Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spoonerisms

Spoonerism clues use play on words in which the initial sounds or syllables of words are switched.

spoonerism1

Such as:
EASE MY TEARS/TEASE MY EARS
LIGHT FIRE/FIGHT LIAR

The term 'spoonerism' comes from Reverend W.A. Spooner (1844-1930), an Oxford don, who is reputed to have made these linguistic slips frequently. In cryptic clues, spoonerisms are popular for their humorous effect.

Example:
Guardian 24270: Sitting comfortably? Here, perhaps, is Spooner's popular but second-rate tune (4,5)
popular but second-rate tune = CHEESY AIR
Spooner's indicates that CHEESY AIR is a Spoonerism of the expected answer. Switch the initial sounds and you get the solution, EASY CHAIR.

Spoonerism Clue Characteristics

  • Very easy to identify because of its giveaway indicator - the clue will nearly always has the word 'Spooner' in it. It is also simple to deconstruct – whatever follows "Spooner's" or immediately precedes ", as Spooner would say", is a spoonerism of the solution.

  • Spoonerism clues are used sparingly. Of the popular daily crosswords, Guardian seems to carry them the most (once a month or so). They are rare in the crosswords published in India. This one is from ET in '07:

    ET 3396: Spooner's criminal with nurse finding hiding places (4,3,6) NOOK AND CRANNY [Spoonerism of CROOK AND NANNY]

  • In advanced cryptics, spoonerisms may be more complex with transpose not limited to initial sound. There could be vocalic switches [e.g. BUNTING/BIN TONGUE or UNHITCH/IN HUTCH], and changes of punctuation.

Solve These! 

Try solving these clues from the Guardian archives:
Spooner's metal building an irritating thing? (4,5)
Spooner's stuff, sailor's vehicle (7)

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Keep Them Coming, Neyartha!

neyartha Of all the compilers of The Hindu Crossword, we come across Neyartha the least (2 a month on average?). What is it they say, about good things being scarce?

Whenever they appear, Neyartha's puzzles have a thunderbolt effect. The Orkut solving community becomes abuzz with activity, normally sparse blog comment spaces get a profusion of reactions, annotations for clues are hotly discussed.

Neyartha's puzzles are high on substitutions/deletions and combinations of clue types - one reason why parsing his clues is challenging. To add to it, there are the starred clues with no definition. Today's (THC 9516) takes the themed crossword a notch up, with the starred clues themselves forming a clue.

I find a unique identifiable character in his puzzles; a glance is enough to reveal it's his work (and I'm not talking about the smattering of asterisks). His choice of words is distinctive and the context very contemporary. There will be references to Bond films, Sarah Palin, Slumdog Millionaire. Some clues carry phrases in brackets - remember the revolutionary doctor (cheat) who was beseiged by misfortune, or the need (unwritten) when you fell over?

Then there are 'techie' quirks like using 'gate' to stand for logic gates, fractions (70% of the storerooms, 5/9th of something else!) and the inclination towards the sciences (chemistry and maths figure prominently).

Like with Gridman, the framework is assuredly Indian. Trains will travel between Delhi-Chennai, university will be BITS in place of OU and dance will be BHARATNATYAM rather than BALL. (Talking of BITS, his clue 15A from THC 9490 even made it to BITS-related press releases.) It is a comfort to solve puzzles with a cultural context that's closer home.

Hope we see more of this individualistic (or as Anokha says – crazy!) compiler. Keep them coming, star setter!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Hindu Crossword Solutions

the-hindu-crossword Many visitors to my site reach through Google search for The Hindu Crossword (THC) solutions. I write about this crossword occasionally - see the sidebar section "The Hindu Crossword" for posts on this, or posts labelled "the hindu". If you're looking for daily commentary on THC, there are a couple of places you could go to:

Orkut community "The Hindu Crossword Solutions": A community of 1000+ members from the world over, with the excellent Chaturvasi and Ganesh as moderators, this forum solves the crossword everyday with members contributing a max. of 4 answers per person. There are special runs sometimes, such as "US solvers only" or "one man's blog". The solving is interspersed with learned insights from experienced solvers, occasional clue-writing threads and general crossword-related chitchat. For beginners and veterans alike, a great place to participate, contribute, question, learn.

Col. Gopinath's Blog: An active member of the above community, Col. Gopinath also writes his own blog about the Hindu Crossword. He publishes the solutions around 8.30am everyday. A specialty of his blog is the links he provides for word meanings. Very helpful if you're building on your GK/vocabulary.

