Friday, October 29, 2010

Good News For Mint Crossword Solvers

wordview-mint-crossword-xwordclub XWordClub, which has so far been home to The Hindustan Times crossword solutions, will now also host collaborative solving for the Mint crossword.

Today's Mint clue-sheet is up - please head over to XWordClub and post your answers to Mint Wordview#26, set by Tony Sebastian.

How to post answers: Click on a clue. A textbox will appear. Put your answer in with annotation and any other comments, and save. There is no max limit - you can answer as many clues as you wish.

Everyone's answers remain hidden during the day. After 8PM India time, all answers get displayed. When many solvers participate, this gives a good measure of the difficulty of individual clues. Detailed posting help is here.

For futher questions about using the forum, please contact @XWordClub on twitter or drop a mail to admin [at] xwordclub [dot] com. Enjoy solving!

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Interview With Cryptonyte (Tony Sebastian)

Tony_Sebastian

Cryptonyte made a sparkling debut in The Hindu last month as their latest crossword setter. Well-known as @notytony on social media, Cryptonyte's gift of wordplay is renowned - he compiles sniglets for emags, writes in publications and runs a popular humour blog.

Read on to know the person behind the pseudonym as he talks with us about himself, his crosswording experiences and his progression as a setter. Meet Tony Sebastian.

Q1: Welcome, Cryptonyte, and congratulations for your superhit debut in The Hindu. Your first puzzle generated a lot of curiosity about your real identity. Tell us about yourself.

Cryptonyte: Thanks Shuchi, it's such an honour to be here. I was pleasantly surprised to see such tremendous response on the Orkut community and the colonel's blog to the first crossword. And about my 'real identity', my pseudo-pseudonym and a 'help'ful  12 across should have sealed the deal for anyone who knows me. For those of you who don't, I guess we have established by now that I am self obsessed. I am your average 23 year old Indian (engineer, worked in a software firm for two years and now pursuing my MBA at IIM Kozhikode) with an above average appetite for wordplay.

Q2: How did you get introduced to crosswords?

Cryptonyte: Like most kids of my generation I came across The Hindu Crossword during my school days. My dad had solved about half of the crossword and my brother and I were trying to figure out how the solutions came about. And as we unravelled each answer we were filled with awe. So we promptly shelved the crossword and went to play cricket instead.

It was in college that I picked up crosswords again, it was like the woman of my dreams: fair, symmetric and intelligent. And like most other women she made very little sense to me. But slowly I figured out the subtle hints and understood what she meant. And before I knew it I had been tricked into being with her for life.

Schizophrenia apart, there were three of us from Metallurgical Engineering (The Grid-iron Gang) – Jagdheesh 'Pedro' Singaram, Phalgun Nelaturu and I who used to solve THC and the ET crosswords on a daily basis (mostly in class). That’s where the interest started, and it just grew from there.

Q3: For someone so young, your clue-writing shows surprising maturity. What is the secret of your talent?

Cryptonyte: All the credit for that should go to Vinod Raman easily one of the best setters I've met, whom I fondly call Snow White (the fairest of them all) who mentored me from the very beginning. We met on the Orkut THC clue writing forum and I was awestruck by his clues. I got in touch with him and he helped me from there on. He would go over each clue I write very patiently and suggest improvements. Our blog The I-do-it Box gave me a lot of confidence.

Q4: What advice would you give to solvers who want to become setters?

Cryptonyte: Keep at it. I think it's as simple as that. Before The I-do-it Box, I had started setting my own crosswords as early as 2006 at http://tony-crossie.blogspot.com. By "my own", I mean all rules were mine, the surface reading was intelligible only to me and the clueing was, to put it mildly, downright pathetic. The blog is still on the internet only for one reason - blogger is a free service. In addition, I hope that anyone who ever tries their hand at clueing and decides to give it up will first take a look at the blog and realise they started off way better than I did.

All you have to do to be a setter is put in your 10,000 hours (or a lot lesser than that in my case) because the small world of crosswords is a friendly one that provides enough and more support. I've received a lot of help all along the way from Vinod, Chaturvasi and even the likes of Anax. And with the existence of this truly wonderful site I guess the journey these days is a lot easier. Crossword Unclued tells you all that you need to know as a setter and a lot more too.

Q5: When you're not setting crosswords, what do you do?

Cryptonyte: The rigours of the MBA course have pretty much thrown me off track but I used to play a good amount of Scrabble. I've played at the national level and won a few semi-pro tournaments. Other than that I used to run a 'humour' blog and be pretty active on twitter which essentially translates to crass cornography on the internet.

Q6: You must be the youngest crossword setter to be published in a national daily. Have you checked with the Limca/Guinness book of records yet?

