Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Think of a letter


Which abbreviations should you be aware of when solving cryptic crosswords? If you’re setting, which abbreviations are fair to use in your clues? Is there an authoritative list of all possible abbreviations?

These questions come up often in the minds of cryptic crossword folks, and we have today guest author Dean Mayer (Anax/Loroso), cryptic crossword setter for the top daily crosswords in UK - The Independent, the FT and The Times – giving you the answers.

Abbreviations If you ever get confused about which abbreviations are allowed in cryptic crosswords you are in good company – even setters can get caught out, especially those who set for more than one newspaper. What are the rules, and why do they vary?

Let us start by establishing which dictionaries are regarded as standard sources. They are the big three; in no particular order, Chambers, Collins and the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED). If you are lucky enough to own all three, a casual riffle through their pages should quickly reveal that they are surprisingly varied in terms of which words they include.

Historically, Chambers has always promoted itself as the dictionary for wordgames, and while this is true for things like Scrabble it doesn’t have quite the influence on crosswords as you might expect.

The Times favours Collins, both for its single-letter abbreviations and for headword entries. For the latter, grid entries which aren’t in Collins are usually permitted if they appear in both Chambers and SOED (occasionally just one of those if it’s felt the answer should be familiar to most solvers).

The Independent and FT seem quite similar to each other in that they accept abbreviations which are in everyday use, regardless of whether or not a particular dictionary lists them. For example, they will accept W, D and L as won/drawn/lost because you’ll see these abbreviations use on any results table in a newspaper’s sports pages.

The Telegraph relies almost entirely on Chambers for its abbreviations (hence W, D and L aren’t allowed) but places almost no restrictions when it comes to obscurity – as long as it’s there in Chambers it’s usually OK for use.

The Sunday Times is quite generous, allowing most dictionary sources, but the puzzle itself is designed to be a fairly gentle solve so it’s more likely an abbreviation will be rejected if it is deemed too obscure, or if its contribution to a clue renders it too difficult.

Unfortunately, because I don’t set for the Guardian I can’t really comment on their policy, but from those puzzles I’ve solved it appears there’s a mix of the more familiar elements of Collins and Chambers.

One of the reasons setters can get confused is… well, speaking for myself, laziness. A cluttered desk can be an uncomfortable working environment, so instead of having dictionaries spread out before me I have Crossword Compiler for construction and Crosswordman for the abbreviation lists it provides through its Wordplay Wizard feature. The only problem is that its abbreviations are listed as ‘Any’, ‘UK’ and ‘UK Advanced’, so it’s often a case of thinking ‘Well, I’d be amazed if that’s not in Chambers/Collins/SOED’ – and sometimes it’s just a case of taking a punt and hoping the abbreviation is acceptable.

So why do newspapers prefer different dictionaries? Isn’t it restrictive to setters and potentially confusing to solvers?

There isn’t a right or wrong about it, and a newspaper doesn’t choose a particular dictionary in an effort to be awkward. It is simply the expression of a crossword series ‘flavour’ and the choice(s) of dictionary are almost as important as the imposition of Ximenean or Libertarian clueing. Given a bit of practice, you can identify where a crossword has come from just by looking at which abbreviations it uses.

It may well be restrictive to setters, but look at this way; if you start work for an employer you don’t tell him/her what the terms of your contract will be. They tell you, and it’s your responsibility to stick to the rules.

And it shouldn’t be confusing to solvers – eventually, anyway. You gradually become used to what certain newspapers allow, and become less likely to get stuck all because of one letter.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Invisible Interjections

exclamation-markAs you've seen in the last post, the word "my" can be used cryptically as the interjection of surprise ("my!") in crossword clues.

This set of clues uses other words in a similar way - straight meaning on the clue's surface but to derive the answer, you need to visualise the word/phrase as an exclamation.

Enjoy solving. Answers will be updated tomorrow evening.