Anokha's Blog: The first place to publish the THC solutions each day. Anokha lives in the US time zone and has the crossword wrapped up before those of us in India have even seen the grid. He (she? I don't yet know, Anokha!) writes in a direct, no-nonsense style, no mincing words here - good clues get lavish praise, bad ones get sharp reprimands.

The Hub: A group solving space on which "hubbers" together work on the puzzle. The more you participate, the higher you move up the "hubber" chain (junior to regular to devoted to veteran). Mrs. PP, the owner, posts clapping smileys when the day's crossword gets completed.

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The Hindu Crossword Solutions/Evaluation

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Get Notified Of Online Crossword Updates

If you solve a daily crossword online, do you keep checking the paper's website to find out if they've uploaded the latest, and if they haven't, refreshing the page every few minutes hoping they'd change it quickly?

If you're really keen to know as soon as the latest crossword is up, you might be wasting a lot of time in repeat visits to the crossword page. I found myself doing that for Financial Times crossword on Fridays. That's the day I blog on fifteensquared.net for FT and want to get the grid as soon as it is available. The time of upload varies, so one can't tell precisely when the day's crossword will be up.

I'm using a tool now that checks the crossword page in the background. It would also be useful for solvers of other crosswords online – such as The Hindu Crossword solvers from the US/UK time zones, who get the latest crossword in the afternoon while it is midnight in India.

So What Is This Tool?

The tool is called Update Scanner. It monitors web pages for updates. The tool is a Firefox add-on. IE users – it is time you switched to the better browser :)

You can get Update Scanner from here: Install Update Scanner. This link will open a screen as below:

update-scanner-download

Click on the Add to Firefox button, and Install Now on the popup following it. This will add Update Scanner to Tools menu of Firefox.

Installed! How To Make It Track Crosswords?

A few simple steps:

  1. Open the crossword page.
    For Financial Times: http://www.ft.com/arts/crossword
    For The Hindu Crossword: http://www.hindu.com/ (Track the front page itself, as The Hindu does not have a common "crossword" page. Still, it is sufficient to know that the "Miscellaneous" link on the front page has changed.)
  2. Right-click anywhere on the page, and choose the menu option Scan Page For Updates…

     update-scanner-scan-page-ft

  3. A dialog window will open as below. Drag the sliders to adjust how frequently you want to scan the page (can vary from every 5 minutes to every week), and the extent of change you want to track (set it to "Cosmetic Changes are ignored" for the FT page, and a broader level for THC, say "Medium Changes are ignored").

     update-scanner-preferences

  4. update-scanner-notificationThat's your job done, Update Scanner will handle the rest. As soon the new crossword is uploaded, it will show this little window in the bottom status bar. Click the blue Up arrow on it to visit the changed site and get the latest crossword. If you are tracking many sites, the ones that have changed will be in bold on the Update Scanner sidebar.

    update-scanner-display-changes

Notes

  1. Switch on the tool only when you need it. e.g. If you know that the Hindu Crossword will be up after 12pm your time, switch it on at 12pm. After the new crossword notification reaches you, disable it till next use. (A general good practice is to keep unnecessary processes on your computer off.) To disable, go to Firefox menu Tools –> Add-ons, select Update Scanner and click Disable.

     update-scanner-disable 

  2. You need not apply Update Scanner on pages that provide RSS feed of their content. Subscribe to such pages through your reader or email. The Hindu Crossword, for example, is part of the RSS feed: http://www.hindu.com/rss/10hdline.xml - you could use that instead to get notified of crossword updates.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Letter Sequence Indicators

A compilation of indicators for letter selection clues.

This covers the following clue types:

Acrostic Indicators
BEGINNERS
BEGINNINGS
FIRST
FIRSTLY
FOR STARTERS
HEADS
INITIALLY
INITIALS
LEADERS
LEADING
LEADS
SOURCES
STARTERS

Select Letters
ALTERNATELY
EVENLY
EVERY OTHER
EVERY SECOND
ODDLY
ODDS
REGULARLY

Drop Letters
EVENS OUT
NOT EVEN
NOTHING ODD
ODDLY LACKING
REGULAR LOSSES
SECONDS OUT

Other Patterns

ENDS OF,
TAILS

EDGES OF,
EXTREMES OF,
EXTREMELY

HEADS OFF,
INITIALLY AWAY




THIRDS OF

Indicates picking last letters of a series of words
e.g. feaR nO thornS herE = ROSE

Indicates picking one or both edges of a series of words
e.g. RituparnO SpokE = ROSE


All letters except the first from a series of words. The indicators for this pattern are similar to "Delete The Head" subtraction indicators, but here the indicator acts on a sequence of words instead of a single word. The indicator is generally in the plural e.g. HEADS OFF instead of HEAD OFF.

