Monday, February 28, 2011

Interview: Nitaa Jaggi

[Introductory Post: Interviews with The Hindu Crossword Setters]

Nitaa Jaggi When I approached Nitaa Jaggi for an interview, I was prepared for cold refusal. After all I have not exactly been a fan of her crosswords and have been pretty vocal about it. But to my pleasant surprise, she said yes. I think it is very sporting of her to  interact and answer my questions and I thank her for giving The Hindu Crossword solvers this rare opportunity to hear her side. You may or may not like her cryptic clues, but you cannot help admire the spirit that keeps her undaunted in the face of criticism.

[Answers posted verbatim]

Q1. Great to have you talking with us, Ms. Jaggi. Please tell us about yourself and how you got introduced to crosswords.

Nitaa Jaggi: I was always good in literature during my school days and loved solving puzzles. I indulged in a lot of word games. I got my basic education from one of the best schools in Mumbai - Arya Vidya Mandir, Santacruz. During school days we never had to just write answers directly from the text, always had to use reference material to form an answer. This made me sit in the library for hours together doing up projects as well as it formed the habit of reading. I was always armed with a dictionary and a thesaurus. After school, I did my B.Com from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce& Economics, Mumbai.

Initially I used to attempt the simple quick crosswords appearing in the local dailies. However, I was always fascinated with the cryptics appearing in The Economic Times.

It is a self-taught art, books helped me in constructing cryptics. My first cryptic crossword appeared in DNA newspaper followed by semi-cryptic Information Technology crosswords for Digit IT Magazine and then the cryptics for The Hindu.

Q2: How did you get into setting crosswords for The Hindu?

Nitaa Jaggi: I was approached by Ms. Meena Menon who works for the Mumbai office of The Hindu, to set crosswords for their paper. I think she got my profile thru’ the net. Then I had a talk with the editorial department of the newspaper with regards to my terms and conditions. I was adamant that I would not work without a credit line. This proved beneficial for the other setters also, as they also got credit for their respective crosswords.

Q3: Your credit line in the papers is “Nita Jaggi” at some places, “Nitaa Jaggi” at others. Which is the right way to spell your name?

Nitaa Jaggi: I prefer to write my name as Nitaa Jaggi rather than Nita Jaggi.

Q4: You hold the record of setting the maximum number of crosswords in India. How many have you set, for which publications?

Nitaa Jaggi: I have set approximately 1700 crosswords till date and on various themes namely - Bollywood, Hollywood, sports, food, finance, codeword, quickword, anagrams and cryptics. Currently I construct the Gigantika crossword for Afternoon- Despatch & Courier newspaper, which is published every Wednesday. I also do the finance crossword for the RBI for their In house magazine Without Reserve. Last year I had constructed a 25x25 Finance crossword to commemorate their Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The entire crossword - the words and clues were totally thematic in nature that is pertaining to RBI’s history, growth and policies so far.

Q5: How long have you solved crosswords of the cryptic kind? Which crosswords/setters do you most enjoy solving?

Nitaa Jaggi: Among the Hindu setters, I love to solve Sankalak’s crosswords. I really like his clueing style.

Q6: As you're probably aware, your crosswords in The Hindu are not popular among solvers online. Do you think that the harsh criticism is linked more to your byline than the puzzle, that the same "error" might have been overlooked had the puzzle carried another setter's name? If the crosswords were published anonymously, would the opinions have been more balanced?

Nitaa Jaggi: I am really not bothered about criticism. I take it in a constructive manner. I set cryptics largely keeping the general readers in mind and not the niche section. It’s no use if only a handful of the ‘very intelligent’ section can solve the crosswords, one has to keep the general IQ in mind.

Q7: When you write a clue that doesn't follow the conventional norms of cryptic clues - such as "Refreshments are in a mess (4)" for MEAL, what is the thought process behind it? Is it that to a majority of solvers, the technical aspects will not matter?

Nitaa Jaggi: I have sent my cryptic crosswords to editors abroad and have received their feedback regarding the clues and how to improve them; hence I know that I am on the right track with regards to the construction of clues.

Q8: How important is solvers' feedback for you?

Nitaa Jaggi: Feedback is very important for me and I respect my readers’ views and comments for that. I do see a change in my clueing style over the years as a crossword constructor and I am quite satisfied with the same. One always grows in the thought process also.

Q9: What is your method of setting? How long does it take you to set a typical 15x15?

