Thursday, March 26, 2009

Economic Times Crossword Online

The Economic Times daily crossword does not have the most user-friendly online access, as those of us who've tried to locate it on ET's website have discovered. I'm putting up the steps with illustrations to get the ET cryptic crossword online. Trust this helps to answer the "how to get the grid" questions from the Hindu/ET solving community.

Find & Print The Crossword

  1. ET-epaper-choose-edition Go to the epaper site of the Times group: http://epaper.timesofindia.com. Choose edition as The Economic Times and city of publication that you're looking for, and click "Submit". (Note: Different cities carry different crossword numbers. The Mumbai edition is ahead of the others in its crossword sequence; that's the one followed on the ET solving community.)

  2. You'll reach the ET homepage. Click Search on the header. This will open a small popup search window[*]. Retain the option "This Newspaper" to view the same day's crossword, or change to "Whole week" to see the whole week's crosswords. Enter Text as "crossword" and hit the Search button.

    ET-epaper-search  

  3. The search results will show the links to the crossword pages, with their dates. Click the link you were looking for; it will open the crossword in a popup window[*]. Click on the Print option to take a print, or the E-mail option to send it by email.   

    ET-epaper-searchbox    

Link To The Grid

Since the crossword is displayed in a popup window, the link (URL) for it isn't there on the address bar if you're using IE. Here's how to link to the exact image of the grid. This will come in handy if you want to share the link with others or when the Print option for the crossword isn’t working (which happens quite often!) - you can print the grid image directly in that case.

For Internet Explorer: In the popup window, right-click on the grid and choose the option Properties. A small window will appear; the Address (URL) field there has the direct link to the grid. e.g. The link for today's crossword ET 4196 is http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Repository/getimage.dll?path=ETM/2009/03/26/13/Img/Ar0130400.png.

ET-epaper-get-image-IE

For Firefox: The same as IE, but there's also a shortcut menu option Copy Image Location which copies the URL in a single step.
For Chrome: Similar to Firefox, the shortcut menu option is called Copy Image URL.

[*]Note: If the popup window does not open when you click on the crossword, it is possible that the browser's popup blocker is enabled. This needs to be turned off for the ET website. Search for "how to disable popup blocker" to fix this in your browser.

Enjoy solving, with the grid!
(Update: Step 2 revised. Thanks Bhargav for the suggestion.)

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ditto: Cold Feet

cold-feet-cryptic-clue From The Hindu Crossword of yesterday:
THC 9487: Lack of confidence in unfeeling members (4,4) COLD FEET [2]

From Financial Times today:
FT 13033: Loss of confidence where court accepts earlier account (4,4) C{OLD FEE}T

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Deletions

[A new instalment in the series of posts about cryptic clue types, meant for beginners. Check out this link for clue types covered earlier: Cryptic Clue Types]

deletion-clue-typeIn deletion clues, part(s) of a word are removed to get the solution. 

Some examples of text deletion for this clue type:
WHEAT – W = HEAT
PRIMER – RIM = PER
KITE – E = KIT

Deletion Clue Structure: The clue contains/indicates these parts -

  1. Definition
  2. Word from which letters are to be deleted – Generally you need to work out this word from the wordplay, it will not be given away directly in the clue.
  3. Deletion indicator There are different types of deletion clues with their own styles of indicators. Some signal the removal of letters by position (such as, subtract the first letter or last), others by specifying the letters/word to be removed (such as, drop M-I-L from FAMILY to get a word for fairy).
    The next section takes them on in detail.
  4. Letters to be deleted – This appears in clues where the deletion is not by position but by indicating the letters/word to be removed. The deletion component can be mentioned directly or cryptically. Standard abbreviations are often used to indicate specific letters for removal.

