Monday, November 30, 2009

Neyartha Trivia

[Also read Gridman Trivia and Sankalak Trivia]

One doesn't need to read the clues to recognize a Neyartha crossword. Glance at The Hindu crossword two feet away and you can still tell. Chances are there'll be a line in bold at the top mentioning the theme, or asterisks prefixed to clues. When there's no theme, Neyartha's stamp will show in the "weight" of the clues – bigger words, longer phrases, less white space.

I've been looking forward to analysing Neyartha's work to find what the statistics say. Thanks to Neyartha for providing his database of 60 puzzles for this analysis.

Clue Volume

Avg no. of clues per puzzle=33.37; Avg no. of words per clue=7.57 The average clue length in Neyartha's puzzles is 7.57 words per clue, considerably higher than Gridman's 6.43. Since the themed clues don't typically carry definitions, the length for such clues covers the wordplay segment only – which means the active clue length is even more.

When solving Neyartha's puzzles, you're also dealing with a larger number of clues. His grids carry 33.37 clues per puzzle on average, as opposed to Gridman's 30.71 clues per puzzle.

Top-8 Most Clued Words

Neyartha-Word-Usage-Analysis-Top-Answers It comes as no surprise that the most-clued word by Neyartha is science-related: the word is TESLA [a Serbo-American physicist and inventor, after whom the unit of magnetic inductivity is named].

TESLA has been clued 4 times. Seven words have been clued 3 times (as shown in the adjacent graph), and 75 words have been clued twice.

A striking feature about Neyartha's most-clued words list is the unusual vocabulary. Words like YAWS and TESLA hardly appear in daily puzzles, especially as the crossings _A_S and _E_L_ offer so many alternatives of better-known words.

Neyartha is a fairly new compiler – he joined The Hindu in 2008 and has set 60 puzzles till date. Repeat answers in his grids are naturally far fewer than in Gridman's who has had a much longer setting career (528 puzzles). But here's the thing to note: Gridman's maximum number of repetitions is 11 times for a word. This means that his most-clued word has been repeated once in 48 puzzles, while Neyartha's most-clued word has been repeated once in 15 puzzles. I hope that Neyartha is keeping an eye on this!

Clue Text Wordle

Let's see Neyartha's clue text wordle to find the sort of words he tends to use in his clues. The more a word is used, the larger it appears in the wordle.

The picture below shows the 100 most used words by Neyartha in clue text.

Wordle Of Neyartha's Clues
*For meaningful results, common words like articles & prepositions have not been included in the visualization.

  • The most frequently occurring word in Neyartha's clues is "around" (53 times), a common device for indicating containment or reversal.

  • If Gridman's clues showed an affinity towards the word "French", Neyartha's do so far more. "French" is the second-most used word in the his clues, just behind "around", with 51 occurrences. That's nearly once per puzzle. Tip for solvers: For better success with Neyartha's grids, brush up on your knowledge of French – or read this :)

  • "Greek" shows up often, too, in combination with another frequently-occurring word "character", in charade clues containing segments like PI and CHI.

  • Neyartha's favourite anagram/reversal indicator "revolutionary" appears prominently on the wordle. So do the homophone indicators "reportedly" and "auditor".

  • The word "found" is heavily used, generally as a link word between the definition and subsidiary indication.

  • "website" emerges as another unusual favourite, in the device to clue 2-letter segments using country-specific domain names e.g. Chinese website = CN.

References To People: Neyartha vs. Gridman

One noticeable difference between Neyartha's and Gridman's word usage frequencies is in the allusions to unnamed human beings.

Gridman's calls upon "man", "woman", "boy", "girl" very often. These words loom large on the wordle. Neyartha's wordle has only a minor "girl" on it, the rest aren't mentioned enough to make an appearance on the wordle.

If we categorize the human references by age and gender, we find that Neyartha mentions variants of "boy" and "girl" more, while Gridman mentions variants of "man" and "woman" more.
The Hindu People Types In Clues 

Sherlock Holmes might have drawn some nice deductions from this.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Initial Letter Gambits

Masked Capitalization

The very first letter of a crossword clue is in uppercase by default. This provides some nifty wordplay opportunities to the setter.

