Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A See Not Easy To See

see-ely SEE is "look" as we all know, but it has another less obvious meaning that crossword setters love to use. SEE is the official seat or jurisdiction of a bishop.

Ely, a cathedral city in Cambridgeshire, England, is often a match for "see" in cryptic clues. The clue typically uses "see" as the verb on the surface – don't fall for that bluff – the word has to be taken as a noun.

Have a look at these examples:

Times 24387: See bank hasn’t opened (3) ELY RELY – R
FT 13305 (Armonie): See about dreadful tangle with grace (9) ELEGANTLY ELY around (TANGLE)*
FT 13403 (Loroso): Dead but also animated, see (10) ABSOLUTELY (BUT ALSO)* ELY

This trick is quite like the cows = neat = lowers one: baffling when we see it the first time, blinding obvious from then on.

Solve These

Times 24544: Periodical we see displayed round front of kiosk (6)
Times 24462: See fringes for teenagers coming back in fashion (5)
Times 23707: Drink chap returned, see, soberly (8)

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Do The Math To Solve These Clues

numbers-in-clues

A number in a clue is usually a reference to another clue in the grid, or a Roman numeral.

Sometimes it is none of those.

Here are a few clues that use numbers as mathematical objects and symbols to stand for arithmetic operations.

Can you solve them?

 

From Alec Robins' book The A.B.C. Of Crosswords:

of 1 + of 1 – what kind of sign is that? (4)

From Anatomy of the Crossword by D. St. P. Barnard:

 3.14159 + 2.71828. Not for a Simple Simon! (3)

Guardian 25037 (Puck):

Poor fish eaten by roughly 4.10 (11)
[Clues from the books have been kindly provided by Chaturvasi from his collection.]

Update 3-Sep-2014: Clue by Mohsin Ahmed @ 1ACross:

(twelfth of seventy-eight) + (fourth of five) + (eighth of eighteen) (3)

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Quick Guides To Cryptic Crosswords: Good And Bad Advice

quick-tips-cryptic-crosswords The shortcut is in. "10 Easy Steps To X", "All You Want You Know About X In A Nutshell" and articles of their kind are tailor-made for success. Who can ignore the promise of instant wisdom?

The trend is popular with cryptic crosswords as well. There are many digests online that tell you how to solve cryptic crosswords in a few bullet points. Writing such an article is a difficult feat; when you shrink a lot of information into small space, you run the risk of omitting important details or oversimplifying which leaves the reader ill-informed.

LiveMint published this recently: Expert Cheat Sheet: How to crack The Times’ Cryptic Crossword. While it's heartening to find cryptic crosswords being given importance in an Indian paper, I found the article rather confusing. For starters, it talks about the "Times" crossword throughout without ever explaining which Times. In an article for cryptic crossword beginners in an Indian paper, Times => Times of UK is essential information. I asked a couple of non-solver friends which paper they thought it meant - they assumed the "Times" was Times Of India. 

My main objection is to the sweeping generalisations in the article. In the world of cryptic crosswords, hardly anything is true "always".

There are always two ways to solve a clue.

Not true for a cryptic definition clue.

The meaning of the answer to a Times clue is always given in the first or the last couple of words.

Not true for a clue like:
Times 24508: Stink as this gun is brought to church (4) STEN

The combo: These are very common; part anagram, part word substitution.

There are many more types of combination clues, many that do not involve anagrams.

There’s always one clue in the puzzle in which the answer is literally written into the clue- usually spanning two or three words.

Some puzzles may not have a hidden word answer at all.

If in the ten steps the author sets out to list clue types, then the prioritisation must be logical. In this article, there seems to be no rationale behind picking some clue types and omitting others. The charade and reversal clue types, very common devices in the Times, find no mention here.

The oddest thing is that this article focuses solely on the Times crossword and totally ignores its own paper's Mint crossword to which all those ten tips apply equally well.

