A Nina is a special feature of the crossword grid: a word, words or phrase hidden within a pattern of cells in the completed grid.
An example from an Indy crossword: the words STALACTITE and STALAGMITE are concealed vertically, in symmetrical positions.
Why is it called a Nina?
Many think "Nina" is an acronym. It isn't.
The word comes from Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003), American caricaturist, who was famous for hiding his daughter's name "Nina" into his drawings. Wikipedia says:
The name would appear in a sleeve, in a hairdo, or somewhere in the background. Sometimes "Nina" would show up more than once and Hirschfeld would helpfully add a number next to his signature, to let people know how many times her name would appear.
Hirschfeld's artwork is here, I've strained my eyes trying to spot Ninas in the online images. Can you see any? He started the trend in 1945, the year his daughter was born, so look for artwork created post-1945.
Crossword setters then brought Ninas into the realm of crosswords. [If you happen to know which publication/setter started the trend, do write a comment about it. Update (24-Mar-2011): So far the earliest known Nina is this one, from the Times crossword of July 1967.] Nowadays Ninas occur quite often in the Independent crossword, and occasionally in the Guardian and FT. I haven't yet come across one in the Times, or in any of the Indian crosswords.
Update: There have been Ninas in Indian crossword grids since this article was written. THC 9729 of 1st Jan 2010 was the first. Though rare, there have also been themes and Ninas in the Times crossword.
Ninas and Solvability
As with pangrams, the existence of a Nina is not announced – you'll miss it if you don't actively look for it.
A Nina could help you fill up faster if you catch on to it before filling up the grid, but experience tells me that rarely happens. Ninas are even subtler than pangrams. You generally finish the crossword before the "Ah!" moment of seeing the Nina arrives.
Spot the Nina?
Find the Nina in this grid from another Independent crossword. Post your answer in the comments section. I'll publish comments after two days so that the answer isn't revealed until you've all had a go.
(The Independent is a great crossword by the way. On the challenging side, very innovative. Their daily crossword can be found online here.)
Independent 7150 (Monk)
- Guardian 24635 (Enigmatist): A Guardian puzzle with a Nina
- Basics Of The Crossword Grid
- Crossword Grid: Checking
- Crossword Grid: Connectivity