Sunday, June 28, 2009

Surface Reading, Cryptic Reading

surface-vs-cryptic-coconut

For new solvers, this is to clear up some terminology used on this site and elsewhere in discussions about cryptic clues.

Surface Reading

The surface reading (also called surface meaning, or simply surface) of a clue is its external meaning - what the clue conveys when you read it as a straight sentence/phrase.

Take the word CHAIR, and look at three different clues for it.

  1. Piece of furniture one in daily (5)
  2. Burn around one piece of furniture (5)
  3. Cleaning-lady holds a position of authority (5)

All three break the word up as CHA{I}R.

The wordplay is identical, but what of the surfaces?

Forget for a moment that these are cryptic clues, just read them literally. You'll see that clue (1) is nonsensical, clue (2) has a grammatically correct surface but is semantically weak (what does it mean to "burn around one piece of furniture"?). Clue (3) is the most plausible of the lot.

A good surface will be meaningful, often intriguing or witty. The kind of phrase that you're likely to come across in conversation, writing or thought. A good surface will also try to direct your attention away from the cryptic meaning of the clue.

Cryptic Reading

The cryptic reading or cryptic meaning of a clue is its hidden meaning - the meaning that the solver must unravel to arrive at the solution.

Take clue (3) again: Cleaning-lady holds a position of authority (5)

While the surface is about a charwoman who holds a position of authority, the clue cryptically says:
cleaning-lady = CHAR, holds = containment indicator, a = I.

"position of authority" is the definition. The segment "cleaning-lady holds a" is together called the wordplay (or subsidiary indication, see comment#1).

Good cryptic reading will have a fair definition and wordplay. It will contain either no superfluous words or only those that do not interfere with the wordplay. It will give the solver a good chance to reach the solution.

---
In clue (3), a = I.
In clues (1) and (2), one = I.

Which is better?

one = I is more precise for the cryptic reading, but a = I makes for a smoother surface.

The best clues manage to do both: have great surfaces and equally great cryptic reading.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

When Charge Is Not ION

many-word-meanings

Someone I admire greatly says this about rules of thumb - in another field, but it applies equally well to crosswords.

For every "rule", there is a counter case that doesn't disprove the rule necessarily - just says "it doesn't always apply".

Regular solvers will be accustomed to replacing "way" with ST or "fifty" with L in their heads without second thought, but sometimes a clue comes along that upsets that convention.

So it is with charge = ION. That isn't even much of a "rule of thumb" – exceptions are abundant!

When is charge in the surface not equal to ION in the solution? Here are a few cases:

1. When "in charge" = IC
Guardian 24714 (Rufus): Commanding Officer in charge set about sergeant major – great! (6)
ET 3220: In charge of an animal, in charge of a country (9) 

2. When it means "accuse"
Times 24234: Reportedly, a means to control horse's charge (7)
THC 9548 (Sankalak): Charge that supporter is steeped in drink (6)

3. When it means "control" or "supervision"
New Indian Express 31-Dec-08: One in charge is possibly a German (7) 
THC 8898: People in charge of wardrobes and cupboards (8)

2. When it means "payment" or "price"
New Indian Express 07-Jan-09: Anticipate charge for concealing minerals (7)
New Indian Express 19-Nov-07: Soldiers hold deserter without charge (6)

4. When it means electric charge 
Guardian 24717 (Araucaria): Store charge here for top performer without one (9)
New Indian Express 9871: It's extremely small and free of charge (7)

Answers? More clues that use CHARGE in another sense not mentioned here? Share them in the comments section.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Curious Case Of The Simple Segal

mystery

Two clues about Erich Segal's "Love Story" in The Hindu Crossword this month – and both straight clues!

Gridman, who has a flair for the cryptic definition, writes this in today's THC 9566:
"Love Story" author Erich (5) SEGAL

which isn't a cryptic definition by any yardstick.

…and Sankalak's THC 9522 (09-Jun-09) carried the next one, a straight clue again:
Erich Segal's romance (4,5) LOVE STORY

A coincidence, isn't it, that both setters chose to make this one the rare direct definition in a cryptic puzzle?

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Free Of Charge

ion-charge-crossword In science, ION is a charged particle. In crosswords, ION may be simply "charge"[1].

As it was in this clue from THC 5087[2], one of the last to get solved today on Orkut's Hindu Crossword community:

No charge for assembly as it is a religious place (7) CONVENT{-ion}

The charge = ION equation gives enormous possibilities to the setter. A whole range of words end in -ION, courtesy of nominalization (converting a verb to noun by adding a suffix e.g. "decide" –> "decision").