For example, a clue for deleting E from KITE could use either of these ploys:
          by position: flier loses its tail
          by specific letters: flier lacks energy

Types Of Deletion

Delete the head: Letters are removed from the beginning of a word. This uses indicators like: beheaded, start off, without introduction. 
ET 3497: Head off champion worker (7)(-p)ARTISAN
ET 3854: Suggest not starting in a flabby way (5) {-l}IMPLY

Delete the tail: Letters are removed from the end of a word. This uses indicators like: back off, mostly, without end.
FT 12705: Circuits almost falling (4) LAPS{-e}
ET 3855: Alter without finishing the last word (4) AMEN{-d}

Delete both ends: Letters are removed from both edges of a word. This uses indicators like: losing margins, trimmed, without limits. The number of letters removed are the same on both sides of the word.
Limitless outpouring? Exactly (3) {-s}PAT{-e}
Little shark edges away from diver's equipment (3) {-s}CUB{-a}

Delete the middle: Letters are removed from the centre of a word. This uses indicators like: cored, disheartened, empty. The centre is the exact centre – when "disheartened", a even-lettered word will drop an even number of letters from its middle, an odd-lettered word will drop an odd number of letters.
Dull speeches, hollow assurances (6) PRO{-mi}SES
THC 9392: Resided almost comfortably in empty dugout (5) D WEL{-l} T [Two deletions are happening here: "almost" removes the tail of WELl, "empty" removes the centre of DugouT.]

Delete specified words/letters: This type defines the word(s) or letter(s) to be removed. This uses indicators like: cutting, missing, struck. Here the indicator signals removal in general, it does not say from which position the letter should be removed.
Times 4309: Cold and uncertain? Not very (4) {-v}AGUE
THC 9409: State a lie goes out of estrangement (6) {- a lie}NATION

---
Try solving these deletion clues:
Plunderer loses head to go mad (5)
Charge for rehearsal when play is cancelled (5)

---

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Barred Grid Crosswords

I have not dipped my toes into barred grid puzzles so far, but reading Peter's detailed write-up on the Azed puzzle aimed at beginners, I'm motivated to try. The post explains the clues of Azed 1919, describes barred grid puzzle conventions and gives useful tips for engaging with this advanced cryptic puzzle.

A little background for those unfamiliar with crossword grid terminology.

blocked-grid-guardian-24828 Daily newspaper crosswords like The Hindu have grids with black-and-white squares. A square that contains a letter is white, one that does not is black. Such a grid is a blocked grid.

Letters in the grid that interlock with more than one word are called checked letters. These help the solver by providing letters for crossing clues. Letters of a word that are sandwiched between black squares and do not link with other words are called unchecked letters or unches. e.g. In clue 1A in this blocked grid, every even letter is checked and odd letter unchecked.

 

barred-grid-azed-1919 A barred grid has white squares only; each square contains a letter. Word divisions are indicated by thick lines.

There are more checked letters in a barred grid than in a blocked grid. A consequence of this high level of checking is that it is potentially easier to work out unusual/obscure words in the solution. Advanced cryptics with complex wordplay and tough vocabulary, such as Azed and Mephisto, use the barred grid.

Azed 1919

If you have never tried Azed before, 1919 may be a good start point: it is supposed to be easier than a regular Azed, and you have Peter’s post as reference for how the clues work. You can download and print the PDF, or solve it interactively if your computer is Java-enabled.

azed-1919-pdf azed-1919-interactive

  Azed 1919: PDF Version

 Azed 1919: Interactive Version

I've taken the print and will attempt it tonight, with the Chambers dictionary by my side.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Hidden Word Indicators

A collection of hidden word/telescopic clue type indicators.

Hidden Word Indicators
APPEARS IN
BURIED IN
CAMOUFLAGES
CHARACTERS
CONCEALED
CONCEALING
CONCEALS
CONTAINED
CONTENT
CONTENTS
CONTRIBUTING
DEMONSTRATES
DISPLAYING
DWELLS IN
ECLIPSING
ENCLOSES
EXHIBITING
EXTRACT
FEATURING
FROM
FURNISHES
GIVES
HAS
HELD BY
HELPING TO MAKE
HIDDEN
HIDES
HIDING
HOLDS
IN
IN PART
INHERENT IN
INSIDE
INTERNAL
INTRINSIC
LETTERS FROM
LETTERS OF
OF
PART
PARTIAL
PARTLY
PROVIDING
SECRETING
SEGMENT OF
SELECTION
SHOWING
SMUGGLING
SOME
SOMEWHAT
STORES
VEILED
VEILING
VEILS
WITHHOLDS
WITHIN

Thanks to Ganesh for his inputs in compiling this list.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Many Aspects Of "About"

word-about-in-cryptic-crosswords ABOUT is one of those words that you find often in cryptic clues but can't bracket instantly for its meaning. It is remarkable how varied its cryptic function can be.

