Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Review: Tim Moorey's How To Master The Times Crossword

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how-to-master-the-times-crossword Expectations ran high as I started to read Tim Moorey's How To Master The Times Crossword. Excited as I was to have my own new copy of the book, I also wondered if it will match up to the glowing praise I had read of it.

I need not have wondered. Tim Moorey's book does a magnificent job of explaining the nuances of the Times cryptic crossword in an eminently readable style. Whether you are a new solver taking your first steps towards cryptic crosswords or an experienced solver wanting to raise your game, this is THE book for you.

Inside The Book

The 218-page hardcover volume is divided into four parts – Crossword Basics which covers the clue types, indicators and tips for very new solvers; Mastering the Times Crossword with advanced tips; Practice Time with lots of clues and 12 full grids to try; Appendices including a list of crossword abbreviations.

One of the most commendable aspects of this book is its positive, friendly tone. Many guides read like impersonal instruction manuals, or else have so much of the author's personality in them that they obscure the knowledge they're trying to impart. Tim Moorey's book falls into neither trap – his voice is like that of a mentor genuinely interested in helping us learn. He says in the introduction:

I would not wish to be seen as laying down rules on solving; there are really no such things. Ultimately, everyone finds their own way of doing crosswords and my hope is that I will help you to find yours

Graphs and visual cues are used to explain clue types and the breakdown of clues. If you are familiar with the Times crossword, you will marvel at how easy and accessible the author makes the Times clues look.

The book uses slightly different terminology for clue types such as all-in-one for &lit and sandwich for containers. These terms are perhaps less intimidating for a new solver, and well-used on the Times blog even if not elsewhere.

The practice clues and puzzles have some handholding in the initial stages – definitions are italicized, clue types mentioned. Thereafter you are given full grids to attempt on your own.

My favourite sections of the book are in Part 2: Mastering the Times Crossword  – a solving sequence in which Tim Moorey takes us through his solving of an entire grid, and a setting sequence in which he walks us through the process of creating clues. I enjoyed comparing notes with Tim Moorey's solving sequence – mine was rather different but eventually I had the same last few blanks as he did. The setting sequence is a fascinating insight into the setter's mind as he writes clues for the grid (Tim Moorey is a setter for the Sunday Times crossword).

Each chapter begins with a nice quote relevant to crosswords – extracts from books and magazines, also an excerpt from a 1934 letter by PG Wodehouse to The Times.

In the end is a treat as Tim Moorey calls it – a puzzle that is hailed as one of the best ever to be published in the Times. As with the rest of the book, here too the author shows consideration for solvers at different levels of solving ability. The clues for this puzzle are published in three formats – one is exactly as it appeared in the Times, the second with definitions italicized and the third with definitions italicized plus indicators underlined.

Is this any good for a non-Times solver?

Absolutely. Most of the book applies to any cryptic crossword, not only the Times. Whatever is specific to the Times - such as the no living persons rule - is clearly mentioned.

I suspect that by the end of this book, you will convert into a Times solver even if you are not one today. The clues used as examples in the book showcase the cream of the Times stable. Many of the clues were chosen in the past as the 'Clue Of The Week', a feature of The Week magazine.

What do you think of the book?

I'd love to hear from other readers, especially new solvers. Did you enjoy the book, did it help you improve your game?

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12 comments

veer said...

Hi there: I have read and occasionally bed-time-browsed the book in the last year. I had an opportunity to meet CVasi Sir in Chennai late last year and think this is one of the books he recommended after which I went and purchased it. As you say the book is great for beginners in cryptics as it kind of places the warning signs at the appropriate mental tripwires - especially where a word such as "about" or "in" or "without" in a clue can have multiple imports.

Also, I have read elsewhere (think bigdave's blog) that the best ever Times puzzle as Tim Moorey calls it, is the work of Anax (by his own admission of course).

After that I also managed to get a hold of MacNutt's Ximenes masterpiece, Manley's Chambers xwd manual and Bradford's, xwd dic. before a moratarium was placed on further xwd investments by my better sense (read half.

Though these books are great and help solve more clues than before, nothing replaces doing the puzzles themselves because : 1) the surface of the clues in papers like the Times are so beautifully constructed that they do not readily allow the mind to wrest the cryptic reading, 2) improved overall knowledge of the world around us (Western classical music, Victorian era literature, WWI, II facts and personalities, British media personalities no longer alive, poetry, not to mention British slang, Cockney, London streets, British forests, fruits, vegetables, trees, plants, fish and so on..). The cryptic is there to guide one to the answer but in the case of obscure letter patterns it is infinitely easier if the mind can fill in some of the blanks, 3) while these books cover the broad points of cryptics very well, I still find the blogs (this one of Shuchi's, PB's times blog, BigDave44, Col.'s THC, CVasi sir's Orkut communities, Anax's forums etc.) a treasure trove for fine tuning skills.

