Monday, January 31, 2011

Ask The Readers: Should Posthumous Puzzles Get Published?

posthumous-puzzles-debate Viking was one of my favourite setters on the Financial Times, one whose puzzles I blogged often about on fifteensquared. When he passed away in October 2010, I dearly wished that he had left behind a repository of crosswords that we could enjoy in future, through which he could live on as long as possible.

That was not to be. After only two Viking puzzles published soon after his demise, the paper carried the message "This is Viking’s final crossword". Both his posthumous puzzles were reminders of his impeccable craftsmanship and of the great loss to the crossword community.

Some setters no longer with us have indeed left behind a stock of their crosswords in the pipeline. Puzzles set by Rover (1932 - 2010) and Quantum (1926-2008) continue to be published till date. Their fan bases can have solace in that. But can they really? To our dismay, we find that posthumous puzzles don't match up to the setter's usual high standards. In some cases the drop in quality in so marked it's hard to be believe the puzzles are by the same setter.

Why is it that posthumous puzzles don't enthuse solvers? A comment by Anax shed some light on the matter – the crossword we see in the paper is a collaboration between editor and setter. If the setter is no longer with us, only one of two things can happen: the puzzle appears 'in the raw' (unedited) or the editor makes whatever changes he sees fit - in neither case does the setter hone the crossword in his/her own style.

This makes me wonder: if the final few puzzles of the setter are raw, should they be published at all? Wouldn't solvers want to remember the setters by their finest, finished work than their not-so-good, unfinished work?

What would the setter want? If I were a setter, would I like to have my raw puzzles edited and put in print when I'm not around? I think not.

There are no easy answers to this I suppose, but I'm interested to know what you all think. Should such puzzles get published?

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Composite Anagrams

composite-anagram A rare clue type for blocked grid puzzles, the composite anagram (aka compound anagram) is an advanced variant of the anagram clue. In a composite anagram, you need to find the answer to the question: what can I mix with a given word or phrase, to get another given word or phrase?

Take this example:

Azed 1997: Seen this Indian tourist destination? For 'Indus a rupee, that's fantastic (7)

Read the clue in this way to solve the composite anagram:
SEEN + [a word for "this Indian tourist destination"] = (INDUS A RUPEE)*

What Indian tourist destination can you mix with SEEN, to get an anagram of INDUS A RUPEE? The solution is obviously an anagram of (INDUSARUPEE – SEEN) i.e. (IDUARUP)*, which gives you UDAIPUR.

Composite anagrams are not often seen in daily puzzles – some papers like the Times do not allow them as they are considered too complex. They are staple fare for barred grid crosswords like the Azed.

Let's try another one:

Azed 1860: Soup polished off with relish? Oh, i.e., --! (6)

Read this as:
(SOUP + RELISH)* = OH IE + [a word to fill in "—"]

What word can you mix with OHIE, to get an anagram of SOUP RELISH? (SOUPRELISH – OHIE)* i.e. (SUPRLS)*, leads you to the answer - SLURPS. An &lit clue.

How to solve a composite anagram?

Some tips:

  • Find its weakest spot – the anagram indicator.
  • Follow exactly what the clue says. Advanced cryptics balance complexity with strict rules of fairness – there won't be any superfluous words or loose wordplay.
  • Count the letters, make sure the two sides add up to equal length.
  • The definition may appear in the middle of the clue. Look for definition placeholders like "this".
  • Composite anagrams are often of &lit type – check if it works to read the whole clue as the definition.
  • Practise!

Solve These

Put the last tip into action - solve these two composite anagram clues:

Azed 1962: Live through a tough winter? This thing's unsettling (7)
Azed 1987: Yes and no? Refuse thus as on forms (4)

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

What I Learnt in My First Stint as Crossword Setter

crossword-setter-lessons

Last month I set a few cryptic crosswords for a college fest. My setting experience has so far been limited to a occasional entries to clue-writing contests; this was my first attempt at compiling full grids for public solving.