In the previous article False Capitalization, we saw how the initial capital can create the illusion that the clue's opening word is a proper noun. Let's now see in action the reverse sort of ruse – one that conceals the fact that the opening word is a proper noun.

Times 23464: May perhaps mother and clan get dispersed? (8,5) CALENDAR MONTH (anag. of 'mother and clan')
On the surface, "May" reads like the auxiliary verb. In reality, it is the name of the month.

For this clue to work, "May" must be the opening word of the clue so that the capital letter of the month's name can be camouflaged.

Cues to look for masked proper nouns

When a word to suggest definition-by-example (such as 'say', 'perhaps', 'could be') appears near the start of the clue, then it's likely that the first word is a proper noun in disguise (and is part of the definition).

Be mindful of names that could have alternate meanings as verbs/adjectives/common nouns. People's names like Bush, Hardy, Potter and Twist are a few common examples. The Spice Girls are popular with the Guardian/FT setters for the masked capital trick. When you find a clue starting with "Posh", think SPICE before CLASSY.

You will also find names of places with multiple meanings used for this device, like Reading, Bucks, Jersey. Remember the "Nice" indicator for French? That's another classic use of the initial capital trick.

Solve These

Times Jumbo 808: Attic's keeping out rain only to begin with — anorak's needed here (4)
Times 24372 [clever one!]: Burns bridges, for example (but extra capital is needed) (5)

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Monday, November 23, 2009

False Capitalization

False Capitalization False capitalization is the setter's trick of making a word in the clue look like a proper noun, by changing the case of its initial letter.

FT 13209 (Alberich): Chap at university's given introduction to Thomas Hardy (6) ROB U'S T

In this clue, the definition "hardy" (adjective) is written with a majuscule to blend with "Thomas" and misdirect the solver into thinking of the author.

Is This Fair?

False capitalization is acceptable, though there may be objections from a purist point of view. The Times crossword (which must be the fairest daily crossword of the present times) allows it, too.

The less controversial way is to place the word with the masked capital at the start of the clue. Since any clue starts with a capital letter, the setter can play on this ambiguity to make the first word seem like a proper noun.

Times Championship '09 1st Prelim Puzzle No. 1: Bill may have this extra career backing church activity (7,6)

The surface leads us to think of "Bill" as a person's name, but is actually not. It is part of the definition. (What's the answer?)

It's a One-Way Street

The setter can tweak the initial from lowercase to uppercase in any word to dress it up as a proper noun, but can't do the reverse (i.e. change uppercase to lowercase) to disguise a proper noun.

A clue like:

He wrote the joke (7)

for KUNDERA is not fair, because it alters the necessary capitalization of "The Joke". 

Solve These

THC 9692 (Gridman): Confused O'Neill met Salve? (9)
Independent 6781 (Monk): Animal found in Paraguay and China? (7)
Times Championship '09 Grand Final - Puzzle No. 2: Finally sails boat via Calf of Man (5)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gridman Trivia

[Also read Neyartha Trivia and Sankalak Trivia]

Some interesting facts about crosswords by compiler Gridman in The Hindu. Based on Gridman's set of 528 puzzles that he has kindly shared for this analysis.

Top-12 Most Clued Words

Top Answers in Gridman's Puzzles Avg no. of clues per puzzle = 30.71; Avg no. of words per clue = 6.43 The words most often clued are ERATO, EXTRA and INERTIA - 11 times each.  

If you aren't familiar with the word ERATO yet, commit it to memory today. With its grid-friendly sequence of letters, this word is likely to feature in the most-clued list of any crossword. It is there on the Guardian crossword's list of frequently clued words as well.

The word EXTRA is another common favourite. It tops the Guardian's word list as well as Gridman's. ECHO and ARCH, too, appear in both.

ORGANZA is an unexpected entrant on this list. Gridman's other often-used solution words are abundant in crosswords universally, but I wonder if ORGANZA is so popular with other setters.

All of the most-clued words start with a vowel, and most end with a vowel too. These probably fit checked slots in the grid that don't offer many alternatives.

There is no skew towards excessive usage of any single word, and not much repetition of solution words in general. Nearly 70% of the solution words in Gridman's puzzles have had a one-time-use only. These are good signs, indicating a freshness of vocabulary in the grid.

