Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009: Year-End Round Up

As the year comes to a close, sharing with you the five most popular articles written in 2009 on Crossword Unclued. In case you're new here or have missed them earlier, do check them out.

Hope you are taking time off during the holiday week. Enjoy the festive season and have a great New Year! 

Top 5 Popular (Most-Read) Articles


Cryptic Crosswords A Threat To Criminal Justice?
A"research" which concludes that exposure to cryptic crosswords messes up one's ability to recognize people. This article was most viewed by readers from Twitter.


New York Times Election Day Crossword
A special crossword published in 1996 in the New York Times, which is evidently popular even now given the number of Google searches for it each day.


Seth Godin Defines Enormity
A linguistic faux pas by the business guru Seth Godin. An error that a cruciverbalist will never make.


Hindu Crossword Compilers: Your Views?
Lively discussion in the comments section about the Hindu crossword compilers. Most viewed by readers from India.


More Tips For Solving Cryptic Crosswords
Some tips to help you become a better solver. This article got me the most emailed responses.

A big thank you for reading!

What was your favourite Crossword Unclued post of 2009? Is there any specific topic you'd like me write about in 2010? Let me know, I'll try to plan an article around it. Please leave a comment or email any feedback/suggestions to me at [email]. Best wishes for the New Year once again!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How to track updates on Crossword Unclued

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Wish you a most enjoyable Yuletide and a very happy New Year 2010!

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Special Grid in The Hindu Crossword 9719

The completed grid of today's The Hindu Crossword 9719 (Gridman) looks like this -


Notice something special?

It's a pangram!

A pangram in cryptic crosswords is a grid that uses each letter of the alphabet at least once. More about pangrams here.

First time ever?

I haven't come across a pangrammatic grid in the Hindu crossword before, but that may be because I haven't looked hard enough. Can other solvers confirm?

Grid Analysis

Pangrammatic grids tend to have more obscure words than usual, since the setter has an additional restriction to take care of when assigning answers to the lights.

I must compliment Gridman for creating a pangram - including "difficult" letters like X and Y not once but multiple times - without resorting to esoteric vocabulary. There's a setter with consummate command over grid fills.

THC 9719 contains 156 letters, spanning the alphabet as below:


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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On clues that reveal too much

Some time ago, this question came up on the Hindu crossword forum:

Isn't there a limit to the length of the word that is given gratis in a clue?

THC 9575 (M.Manna): Editor accepted strange way to be removed (9) E{STRANGE}D

Sometimes we might get a, the or similar small components without our having to scratch our heads for it.
But a seven-letter word?
What do you think?

A clue that divulges a large chunk of the solution without some form of 'encoding' is generally considered defective.

What’s wrong with reusing part of the clue in the answer?

The commonly associated reasons –

  1. It makes solving too easy to be enjoyable for the solver
  2. It shows that the clue-writer has not worked hard enough to make the clue suitably cryptic

These objections are certainly valid for the bulk of clues with this property.

Revisiting the quoted Manna clue:
THC 9575 (M.Manna): Editor accepted strange way to be removed (9) E{STRANGE}D
"strange" is directly taken from the clue into the answer. This is jarring, since the setter could have easily used another word in its place without loss of meaning.

A second example, the unbeatable classic in which the full solution is revealed in the clue.
[If ever a compilation is made of the worst clues published in a national daily, this will be a strong contender for the top position.]
THC 9370 (Nita Jaggi): A different diet, combined into one for the United Nations (6) UNITED

In poor clues, the appearance of a large portion of the answer in the clue is usually not its only problem, as the clues above exemplify.

But consider this.

What if…

  1. the clue has other forms of complexity, such as a lateral definition, which makes it not-so-simple even if the wordplay exposes much of the answer?
  2. the clue-writer has carefully considered possibilities and then concluded that the surface is the most compelling with the portion given as-is, than with any replacement?

Examples where the clue is better because of the letters given free

A clue by Afrit:
This looks like a serious shortage, and a penny less would look like nothing on earth! (6) 
Solution: DEARTH. A penny (D) less makes it EARTH, which is nothing on EARTH.
The beauty of this clue lies in the clever use of the idiom "like nothing on earth". A simple replacement won't work here – it can't be rewritten as "like nothing on a planet". The clue may be easy, but isn't it better easy & witty, than tough & dull?

Another clue, by dram from Anax's clue-writing contests:
Tomb originally raided by the young Lara Croft perhaps? (6)
Solution: TOMBOY. TOMB + OY, 'raided' indicating removing the insides of 'OriginallY'.  
One could argue that "TOMB" makes up more than 50% of the answer, and knock off points for that. What a pity that would be. This clue, brilliantly themed after the Tomb Raider video games/films, will be butchered if we conform to some rule about word segment lengths and substitute "tomb" with a synonym.

In Closing

The real issue is not with the solution being spelt out in the clue, it is with the clue not being challenging enough or entertaining enough. As long as the setter can address those concerns and create a satisfying solving experience, why then should this be treated as a flaw?

Instead of thinking of parameters like "what percentage of letters can the setter give away gratis", let's look at the overall effect of the clue and not bind it to unyielding standards of technical precision.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Letter Exchange


In the letter exchange clue type, two letters switch positions to give the solution. That's a variation on letter shifting, in which a single letter changes position.