I learnt a few lessons. Comments/experiences, new setters and old?

1 Your puzzle is harder than you imagine. You wrote it - you know how it works. Your audience does not.

2 You will be faced will tough setting choices. A word with a clue you are dying to put in, which narrows the crossing to an intractable word. Should you sacrifice your lovely clue, or go with it and hope the solvers will forgive you for the dull crossing?

3 What is common knowledge to you, or awfully interesting to you, may not be to all your solvers.

4 One test solver will find errors that multiple self-checks missed.

5 If you try something different, you must be prepared for extreme reactions.

6 Your work isn't over until you see the puzzle in published form, for there may be publishing errors.

7 When solvers discuss your puzzles, don't be in a hurry to offer hints or explanations. They can work them out.

8 Only a fraction of those who attempt your puzzles give feedback. Cherish that feedback.

9 The rules of fairness you insist upon as solver suddenly feel like painful chains of lead. Why must I not write a proper noun in lowercase? Why must I not put in "over" and "into" wherever I want? The good solvers can still solve it, can't they? Can't they?

10 It isn't much fun if your puzzle gets cracked too soon. It is even less fun if your puzzle doesn't get cracked at all.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Clues with no definition : okay or not?

I'd like to know what you think about clues of this kind:

cryptic-clue-no-definitionGuardian 24914 (Araucaria): Oo! (8,7) CIRCULAR LETTERS

THC 9786 (Gridman): XX (6-8) DOUBLE-CROSSING

GEGS (9,4) SCRAMBLED EGGS

The examples above have a wordplay component only, they do not contain a definition for the answer. On solving forums, such clues get bracketed as CD but they are actually different from a cryptic definition like:

FT 13578 (Dante): Delivery men? (7) BOWLERS

However misleading, "delivery men" works as a complete definition for bowlers in cricket. But there is nothing in "Oo" to stand for written documents or in "XX" to suggest treachery.

Not exactly definition-less, but still…

Another variant is a blank placeholder for the definition.

THC 7812: A weapon to use in the dark? Not exactly! (5,4) NIGHT CLUB

THC 9784 (Gridman): Without having had a girl friend? Not exactly! (7) UNDATED

These clues only tell us that the answer is different from the literal interpretation of its wordplay. There is no real definition in them.

Do you think such clues are fine, or do they seem not quite perfect?

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Stuttering Clues

stuttering In a stuttering clue, a letter or syllable gets repeated in the clue and the answer follows the same pattern of repetition. To show by example:

THC 9318 (Gridman): Whispering America rises twice to c-complain (9) SUSURRANT
RANT is "complain"; because of the stuttering effect, "c-complain" becomes R-RANT.

We don't come by stuttering clues too often but this is by no means a new device – Ximenes mentioned it in his 1966 book Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword, with the remark that it's entertaining if it isn't overdone. Here is a sample clue by the old master – an interesting one as as it repeats not one letter but a speech pattern:

Ximenes: I was thought magical, but I'm fer-futile (7) VERVAIN
futile = VAIN; fer-futile = VER-VAIN!

Caution: letter repetition isn't always stuttering

Stuttering clues are hard to disguise, so setters play the same trick on us as with the other easy clue type, anagrams [read more on misleading anagram signals] - they make other clues look like stuttering clues.

THC 8622: Tendency to t-tear (5) TREND
T and REND (tear). "R" does not get repeated as we'd expect it to. The stuttering effect is for the surface only - just a way to get the letter "T" into the answer.

Solve These

Azed 1989: Fur flying in wild d-duel primed for a milkmaid? (8)
FT 13450 (Falcon): Odd, Eric pinching c-coin of little value (9)

A clue for Hindi film viewers - something the most parodied stutterer of filmdom, Rahul of Darr, would say:

Chaos when I'd flipped over K-Kiran (8)

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