"Charge", too, has many uses for the surface. You can charge (accuse) someone of crime, charge (ask for payment) the customer for goods purchased, place a child in the nurse's charge (care), be in charge (command) of a situation, or charge (supply with electric charge) your mobile phone, to mention a few.

With "charge" in the surface, the typical wordplay involves addition or removal of -ION from a word.

Given that perspective, have a go at solving these clues from the New Indian Express/Economic Times archives:

Numbers take charge in stress (7)
Account charge for a large number (7)
Second one charged to leave person retired as poet (7)

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[1] …ION is simply "charge": That's technically inaccurate, but it is used so widely that we accept that anomaly.
[2] THC 5087 was published more than 14 years ago, on 4th Jan 1995. For a change, today the community took to solving something from the archives.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Hindu Crossword 9564: Gridman

I'm up till late tonight and we have Gridman back after a long NJ spell, so I decided to have a shot at the crossword from the online paper. Here's the filled-in grid (14D to go):

image  

Comments On THC 9564

A comparatively easier offering from Gridman. Some definitions border on the straight, like 10A, 13A.

As usual there is neat, fair wordplay throughout, my favourites being 17D for its interesting double-definition and 23D for its excellent surface. Nothing very obscure except AGANIPPE which I happened to know because of an earlier crossword.

Giving the annotations for some of the clues that I felt might need explanation, drop a comment if you need anything else explained.

Across

1 SO (therefore) FT (paper), SPOT (to see)
'paper' in the crossword is likelier to be a reference to self. Unusual for FT to be referred in The Hindu - but then it's not a rival paper.

The surface is intriguing. Is it about academics who write 'papers' to find flaws in each others' work?

5 C EASED

9 CRIED OFF
A cryptic double-definition.

15 {-a m}ENABLE
No wonder 14D wasn't working out, I had put in VIABLE instead. I thought this was quite intricate. See the comments section for more.

17 DON ('fellow' in university) U (you) T (last letter of 'meT')
Does you = U com from SMS-ese, or is there another explanation? I have a similar question about the standard abbreviation see = C.
Good to see that last letter of 'met' is indicated as 'met at last', and not the ungrammatical 'last met' which a couple of other setters on THC tend to use.

30 AGED (old) around I (one) TAT (Hindu absolute)
TAT might be too obscure for many, and it isn't listed in the dictionaries. TAT (literal meaning: that) in the Vedic context is the Absolute, the basis of all creation. The opposite is IDAM (literal meaning: this), the visible universe.

Down

2 FAD around IEL*

3 SIDE dd
The second definition is cryptic, as when one is objective one does not 'take sides'. (But I am not convinced that that is always true - one might look at a debate objectively and still decide to take a particular side?)

4 OF FALL{-l}
Nice that 'fall' has been clued as '... in the US'.

6 ERA (periods) SE (extremes of 'sufferance')
Is there a better explanation for this?
I think ERASE should be just 'remove' and not 'remove from memory', and periods should give ERAS not ERA.

7 S{CRAP}ING
How interesting that the word 'SCRAP' is right there in the next clue!

14 K NUR<- See the comments section for more.

22 J (first of 'January') (UST SO)*

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

But Which Is The Anagrind?

mixed anagram signals The last post was about how anagram clues become difficult to spot when other clues in the puzzle look deceptively like anagrams.

Here's another device that adds some complexity to anagram clues: more than one word/phrase in the clue that could act as anagrind.

Look at this:

THC 9353 (Gridman): Order tinned mixture (6)

The fodder is "tinned" all right, but which is the indicator, which the definition? Is the answer a word that means "order", or one that means "mixture"?

The setter cannot omit the anagrind, and must put it adjacent to the fodder - that's a given - but the anagrind could appear to the left or the right of the fodder. If the setter pads both sides of the fodder with anagrind-type words, the solver is at least briefly confused about which to consider the definition. The anagram clue is not so simple anymore.

Another similarly structured clue:

Times 23469: Having drunk rum, becomes awkward (10)

And a variant in which the definition is clear enough, the difficulty is in differentiating between the indicator and the fodder:

Times 24055: Pedal machine that's ineptly altered (7)

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Of Anagrams and Whodunits

bait-anagram Of all clue types, anagrams are the easiest to recognize. For the setter to camouflage the anagrind, prepare an inconspicuous fodder and at the same time play by the rules, can be a pretty tough challenge.

What is a smart way to make anagrams not so obvious? Take a tip from crime fiction. There is one criminal in the story, but you don't know who it is as half a dozen other people are equally likely to have committed the crime.