Cryptonyte: I am not one to better a previously achieved feat and keep talking about it. I wouldn't want to sound like a broken record. I don't pay much attention to these things; I think THC solvers are wary of record holding setters anyway ;)

Q7: Your message for The Hindu Crossword solvers:

Cryptonyte: Give objective form of I and direction wise man, that's what I have to say to you (7)

Your feedback is invaluable so please be free and objective with it, it tells me how I am doing and which way I should go. Thank you for all the kind comments about the first crossword and I hope I can continue to do justice to this wonderful opportunity that I've received. Thank you for bearing with me through this interview and CU soon. Cheers.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cryptic Clues And The Effects Of Drinking

slurred-speech There may be good reasons why you shouldn't drink so much as to lose clarity of speech, but don't blame the crossword setter for not pointing them out to you. How else would the setter produce clues of this kind:

Times 24245: Rather frail partners holding hands getting a peck from a drunk (7) WEAKISH
W E (partners holding hands, in the game of bridge) A KISH (peck from a drunk)

'peck' is KISS, which a person in inebriated state would pronounce as KISH.

Times 24592: Pal, shy when drunk? (4) TOSH
TOSS (shy), sounds like TOSH when slurred.

Generally the indication of drunken pronunciation in a clue converts the 'S' sound into 'SH'. Have you come across any variations? Do leave a comment about it.

One for you to solve. Cheers.

Guardian 25033 (Araucaria): Foolish girl being drunk won't make up her mind (6-6)

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

And The Contest Winner Is...

The answers to the questions first – most of you got them right, congrats.

crossword-unclued-contest-win
  1. What was Afrit's real name?
    Answer: Alistair Ferguson Ritchie
  2. Solve this clue by Afrit:
    Pretty long weapon, but for a knight it should be a lot longer (5) L___E
    Answer: LANCE. With LOT added, it becomes LANCELOT, knight of Round Table fame.

The entries for #2 led to a situation that I had not foreseen. Some of you posted the answer right but the annotation wrong. Technically an answer with correct annotation is better than without, but since the question had not been specific about this, the entry was considered as long as the answer was LANCE.

Likewise, variations on Afrit's real name – Alistair Ferguson, Alistair Ferguson Ritchie or A F Ritchie - were all fine.

At the end of the sifting and counting, 55 entries went into the pool including double entries for verifiable retweets. The draw was done with random.org.

Watch the draw live in this video (email readers – please visit the blog for this):

We now have the name of the lucky one to bag the prize, the rare cult book Afrit's Armchair Crosswords.

Please join me in congratulating our winner - *drumroll* Balaji! The winning entry:

winning-answer

Balaji: Please write to me at shuchi [at] crosswordunclued [dot] com with your mailing address. The book will be on its way soon. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Thanks again to The Crossword Centre and Rendezvous Press for sponsoring the contest, and to everyone of you who participated and spread the word about it.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Do you make these mistakes when writing clues?

crossword-setter Some years ago, I was an active member of an online clue-writing community. Their protocol was: one member posted a self-composed clue, the next answered it and posted another clue, and so the chain continued.

We were all solvers there with next to no awareness about the intricacies of clue-writing. Our clues were frankly pretty awful, but we did not know it then.

The thing is, many solvers solve by instinct and experience of solving, without fully understanding the beauty and structure of clues. Here is my list of the usual traps we fall into when we move from being solvers to setters. I have done most of these, I confess (yes, even #5). If you make these mistakes too, check yourself now.

1. Your first impulse is to break the word into bits and use standard abbreviations to string a clue together

This is the easiest sort of clue to write, and comes to mind most naturally to the new setter.

Take this test: Write a clue for BARE. Did your brain toss back at you something like: Graduate engineer's bald (4)? That's a sign. Have a look at the recent clues you've written. If there is too much of charade with crossword abbreviations in your repository, it's time for you to break out of the habit.

2. You see a setter do something clever and strain yourself to write a clue using the same trick

The strain shows. You don't have to write a reverse anagram just because Paul Halpern did. Maybe you'll get a real chance to apply your newly found wisdom soon, or maybe not. Why not think of something original instead?

3. You use link words without considering their role in the wordplay

You might have grown used to ignoring small words such as "has", "over", "at", "should", etc. in clues when solving, but these words are not meaningless fillers. You cannot insert any word in your clue to help the surface. The good setter takes care that every word in the clue makes sense in the cryptic reading.

The next two clues for COACHING look almost identical but one is superior to the other. Do you see which one, and why?

Training company is suffering (8)
Training company's suffering (8)

As a solver you might derive CO+ACHING from both with equal ease, but while writing the clue you cannot afford to miss that "is" in the first version breaks the cryptic reading. The second version is better as it allows the connector to be interpreted as "has".

Make sure that every word in your clue can justify its presence, in both readings.

4. You don't notice the grammatical fit of indicators

Take this test: In this clue for ACHE - Sets right each misery (4), is the anagram indicator "sets right" all right?

If you answered yes, this one is for you.

The indicator "sets right" look fine on the surface but is not OK in the cryptic reading. A verb before the fodder needs to be written as an instruction to the solver. A small change can fix it: Set right each misery (4).

Review your clues to check if their indicators congeal grammatically, especially if you have used a combination of clue types.