Recommended "Cheat Sheets"

Here are a few short guides that I think do a very good job of giving quick solving tips:

  • What cryptic solvers need to know – in one page: Champion Times solver Peter Biddlecombe's advice to new solvers is one of the best-written short guides online, packing a wealth of knowledge in that one page.
  • The Guardian's Guide For Beginners: A six-step guide that wisely steers clear of listing individual clue types. Instead it stresses on the important of identifying the definition and the SI, and of ignoring the surface.
  • Tim Moorey's list of Clue Types: A handy single-page PDF that offers a bird's eye view of cryptic clue types with examples and tips to identify them. Written by Times setter Tim Moorey.

Bear in mind that no guide will do a magic makeover for you. Solving guides are, at best, tools for understanding. If you want to solve a crossword like the Times in a few minutes, the only way to reach that stage is regular, dedicated solving.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How To Put Words In A Crossword Grid

In earlier articles, our guest writer Chaturvasi has enlightened us on how to create a 15x15 cryptic crossword grid, and how to number the clue slots in the grid. In this article, he walks us through the crucial process of putting words into the grid. This will be of interest to aspiring setters as well as general readers.

Chaturvasi, also known as Rishi, has blogged for weeks on Fifteensquared and Big Dave's Crossword Blog and once on Times for The Times. He is a frequent commenter in international forums. He lives in Chennai and is a published crossword setter.

Having a 15x15 blocked grid on hand, let's see how we can populate it with words before going on to write clues and complete a crossword.

The grid is:

01-unfilled-grid

Where do we start?

It will not be prudent to do so at the four-letter slot at 15ac or 4dn, though some four-letter words may immediately occur to our minds, dirty as they could be. This is because when once we put down some words in the grid, the word-pattern takes a life of its own and we will have to find entries that fit certain configurations. It might become difficult to find candidates for the lengthier slots.

For instance, if we put some words in 1ac, 10ac and 12ac OR 5ac, 11ac and 13ac, then the first, third and fifth letters for the 15-letter slot at 1dn OR 8dn are in and we have to find a fit that has those letters in those positions. I don't say it is impossible; we may indeed find a candidate, if not a list of candidates from which we can choose one. But it is something that we can - and should - avoid.

It is wise, therefore, to fill in 1d and 8d first. These are lengthy slots and give us an opportunity to put phrases that will be interesting in the first place and also yield themselves to nice treatment when it comes to writing clues. Hmm... Let's put LAUGH OUT OF COURT at 1dn and RESISTING ARREST at 8dn. Even here we need to exercise some caution; if we put LAUGH OUT OF COURT at 8dn, some across words would end in U or O for which we need to find suitable candidates; instead, if we put it at 1d, these letters become the initial letters of words required and that would be easy. Thus:

02-grid-long-downs

At 8d, except for the I at 16ac, all other terminal letters are not likely to pose any problem.

Next, it would be prudent to find entries for 16ac and 18ac. Try BARRAMUNDI at the former and a phrase OUTER SPACE at the latter. Luckily, the U at 16ac is enclosed. The next logical step would be to fill 9d and 14d; for one thing, these are lengthier slots and had better be tackled first; for another, each of these already has two known letters. Go for FAST TRACK at 9d and LAMPSHADE at 14d. As we put down these entries, we must always have an eye on the consequences: at 13ac, ?T?????S is not a problem as it ends in S and we can choose from a long list of words when the crunch comes and the second letter T too is promising: with A,E,I,O,S,U as the initial letter, we should have no difficulty in finding something. Similarly, 26a ends amenably in D (many words should end in ED, whatever the other possibilities are) and the penultimate letter at 23a is H and we could perhaps find words ending in HE, HI or HY, not bothering immediately about any other possibility. So:

03-grid-crossword-setting-midprocess

We now find that we have rather isolated, smaller crosswords at the corners which we can tackle one by one.