Lengthiest Clue Ever

The lengthiest clue ever penned by Gridman was published on Sep 24, 2005 (THC 8405), with a whopping count of 19 words.
What a would-be tenant might want to do or what a car driver may when he can't make progress (4,1,4) FIND A FLAT

A nice idea in a not-so-elegant construction (sorry, Gridman!) but it did make a record :)

Clue Text Wordle

First of all, what is a "wordle"? A wordle is a diagram showing the frequency of word usage in a given text. Most-used words are identified and randomly arranged. The more a word is used, the larger it appears in the wordle.

What kind of words does Gridman use in his clues? Not in the solutions, but the clue text? Look at the wordle of the entire set of 16213 clues written by Gridman, to find out.

Wordle of Gridman's Clues 
*For meaningful results, common words like articles & prepositions have not been included in the visualization.

  • The word "one" appears most often (1099 times). In yesterday's THC 9391 for example, "one" was used four times.

  • It is no secret that Gridman loves to include local references in his clues. The visualization confirms this. Word counts show that "Indian" appears 230 times, "India" 117 times - which means that on average, out of every two puzzles, an Indian reference appears at least once. And this is not counting "Tamil" and "Kerala" and so on.

  • Surprise – Gridman is fond of France too. The word "French" appears 202 times, "France" 52 times. Not too far behind India. The usage of "English", "American" and variants is in the range of 70-80 words each.

  • There's high use of words that express ambiguity: "may" (402 times), "maybe" (21 times) and "perhaps" (132 times). These come into play in Gridman's typical cryptic definitions.

Your Thoughts?

Do these findings agree with the idea you had in mind of Gridman's puzzles? Did any of it take you by surprise? Notice more that's interesting? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Coming soon: Neyartha Trivia!

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Verbal Anagrammar

tony lePart 2 of guest author Tony Chesterley’s articles about anagrams in cryptic clues.

Part 1 (Camouflaging Anagrams) talked about how to write creative anagrams, with techniques like “balancing” in the clue and using well-disguised verbal anagrinds.

When writing devious clues, it is especially important for the clue-writer to keep an eye on the wordplay grammar. In this article, Tony discusses the finer points of grammar with respect to verbal anagrinds.

In my last article, I talked about my thought process in writing anagram clues. Although a good setter will bring a knack for misdirection to bear in his or her clue-writing, the first and foremost rule is always to be fair to the solver. To this end, I will discuss some of the finer points of wordplay grammar in regards to verbal anagrinds. Opinions on some of these points are mixed within the cruciverbal world, so I'll briefly discuss my own philosophy and touch upon how it differs from other viewpoints.

I revisit a couple of clues from my previous article as well three new ones:

Fit tool in metal (7)

Rinse tanks in air conditioning for poisonous substance (7)

Men attest to corrupt bill (9)

Wealth deep until collapse (9)

Jockey ran hurt a lot to conquer morning race (13)

Verb Conjugation

Here's a quick review of the two verbal anagrind structures:

  • <transitive verbal anagrind> <fodder>
  • <fodder> <intransitive verbal anagrind>

There are different schools of thought on how verbal anagrinds may be conjugated.

Transitive Verbs

In general, a (transitive) anagrind before the fodder is conjugated as an imperative (the same as the bare infinitive) so that it reads as an instruction to the solver:

Fit tool in metal (7)

One exception is when the anagram phrase comes immediately after the definition. In this case, many setters (including myself) also accept the third-person singular (-s form) or present participle (-ing form), as in:

Fit tools in metal (7)

The rationale here is that the answer "creates" or "is creating" itself by performing the action described in the wordplay. Even Henry Hook, the father of U.S. cryptics, uses this "definition manipulates fodder" structure on occasion – but its acceptance is far from universal.

Intransitive Verbs

In the case of an (intransitive) anagrind that follows the fodder, the third-person singular is universally accepted, as in:

Rinse tanks in air conditioning for poisonous substance (7)

An infinitive is also generally allowed, as in:

Men attest to corrupt bill (9)

However, cruciverbalists are divided on the usability of the third-person plural (the unsuffixed form). The three general philosophies are:

  1. Only the third-person singular is acceptable. The fodder is always treated as a single unit regardless of whether it is one word or multiple words.