Here's a look at some of the avatars of this little word.

  1. Containment Indicator: In container clues, ABOUT indicates that a word is to be wrapped around another word.
    Guardian 24642: Cavalryman retreats without thinking about us (6) H{US}SAR<-
    FT 13009: Baby on the way; parent worried about good name (8) PRE{G N}ANT*

  2. Anagram Indicator: ABOUT can be an anagrind in anagram clues.
    NIE 18-Feb-09: Get hint about contract (7) TIGHTEN*
    NIE 09-Dec-08: He's about to call up a poet (7) SHE* LLEY<-

  3. Abbreviation RE: When used in the sense of "regarding"/"in reference to", ABOUT gives the contraction RE.
    ET 3848: One you can draw when about to get into the tub (6) B{RE}ATH, semi-&lit 
    ET 3087: There's something nuclear about a performer (7) RE ACTOR

  4. Abbreviation C/CA: ABOUT can be used for C or CA, abbreviations of "circa".
    THC 8517: Creepy-crawly about to be featured in inside picture (6) INSE{C}T
    ET 3685: Talk about some mad character (7) C HATTER

  5. To stand for IN or ON: ABOUT can mean "in" or "on" (when taken in sentences like "He is about the house", "He lost all he had about him").
    Guardian 24614: About to call up – ring – versatile performer (3-3, 4) ONE-MAN BAND (ON EMAN<- BAND)

  6. Part Of The Definition: ABOUT can be a part of a phrasal definition.
    ET 3063: Nigel around it's right to hang about (6) LINGE* R
    Guardian 24609: How about taking an attitude to drink? (9) SUP POSING

  7. Nothing At All: …and sometimes, in not-quite-kosher clues, ABOUT is a filler to make sense of the clue's surface.
    ET 3087: Fuss about a Millennium project gets me lost (3) A DO{-me}
    ET 3454: Crazy about fruit (7) BANANAS [2]

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Anagram Indicators

Anagram indicators, or anagrinds as they've come to be called, give wide scope for play to the clue writer. Of all clue types that take indicators, setters seem to get most creative with anagrams. In essence, any word/phrase that suggests reordering of its adjacent letters can work as an anagrind.

The validity/fairness of indicators often leads to debate; that happens a lot with anagrinds (and I'm not talking about Nita Jaggi's anagrinds such as 'loud', 'large' in The Hindu – those are not okay by any yardstick). A classic point of contention is nounal anagrinds. One school of thought (which includes setters like Ximenes and Azed) is strictly against them, others setters/solvers find them acceptable in certain conditions. So an anagrind like 'different' (adjective) would be indisputable, but 'difference' (noun) tends to stir controversy.

Anagrinds By Letters Of The Alphabet

Here's a compilation of frequently seen anagram indicators. A huge set when compared to other indicators, and yet there are many more possibilities.

The indicators are placed in dictionary order. Click any letter for indicators that start with that letter.

Note: The list mentions one form of the word, consider its variants too. For example, BLEND => BLENDS, BLENDED, BLENDING and so on. Which grammatical form to use depends on the structure of the clue; note that the wordplay grammar must work for the cryptic reading as well as the surface. More on this here: Camouflaging Anagrams and Verbal Anagrammar.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