Let's go clockwise from top left. Here too, the longest first. Let's try LOOPHOLE. Look at 15ac. Since words starting with U may be somewhat limited especially when some other crossing is already in, let's pay our attention to it next. UNDO, which readily occurs to us, goes in. As the third letter of this is D, at 2d a word starting with O and ending with D should not be a problem. What word beginning with O and ending in D can we put in there? Let's OFFLOAD it, as it were. At 10ac, we will have U?F????. Let's not be UNFAZED by it! At 12ac, we now have H?O???. HOORAY, we've got it! At 4 dn, we have L?D?. Let's grab LODE. In grid-filling there comes a stage when we're left with a certain pattern for a word and thus it is that at 3dn we have H?Z?A?. Looking at the first three characters, HUZOOR comes to mind but then we have to tinker with the fill at 12ac. Let's look elsewhere. Some dictionary look-ups and we see Chambers has HUZZAS. With HOORAY at 12a, we have more shouts of joy and so we will go with it and be elated. Now the grid looks like this:

04-grid-partial-filled

On to top right. At 13ac, one of the two longer slots in this area, let's put STETSONS, the word bobbing up with ST being a possible start and the useful plural form S at the end. At 7dn we have ????O?N. Without dragging on, we can enter DRAGOON. At 5ac, ???D?R should not be a problem. LEADER suggests itself. At 11a we have A???A?S - with the S ending, we can clear the ARREARS. Now, we are driven to the inevitable corner. Look at 6dn: E?R?T?M?. Here, we do have to resort to dictionary lookup. E?R..... suggests that a word beginning with EUR might be found. Chambers has EURYTHMY - which is actually an alternative spelling of 'eurhythmy' but having painted ourselves into a corner, let's go for it, taking care of the alternative/American spelling while writing the clue for the word later. At this stage, the presentation of the grid is:

05-grid-half-filled

Moving on to bottom right, let's first consider 29ac. Shall we look for a phrase? Let's exert ourselves to the utmost. Ah, BUST A GUT. At 25d, a four-letter word with U as the last letter should not be a problem. How about GURU, to whom we may pay our tribute. At 27ac, with U?????E, we may UTILISE the chance. At 21d, ????I?G should not be a problem at all with the -ing termination. We shall not be LETTING it go. At 22d, we find ???I?T, where a word ending in –INT or –IST should be possible. Ignoring these, we will go for SOVIET. Luckily, here we have not reached any impasse, for we have ?O?T?R and ?L?G at 20a where we may put down MORTAR and FLOG respectively without resort to any external aid.

The grid now emerges as:

06-grid-SEcorner-remains

Now we come to the last of the quadrants.

Here we look at 23ac C?????H?. Let's first tackle this so that we don't run into any problem later. No word leaps to our mind. The termination -HT is possible. With C as the initial letter, how about CATFIGHT? Cat? What about big cat? Ah, CHEETAHS. At 26ac a UN- beginning and a -ED ending is possible. In goes UNOWNED. At 17d, ?R?T?N?? does not seem to be insuperable. A CR- beginning is possible, the third letter will of course be a vowel... CRET????. CRETONNE, it shall be.

07-grid-filled-all-but-two

With the grid position as above, I invite you to suggest words for 28ac and 19dn.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Without" Ado

without-in-cryptic-crosswords

WITHOUT - a word with many cryptic possibilities.

Here's a look at various roles that "without" takes on in cryptic clues.

  1. Deletion Indicator: "without" is most commonly used in deletion clues. 'A without B' = A – B.
    Times 24537: Force of men without one unpleasant emotion (11) MALEVOLENCE
                         MALE VIOLENCE (force of men) - I (one)

  2. Containment Indicator: "without" also means "on the outside", so 'A without B' can imply A contains B.
    HT 22615: Where one learned to adjust without mother (4,5) ALMA MATER
                    ALTER (adjust) around MAMA (mother)

  3. Abbreviation WO: "without" in the clue can lead to its standard abbreviation WO (w/o) in the answer. 
    Times 24542: State backing without Virginia (4) AVOW 
                         WO (without) VA (Virginia), all reversed

  4. Wordplay for an Opposite Word: "without" can turn around the meaning of the adjacent noun to produce an adjective, as in "without sin" = GOOD or "without hunger" = FED.
    Guardian 25048 (Chifonie): Managed, without issue, to be dressed in flag to become known (9) TRANSPIRE
                                             RAN (managed) SP (sine prole i.e. without issue) in TIRE (flag)

  5. Part Of The Definition: "without" can be a part of the definition.
    HT 22628: Fair? I approve, without further ado (4,4,4) JUST LIKE THAT
                    JUST (fair) LIKE THAT (I approve)

Solve These

The clues below use "without" in different ways. Can you solve them?