  2. The third-person singular is always acceptable, while the third-person plural is acceptable after fodder consisting of multiple words. A multi-word fodder can be treated as a single unit or multiple units:

    Wealth deep until collapse (9)

  3. The third-person singular and plural are both acceptable in all cases. A single word may be treated as either a lone unit or multiple letters. Under this train of thought, the following would be acceptable wordplay:

    Rinse tank in air conditioning for poisonous substance (9)

In the widest sense, I fall into camp #2, though I try as much as possible to follow maxim #1. Your thoughts may vary.

Partial Anagrammar 

In partial anagrams with verbal indicators (or any such mixed-device clue, for the matter) the entire wordplay should logically congeal grammatically. This was easy in the ARSENIC example, since the container "in" is not a verb. Now consider a verbal container:

Jockey ran hurt a lot to conquer morning race (13)

The verbal anagrind "jockey" is an imperative, while the container "to conquer" reads as a secondary wordplay action, allowing it to have a different conjugation. In that vein, this would also be acceptable:

Jockey ran hurt a lot, conquering morning race (13)

On the other hand, consider:

Jockey ran hurt a lot and conquered morning race (13)

This structure would not be grammatically correct because "conquered" is now a primary action, elevated to the same level as "jockey" but without the same tense or mood. (Following this logic, "and conquer" would work in the wordplay though it would also render the surface nonsensical.)

Final Words

In your quest for creative anagram authoring, it's always important to stay fair to the solver. Regardless of whether you're strict, stricter or strictest about your wordplay grammar, remembering to give it due attention goes a long way in achieving this goal.

I invite you again to visit my website at to see all my puzzles and discover more of my anagrams in action. Good luck with your setting!

If you wish to keep track of further articles on Crossword Unclued, you can subscribe to it in a reader via RSS Feed. You can also subscribe by email and have articles delivered to your inbox, or follow me on twitter to get notified of new links.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Camouflaging Anagrams

Tony Le Presenting a 2-part series of guest articles by Tony Chesterley, a cryptic crossword setter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Tony has been interested in cryptics for the past 20 years. His puzzles are available on his website He also contributes to and is the latest featured setter on

Tony takes a special interest in writing tricky anagrams. In this article, he shares with us some creative techniques for anagramming.

Anagrams give the cryptic setter a wide latitude and range of creativity in writing clues, and as such can be a useful tool in the cryptician's repertoire. However, they can also be the bane of many a compiler if overused or written haphazardly, since anagram indicators (also known as "anagrinds") are traditionally the easiest type of indicator for solvers to spot. But I've found, even as an amateur compiler, that it's possible to author not-so-obvious anagram clues as long as you're willing to put forth some extra work.

In this article, I provide a glimpse into the thought process I employ when writing anagrams. I'll use the following example clues; if you'd like to try solving these without any hints, pause here before reading any further:

Notice a stud jostling to finish ahead (11)

Surveillance catches Luis' suspect hiding (9)

Fit tool in metal (7) *

Rinse tanks in air conditioning for poisonous substance (7) *

Pirates drunkenly meander (7)

Fluky setup of our outfits (10)

Entertaining one in jazzy second band (11)

Clues with an asterisk (*) have their solutions provided as part of this article. I've left the others as an exercise for you to solve in the blog comments.

To Grind or Not to Grind?

Before I talk about the actual process of anagram writing, I'll pose the question: Should you anagram it or not? Although I tend to use anagrams more than the average setter, I still follow a conscientious set of guidelines to decide whether a particular word is anagram worthy.

First off, full anagrams: Because they display all the answer letters in plain view for the solver, I typically use full anagrams for short or common words only if I can come up with clues like the examples herein that don't sound contrived. If your anagram phrase doesn't feel like something you'd encounter in normal conversation or writing, set your clue aside and see what other devices you can use instead. In many cases, I've find that forcing myself out of the anagram rut helps me see wordplay possibilities I wouldn't have seen otherwise. On the other hand, if I'm clueing a longer word or phrase, or one that's not very common, chances are that the solver won't be able to figure it out right away even if he or she knows what the anagram fodder is:

Notice a stud jostling to finish ahead (11)

(Besides, breaking up a long word into too many charade parts can make a clue unruly!)