Intelligent crossword puzzles make use of the same logic. A clue or two appear to be anagrams but are not so, leaving you not-so-confident about which ones are really anagrams.

Try this -
Times 24221: Did shake obtained from milk container spill all round? (9)

If you follow the solving mode of "quick scan through puzzle for likely anagrams before anything else", chances are you'll pause here over "shake" and "spill". As it turns out, there is no anagram in this clue. (What's the answer, then? Post it in the comments section.)

More clues with nicely misleading anagram signals:

Times 24244: Upset girl's mum (8)
Guardian 24721 (Paul): End of four months in the red, becoming flexible (7)

I'll update the answers to clues after three days. Till then, have fun solving!

Update (13-Jun-09): The unanswered clues were not just solved but also dissected/re-clued. Go to the comments section for more. Thanks to Suhel, Chaturvasi, maddy and Sri for writing in.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Triple Definition Clues

triple-definition-cryptic-clue 
The more the ways to reach the solution, the easier the clue - or is it?

Not exactly. Compare a cryptic clue with a straight one. A straight clue has only one path to the solution. The answer may not be precisely arrived at without crossings [Animal (3) = DOG? RAT? PIG?] but at least we know the path is the right one.

A cryptic clue offers more than one path to the solution. There is slim chance of error if our solution satisfies all paths [Animal in laboratory (3) = RAT [T], DOG and PIG ruled out], the challenge lies is in finding which are the correct paths.

Most cryptic clues have two ways to reach the solution – (i) the definition (ii) the wordplay or a second definition in case of double-definition clues. [An exception is the cryptic definition clue, which gives a single devious way.]

What happens when the number of paths to the solution is more than two?

It catches us off-guard. We aren't conditioned to recognize it, so accustomed are we to two-segment clues. We miss seeing the beauty of the clue in entirety.

At least, that's what happened  when I came across this clue in FT 13095 (Viking):

Pick holes in weak summary (3, 4)

I got the answer RUN DOWN fairly early but missed spotting that it was a triple definition, with a different length divisions for each definition:

pick holes (3,4) = RUN DOWN
weak (3-4) = RUN-DOWN
summary (7) = RUNDOWN

I realised this only when Viking, the composer of the puzzle, pointed it out on the blog.

More Triple Definition Clues

A few triple definition clues published in the recent past – solve and savour.

Times 24244: Best or worst party (6)
NIE (24-Mar-09): Light nonsense is still produced (9)
Guardian 24655 (Araucaria): Trim and plain, like "ox" (4)

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rhyming Slang

Along with H-dropping, another aspect of Cockney English that shows up in crosswords is rhyming slang.

Take this clue from the Times 2009 Championship Qualifier 3:

Toast a couple of mates left unfinished (4-4)

In rhyming slang, a word is replaced by another word/phrase that rhymes with it. For "mate", the rhyming slang is CHINA PLATE. The second word may even be omitted – so for "mate" just CHINA suffices.

The answer to the Times clue above is CHIN-CHIN (CHINa-CHINa unfinished).

The challenge with clues based on Cockney rhyming slang is that unless you know the slang, it is next to impossible to crack the wordplay. To the uninitiated, there is no logical association between the original word and its derivative. The clue has no indicator either to suggest the Cockney transformation.

Such clues had me stumped when I began solving British crosswords. I manage better now though I still don't have a surefire method of recognizing rhyming slang except what I've picked from solving experience. Some popular ones:

Word Rhyming Slang
feet PLATES of meat
hair BARNET fair
lie PORK pie
look BUTCHER'S hook
pinch HALF inch
stairs APPLES and pears
thief TEA leaf

Clue Examples

Times 24182:  One going to the head providing false account (4,3) PORK PIE [2]
PORK PIE is a type of hat, and also the Cockney rhyming slang for "lie".

Guardian 24682 (Paul): Criminal given bird without hearing, blowing top (3, 4) TEA LEAF
TEAL (bird) + {-d}EAF (without hearing)
TEA LEAF is Cockney rhyming slang for "thief", which fits the definition "criminal".

Times Sunday 4301: Barnet's tricky turn? (7, 4) HAIRPIN BEND
A cryptic definition that invokes the Cockney rhyming slang "hair" = BARNET.

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My last resort: when I can derive the answer based on the definition and other bits, but a part of the wordplay seems inexplicable, I put in "<inexplicable wordplay> rhyming slang" into Google. Works like a charm!

Suggestions for tackling rhyming slang clues better?

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