Nitaa Jaggi: I do not set the clues in a sequence. I set it according to the words and I try to use all the clue types in my crossword. At times if I get stuck thinking about a particular clue I go on to the next, but yes I finish one entire crossword and then only get on to the next. I create 40 crosswords a month for different publications.

Q10: You set themed non-cryptic crosswords in other publications. Have you thought of setting themed crosswords for The Hindu?

Nitaa Jaggi: I have actually not thought about setting themed crosswords for The Hindu as I am quite overloaded with work.

Q11: Is crossword setting a natural talent or can it be learnt?

Nitaa Jaggi: I personally feel if one is interested one can really start constructing crosswords. However, one should be dedicated to the profession. I take at least 4-5 hours to make a 15 x 15 crossword.

Q12: How well do the compilers of The Hindu know each other? Do you get to meet and interact, ask each other for a second opinion about a clue?

Nitaa Jaggi: I think so there is a major communication gap between the crossword setters of The Hindu. Being the only woman setter, I feel they lack the skill of communicating.

Q14: Does that make a difference - being a "woman setter"?

Nitaa Jaggi: I feel at times that it is disadvantageous being a woman setter, because some readers do not take woman setters seriously. They feel that how can a woman construct cryptic crosswords. Being based in Mumbai, not many people are into solving cryptics. They prefer the quick and easy to solve kind of crossword. It is just a niche segment who are into cryptics. Hence on a personal level I do not get to interact with readers who are really engrossed into such crosswords, except those on blogs and thru' the net.

Like there was a gentleman from Chennai (a regular solver) who did speak to me on the telephone about my cryptic crosswords. he didn't even know whether 'Nitaa' meant a male or a female.

And the next question directed to me was that how can a woman be intelligent enough to set cryptic crosswords - he was also amazed that setting crosswords was my full time profession and I could actually earn my bread and butter through this profession.

Q15: What are your interests apart from crosswords?

Nitaa Jaggi: Apart from crosswords, I create Wordokus, Sudokus, Plexers, etc. kind of puzzles. No kind of software is used in any of the above puzzles.

Nita Jaggi ArtworkI also paint and create papier mache sculptures. Till date I have had two solo exhibitions and two group exhibitions in Mumbai. I have done my training under the guidance of Anandmohan Naik, a water colour artist from Santiniketan, Kolkata. Over the years I have developed my individual style of painting. Papier Mache sculpture work is again self taught art.

Q16: Please share with us some of your memorable crossword-related experiences.

Nitaa Jaggi: I just know that I am doing pretty well because creating themed crosswords is an art by itself. They are systematic grids filled in with all themed words.

Q17: It has been said that the target audience for your puzzles is people who don't care about the finer details of clues and are not aware of crossword blogs. How do you know that your target audience is happy with your puzzles?

Nitaa Jaggi: I do get my feedback by the editorial division of The Hindu - those are the areas which I take seriously as a benchmark for my crosswords. Every crossword I construct I try and improve myself. The very fact my crosswords are working with the masses proves by itself as I am still constructing cryptics for The Hindu.
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More Setter Interviews:

The last interview of the Hindu Crossword Setters special series will be published next Monday. Stay tuned!

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29 comments

UnnamedEntity said...

Great questions Shuchi.

I wonder if simply being incumbent suffices to dismiss any negative criticism. Doesn't seem like a compelling enough reason to shrug off concerns about grossly non-Ximenean clues.

However, I do admire Ms. Jaggi's prolificacy. Churning out 40 crosswords a month is fascinating indeed.

One would also hope that any stigma associated with female setters is quickly obsoleted.

KISHORE said...

Nice one, Shuchi. Entirely echo the thoughts of the Unnamed Entity above.

I fervently hope that the criticism which is taken constructively results will lead to a situation of appreciation instead of criticism.

Dr D Srinivasan said...

Thanks Shuchi for giving us a window to know NJ's working.
From my experience, I feel one has to think entirely from a different angle to solve NJ's compilation than the usual way one has learned to solve cryptic crosswords.On most occasions the exercise is frustrating than rewarding. She says: "I set cryptics largely keeping the general readers in mind and not the niche section. It’s no use if only a handful of the ‘very intelligent’ section can solve the crosswords, one has to keep the general IQ in mind." If seasoned solvers themselves find it difficult, how can the "general readers" feel satisfied?
Nevertheless, I have not stopped attempting to solve her crosswords in TH.