I'm typically less conservative in using partial anagrams. Since a partial anagram doesn't give away all the letters, it generally won't kill a clue's difficulty even if the anagrind is easy to spot. In fact, a partial anagram in some cases may be preferable over other devices if it reveals less about the answer. Take this example:

Surveillance catches Luis' suspect hiding (9)

The anagrind is moderately easy to spot, but it only gives the solver four letters with no indication of what order they belong in. Compare this to a previous draft of the clue:

Surveillance catches you and me in Long Island, hiding (9)

It's not too difficult to figure out that "you and me in Long Island" translates to L{US}I. In effect, this version would've not only revealed four letters of the answer, but also provided the order they belong in!

Having said all this, I usually favour surface reading over wordplay cleverness, so if you write an anagram clue with a flawless or near-flawless surface, run with it even if you think the fodder is obvious. Who knows? Your surface may be so perfect that the solver will forget that an anagrind may lie within!

General Structure

Now I'll briefly review anagram structure before getting into the nitty-gritty. As with any other wordplay device, an anagram phrase needs to be grammatically correct. The type of anagrind you can use generally depends on whether it precedes or follows the fodder:

  • <anagrind> <fodder>, where the anagrind can be:
    • An adjective
    • Any type of past participle (-ed, -en or other irregular form)
    • The present participle (-ing form) of an intransitive verb (one that takes no object)
    • An "<arrangement> of/in" phrase
    • A transitive verb (one which takes an object), typically as an imperative
  • <fodder> <anagrind>, where the anagrind can be:
    • An adjective
    • Any type of past participle
    • The present participle of an intransitive verb
    • An "in/with <arrangement>" phrase
    • An intransitive verb, typically as a third-person conjugation or "to" infinitive

Since many verbs in the English language double as nouns, the verbal anagrind can be a wily device in the clue-writer's toolbox, yet in my experience it's the type of anagrind that's most underappreciated by setters. In my next article, I will discuss the grammar of verbal anagrinds in more detail along with a few debated exceptions to the above guidelines.

Fitting the Anagrind to the Context

An anagrind can generally be well disguised if you find one that fits the context of the surface reading. This is especially true for a word normally cast in a part of speech different from its anagrind sense (e.g., a verbal anagrind disguised as a noun in the surface). Consider a clue I wrote for the word AILMENT. I found IN METAL as a possible anagram, which suggested I use "fit" as the straight definition:

Fit — in metal (7)

Fit in metal — (7)

The surface made me think of a machine shop, so I tried to find a synonym for "arrange(d)", "guide(d)", "work(ed) on", "fail(ed)" etc. that evoked such an image. I eventually came upon the word "tool", which is generally used as a noun, but is also a verb meaning "to shape, form or finish". As a transitive verb, it must be placed before the fodder, which makes it read as an instruction to the solver:

Fit tool in metal (7)

In another example, I needed to clue the word ARSENIC. Using the Find Contained Words function in Crossword Express (a 100% free setting application), I discovered that this word contained an anagram of RINSE. Additionally, I saw that the remaining letters were "A/C" (as in air conditioning) and figured this might provide a good surface: A poisonous substance could indeed be a concern in a ventilation system. I fleshed out the A{RSENI*}C construction into the following possibilities:

— rinse in air conditioning for poisonous substance (7)

Rinse — in air conditioning for poisonous substance (7)

Since it's more natural to talk about rinsing something rather than doing something to a rinse, I decided to go forward with the "rinse —" structure. This required me to find an anagrind adjective or intransitive verb that could be construed as something having to do with air or chemicals. Looking through various synonyms for "fail" and "lose", I found:

Rinse tanks in air conditioning for poisonous substance (7)

Notice in this structure how the wordplay reads as RINSE "failing" inside of A/C.

The Balancing Act

Every once in a while, a clue will lend itself to a style of device I call "balancing":

  • Letter balance – Casting two equal-length words or phrases as potential fodder
  • Anagrind balance – Providing an additional, false anagrind
  • Substitution balance – Placing a charade word next to a partial anagram with the same length as the wordplay piece it clues

Here's an example of letter balance:

Pirates drunkenly meander (7)

Note that "pirates" and "meander" both contain seven letters, and I've ambiguously placed "drunkenly" in the middle. Coincidentally, "meander" could at first glance resolve into a plural ending in -men. (I have to admit this was a stroke of luck rather than genius on my part.)