Third letters of a series of words

Notes:

  • There is a plenty of overlap between letter selection indicators and subtraction indicators, where the letter sequence involves discarding letters. In fact, the "Drop Letters" style can be viewed as a special kind of deletion.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Letter Picking

odd-even-letters-cryptic-clue
Hidden words and acrostics offer in plain sight the letters needed to reach the solution. Naturally these clue types are pretty easy to solve in a crossword puzzle.

Another clue type of this kind is the regular letter sequence. Letters are picked from a portion of the clue to give the solution. The sequence of picking letters follows a uniform pattern, such as odd letters, even letters or every Nth letter from a phrase.

Letter Sequence Clue Structure: The clue has three parts -
1. Definition
2. Letter sequence indicator – There are broadly two varieties of indicators:
    (A) Those that indicate letters to be selected – e.g. evenly, alternately
    (B) Those that indicate letters to be dropped – e.g. oddly lacking, seconds out 
3. Word/phrase containing the letter sequence

Example:
THC 9502: Beasts, free, ginned, we hear — regular losses there! (8) REINDEER
Definition: beasts
Phrase containing the letter sequence: free ginned we hear
Letter sequence indicator: regular losses 
Alternate letters are removed from 'fReE gInNeD wE hEaR' to give REINDEER.

Things To Watch Out For

  • 'regular', 'regularly' are more generic indicators compared to 'evenly', 'odds' as they can imply letter selection in any ordered pattern. In most cases 'regular' will just mean alternate letters (odds or evens), but if the resultant word is gibberish try some other pattern, such as every 3rd letter.
  • The letter sequence need not give the whole solution, it could be a part of the solution in a complex clue.
    Example: 
    Times 23851: Fried food: it is served by auntie regularly (5) SA UTE
    A charade in which the second component is the letter sequence.
    it = SA (sex appeal), aUnTiE regularly = UTE
  • This clue type is not very common. In a standard daily crossword, it might show up once a week or so.

Solve These

Try solving these letter sequence-based clues from the Times/Guardian archives:

From this position, can’t go up? Nothing odd there (4)
Dots cartoon must feature regularly (5)
It's extremely 'allucinogenic, indeed (4)

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Deletion Indicators

The post on deletions touched upon different ways in which a clue could prompt you to subtract letters from a word. To recap, the deletion clue type could lead you to:

  • Subtract letters from the "head" (beginning) of a word e.g. STOP – S = TOP
  • Subtract letters from the "tail" (end) of a word e.g. TOPE – E = TOP
  • Subtract letters from both edges of a word: e.g. AUTOPSY  - {AU,SY} = TOP
  • Subtract letters from the middle of a word: STROP – R = STOP
  • Subtract specific letters from any position: e.g. TEARDROP – {EAR DR} = TOP

Here is a sample set of indicators that go with each type of deletion.

Delete The Head
AFTER COMMENCEMENT
BEGINNING TO GO
BEHEADED
BEHEADING
DECAPITATED
FIRST OFF
HEADLESS
HEAD OFF
INITIALLY LACKING
LEADERLESS
LOSING OPENER
MISSING THE FIRST
NEEDING NO INTRODUCTION
NOT BEGINNING
NOT COMMENCING
NOT STARTING
START OFF
START TO GO
SCRATCH THE HEAD
STRIKE THE HEAD
UNINITIATED
UNSTARTED
WITHOUT ORIGIN

Delete The Tail
ABRIDGED
ALMOST
BACK OFF
CLIPPED
CURTAILED
CUT SHORT
DETAILED
EARLY CLOSING
ENDLESS
FALLING SHORT
FINISH OFF
FOR THE MOST PART
INCOMPLETE
INTERMINABLE
LACKING FINISH
MISSING THE LAST
MOST
MOSTLY
NEARLY
NOT COMPLETELY
NOT FULLY
NOT QUITE
SHORT
SHORTENING
TAILLESS
UNENDING
UNFINISHED
WITHOUT END