Examples of words that can be clued by letter exchange:

SHUT: swap the letters S and T to get THUS
NOTE: swap the letters N and T to get TONE

Letter Exchange Clue Structure: The clue consists of -
1. Solution definition
2. Definition of the source word
3. Letter exchange Indicator

Times 24399: Doomed king switching sides? True(4) {L}EA{R} –> {R}EA{L}
Solution definition: True
Definition of the source word: Doomed king
Letter exchange indicator: switching sides, indicates swapping L and R in LEAR (doomed king)

Letter Exchange Clue Characteristics

  • Most commonly, the exchange happens between the first and last letters of the word, or two adjacent letters anywhere in the word.

  • The indicator may mention the two letters to be swapped, or the positions of these letters. In case of switch between adjacent letters, the indicator might be less specific with only something like "internal exchange" to signal letter swapping.

  • The exchange can happen not just between two single letters but between groups of letters.
    Example Azed 1956: What, typically, has two halves, these being switched to a great extent (4)
    The two halves GA and ME of GAME (what, typically, has two halves) swap positions to give MEGA.

  • A good clue leaves no ambiguity about which is the source word, which the answer - but with this clue type there's a higher chance of finding a not-so-great clue in which the distinction isn't obvious. In such cases, it's best to wait for a few checking letters before filling in the answer in the grid. 

Solve These

Times 23530: Whatever happens, queen's gown must exchange hands! (10)
Guardian 24797 (Taupi): Dull reasons for spies switching sides (7)

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Letter Shifting

The letter shifting device moves a letter within a word, to form a new word.

Some words that can be used with this clue type:

SCORE: move S from the end of CORES to the start
ACRE: move R from the start of RACE to the 3rd position

Letter Shifting Clue Structure: The clue consists of -
1. Solution definition
2. Definition of the source word
Letter shifting Indicator

Times 24399: Character needs help, head to foot (4) {A}BET –> BET{A}
Solution definition: Character
Definition of the source word: help
Letter shifting indicator: head to foot, indicates moving the first letter A of ABET (help), to the end of the word.

Letter Shifting Clue Characteristics

Letter movement can be indicated in a variety of ways.

(i) by letter: the letter to be shifted is specified 
(ii) by source position: the position# from which the letter has to be moved is specified 
(iii) by target position: the position# to which the letter has to be moved is specified

The most precise clues will give you a fair idea of what to move, from/to where, to get the answer.

Usually, letter shifting happens between the first and last positions. In these cases, a combination of (ii) and (iii) is used with indicators like "from top to bottom".

It gets a little complicated when the letter is moved from/to any position within the word. In such clues, ideally the target position is indicated along with the letter or source position, but if the word is short and the rest of the clue is easy, the signal for letter movement may be less specific.

Example 1:
Times 24287: The little bears, for example, shifting ring doughnuts (4) TRI{O} –> T{O}RI
This indicates the letter to be shifted (ring = O) and does not mention exact positions, but it's still fair. Since the word is only 4 letters long and has only a single 'O', it isn't much work for the solver to figure out where to place the shifting 'O'.

Example 2:
Times 24375: Ruler in a mess having succeeded much earlier? (4) HA{S}H –> {S}HAH 
The letter to be shifted (succeeded = S) is specified, with a stronger indication of position than the previous example. We know from "much earlier" that S of HASH must be relocated a long distance to the left from its 3rd position.

The letter shifting technique may be extended to more than one letter, such as with words like {TO}KYO –> KYO{TO}. This is rarer, possibly because it is tougher for the setter to indicate, but it's certainly possible. (If you recall an example, please leave a comment about it.) In clues that shift a set of letters, the letters will have the same internal sequence in the source word and solution.

Solve These

Times 23479: Play piano at end (not beginning) of concert (4)
Guardian 24245 (Gordius): Mammals (the last shall be first), named like Washington, say (9)

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Times Crossword syndicated in Hindustan Times

Starting 1st December 2009 The Hindustan Times (HT) has been carrying the Concise and Cryptic crosswords of The Times, UK. [Hat tip to Anish Madhavan (maddy) for posting this news on the THC forum.]

The first Times cryptic in HT was #21685. This was originally published in the Times UK on 26th March 2001. A lag of almost eight years – but that's all right - crosswords, unlike news reports, don't age too rapidly with time.

This is very good news for crossword fans in India. The Times is one of the best cryptic crosswords I know of, challenging, creative and with the fairest standards of clueing. There aren't too many British cultural references either that could possibly alienate an Indian audience, at least when compared with the other popular syndicated crossword, Everyman in The Hindu (Sunday).

The Statesman (Kolkata) used to publish the Times crossword once upon a time but it was discontinued. It is great to find another Indian newspaper revive it.

Do solve the Hindustan Times cryptic, and if you're stuck with a solution feel free to ask!

How To Get The HT Cryptic Crossword Online

  1. Go to http://epaper.hindustantimes.com/.
  2. Click Search on the header to launch the ePaper Search screen.
    Hindustan Times crossword search
  3. On the ePaper Search screen, enter 'crossword' under Article Search and click the next arrow button.
    Hindustan Times crossword search: 2
  4. You'll reach the search results screen, on which you can optionally modify the date for which you want the crossword (it is today's date by default). The results of search are displayed below on the same page. Click on the result line that has the word CRYPTIC prefixed to it. 
    Hindustan Times crossword
  5. The crossword image opens in a new popup window [*]. Click Print on the window header to take a print of the crossword, and text view to get the crossword clues in text form.
    HT Crossword Print

[*]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 Hindustan Times website. Search on the web for "how to disable popup blocker" to fix this in your browser.

The Latest Times Crosswords

If you like what you see in the syndicated puzzles and want to solve the latest Times crosswords, sign-up for the Times Crossword Club here. The daily solutions to the latest Times cryptic puzzles are discussed on the blog Times for the Times.

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