SandhyaP said...

Thanks for the interview Shuchi. I'm sure no one has a problem with the setter being a woman, only with her cluing style. I hope she takes criticism in a positive way.

Prasanna S said...

Hi Shuchi,

Great questions and somewhat expectedly defensive answers.

Did you tell her about the THC Orkut community, your and Col's blogs?

BTW, the art work is awesome! Do you have a magnified version of it?

Shuchi said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone! I hope this interaction with the setter and your feedback has a happy outcome.

@Prasanna S: NJ probably knows about the Hindu crossword communities already. I have now linked a magnified version of the artwork to the image embedded in the post - click on it to enlarge.

Ravi said...

Thanks a lot for the interview Shuchi.

My 2c: I am an average solver. I object to errors in crossword clues like bad grammar, missing letters in wordplay, etc. Man setter or woman setter has nothing to do with it.

Balaji said...

Shuchi, Thanks for the interview.

I felt a sense of haughtiness in all of the responses and I am also very surprised that the issue of "woman setter" was brought up. I am sure many of us judge the setter by the clues and nothing else.

Raghav said...

Excellent questions - gentle on the surface and extremely clever underneath. You draw people out very well Shuchi.

Prasanna S said...

Thank you!

Bhavan said...

I must commend Nitaa Jaggi's fortitude in giving this interview.

It isn't easy to speak in a forum where your work is constantly and minutely scrutinized.

Understandably some of her answers were guarded,but there are still a few question marks at the end of it all.

Being uniquely placed to dispel the perceptions about woman setters, I do hope in future Nitaa will prove her detractors wrong.

I would have loved to read more about the feedback she received and the kind of improvements evident in her body of work over the years.

loveable mad said...

Nice one on Nitaa

Thanks Shuchi for your perseverance in getting hold of her for an interview and i liked the way you put (answers verbatim) it succinctly.

There is a general feeling among the solvers both the minnows and the masters alike on the clueing style. We loose the charm of the puzzle once we cant decipher whats hidden...Nitaa is famous for that..obscure clueing, strange places, indifferent annotations mars the enthusiasm.

I dont think the solvers dont find difference male or female setters or least concerned about the gender aspect of it. They are concerned about the puzzle as a whole. The feedback the other setters received is entirely different and most of them on a happy note.

Here i find most of the feedbacks as well as a the interview are guarded. It is not the mind block of the solvers...thats for sure.

Good One.

Mathu

dr.r.pankajam said...

your ability to tailor the questions as per the circumstances,is commendable.Congrats! it has given us an opportunity to know about NJ ,in little more detail.

Raghav said...

Oh, this means Spiffytrix declined the interview! Wonder why. What a disappointment. I was curious to know about that setter.

KISHORE said...

I have been vocal on the Col.'s blog for less than an year. Before that I was one of the 'general IQ' guys I suppose, who suffer silently. I sincerely thank Deepak, Shuchi and CV for providing a forum where I can confirm that I am not the only low IQ guy who can't even decipher clues meant for the general public and not for the Mensa gang.

maddy said...

Didn't anybody find it oxymoronic that the issue of women not being taken seriously has been raised on the blog of one of the most "seriously taken" and respected cryptic crossword authority in India who happens to be a woman?

Shuchi, Do you think you would have been taken even more seriously (provided that is possible!) if you were born Shuchisendra or something :)?

VJ said...

Gutsy interview! Well it ain't easy to remain unfazed by harsh criticism. I think it oughta be appreciated.

I just hope she takes her feedback from the right people. It really would help her know for sure that she's moving in the right direction. It's easy to be misled by weak feedback comin' from untrained people.

Nice artwork BTW. Way to go, Nita! You really are talented.

I seriously wish there were more female setters in the panel. It'd really be nice if it soon became a reality.

Shuchi said...

Hi Thomas

I've had to delete your comment as it was a little too harshly worded. I hope you understand.

Sayee Ram said...

Thanks for the interview :)

Shuchi said...

@maddy: I thank my stars that is not my name!

Thomas Jay Cubb said...

re: the delete: i perfectly understand...yes, i agree it was strongly worded.

But, here is a link to a post I made nearly 2 years ago. Well, nothing has changed... :)

http://incubbator.blogspot.com/2009/07/45-crosswords.html

KISHORE said...

TJC, back to the drawing board for you, you gotta clue in an extraa a.