ABERRANT
ABNORMAL
ABOUT
ABSURD
ACCIDENTAL
ADAPTED
ADDLED
ADJUSTED
ADRIFT
ADVERSELY
AFFECTED
AFFLICTED
AFRESH
AFTER A FASHION
AGITATED
AIMLESS
ALL AT SEA
ALL OVER THE PLACE
ALL WRONG
ALTERED
ALTERNATIVE
ALTERNATIVELY
AMALGAMATE
AMBIGUOUS
AMENDED
AMISS
AMOK
ANEW
ANOMALOUS
ANOTHER
ANOTHER WAY
ANYHOW
ANYWAY
APPEARING AS
ARISING FROM
AROUND
ARRANGED
ASKEW
ASSEMBLED
ASSORTED
ASTRAY
AT FAULT
AT ODDS
AT SEA
AT SIXES AND SEVENS
AT VARIANCE
AWFUL
AWKWARDLY
AWRY

BADLY
BAFFLED
BATTERED
BEATEN UP
BECOMES
BEFUDDLED
BENDS
BENT
BEWILDERED
BIZARRE
BLEND
BLUNDER
BOTCHED
BREAK DOWN
BREAK OUT
BREAK UP
BREAKING
BREWED
BROADCAST
BROKE
BROKEN DOWN
BROKEN UP
BUCKLES
BUILT
BUNGLED
BUSTED
BY ACCIDENT
BY ARRANGEMENT
BY MISTAKE
CALAMITOUS
CAN BE
CAPRICIOUSLY
CARELESSLY
CATASTROPHIC
CAUSES
CAVORT
CHANGE
CHANGEABLE
CHAOTIC
CHEW UP
CHOPPED UP
CHURN
CIRCLING
CIRCULATED
CLUMSY
COCKTAIL
COLLAPSE
COMBINATION
COME TO BE
COME TO GRIEF
COMES TO
COMIC
COMICAL
COMPLICATED
COMPOSE
COMPOSED
COMPRISES
CONCEALING
CONCOCT
CONFOUNDED
CONFUSE
CONSTITUENTS
CONSTRUCT
CONSTRUCTED
CONTORT
CONTORTED
CONTRAPTION
CONTRARIWISE
CONTRARY
CONTRIVANCE
CONTRIVED
CONVERSION
CONVERT
CONVERTED
CONVULSE
COOK
CORRECTED
CORRUPT
COULD BE
CRACK UP
CRACKED
CRACKED UP
CRASHED
CRAZILY
CREATE
CROOKED
CROSS
CRUDE
CRUMBLING
CRUMPLED
CRUSH
CUNNING
CURIOUSLY
DAMAGE
DANCE
DEALT WITH
DECOMPOSED
DEFECTIVE
DEFORMED
DEMENTED
DEMOLISHED
DEPLORABLY
DEPLOYED
DERANGE
DERIVED FROM
DESIGN
DESTROYED
DEVASTATED
DEVELOP
DEVIANT
DEVIATING
DEVIOUSLY
DEVISED
DIFFERENT
DIFFICULT
DILAPIDATED
DISARRANGED
DISARRAY
DISASTROUS
DISCLOSE
DISCOMPOSED
DISCONCERTED
DISCORD
DISCORDANT
DISFIGURED
DISGUISE
DISHEVELLED
DISINTEGRATED
DISLOCATE
DISMANTLED
DISORDER
DISORGANISED
DISORIENTED
DISPERSE
DISPOSED
DISQUIETED
DISRUPTED
DISSEMBLING
DISSEMINATED
DISSIPATED
DISSONANT
DISTORTED
DISTRACTED
DISTRAUGHT
DISTRESSED
DISTRIBUTED
DISTURB
DITHERING
DIVERGENT
DIVERSIFIED
DIVERT
DIVERTED
DIZZY
DOCTOR
DODDERY
DOTTY
DOUBTFULLY
DREADFUL
DRESSED
DRUNKEN
DUBIOUSLY
ECCENTRIC
EFFECT
EMBODIES
EMBROIL
EMEND
ENGENDERING
ENGINEERED
ENSEMBLE
ENTANGLED
EQUIVOCAL
ERRATICALLY
ERRING
ERRONEOUS
ERUPTING
EXCEPTIONAL
EXCITED
EXOTIC
EXPLODED
EXTRAORDINARILY
FABRICATE
FAILING
FALLACIOUS
FALSE
FALTERING
FANCIFUL
FANTASTIC
FASHION
FAULTY
FERMENTED
FICKLE
FIDDLE
FIGURING IN
FIXED
FLAWED
FLOUNDER
FLUCTUATING
FLUMMOXED
FLURRIED
FLUSTER