1. Guardian 24936 (Brummie): It stops well before king (4)

2. FT 13554 (Cincinnus): Was Dickens going west? (5)

3. Times 24696: Civic dignitary spreads goodness right across county (4,5)

4. Guardian 25158 (Brummie): I say large is fine by me (4)

5. Times 24317: Desire which imparts goodness (5,4)

6. Guardian 24492 (Brummie): Bitter, drunk sour, binds one, I say (9)

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Monday, June 20, 2011


09Sample this clue from the Times crossword of yesterday:

Times 24878: A gracious lady (3)

The answer is AMY. Do you see how?

In cryptic clues, "my" may not be the possessive case of "I". In the clue above, it is the interjection of surprise/dismay, matching with "gracious!".

Most commonly, setters use "my" as a pronoun on the clue's surface, to be treated as an interjection in the cryptic reading.


FT 13332 (Sleuth): A diner excitedly after my source of flavour? (9) CORIANDER
(A DINER)* after COR (my!)

Times 24468: Bit of maize revealed by my new horse (7) CORNCOB
COR (my!) N COB (horse)

A few more clues that use "my" as interjection. Try solving:

Guardian 25110 (Arachne): School show doesn't start well! (7)
Times 23824: My capricious daughter, husbandless and wrinkled (10) ___R______ 
Guardian 24602: Unlikely story, ancient spa harbouring new well! (5,4) U____ ____
Guardian 25116 (Orlando): My turn with pair of shoes! (4) G___

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Semi-&Lit Clues

semi-andlit A semi-&lit (semi all-in-one) clue is a variant of the &lit (all-in-one) clue type.

In an &lit clue, the entire clue is the definition as well as the wordplay.
In a semi-&lit clue, the entire clue is the definition but only a part of the clue is the wordplay.

For example, a clue by Roger Squires:

Slow-moving mice may get snapped up by them (4) OWLS (SLOW)*
The entire clue "Slow-moving mice may get snapped up by them" defines OWLS, but only "Slow-moving" (i.e. anagram of SLOW) is the wordplay. So this clue is a semi-&lit.

Compare this to:

One's cold to walk over (6) ICECAP
I (one) has C (cold), PACE (walk) reversed i.e. over 
This is an &lit, as there is a perfect correspondence between the definition and wordplay.

The difference between &lit and semi-&lit clues can be confusing when the definition and wordplay are nearly the same.

How will you classify the next clue - &lit or semi-&lit?

Indy 7682 (Anax): He, wearing one pair, returned on opening of handcuffs? (7) HOUDINI
IN (wearing) I (one) DUO (pair) reversed, on H[andcuffs]
The clue has only one additional word beyond the wordplay - "He", which gives the definition the right part of speech without altering its meaning. So is it an &lit?

How to distinguish between &lit and semi-&lit clues

Here's the thumb rule, thanks to Anax - If in doubt, ask a fundamental question of the clue: Does it contain anything at all outside the wordplay? If so, it's semi-&lit, even if that extraneous material is nothing more than a word such as 'it'.

In the clue above, HOUDINI is semi-&lit because 'He' is outside the wordplay.

Try this clue from Tim Moorey's book next:

What's carried by pupils at Cheltenham? (5) SATCHEL

Does the whole clue work as the wordplay? Yes it does – SATCHEL is what's carried by pupilS AT CHELtenham. So it is a pure &lit.

Semi-&Lit Characteristics

In summary, a semi-&lit has two parts:

  • the non-wordplay part, which is like a condensed definition
  • the wordplay part, which extends the definition

Together, the wordplay + non-wordplay parts form the complete definition for the answer.

Let's revisit the OWLS example again.

Slow-moving mice may get snapped up by them (4) OWLS (SLOW)*
The non-wordplay part "mice may get snapped up by them" gives us the condensed definition, and adding the wordplay "slow-moving" fleshes this out into a larger definition.

The wordplay in a semi-&lit may be based on any clue type, and the non-wordplay part will point to the answer without having to change syntax/tense/grammar.

Solve and tell - &lit or semi-&lit?