Cheers, Veer

raju umamaheswar said...

Is this book available in India? Who are the Publishers and what's the price? No mention of such details?It may help prospective solvers,buyers and collectors.
I'd like to add to my collection, though such books can at best be guides and at worst, make one to be letting one's brain go free without any exercise. Nothing like pitting one's wits against the compiler and find one's way up to be an expert.

The Times of London crosswords are the neatest , with all the compilers taking one to the end of one's tether cerebrally without being naughty or knotty;in other words, those compilers treat the solvers on an equal footing without being intellectually supercilious or overbearingly challenging. They leave you very fulfilling and satisfied, once solved.

Raju Umamaheswar

Anax said...

As Veer says, news eventually spread about "that" puzzle of mine appearing in the book. It was actually Pete Biddlecombe who noticed it and sent me an email to let me know. To be honest the use of that puzzle was slightly surprising because (despite the plaudits) it in fact contains two small errors in the clues (three if you include a minor typo which doesn't have any adverse effect anyway). For those of you who have Tim's book, and who also demand the highest standards of clue-writing, careful perusal of this "saving the best till last" clue-set should reveal two places where I slipped below those standards.

One is in an across clue, and it happened because of an edit I made which required changes to two words; sadly I forgot to change one of them.

The second is in a down clue and it happened because I was careless.

Can you find the mistakes?

Shuchi said...

Hi Veer

You have an enviable collection of books! I own none of the others but I hope to get Ximenes' book sometime soon. From what I remember out of one hurried scan through the book, he has a remarkable style of writing.

As you say, with crosswords (as with most other skills!) there's no better teacher than experience.

Shuchi said...

Raju: Please click on the image to get to the Amazon UK listing for the book. You will find there all the details you're looking for. Here is the link again: How To Master The Times Crossword.

There are some Indian online stores that procure imported books if the order size is large enough. I'm getting in touch with a few sites to find out the possibilities of making this book available here. The cost will remain the same I guess but this will help to avoid the steep shipping charges of international orders.

Shuchi said...

Hi Anax

I have yet to solve that puzzle, now I'll look closely for the mistakes. Hopefully tomorrow. After reading your comment, I bet all my readers who own the book will rush to re-open their copies to that page :)

Shuchi said...

About this part of your comment, Raju:
"such books can at best be guides and at worst, make one to be letting one's brain go free without any exercise"

- The book encourages and educates you to solve better, it does not do the solving on your behalf. Where is the question of the brain not getting exercised?

xwd_fiend said...

On the mistakes in the Anax puzzle: I think this shows that if you write really good clues, the mistakes are either harder to notice (I don't remember spotting any) or much more easily forgiven.

One minor correction: Tim Moorey isn't (yet) on the Times setting team - he writes puzzles for the Sunday Times, but that has a different group of setters.

Shuchi said...

Hi Peter

Thanks, I've made the correction.

"if you write really good clues, the mistakes are either harder to notice ... or much more easily forgiven": That's very true, and so is its reverse. If you write rotten clues, the mistakes get magnified. A setter on The Hindu is pretty unpopular with solvers for loose clueing - she gets a lot of virtual bashing for errors that with another setter may not catch the eye.

@Anax: I attempted your crossword today and am stuck with many gaps, even after looking at the hints in the book! As they say on twitter: #vocabfail. Time for some online "help" :)

Based on what I've solved so far, I must add my voice too to the plaudits. Every clue has something special to offer. 10a, 13a made me smile; I could solve the clever 15a only because I now know your "bottles" trick ;) I enjoyed the clue as well as the answer for 14a - he is one of my favourite authors. I'm intrigued by the clue for 16d, it is still unsolved.

No errors have been spotted yet!

Shuchi said...

Hi Anax

I completed the crossword at last. Needed to check 1D and 6D (I didn't know the words), the rest was tough only because of the clever wordplay. 16D lived up to its promise, excellent clue. Also brilliant is the definition in 23D.

My guess for one "error": is one of them in the indicator of 9A? Imperative verb etc.?

I took the liberty of posting 26A on twitter and it got compliments as expected. Plus here is a mention of your site.

anax said...

Funnily enough, Shuchi, 26a is one of the erroneous clues. To match up with the 's in "Britain's" the tense of "houses" should be changed to "housing", and the surface reading would have stayed completely intact with that change.

It's a similar problem at 21d, where "outlaw's" and "have" are a grammatical mismatch.

Shuchi said...

:) I was mentally putting a comma in 26a after 'derelict', that made it OK!

21D: I see the problem now after you've spelt it out. It's so small I am not surprised nobody spotted it.

Which is the typo?