FOOLISHLY
FOR A CHANGE
FORCED
FORGED
FORM OF
FORMS
FORMULATING
FRACAS
FRACTURED
FRAGMENT
FREAKISH
FREE
FRENZIED
FRESH
FRISKY
FROLICKING
<soln> FROM <fodder>
FUDGE
FUNCTION
FUNNILY
FUNNY
FUSED
GARBLED
GENERATING
GET-UP
GETS FACE-LIFT
GIVES
GIVES RISE TO
GO AMOK
GO ASTRAY
GO BAD
GO BERSERK
GO OFF
GO STRAIGHT
GO TO PIECES
GO TO POT
GO TO THE DOGS
GO WRONG
GONE OFF
GROTESQUE
GROUND
GYRATES
HAPHAZARD
HAPLESS
HARASSED
HASH
HAVOC
HAYWIRE
HELTER-SKELTER
HIDDEN
HIDE
HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY
HORRIBLE
HOTCHPOTCH
HYBRID
IDLY
ILL
ILL-DISPOSED
ILL-FORMED
ILL-MADE
ILL-TREATED
ILL-USED
IMPAIRED
IMPERFECT
IMPROPER
IN A BAD WAY
IN A FASHION
IN A FERMENT
IN A FRENZY
IN A HEAP
IN A JUMBLE
IN A KNOT
IN A MESS
IN A MUDDLE
IN A RIOT
IN A TANGLE
IN A TIZZY
IN A TUMULT
IN A TURMOIL
IN A WHIRL
IN CHAOS
IN COMMOTION
IN CONFUSION
IN DISARRAY
IN DISGUISE
IN DISORDER
IN ERROR
IN KNOTS
IN ORDER
IN OTHER WORDS
IN PIECES
IN REBELLION
IN REVOLT
IN RUINS
IN SHREDS
IN TROUBLE
IN UPROAR
INACCURATE
INCOHERENT
INCONSTANT
INCORRECT
INDUCE
INFIRM
INJURED
INORDINATELY
INSANELY
INTERFERED WITH
<fodder> INTO <soln>
INTRICATE
INVOLVED
IRREGULAR
IRRITATED
JERKY
JITTERY
JOGGLE
JUGGLED
JUMBLED
KIND OF KINKY KNOTTED
LAWLESS
LET LOOSE
LIQUID
LOOSELY
LOUSILY
LOUSY
LUDICROUS
LUNATIC
MAD
MADDENING
MADE
MADE FROM
MADE OF
MADE UP
MAKE
MAKE A BUNGLE OF
MAKE A HASH OF
MAKE A MESS OF
MAKE-UP
MALADJUSTED
MALADROIT
MALFORMATION
MALFORMED
MALFUNCTION
MALTREATED
MANAGED
MANGLED
MANIFEST
MANIPULATE
MANOEUVRE
MARRED
MASHED
MATERIAL FOR
MAULED
MAYBE
MAYHEM
MEANDERING
MEDLEY
MELT
MELTED
MENDED
MERCURIAL
MESS
MESSED
MESSILY
MESSY
METAMORPHOSIS
MINCED
MINGLED
MISAPPLIED
MISBEHAVED
MISCONSTRUED
MISERABLE
MISHANDLED
MISHAP
MISREPRESENTED
MISSHAPEN
MISTAKE
MISTREATED
MISUSED
MIX
MIX-UP
MIXED
MIXTURE
MOBILE
MODEL
MODELLED
MODIFICATION
MODIFIED
MODIFY
MOLESTED
MONGREL
MOULD
MOULDED
MOVING
MUDDIED
MUDDLE
MUDDLY
MUTABLE
MUTATIVE
MUTILATED
MUTINOUS
MYSTERIOUS
NASTY
NAUGHTY
NEGOTIATED
NEW
NEW FORM OF
NEW ORDER
NEW STYLE
NEWLY FORMED
NEWLY MADE
NOT EXACTLY
NOT IN ORDER
NOT PROPERLY
NOT RIGHT
NOT STRAIGHT
NOVEL
NUTTY
OBSCURE
OBSTREPEROUS
ODD
ODD LOOKING
ODDLY
OFF
OPERATE
ORDERED
ORGANISE
ORIGINALLY
OTHERWISE
OUT
OUT OF
OUT OF GEAR
OUT OF JOINT
OUT OF HAND
OUT OF ORDER
OUT OF SORTS
OUTCOME OF
OUTED
OUTLANDISH
OVERTHROW
OVERTURN
PECULIAR