Times 24472: Whale film casting unknown for ability to act without direction (4,4) F _ _ _ / _ _ _ _
FT 13161 (Alberich): Without a shot youth at crease’s last out (4,3,6) S _ A _ / _ _ _ / _ _ _ R _ _
FT 13133 (Dante) : Rebel without a cause (5) R _ _ _ _
FT 13051 (Cinephile): Affect one another without reduction, without hesitation (8) I _ _ _ R _ _ T

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Poll Result: Non-Cryptic Clues In The Hindu Crossword

Thanks to all who voted and spread the word about the poll: Non-Cryptic Clues in The Hindu Crossword.

The poll was set up on 28th Jun 2010 to know what you think of straight clues in cryptic crosswords, whether you are happy with them or not.

A total of 84 votes were cast to answer the question:
Do you like the non-cryptic clues in The Hindu Crossword?

The verdict:

Poll Result: Pie Chart

 Poll:Do you like non-cryptic clues in THC? Result: No (54), So-So (21), Yes (9) 

Of those who participated, a majority (64.29%) do not like non-cryptic clues, 25% are neutral to them and 10.71% like them. This may or may not be representative of the entire population of The Hindu Crossword solvers but at least it gives some data for setters to consider.

For those who missed it, here is fifteensquared's post for Guardian 25054 which had a high number of straight-ish definitions. Going by the comments on the blog, over there too, those who feel underwhelmed by straight clues outnumber those who enjoy them.

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Some Really Good Cryptic Definitions

cryptic-definition-clues The Hindu Crossword solvers have been talking of the high number of cryptic definition clues in M Manna's current run of crosswords. It is no secret that Colonel Gopinath of THCC is not a fan of this clue type. He will be happy to know that Ximenes was on his side, and from what I hear, American cryptic crosswords do not allow CDs either.

For me, a good cryptic definition is most impressive, a reflection of the setter's maturity and command over the language. Writing a cryptic definition also possibly requires more courage – it has higher chances of "flopping", like cracking a joke which gets no laughs if the audience doesn't understand it or if the audience sees it long before the punch line comes.

From the solver's perspective, one difficulty with CDs is that you either get them or you don't - there is no subsidiary indication to help. But when the penny drops on a really juicy CD, it is worth going through that ambiguity. All I ask of the setter is not to let many CDs accumulate in the same part of the grid so that we get some help with checking.

The trouble with M Manna’s crosswords, to me, is not the high number of cryptic definitions but that they are poor cryptic definitions. Many are straight clues weakly trying to be cryptic (which reminds me – if you have not added your vote in the Poll: Non-Cryptic Clues In The Hindu Crossword, do so now – last day today! Results will be announced early next week.)

To offset the spate of bad CDs in THC, sharing with you a few CDs that I like. I hope you will like them too.

Guardian 24983 (Gordius): Enlightenment for the masses? (8) S L _ _ M _ _ _
FT 13036 (Viking): Good place for stiff doubles? (8) W _ _ _ O _ K _
Guardian (Rufus): Made up a number (8) C _ _ P _ _ _ D
Times : What's needed when jumper is in such a state? (3, 6) N _ _ / J _ _ S _ _
FT 13326 (Bradman): Coach after a bit of magic? (7) P _ _ P _ _ N

Post your answers as comments. Will publish them on Monday 5th July.

Update: The answers are SLIMMING, WAXWORKS, COMPOSED, NEW JERSEY, PUMPKIN

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