BTW, if NJ could insist on a byeline, why could she not have insisted on them spelling her name the way she does? Inexplicable. Or was there a typo at that stage ;-)

Chaturvasi said...

As one who had read Jay Cubb's comment when it was here briefly and before it was deleted by the blog administrator, I would like to say that all his observations were to the point and at least some readers might have had the same thoughts as the Commenter's though they may have couched them in tactful language (this is not to say Jay Cubb was rude: at least this was not my first impression in that brief moment though a re-examination might be needed as, after all, Shuchi found it had no place).

Shuchi interviewed the setter and the setter has talked about herself. Fine.

The cluewomanship (no, I am not having any gender bias but I am respecting the stree in the setter) is totally ignored.

The setter might be improving but does she have any answers to questions that solvers raise in forums such as Col Deepak Gopinath's blog where there is so much debate on some clues with Commenters till groping in the dark at the end of the day?

This is not to say that every setter need to be answering questions on these forums. Even on UK forums (where questions are raised on the work of famous and well-established setters as much as newbies) some do and others not.

Our setter too can choose to take no care of the solvers' doubts (I am not even mentioning the word 'criticism'). But solvers of the niche set are quite entitled to their views about the overall quality of any setter's work in the public domain - as much as the setter's relatives, friends, publishers and the camp that is the opposite of the niche set (whatever term you would like to give it).

Shyam said...

Since this setter specifically rues the communication gap between other setters and solvers, I would suggest there be arranged an S&B meet involving her and other enthusiastic solvers at an appropriate time and venue.

If the solvers cite some specific grievances in such a meet, I am sure Nitaa will understand the real issues involved.

Thanks Nitaa for the interview. Hoping to meet you and looking forward to better crosswords...

Sudalamani said...

I am a bit late in joining the party, but a fab interview indeed! In some ways, this reminds me of an interview Karan had with Jayalalithaa. Two similarities are the doubts over the extra 'a' in the name and the talk of being disadvantaged as a woman.

Here's the link:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/tamil/highlights/story/2004/09/printable/040930_jayainterview.shtml

Sorry Nitaa. Your defence is woefully inadequate.

Sumitra said...

Thanks, Shuchi,for your very commendable attempt to bring the setters closer to the solvers. Glad that we are unanimous in our appreciation of Sankalak's puzzles. They are exceptional in their overall quality and the joy they give.Not all of us belong to the 'niche' group as NJ presumes.I, for one, joined the community to learn and develop my solving skills.Hopefully, she should cater to the needs of beginners, by paying attention to grammar and clarity of the clues.Gender has no place, here, absolutely.

Abhay said...

One reason for the communication gap is the difference of place of origin of this setter. Most of the other setters seemed to have been handpicked by Gridman and the power he wields is understandable given the paper's southern roots.

Seemingly many S&B meets are being held just involving only that setter and/or his acquaintances. These look like measures to curb talent from other parts of the country and ostracise those setters.

A lot of discriminations seem to hinder THC from becoming a truly
national crossword.

Opendra said...

Thanks Shuchi. This has left me with more questions.

Who or what are the masses with whom Nitaa Jaggi's crosswords are working? As they have low IQ according to the setter, what is the IQ cutoff?

What exact feedback does the editorial division give that she takes seriously as her benchmark and how is it different from solvers feedback which in her words she is really not bothered about?

Shuchi said...

@Abhay: Do you solve cryptic crosswords? The respect that Gridman commands is because of his exemplary knowledge and talent, as would be obvious to any solver.

I am astounded that solvers' concerns about Nitaa Jaggi's crosswords should be attributed to gender discrimination and regionalism. Is it so hard to understand where the problem lies? To see flaws in one's work when they are clearly spelt out, to recognize excellence in others, to hear sincere feedback? For the record I am also a female north Indian, and have never faced any issues in the crossword world because of it. I owe a lot of my learning about crosswords to Gridman and other talented crossworders with "southern roots".

Your comment about S&B meetings is a serious accusation, and a baseless one. S&B announcements are posted on The Hindu Crossword solving forums, which are publicly accessible. Anyone who wants to attend just has to register and go. Nobody is barred, every crossword enthusiast is invited.

---
There are several other comments posted on this interview that I have not published, and even with whatever I've let through I don't think this discussion is going anywhere. If anyone wishes to talk of the interview or its follow-up comments further, please take it up on other forums.

Closing comments here.