PECULIAR LOOKING
PECULIARLY
PERFIDIOUS
PERHAPS
PERMUTATION
PERPLEXED
PERVERSELY
PERVERTED
PHONEY
PLACED
PLAGUED
PLASTIC
PLAYED
POORLY
POSITIONED
POSSIBLY
POTENTIALLY
POWDERED
PREPARED
PROBLEMATIC
PROCESSING
PROPERLY
PULVERISED
PUT ANOTHER WAY
PUT OUT
PUT RIGHT
PUT STRAIGHT
QUARRIED QUEER QUESTIONABLE
RABID
RAGGED
RAMBLING
RAN AMOK
RAVAGE
RAVELLED
RE-ORDERED
READJUSTED
REARRANGED
REARRANGEMENT
REASSEMBLED
REBEL
REBELLIOUS
REBUILT
RECALCITRANT
RECAST
RECOLLECTED
RECONSTRUCTED
RECREATE
RECTIFIED
REDESIGNED
REFINE
REFORM
REFRACTORY
REGENERATE
REGULATED
REMADE
REMODELLED
RENDERING
RENOVATED
REORGANISED
REPACK
REPAIR
REPLACED
REPRESENT
REPRODUCE
RESETTLE
RESHAPE
RESHAPED
RESHUFFLED
RESOLVED
RESORT
RESULTING FROM
RESULTING IN
REVEAL
REVIEWED
REVISE
REVISED
REVOLTING
REVOLUTIONARY
REVOLVING
REWORD
REWRITE
RICKETY
RIDICULOUS
RIGGED
RIOTOUS
ROCKY
ROTTEN
ROUGH
ROVING
RUDE
RUFFLED
RUINED
RUINOUS
RUINS
RUM
RUMPLED
RUN AMOK
RUNNING WILD
RUPTURED
SADLY
SCATTER
SCRAMBLED
SCRUFFY
SEQUENCED
SERVED UP
SET
SET DIFFERENTLY
SET OFF
SET OUT
SETTING
SHAKEN
SHAKY
SHAMBLES
SHAPED
SHATTERED
SHIFT
SHILLY-SHALLY
SHUFFLE
SHUFFLED
SILLY
SINGULAR
SKITTISH
SLIPPING
SLIPSHOD
SLOPPY
SLOVENLY
SMASH
SOMEHOW
SORRY
SORT
SORT OF
SORTED
SPINNING
SPLIT
SPOILT
SPORTING
SPURIOUS
SQUIGGLY
STAGGERED
STEWED
STIR
STIRRED
STORMY
STRAIGHT
STRANGE
STRANGELY
STRAYING
STRICKEN
STUMBLING
STUPID
SUBSTITUTE
SUBTLE
SUBVERT
SURPRISINGLY
SWAPPED
SWIRLING
SWITCHED
TAMPERED WITH
TANGLED
TATTERED
TEMPER
TEMPESTUOUS
TENTATIVE
TERRIBLY
THE RESULT OF
THROWN
TIDIED
TIPPED
TIPSY
TOPSY-TURVY
TORN
TORTUOUS
TOSSED
TOUSLE
TRANSFORM
TRANSLATED
TRANSMUTED
TRANSPORT
TRANSPOSED
TREACHEROUS
TREATED
TRICK
TROUBLED
TUMBLE-DOWN
TUMBLING
TUMULTUOUS
TURBULENT
TURNED
TURNED OUT
TWIST
UNCERTAIN
UNCLEAR
UNCOMMON
UNDECIDED
UNDISCIPLINED
UNDOING
UNDONE
UNEASY
UNFAMILIAR
UNHAPPY
UNNATURAL
UNORTHODOX
UNRAVELLED
UNRELIABLE
UNREST
UNRESTRAINED
UNRULY
UNSETTLED
UNSETTLING
UNSOUND
UNSTABLE
UNSTEADY
UNTIDY
UNTIE
UNUSUAL
UNWONTED
UPHEAVAL
UPSET
USAGE
USE <fodder> FOR <soln>
VACILLATING
VAGUE
VANDALISE
VARIABLE
VARIABLE
VARIED
VARIETY
VARIOUSLY
VARY
VERSION
VIOLENTLY
VOLATILE
WANDERING
WARPED
WARRING
WAVERING
WAY OUT
WAYWARD
WEAVE
WEIRDLY
WELL-FORMED
WELL-ORDERED
WELL-ORGANISED
WELL-VARIED
WENT OFF
WENT TO PIECES
WHIRLING
WILD
WILTS
WOBBLY
WOOLLY
WORK OUT
WORRIED
WOVEN
WRECK
WRITHING
WRONGLY

