A few years ago, I came across the word 'Ximenean' in an esoteric discussion on a crossword forum. A clue was being scoffed at for being devoid of this quality. Having never read a book about cryptics or known anyone who could explain that, I was awestruck. (There is something about the word 'Ximenean' that has that effect.) A frantic search online followed, which led to my introduction to the art and precision that lies behind cryptic crosswords.
If this is the first time you're hearing the word 'Ximenean', I hope to make the experience less nerve-racking for you :) Read on…
Origin of the word 'Ximenean'
Ximenes is regarded the finest compiler ever, and is often called the "father of the modern cryptic crossword".
Ximenes' repute is not just for his puzzles, but for the standards he laid down for creating good crosswords. His principles of crossword composition were gradually recognized and adopted as a kind of model for setting by other daily puzzles too.
So when people say that a clue, crossword grid or setter is Ximenean, they mean that the clue/grid/setter abides by the standards set by Ximenes. Likewise, an unXimenean (or non-Ximenean) clue/grid is one that violates Ximenes' principles.
An overview of Ximenean principles
The essence of Ximenes' canons is to be fair to the solver at all times. His guidelines cover various aspects of crossword design – from making and populating the grid, to writing scrupulously fair clues.
Some of the important clue-writing standards are:
- Appropriate indicators for all clue types
- No indirect anagrams
- No misleading connectors or punctuation
- Unambiguous, unique answer to every clue
This 1966 book - Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword (reissued 2001) – is Ximenes' comprehensive work about cryptic crosswords. The book is a must-read for any crossword enthusiast, with information of interest to solvers and setters alike.
Look here for an excerpt from the book, and reader reviews.
(Residents of India - beg, borrow, steal from friends overseas - the book is not available in the country. If you find any online bookstore that delivers to an Indian address, please leave a comment about it on this post.)
For Further Reading
- Two articles about Ximenean clueing written by one of the most brilliant compilers I know of today. Read Alberich on What is Ximenean clueing all about? and More thoughts on Ximenean clueing.
- Derek Harrison's page on the life and work of Ximenes. This also includes a poem written by author Colin Dexter as a tribute to Ximenes.
- Crossword by Ximenes, of the barred grid style. Also from Derek Harrison's site.
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