Here's an example of anagrind balance combined with a form of letter balance:

Fluky setup of our outfits (10)

"Fluky" is the definition, and the answer is an anagram of OUR OUTFITS. Thinking that "fluky" could double as a false anagrind, I tried to find a seven-letter "true" anagrind which would double as a letter balance for "outfits". "Setup of" fit the bill perfectly (especially since it contains an S).

A substitution balance involves a charade word disguised as part of the anagram fodder:

Entertaining one in jazzy second band (11)

"One" of course is a common clue for the letter A or I. From there, it's natural to jump on SECOND BAND as an anagram since it seems to account for the remaining ten letters. In reality, only SECOND is an anagram, while "band" is a charade piece that just happens to clue another four-letter word.

Final Words

With a bit of elbow grease, some out-of-the-box thinking, and a refusal to rely on old standbys like "wild" and "crazy", writing clever and well-disguised anagram clues can prove to be a fulfilling and creative exercise. In my next article (Verbal Anagrammar), I'll discuss grammatical points to keep in mind when using verbal anagrinds.

I invite you to visit my website at to see all my puzzles and discover more of my anagram tricks in action. Good luck with your setting!

If you wish to keep track of further articles on Crossword Unclued, you can subscribe to it in a reader via RSS Feed. You can also subscribe by email and have articles delivered to your inbox, or follow me on twitter to get notified of new links.

Monday, November 9, 2009

To = Closed

The Count, understanding my anxiety, opened [the door], went out, and pulled it to after him. - 'The Woman In White' by Wilkie Collins, 1859

pull-it-to It's funny how what we read comes in handy in unexpected ways, when we solve crosswords.

The expression 'pull the door to' means to bring the door into closed position. This would not occur readily to me, but I had been reading the above quoted passage only a few hours before I saw this clue in The Hindu Sunday crossword:

Stand by tower, closed (4,2)

With the 'TO = closed' connection fresh in mind, this wasn't so inaccessible.

Another recent clue that takes advantage of this meaning of TO:

Guardian 24841 (Enigmatist): Just about closed in big deal with medical instrumentation (8) O{TO}S COPE

Have you seen the opposite, i.e. the word 'to' in the clue leading to 'closed'/'shut' in the solution? If set well, it's sure to take the solver by surprise - we are so tuned to dismissing 'to' as a harmless connector.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Does the clue make you happy?

Undesirable post-crossword mood! Yesterday, The Hindu Crossword had the answer MENTAL ANGUISH in the grid.

In the past, there have been words about various other ailments. AIDS, with its setter-friendly selection of letters, has been clued twice in Oct'09 with reference to the disease.

Sometimes, the surface is sombre even if the answer is not. Like this one by Sankalak:
THC 9579: Gas consumed a newborn child (7) NEONATE

The act of crossword solving should leave the solver satisfied or amused. Such words unfortunately might have the opposite effect, especially if they remind the solver of unpleasant/sorrowful personal experiences. No matter how technically perfect the clue, I think it falls short of greatness if it is an irredeemably "unhappy clue".

The Guardian crossword carried this clue for TERMINAL CANCER a couple of months ago.
Guardian 24375: Environmental effect of airport development? (8,6)

The blog for it, not surprisingly, received many comments expressing disapproval over the flippant treatment of the subject.

If a topic is so grim that one would not joke about it in conversation, then it is best avoided in cryptic clues. 

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Interviews With Ace Solvers: Part VI

An addition to the series of interviews with expert crossword solvers: get to know Colonel Gopinath, one of the most popular solvers of The Hindu crossword (THC).

deepak-gopinath interviews-with-crossword-solvers Deepak Gopinath, a retired Colonel living in Bangalore, began his daily blog The Hindu Crossword Corner in Feb'09. The blog soon became a huge hit with Hindu crossword fans.

The complete solutions are published on his blog each morning, with annotations and links for word meanings. You can time your watch by the blog's punctuality. A new post is up each day at exactly 8.30am.

Always willing to help out with solvers' questions, Col. Gopinath has aided many in becoming better at the game. In this interview, Col. Gopinath shares with us his personal journey with the crossword, his technique of solving, and more.