Thanks to Ganesh for his inputs in compiling this list.

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Interviews With Ace Solvers: Part V

Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers

Peter Biddlecombe

peter biddlecombeinterviews-with-crossword-solversPeter Biddlecombe, 48, from Buckinghamshire, UK, is one of the quickest cryptic crossword solvers in the world. A regular solver of the Times crossword for about 30 years, his average Times solving time is about 10 minutes and his best-ever time is 3 minutes. At the annual Times Crossword Championship, Peter has been a finalist several times in a row and the winner twice.

Peter also runs and contributes to the blog site "Times for the Times", which discusses each day's Times crossword solutions.

In the final interview of the ace solver interview series, Peter shares some crossword-related experiences from his life. Read on to discover "the secret" of his amazing solving prowess.

Q1: When and how did you start solving crosswords?

Peter: My first proper go at cryptics was in summer 1976, aged 16. I found a Pan book of puzzles in a bookshop. These books were graded, with about 20 puzzles each at four levels of difficulty. I didn’t have a cryptic crossword expert to help in human or book form, so had to work out the clues as best I could, often after guessing at definitions to fit clue and answer length, and hoping to find crossing “hits” in the grid. I gradually worked out various crossword clichés like Gunners=RA or French art = ES, but often without understanding them properly. When school restarted that autumn, there was a cheap offer on The Times for students, so I had an optimistic go at the Times puzzle each day. It was far too much of a leap, and I often only got a few answers – finishing about a quarter of the puzzle was typical, and my first Times solution only came several years later, after switching to the Guardian for a while and making better progress.

(This was very much a reflection of the puzzles as they were at the time – this method would probably be useless these days.)

Q2: Which crosswords do you solve currently, how often and how do you fare with them?

Peter: I tackle the Times cryptic and Concise puzzles every day. When I have time (maybe three days a week) I do the Independent one too. The Times puzzle can take anything from 3 minutes upwards, with an average time around 10 and at least 90% of the puzzles finished inside 20 minutes. At the weekend I usually do the Times Jumbo cryptic (23x23 grid), and one or both of Azed and Mephisto (barred-grid cryptics with tough vocabulary, in Observer and Sunday Times). If there’s a lot of time or I’m due to blog it, I do the Independent’s “Inquisitor” which is similar to the Listener puzzle – i.e. Azed/Mephisto plus some kind of thematic element. I also look at the Telegraph cryptic and/or “Toughie” puzzle a few times a week.

The Times puzzle is usually done in the morning, between breakfast and starting work (I work from home).

Q3: Please let us in on The Secret of your incredible solving speed!