5. You write indirect anagrams

In an indirect anagram, the anagram fodder is not directly present in the clue but has to be derived from the wordplay.

Consider these two clues for the word REALISED:

Direct anagram: Crooked dealer is apprehended (8) (DEALER+IS)*
Indirect anagram: Crooked merchant is apprehended (8) ((merchant = DEALER)+IS)*

Indirect anagrams are rare in published crosswords as they are unfair to the solver, yet this style of wordplay seems to hold an inexplicable appeal for new setters.

Unless your clue has an exact replacement (such as Iron = Fe, South = S) or you have some other compelling justification for it, don't use it.

6. You write "complex" clues

The best clues combine deception with simplicity. Do yours?

Take this test: Write a clue for PAST. Is this the kind of wordplay you've come up with: Former head of state taken in by someone dear with a change of heart (4)?

A long clue combining several clue types might be excellent too, but more often than not it is overkill and gives the vibe of "trying too hard". Keep it simple!

7. Your clue surfaces don't have meaning

Experienced solvers acquire the knack of looking right past misleading surfaces. Like Arjuna who saw nothing but the bird's eye, they see nothing but the cryptic meaning of a clue.

A most desirable trait for solving becomes problematic when carried forward to setting. To the focussed solver, the two clues below might seem equivalent as their structures are identical:

Firm rejecting leader's move (5)
Anchored rejecting head's move (5)

In both, the wordplay is (STABLE minus initial letter) and the definition is the verb form of TABLE (to put forward formally). But as a setter, you must do more than provide fair wordplay, you must also craft a natural surface for the clue. The first clue fares better on this count - it can pass off as a plausible statement about a company's reaction to its leader's proposal. The second is gibberish. Avoid the gibberish.
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Doing well on all these counts? Congratulations. I recommend taking part in these clue-writing contests, if you aren't doing so already. All the best for your clue-writing efforts.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Flavours Of Saki

saki-munro When you hear the word "Saki", what comes to your mind? For many of us, the most natural association of the word is with British author H.H. Munro who used it as his pen name.

A clue with this meaning of Saki:

Times 23583: Horse a satirical author used to reach Japanese port (8) NAGASAKI
NAG (horse) A SAKI (satirical author)

You might come across a couple of other meanings of the word in crosswords. This clue from last Friday's FT taught me a new one:

FT 13511 (Cincinnus): Badger with a monkey in Kyushu city (8) NAGASAKI
NAG (badger) A SAKI (monkey)

Sakis are small monkeys found in South America.

Finally, Saki is an alternate spelling for the Japanese drink sake. Not a common way to spell the word but Chambers lists it, so it is fair game:

Times Sunday 4220: Hack given one alcoholic drink - Japanese port (8) NAGASAKI
NAG (hack) A (one) SAKI (alcoholic drink)

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Contest: Participate and Win A Goodie!

crossword-unclued-contest-win Diwali is round the corner, so I thought of doing a giveaway for my readers as a little firework to celebrate.

Enter a simple contest, and you could win a copy of one of the best books I've read this year: Afrit's Armchair Crosswords, a vintage collection of crosswords set by Afrit. [Read my review of the book.]

The contest is open worldwide. Yes, even the mystery visitor from Bermuda on Colonel Gopinath's blog can participate.

The prize is kindly sponsored by The Crossword Centre and Rendezvous Press.

The Contest

Answer these two questions:

  1. What was Afrit's real name?

  2. Solve this clue by Afrit:
    Pretty long weapon, but for a knight it should be a lot longer (5) L___E


How To Participate

  1. Post your answers in a comment on this post.
  2. Mention your name in the comment. Anonymous entries will not be considered.
  3. Only one comment per person. Each comment will be counted as one entry.
  4. Tweet about this contest to get a double entry into the lucky draw. To qualify for double entry, mention the direct link to your tweet in the comment on this post. [Tweet now].

Entries close on Friday 15th October 2010 midnight IST. Comments will remain unpublished till the contest is over.

The winner will be picked by a computerised draw. The result will be announced in the following week.

Post your answers in the comments section and do spread the word about the contest. Remember to share this post on twitter and double your chances of winning Afrit's book.

Best of luck to you!

Update: Please mention the exact link to your tweet in the comment along with your answers.
e.g. http://twitter.com/amrith10/statuses/26528054806 is the link to @amrith10's tweet.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Round-Up Of GANDHI Clues

mahatma-gandhi What better way to observe Gandhi Jayanti than by sharing this lovely cryptic definition with you all:

Times Jumbo 805: Indian spinner who played leading role in getting England out (6)

Another fine &lit:

Times 24285: Good and primarily humane leader of Indians (6)

More GANDHI clues:

Telegraph Toughie 400 (Notabilis): Hindu campaigner heading for shake-up after ousting English (6)
Guardian 24619 (Gordius): Nationalist who was good with greeting (6)
DT 26058: Great Asian nationalist died helping India, initially (6)
DT 26079: Some brigand hired to get national leader (6)

Any good ones you know?

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