By Roger Squires: All of a tingle, perhaps, from such a beating? (12)
By Roger Squires: He may be found in a wrongful act (5)
Times 24607: Some tack — it’s cheesy (6)
Times 24792: Who might have struggle swallowing poultry product? (6) V____E
Guardian 24641 (Paul): Still after criminal — as one should be! (9) C______L_

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fascinating Facts about Setters' Pseudonyms

crossword-compiler-pseudonym Have you ever wondered why a crossword setter chose that pseudonym for himself/herself? Is Rufus a redhead, Cryptonyte a Superman fan? Why does Dean Mayer call himself Anax and Loroso? Three of John Henderson's pseudonyms (Enigmatist, Nimrod, Elgar) come from Enigma Variations; what's with the fourth - "Io"?

Read on to know the stories behind some intriguing pseudonyms of our cryptic crossword setters.

1  Neil Shepherd, an ardent Wagnerite, sets as Alberich in the FT and Klingsor in the Independent. Both his pseudonyms are based on characters from Wagner's operas.

2  Roger Squires derives his most popular id Rufus from his initials RFS (Roger Frank Squires). Roger's father Frank Squires, born in 1888 before the advent of the modern crossword, loved playing with words. Roger recalls him entering wordplay competitions in the magazine John Bull; one of his winning entries was for the word CONTENTMENT - "Wife, whiff and woof" (in those days everyone smoked).

3  All of John Halpern's pseudonyms are words of four letters. He is best known as Paul in the Guardian, named after his elder brother. When he began setting for the FT, he called himself Bats, which was the nickname of his girlfriend at that time. After they broke up John changed his pseudonym to Mudd as "his name was then mud".

4  On the Daily Telegraph Toughie, his latest entry as setter, John Halpern calls himself Dada – he says he has chosen this name as it is anti-war, anti-bourgeois and anarchist.

5  Don Manley's pseudonyms - Duck (Listener), Pasquale (Guardian), Quixote (Independent), Bradman (FT), and Giovanni (Daily Telegraph Toughie) – are all linked to the name "Don" or "Donald".

6  John Galbraith Graham, best known as Araucaria of the Guardian, takes his name from the Latin word for The Monkey-puzzle Tree. He also sets in the FT as Cinephile, which is an anagram of Chile Pine, a synonym for the tree Araucaria.

7  "The Unpronounceable One" as he has been dubbed by FT bloggers, Phssthpok gets his name from a character in Larry Niven's 1973 science fiction novel Protector.

8  For a long time, Indian crossword solvers recognised CG Rishikesh as "Chaturvasi", unaware that he is none other than The Hindu Crossword setter Gridman. It is a wonder that solvers did not make the connection between the two from their pseudonyms alone – Chaturvasi is Hindi for "one who dwells in a grid", meaning roughly the same as Gridman.

9  Setter Dumpynose of the Spectator gets his pseudonym from the anagram of the word "pseudonym".

10  Anax is a reversal of his daughter's name Xana. That name itself was an invented one, derived from the parents' AOL screennames: Anax was Xwordmaker, his partner's screenname ended with '-ina'. They came up with Xina at first but because that was very similar to Xena (the Warrior Princess) the name was altered slightly to Xana.

11  For his pseudonym on FT, Anax wanted something with an Italian 'feel' as a reminder of his family that lives in Italy. He hit upon the perfect Italian-sounding name Loroso by looking at his home address for inspiration - LOndon ROad SOuth.

12  Two more pseudonyms that come from the setter's home address: Hodge and Bower, formerly used by Roger Squires in the Independent. Roger Squires lives on the road Hodge Bower in Shropshire. He had further reasons for naming himself Hodge - it is the shortened name for Roger, and also the name of Dr Johnson's cat (Roger loves cats).  In addition, Hodge means "rough peasant" and his "friends" think that suits him.

13  Michael Curl sets as Cincinnus in the FT. Cincinnus is a Latin word meaning 'curl', a word used figuratively to describe a flourish in the art of rhetoric – almost like the art of cryptic wordplay. The choice of pseudonym had an additional attraction - if one pronounces both Cs as 'hard' rather than 'soft' the word is a near homophone of 'kinkiness'.