Peter: Start young! If you talk to the people in the Grand Final (top 24) of the Times Crossword Championship, the thing most likely to be true is not that they’re mathematical, musical or linguistic prodigies, but simply that they started trying to solve cryptics before they were 20 years old. They will probably score highly in IQ tests too, but that doesn’t seem to be enough on its own. Other things that help a lot are a good fund of general knowledge and a good memory for spelling – the scoring system means that a correct solution inside the time limit beats any solution with mistakes, no matter how fast. Knowing how to spell words can mean that you see an answer from checking letters and a possible definition, and can get away with not working out the whole of the wordplay.

Q4: Do you have a favourite crossword, compiler or clue?

Peter: I don’t collect favourite clues like some solvers, so I’m not going to quote the good ones I just happen to remember. The Times daily puzzle is my favourite, with the Independent daily puzzle very close behind, as are Azed and Mephisto. As the Times puzzle doesn’t name the compiler, I can’t be certain which of its setters are my favourites, and when I do find out from the grapevine who’s written a puzzle, it’s very often not who I thought. Of the named setters at the Independent, I particularly like Monk, Virgilius, Punk (also Paul in the Guardian), Nimrod (Enigmatist in the Guardian), Bannsider, Nestor, Dac and Quixote (Pasquale in the Guardian), all of whom are on the Times team too.

Q5: What are the crossword references you use?

Peter: When solving a daily paper cryptic, my aim is not to use any reference books until checking any new words after solving – mainly because when the Times championship comes round, it’s just you and your pencil. For Mephisto and Azed, I start out without Chambers (the standard dictionary for these puzzles), and occasionally get the whole puzzle finished without help, but usually have to start using it after somewhere between 25% and 75% of the answers are in. I have a copy of Bradford's Crossword Solver's Dictionary, but try to avoid using it. I also have various reference books like Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Chambers Biographical Dictionary and a Dictionary of Fictional Characters, which help with the odd thing I don’t know about. But for new solvers, it’s a simple fact that most of this information is now easy to find with Google.

Q6: Most of the readers of Crossword Unclued are familiar with The Hindu crossword. For solvers looking to challenge themselves with tougher crosswords, which ones do you recommend? How should they prepare themselves for it?

Peter: As daily paper puzzles, I’d recommend any of the UK’s “broadsheet” puzzles (FT, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Independent, Times). Of these, three are available on the Internet for free, and the other two (Times, Telegraph) by subscription. The FT and Telegraph are on average a bit easier than the other three. The Times is often thought to be the hardest, but any of the Times, Guardian and Independent are pretty much level for average difficulty. All five of these puzzles are now analysed on blogs, on the day of publication for puzzles that aren’t competition ones. People who tackle one of these puzzles and look at the blog each day often report improvements in a few months that took years to achieve when you could only look at unexplained answers in the next day’s paper. For those who are finishing or nearly finishing the broadsheets, I’d recommend Azed or Mephisto – the more advanced tricks they use sometimes crop up in daily puzzles, and experience in dealing with them can turn a really tough clue into a relatively easy one.

Q7: Any memorable crossword-related experiences that you’d like to share?

Peter: The main experience is how friendly and helpful the vast majority of crossword folk are, even if you meet them when they’re just about to solve competitively against the clock, or have just seen their carefully-crafted tough puzzle for the Times final devoured in seven minutes or so.

One memory is of Mike Rich who used to organize the Times championship, and seemed far more sure of my future prospects than I was, greeting me with “Qualifying today?” when I turned up and hadn’t yet ever qualified for the final, and then when I was in it, asking me (for his introductions) how many times I’d won, when the answer was “none”.

Another was an odd incident when taking a photocopy of a Listener puzzle at work (back in the days before you could print umpteen copies from a website). The copier jammed, and not wanting my puzzle-copying habits to be detected, I had to fix the jam. What should I find blocking the paper path, but a wrinkled-up copy of the same day’s Daily Telegraph puzzle?

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Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers

Other Interviews:
Part I: Interview With Sridhar Shenoy
Part II: Interview With Chaturvasi
Part III: Interview With Vinod Raman
Part IV: Interview With Ganesh T S
Part VI: Interview With Deepak Gopinath

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