Delete Both Ends
EDGES AWAY
LACKING WINGS
LIMITLESS
LOSING MARGINS
SHELLED
SIDES SPLITTING
TRIMMED
UNLIMITED
WINGLESS
WITHOUT LIMITS

Delete The Middle
CORED
DISHEARTENED
EMPTIED
EMPTY
EVACUATED
FILLETED
GUTTED
HEARTLESS
HOLLOW
LOSING HEART
UNCENTERED

Delete Specific Words/Letters
CUTTING
ERASED
GOES OUT OF
LEAVES
MISSING
NO
NOT
REMOVED
SHORT OF
STRUCK
WITHOUT

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Tricky Indicators: Part II

tricky-cryptic-clue-indicator Tricky Indicators: Part I dealt with a special kind of indicator that is encapsulated in a bigger word; the bigger word needs to be dismantled to separate out the indicator + fodder. The dismantling is simple enough: take a word like INGRATE, break it into IN + GRATE and read it as a container where GRATE is the outer word.

This technique is taken a step further when the indicator is not spelt out but has to be derived through the wordplay.

Consider this clue:
               State experiencing financial trouble, persisted? (8) RE{MAINE}D

Persisted is the definition, state = MAINE. Where does RE{..}D come from?
"experiencing financial trouble" = IN THE RED, which gives the c/c indicator (in) and the outer word (RED).

Implied Indicators

The indicator and associated fodder as in the example above, are not explicitly stated but implied. Here are more examples.

Word Cryptic Meaning How?
asleep, retired c/c with BED as the outer word asleep = IN BED
establish TES establish = SET UP = SET reversed
in debt, overdrawn c/c with RED or THERED as the outer word in debt / overdrawn = IN THE RED
regained NOW regained = WON BACK = WON reversed

Solve These

A couple of clues from the Times/FT archives:

Perplexed when you dream where you'd expect to dream? (7)
See what? (6)

Previous Post Of The 2-Part Series: Encapsulated Indicators

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tricky Indicators: Part I

tricky-cryptic-clue-indicator Most types of cryptic clues such as anagrams, hidden words, deletions etc. have indicators to signal the clue type. A container clue, for example, must have a word/phrase to point out that one word needs to be embedded inside another.

Consider a standard container clue:
NIE 01-Apr-09: Doctor about to employ thought (5) M{USE}D
The outer word (doctor = MD) and inner word (employ = USE) are clearly distinguished, with "about" indicating that MD will go around USE.

Indicators are not always so explicit. The next clue shows a trickier style of clueing container clues.

NIE 9697: Sad bearer of news indeed (9)
Here the outer word and indicator are combined in the word INDEED, which is to be read as "in DEED". The word for "bearer of news" = PRESS is put inside DEED to give the solution DE{PRESS}ED.

INDEED is a the most common example of this type – most often it's there in the clue not to express emphatic agreement but to give the letters DE{ }ED for the solution.

Other words starting with IN- can also be used in the same way. So, INTERN can be used to clue TER{RAI}N and INMATE to clue MAT{T}E.

Such wordplay is considered "unXimenean" (refer to the "Derringer's exploits" clue in the link for more on this), and you will not come across this kind of clue in crosswords like the Times. Many Libertarian setters do use this device though, so it's good to prepare yourself.

Encapsulated Indicators

For the sake of differentiating them from regular indicators, I'm calling these "encapsulated indicators" – indicators that are part of a bigger word; for solving we need to take apart this word to form [indicator + fodder] and do as indicated with the fodder.

Some more examples to help you recognize encapsulated indicators. These are often within compound words and give fragments of the solution in complex clues.

Word Encapsulated Indicator Cryptic Meaning
BACKBONE BACK, reversal indicator Reverse a word that means BONE, such as MARC<-
INTENSE IN, container indicator Put the inner word of the container clue inside a word for TENSE
SCATTERBRAIN SCATTER, anagram indicator Anagram the letters of BRAIN
SWEETHEART HEART, deletion/selection indicator Take the central letters WEE or E from SWEET
UNDERPASS UNDER, position indicator in a charade DOWN clue Place the other charade component below a word for PASS
UPKEEP UP, reversal indicator in a DOWN clue Reverse a word that means KEEP, such as EROTS<-, NIER<-

Caution! Don't expect to find encapsulated indicators all the time - BACKBONE can easily mean "spine". Check what works in the context of the clue.

As you can see, such indicators are pretty easy to spot once you know the trick. In the next post we'll look at clue indicators with a little more twist – the implied indicator.

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