14 Orlando, Michael Curl's pseudonym in the Guardian, is a Spanish/Italian variant of his middle name Roland.

15  Tony Sebastian's moniker Cryptonyte in The Hindu comes from cryptic+Tony. The word is also a soundalike of Superman's nemesis Kryptonite – the implication being that this is what "Superman" solvers are up against.

16  Raich is the pseudonym of Niall MacSweeney for crosswords in various publications like The Independent, The Listener and Enigmatic Variations in the Sunday Telegraph. The pseudonym refers to Raich Carter, probably the best player in Sunderland AFC's history. Niall MacSweeney is a lifelong supporter of the club.

17  Setter Boatman of the Guardian takes his pseudonym from his 100-foot Dutch barge, which he spent 10 years converting from a working vessel into a floating home (have a look at the sketch of his boat on his website). That's all there was to it at first but he soon realised that the pseudonym was amenable to wordplay in clues - Boatman could mean not just I or ME but also TAR, AB and other shipboard characters. So the name, and the way of playing with it, stuck.

18  Paul Bringloe calls himself Tees in the Independent and Neo in the FT. Tees because it sounds like 'Tease', and Neo is inspired by the lead character in the movie The Matrix.

19  John Young sets in the Guardian as Shed, an undergraduate nickname he got for looking sloping and ramshackle.

20 In the FT, John Young uses the pseudonym Dogberry, named after the comic constable in Much Ado About Nothing who keeps getting his words in a muddle (e.g. 'comparisons are odorous'), of whom somebody says 'this learned constable is too cunning to be understood'. John Young took on this pseudonym on the sugggestion of the FT crossword editor Colin Inman.

21  John Dawson's pseudonyms Armonie (FT) and Chifonie (Guardian) are both alternative names the hurdy-gurdy or the 'wheel-fiddle', a musical instrument whose strings are played using a cranked wheel which rubs against the strings to produce sound.

22  Mick Hodgkin sets as Morph in the Independent. Morph because, at the time, he was a programme editor for More 4 News - the pseudonym is homophonically indicated at the start of that. He was also attracted by the malleability of the childrens' TV character Morph which seemed appropriate for the way setters play with language - and there was the additional plus of the pseudonym containing all of Mick's initials MOH.

23  Mick Hodgkin's pseudonym Micawber in the Daily Telegraph Toughie is named after the optimistic Dickensian character. The start of the name Micawber also sounds like his real name 'Mick'.

24  Setter Spiffytrix of The Hindu is a fan of Calvin and Hobbes and Asterix comics. The Spiff in his name comes from Calvin's alter-ego Spaceman Spiff, and the -trix is a tribute to the Gaulish spirit.

25  Roger Squires met the great American magician Dante during WWII during his tour of Britain, and from him caught the magic bug. After joining the RN in 1947, he would put on variety shows in whatever ship he was in. On leaving service, he initially earned his living through magic, acting and crosswords. Roger's pseudonym Dante in the FT is his tribute to the great magician.

26  Brian Greer sets as Virgilius in the Independent, named after an Irish monk in the 6th century who worked on manuscripts. To make the time pass more interestingly, he composed acrostics.

27  Brian Greer emigrated to the US in 2000. When he began contributing to the Guardian he chose the pseudonym Brendan, named after St. Brendan, the Irishman who came to America long before Columbus.

28  A long time ago, John Henderson set a thematic puzzle featuring all of the known moons of Jupiter - except Io, which as a 2-letter word wasn't valid as a grid entry. So he used it as his pseudonym instead. Although it appears initially to have no connection to his other pseudonyms Enigmatist (Guardian), Nimrod (Independent) and Elgar(Daily Telegraph) , cryptically IO is a part of the 'VariatIOns'.

29  As you will know, Icarus of Greek mythology flew by means of wings invented by his father Daedalus. He flew too near the sun, the wax fixing his wings melted, and he crashed.

On 9th March 1961, Roger Squires was flying in the Fleet Air Arm from HMS Hermes off Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), when his aircraft stalled just before landing on the carrier. He managed to escape from about 60 feet below the sea and was picked up by a helicopter in seconds. His co-pilot did not survive the crash.

