Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On the grid: Where to start?

grid-directions Do you solve the clues in sequence, clue#1 onwards?

Do you start at the top-left of the grid, move right/down till you get an answer and then look at its crossings?

Or do you scan all the clues first to get a "feel" of the overall puzzle before zooming in on specific clues? (I do this sometimes, when I'm not in a hurry to finish quickly.)

In general, I try a little harder to solve words that run across at the top and left of the grid.  The idea is to crack the clues that give good checking letters for other words. A checked first letter is very useful, so getting 1 Across in the grid can be a big help for the rest of the crossword.

Apparently, John Sykes who won the Times Championship several times recommended starting with the last few Down clues, since the setters run out of ideas by the time they reach the tail end of the puzzle. This assumes of course that the setters write clues in numerical order – I don't know how many setters do that – but I think the strategy can work with the Everyman crossword (The Sunday Hindu Crossword). When I was new to solving and couldn't finish The Sunday Hindu, I would still get the answers at the bottom of the puzzle. What has been the experience of other Everyman/Sunday Hindu solvers?

I was reminded of this during my interaction with Anish (Maddy), hobbyist setter and a friend, regarding the latest crossword he has compiled. While I liked his crossword very much, I mentioned that I wasn't too impressed with 16 Down. Maddy responded:

This was the last word I clued and had lost patience by then :) so didn't put too much thought.

So there you have a setter whose crossword you can attempt in reverse order :) His 1 Across is quite brilliant as are several other clues, and there's also a rare kind of clue with the definition in the middle. Check out his crossword here:

Anish Madhavan's Crossword: Mad Heaven

Recommended reading: The section "Be grid-centric" on Peter Biddlecombe's site (which incidentally suggests starting from the top-left). I picked up the practice of marking word breaks in the grid from this guide, and it has made a difference to my solving.

[I'm on vacation till 2nd May 2010, might not get to respond to comments/emails during this time. Will get back to you when I return, thanks for your patience and happy crosswording till then!]

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Charlie Parker = BIRD

charlie-parker While Charlie can be C, coke or clod, Charlie Parker in cryptic clues is usually BIRD.

This comes from the nickname of Charlie Parker, the American jazz musician. Parker was nicknamed "Yardbird" early in his career, which later got shortened to "Bird".

Came across this clue a couple of days ago:

FT 13359 (Cinephile): Parker in prison? (4) BIRD [2]

An older one:

Times 23590: Bird circling tower observed council employee (4,6) PARK {KEEP}ER

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Charlie's Many Avatars

charlie-chaplin Charlie is a very useful word for cryptic crossword setters. It can stand for:

  1. A foolish, credulous person
    Times 23798: Charlie seeks articles in fashion (7) FATHEAD
                         A & THE (articles) in FAD (fashion)

  2. The drug Cocaine
    Guardian 24378 (Arachne): Cocaine, crack and lithium finally ruin movie star (7,7) CHARLIE CHAPLIN
                                            CHARLIE (cocaine) CHAP (crack) Li (Lithium) N (finally 'ruiN') 

  3. The letter C – Charlie is the code for C in the radio alphabet
    Guardian 24525 (Chifonie): Boat for Charlie to deliver (6) CUTTER
                                             C (Charlie) UTTER (deliver)

  4. A man's name. Usually a famous person like Parker (Charlie Parker, the American jazz saxophonist), Chaplin (the English comic actor) or a Charles from the British nobility, such as Charles Edwards Stuart  (also known as known as Bonnie Prince Charlie).

    Guardian 24936 (Brummie): Lost keys for Charlie’s temporary refuge (4) SKYE (KEYS)*
    Refers to Charles Edwards Stuart who took refuge in the Isle of Skye.

In barred grid cryptics that use lesser-known word meanings, Charlie could even be a nightwatchman (obsolete), a moustache or a fox. An example:

Azed 1975: Charlie (old-fashioned), near so-and-so, can, protecting Her Majesty (13) NIGHTWATCHMAN
                 NIGH (near) TWAT (so-and-so), CAN around HM

Solve These

THC 2491: Charlie on straight and narrow? (9)
Guardian 24175 (Paul): He won something sweet, far more than a can of coke! (7,6)
Times 23912: Charlie upset love wearing novel footwear (7)

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Limericks for NJ

The comments on the Hindu Crossword Corner turned to discussing limericks today.

Here are some from me dedicated to the setter whom all Hindu crossword solvers love to hate.

  She scatters prepositions pell-mell
Her anagrinds seldom fit well
She uses "large" and "user",
Calls a "runner-up" a "loser" -
And is much too fond of the measure ELL.

Why is her Y always 'end of the day'?
Can't she revamp her stock of wordplay?
Our latest beef
Is MAPLE LEAF
Defined as "symbols" - not okay!

List of dubious abbreviations we scan
Wishing on it we could issue a ban.
Ten days in a row
We bristle and bellow
And sigh with relief when returns Gridman.