Q1. When and how did you start solving crosswords?

Col: I don't remember exactly when, but it must have been around the late 60s or early 70s, when I was in engineering college at Coimbatore. A distant cousin of mine who was in IIT was into crosswords and I too got bitten by the bug.

After my engineering I joined the army and the initial busy life kept me away from crosswords. The interest got rekindled when I was posted at Pune in '81 as an Instructor at the College of Military Engineering, after which there was another break when I was posted in the Kashmir valley from '87 to '91. I have been solving regularly since then.

Crossword solving has been totally self-taught for me, without the use of any books or mentors. The only help I had prior to the computer age was any dictionary that I could lay my hands on, and a '76 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus. In the initial years the answers just came off the top of the head and I had never given a thought to the actual parsing of the word.

Q2. Has blogging changed you as a solver?

Col: It has, for sure. For one, it has made me more regimented. I took a decision, a month or so after I started blogging, to ensure that the blog appeared at a fixed time. This made me concentrate a bit more, unlike earlier when I would tend to leave out the unsolved clues.

I started my blog in Feb '09 or so. The inspiration came from a Chinese American lady who blogs on the Star Tribune Crossword in America. The same crossword appears in the Times of India after a lapse of a couple of months. For a few years from 2001 to 2003 I had stopped doing the cryptic crossword from The Hindu and used to do the crossword from the Times of India, of which I soon got fed up because it had too many American terms and names.

Q3: What is your technique for solving the crossword?

Col: I start off with the Across set of clues and the minute I solve one I look for any of the down clues emanating from the solved across clue, as I find that if the first letter of the answer is available it tends to become easier. Once I have made a first pass through the Across clues I then move on to the Down set following the same procedure. Generally it takes me about two to three passes to thrash out most of the answers leaving aside a few. As a last resort, if I cannot get them; I make some guesses and turn to the Internet to check out the meanings.

However, I avoid using tools like pattern searches or anagram solvers on the net.

I have found the best way to unravel an anagram is to put the letters in a circle. Normally, as I am putting the letters into a circle the answer generally comes out before I finish writing all the letters.

Q4: Are there times when you think “Uh-oh, 5 minutes to 8.30am and half the puzzle unsolved. I guess I will have to give up on today’s blog post.”

Col: Certainly, it has happened but not half the puzzle. There have been occasions when I have had to post the blog with a couple of clues unsolved, and some without annotations, but I have never given up on posting it.

I picked up the procedure of annotating after I joined the Orkut group which solves The Hindu Crossword.

Q5: If a genie gave you three wishes that you could use on The Hindu Crossword, what would you ask for?

Col: One of the wishes I would most definitely use to make a couple of our infamous setters either disappear, or make them better at their trade.

The second would go to banish the overactive printer's devil from meddling with the crossword at The Hindu. The third wish I would use to make The Hindu appoint a resident crossword editor on the lines of what all foreign papers have.

Q6: What are your interests other than crosswords? Have they had an impact on your skill with the crossword?

Col: Reading novels, playing Scrabble - both have of course contributed towards improving my vocabulary, which helps while doing crosswords. Solving puzzles is another passion of mine, a passion which my mother still has at her ripe old age of 84.

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

Col: I remember while I was an instructor at Pune, the college used to invite some guest lecturers to deliver lectures to the entire community. Some of them used to be so boring that invariably I would carry the crossword, which I would cut out from the newspaper, hide inside a book and solve instead of listening to the monotonous lectures. Setting a bad example I am afraid, luckily for me I never got caught doing it.

I have forged some good friendships of late especially after I started my blog on The Hindu Crossword. To my surprise I had a visitor from Portugal, Indian of course, who has settled there after his retirement.

Q8: Please share some tips for beginners to help them improve their solving skills.

Col: First of all I do not consider myself to be expert enough to be providing tips to beginners, however I can definitely advise beginners to persevere and not give up. At the beginning there may be days when one may not solve even one clue but practice will pay off in the end. They should always check the answers when the solution appears the next day and analyse where they went wrong.

Waiting till the next day may not be needed in the current times, as there are so many communities and blogs that solve almost all the crosswords that are published.

Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers

Previous 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 V: Interview With Peter Biddlecombe

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