a chance, 1999 (MCMXCIX) not much.
Element periodic table Hydrogen=H, Iron=Fe, Aluminum=Al Elements at the start of the periodic table are used more than those at the end.
Positions and Directions Points – N, S, E, W
Corners – NE, NW, SE, SW
Poles – N, S
 
Units of Measurement Weights – G, LB
Currencies – USD, L
Length – FT, M
Time – S, M, MI, H, HR
Short forms for a range of dimensions like area, temperature, speed, etc.
Musical notations Keys – A, B, C, D, E, F, G
Solfege syllables – DO, RE, MI, FA, SO, LA, TI
 
Calendar Days of the week – SUN to SAT
Months – JAN to DEC
AD, BC
About – Circa: C, CA
 

Online Abbreviation Lists

Here's a good online resource for crossword abbreviations. It doesn't touch upon every abbreviation possible but it does cover wide ground:

Wikipedia's List 

If you're new to cryptic crosswords this might seem overwhelming at first, but keep doing crosswords for some time and you'll soon know them well.

Caution!

  • The same word may have more than one abbreviation e.g. Sailor can be AB or TAR, queen may be Q, ER or HM, gold can can AU or OR (in heraldry). You need to read the entire clue along with its crossings to decide which fits.

  • The clue may not give you a direct abbreviation but a wider range for substitution. e.g. metal can stand for any metal abbreviation - Fe, Al, Ni,etc.

  • At times you might think a standard short form is to be substituted, when actually no substitution is to be made. Take the clue "Instruct an artist in metal (5) T{RA}IN". Metal here stands for the actual metal name TIN and not its short form Sn.

  • A word commonly used for abbreviation substitution need not always be so. e.g. If you see the word doctor in the clue, don't immediately think of replacing it with MO, DR etc. - 'doctor' could be an anagram indicator.

  • A good clue would rarely be made up entirely of abbreviations. Only short sections of the clue would use them.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Osama Bin Laden

The names of the US Democratic Party nominees for President and Vice President - Obama and Biden – share a quirky coincidence. When placed together, the result is eerily similar to ‘Osama Bin Laden’.

This was put to ingenious use in Guardian puzzle 24507 (Paul). 25,26 Across ran:
Who's after Bush, given the Second Amendment? His running mate's secured northern state; so who's Bush after? (5,3,5)

Perhaps an unusual clue like this is better solved with creative thinking than by going into crosswording nitty-gritties. When I took a print of the puzzle, this wordy clue against the blank grid looked so intriguing that I promptly showed it to my friend Ankur. He isn't much into crosswords but to my amazement he answered OSAMA BIN LADEN in a glance. We then worked out the full annotation backwards.

Who's after Bush = OBAMA
given the Second Amendment => OBAMA changes to OSAMA
His running mate's secured northen state => BIDEN contains N LA(state of Louisiana) => BI{N LA}DEN

Put together, this gives OSAMA BI{N LA}DEN, whom Bush is after. A super clue!

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

“Computer” Words In Crosswords

computer-crossword IT jargon is no longer obscure. A few years ago, words like 'rebooting' or 'USB' might have drawn blank stares. These words are part of everyday vocabulary now.

Crosswords reflect this change, with inclusion of words from the field of computers. Here's a compilation of clues in which the solution or the wordplay relates to computers.

THC

Fish out OS and dismiss? (5) E{XP}EL

Language of the graduates in charge (5) BAs IC

From memory, a fancy fellow comes fast (7) RAM A DAN

Part of a computer printer: if blank, it is useless (9) CARTRIDGE [2]

Computer accessory badly trips learner (5,7) LASER PRINTER*

A hundred rolls go down the computer screen (6) S{C}ROLL

Funny computer programs? (3-6) ONE-LINERS

Computer accessory for important directors (8) KEY BOARD

A record that may be hard with the computer (4) DISC [2]

Computer accessory for transmitting a poem between the borders of Mizoram (5) M{ODE}M

Putin processed information fed into a computer (5) INPUT*

Computer that could eliminate a port within (6) L{A PT}OP

Big computer puts mother in the picture (9) MA IN FRAME

Times

Lessons to be learnt from soccer cup tie men disrupted (8,7) COMPUTER SCIENCE*

Push in, holding Escape key on computer going down (7) D{ESC}ENT

Times 24078: At the office computer, not working, affected by single crack (13) CYBERSLACKING*

Times 24107: Fancy game and hope website shows it from kickoff? (4,4) HOME PAGE*

Times 24245: Player out with fracture prepared comeback (9) AUTOREPLY*

Guardian 24101: Search force in Humberside port (6) GOO{G}LE

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