The setter who inspires these rhymes
Regularly commits crossword crimes.
With clues full of flaws
She's given us cause
To turn for good to the Hindustan Times.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Significance of ’s in Cryptic Clues

apostrophe-s

Apostrophe-s plays a varied role in the English language. It can be used to

  1. Mark possession e.g. Tom's eyes are shining with excitement.
  2. Contract 'is' e.g. Tom's solving the Guardian crossword.
  3. Contract 'has' e.g. Tom's completed the whole puzzle.

Crossword setters use the changeable nature of 's to create illusions in cryptic clues. They achieve this by making 's suggest one thing on the surface, and mean something else in the cryptic reading of the clue.

The next few sections show the shift in meaning of 's in the two readings of a clue.

Possessive -> Has
FT 13137 (Viking): Threaten one politician’s ambition (6)

On the surface, "politician's" is the possessive form ("threaten the ambition of one politician"), but in the cryptic reading the phrase becomes "politician has ambition". The answer is IMPEND: a charade of I (one), MP (politician), END (ambition), with "has" as connector between MP and END.

Possessive -> Is
FT 13137 (Viking): Dance tune’s wrong note at start (6)

On the surface, "tune's" is in the possessive form ("wrong note of tune"), but it needs to be read it as "tune is wrong …" to arrive at the answer. The answer is MINUET: MI (note) NUET (anagram of TUNE).

Is –> Has
FT 13331 (Alberich): Could be a proton, for example, that's not positive (7)

[One of my favourite clues in the recent times] The surface suggests "…that is not positive", but the cryptic sense is "that has not positive". The answer is ARTICLE (defn: Could be 'a'): PARTICLE (proton, for example) - P (positive).

Is –> Possessive
Sunday Times 4337: Volatile liquid’s excellent accompaniment for gin (8)

The surface seems to say - "Volatile liquid is excellent accompaniment …", but actually apostrophe-s has to be read as the possessive. The definition is "volatile liquid's", the answer is ACETONIC: ACE (excellent) TONIC (accompaniment for gin).

No transform 
's need not always be a connector/indicator. It could be a part of the answer. As in this clue:

Times 24501: European King a small tome's recalled (6)

We might think that "is recalled" will act as a reversal indicator. It turns out that the reversal indicator is just "recalled" and 's is used as-is in the answer. The answer is SLOVAK: K (king) A VOL's (small tome's), all reversed.

Closing Words

Apostrophe-s can have a range of meanings in cryptic clues. What appears to be "is" could be "has", "has" could be the possessive form or the possessive form could be "has" or "is" – several permutations are possible. Don't let the setter trick you into making assumptions!

While we're on the topic, I must share with you this clue by Roger Squires (Rufus) about the apostrophe. What a brilliant &lit.

Punctuation mark perhaps too freely used (10)

Solve These

A selection of clues that make creative use of the apostrophe-s. Post your answers in the comments section.

Times 24502: Magic's usual fob off (8)
Guardian 24907 (Chifonie): Penny's about to ward off publicity (6)
Times 22569: This writer’s penning line: children’s writer? (5)

Answers will be updated 3 days after date of posting.

(Update) The answers: APOSTROPHE, FABULOUS, ADVERT, MILNE

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Monday, April 5, 2010

How How is Barrow

Independent 7305 by Anax carried this clue:

                 How to prevent an argument (6)

BARROW seemed to fit the wordplay and checking: BAR (prevent) ROW (an argument).

But where was the definition? Barrow is a hill or mound, but there's nothing in the clue to suggest hill or mound, I thought.

Actually, there is. Trust Anax to turn the inconspicuous "How" into a clever definition.

"How" can mean "a low hill; a tumulus or barrow" (Chambers). The word comes from the Old Norse word haugr meaning hill or mound, and has been adopted into names of places, such as How in the English county of Cumbria.

The next time you see the word "How" in a clue – beware!

---
The Statesman, Kolkata publishes the syndicated Independent cryptic crossword after a lag of two weeks. Independent 7305, which carried the BARROW clue, appeared in the Kolkata paper on 30th Mar '10. I imagine it would have been extremely tough for Indian solvers (it certainly was for me); it has a UK-centric theme.

In case you're stuck for solutions/explanations in The Statesman, you can look it up in the recent archives of the Independent on Fifteensquared.

If you solve The Statesman crossword, please leave a comment on this post or email to me. I don't know of anyone who does this crossword; I'd really like to connect with people who do.

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Clues for Easter

Easter-Crossword-Clues A quick post to share with you some good cryptic clues that refer to Easter.

Solve, and enjoy the long weekend!

FT 13340 (Dante): Working out Easter may be a problem (6)

Times 24285: Sets aside broken Easter eggs (10)

Azed 1863: Eater welcomes this caviar in post-Lenten communication? (7)

Guardian 24523 (Araucaria): Oriental feast attended by new queen (9)

Times Jumbo 763: Looking ridiculous after carelessly consuming chocolate at Easter? (4,3,2,4,4)

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