Roger Squires used the pseudonym Icarus for his early Independent crosswords, as a reminder of how lucky he was on that fateful day.

30  The pseudonym Biggles of the Guardian comes from the author WE Johns, creator of the character Biggles. Biggles is not an individual setter but a team of four crosswords setters whose first names are all John (therefore, "WE Johns") – Araucaria (John Galbraith Graham), Enigmatist (John Henderson), Paul (John Halpern) and Shed (John Young).

31  P.C. Jayaraman sets for The Hindu as Sankalak, which is a Sanskrit word for 'compiler'.

32  Neyartha of The Hindu is Sanskrit-inspired, too. Neyartha means "provisional intent" – i.e. something that requires interpretation, not to be taken at face value – just like cryptic crossword clues.

33  R D Anderson's pseudonym Crucible came about when he submitted his first puzzle to the Guardian, themed on the World Snooker Championships. He suggested Crux to the Guardian crossword editor Hugh Stephenson, but found out it was already in use. Hugh then proposed Crucible, the name of the venue in Sheffield.

His other pseudonyms - Radian in the Independent and Redshank in the FT - are simply based on the name R D Anderson.

34  Dean Mayer's brother and his wife emigrated to Canada with their four young girls about five years ago. His pseudonym Elkamere in the Telegraph Toughie comprises the first two letters of each of his niece’s names.

35  Arden and Mover of The Hindu derive their pseudonyms from prominent letters in their names: Arden is A R DEvanathaN and Mover is MOhan VERghese Chunkath. The link between 'Mover' and his preference for moving letters (anagrams) is, in the setter's words, Jungian synchronicity.

36  In college and later at work, close friends used to call Bhavan 'B'. When he joined The Hindu as setter, Bee or Buzzer sounded like a natural extrapolation. Buzzer currently lives in Australia where his colleagues have given him a local nickname of Baz, short for Bazza - a coincidental homophone the setter is happy with.

37  Vinod Raman's pseudonym in The Hindu Textrous, in addition to being a portmanteau of 'text' and 'dextrous', is anagram of the name of Vinod's favourite author, Rex Stout.

38  The adjective 'scintillating' impressed Shyam very much when he came across it at the age of ten in The Hindu's sports column. The word became part of his first email ID (something he uses to this date) and then made its way into his pseudonym as crossword setter for The Hindu. The choice of Scintillator is also in line with Shyam's love for Physics.

39  Paul Henderson sets as Phi in The Independent, formed from the initials of his name plus a self-referential 'I'. The name has become so much a part of his identity that on moving to NZ, he acquired the numberplate PHI 1 for his car.

Paul Henderson's pseudonym Kcit (pronounced with the 'c' silent) in The Sunday Telegraph is also based on his initials: since HP (hire purchase) is 'tick', it follows that PH would be 'kcit'.

40  Sarah Hayes chose Arachne as a nom de guerre when she debuted in The Guardian, since she was a keen amateur weaver of cloth at the time embarking on a career as a weaver of words. The mythological character Arachne appealed to her as she was not only a very good weaver, but also rather headstrong, causing Athena to turn her into a spider (Arachne means 'spider' in Greek).

Her pseudonym Anarche in the Independent (an anagram of Arachne) ties in with her philosophy of life, what she calls 'anarcho-horizontalism'.

41  In the FT, Sarah Hayes is Rosa Klebb, named after a villain in the James Bond film "From Russia with Love". Rosa Klebb is a play on the Soviet feminist slogan khleb i rozy, meaning "bread and roses". The idea for the name came from Big Dave: when he met Sarah for the first time at an S&B event, he said he had the ideal pseudonym for her should she ever need another one.

42 Geoff's initials are GLO (from Geoff Lewis Oxley), so he was called Glow-worm at school, but in addition Geoff realised that glow-worms create "lights". When he had to choose a pseudonym for the Independent's puzzles, Glow-worm was his ready choice, which he continued to use in The Listener and the Enigmatic Variations puzzles.

Geoff sets The Telegraph Toughie as his alter-ego Firefly, another "light" creator.

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