Saturday, January 22, 2011

What I Learnt in My First Stint as Crossword Setter

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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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6 comments

KISHORE said...

Congrats on a great set of CWs and clues. All the observations made by you are perfectly valid. Picking on the last one, I come across similar frustration during audit. A client with impeccable accounts and control systems leads to no audit findings and a minuscule report not commensurate with the time and effort put in is one type of frustration. On the other hand, a client where you discover shortcomings and trouble at every step leading to a voluminous report creating pain all round.

I won't opine on which of the two is better, but I will say this (from a solver's perspective):
1. a very easy one may disappoint in terms of length of entertainment and non trivial learning offered.
2. a tough one, entertaining for longer periods, but offering moments of pure nirvana, due to the setters wit or power of verbal gymnastics.
3. a bad one, with errors of what ever type, but sometimes still solvable by the dint of perseverance, but leaving an aftertaste.

From a solver's perspective I rate them in the order 2,1,3.

And, though there were a couple of minor errors, I rate all the 4 you set for IIM-L in the top rating. Looking forward to more...

KISHORE said...

On reading through my own post, some of the mistakes I made are apparent :-) whatever, setters, ...

Bhavan said...

Agree.You learn fast and learn right : ) Strictly from the experience of having created a couple:

1.You tend to mentally dissect every single word or phrase you knew or saw or heard, clueing it.

2.You obsess about the overall balance of the different clue types in one puzzle.

3.With every subsequent reading, all your clues look like they have been given no thought to.

4.As a consequence, you fret if your audience will be able to unravel the clue.

5.You become even more critical when solving others' clues (may be not consciously).

6.Despite some of the negatives above, you feel a deep sense of accomplishment.

maddy said...

Shuchi, I ve been looking forward to solving a xwd from you if only to try and pick holes in them and derive some sort of perverse pleasure :)

I remember in my college I had written a scathing review of Khalid Mohammad's movie Fiza, inspite of the fact that it wasn't bad at all just 'coz one expected the world from him by virtue of his being such a good film critic. At least he used to be, I think he has somewhat lost it now...

@Kishore - Are you privy to the xwds? If there is a link provided, I can't find it

KISHORE said...

maddy, I am sure you would have liked to get the info from the mare's larynx, but since you asked me:

http://virtuoso.iimlmanfest.com/crossword.php

Shuchi said...

You scare me, maddy :) By that standard we'd never be able to make statements like "Ganguly's performance has been lacklustre of late" or "Sonu Nigam went off tune on the high notes of a Rafi toughie".

I had shared the link on twitter last month, you haven't logged in for a while I guess. Now that Kishore has posted the link you have to promise not to give me the Khalid treatment. [Talking of film writers, do you read Baradwaj and Jai Arjun? They're the best.]