Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Verbal Indicators In Disguise

disguised-verbs Take a look at the typical clue type indicators: "breaking" for anagrams, "swallowing" for containers, "returning" for reversals. The function of the indicator seems obvious in each case, doesn't it? For a wily crossword setter, this will not do. The setter strives not only to make the indicator unambiguous in the cryptic reading but also inscrutable on the clue's surface.

How does the setter do it?

One devious device is to play tricks with parts of speech. Many clue type indicators happen to be verbs. The setter dresses the verbal indicator to masquerade as a noun or adjective.

A classic example from Tim Moorey's How To Master The Times Crossword:

Times: Composer of lines for Russian city (10)

In this clue, the word "lines" reads like a noun on the surface, a synonym for poetry. In the cryptic reading, "lines" is the verb that means "fills". The wordplay:

OF lines i.e. fills PRO (for) KIEV (Russian city), which gives the answer PROKOFIEV.

Solve These

Every clue in this list contains a disguised verbal indicator. Solve and enjoy.

Independent 7642 (Anax): Pop, as do bubbles? (4)
Guardian 25374 (Crucible): Frank's in gym regularly taking hooks (4)
Guardian 25374 (Crucible): Wordy half of book’s boring poems (7) 
FT 13403 (Loroso): Tight-lipped guards work in exhibition centre (6) M_____

Read more about disguising verbal anagrinds: Camouflaging Anagrams and Verbal Anagrammar.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How self-effacing should a crossword setter be?

self-effacing-crossword-setter When the setter Neyartha joined the Hindu crossword in 2008, it shook the placid solving pattern of THC solvers. Nits were picked, praise heaped, strong opinions aired. Not everyone loved his crosswords - but all agreed about one thing.

Neyartha's crosswords had personality. When we solved a Neyartha crossword, we keenly sensed the tastes and temperament of the person who created it.

A mirror of the setter's mind

Some setters tell us plenty about their likes and dislikes through their crosswords. It doesn't take long to learn that Anax is musically inclined and milks the most out of unexpected word meanings in his clues. Rufus's penchant for the cryptic definition is apparent, as is his nautical background. Cryptonyte is clearly a sports lover, Spiffytrix a film buff. John Halpern (aka Paul)'s puzzles carry the stamp of his unique brand of humour.

Not every setter is so conspicuous. Sankalak of The Hindu, for example, always a comfort to solve, does not put much of himself into his puzzles. There is also the case of setters having to abide by the standard "house style" of the publication, as with the Times crossword. This may come naturally to some setters, not to all. Talking of his puzzles in the Times, Anax says in his interview:

After a couple of puzzles that needed too much editing before being right for publication it was clear that my style was going awry. Remember, Times puzzles don’t appear under a pseudonym, so solvers don’t get that ‘signature’ feeling. It’s a house style, not an individual one, and it’s very easy to step outside the discipline that such a style demands.

What about preferences on more sensitive topics, like political inclinations or ethical views? Should setters keep those to themselves or let their crosswords reflect them?

The book Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) talks of a special Guardian crossword set by Araucaria in 1994, soon after the first democratic elections in South Africa. The preamble to this crossword said it was "A tribute on election day to the fighters for democracy, especially martyrs such as 6, 16 and 3." The idea came to Araucaria late and he asked the editor to hold the back page for a special crossword. When asked why he did it, Araucaria replied:

These were people I thought Guardian readers should know.

This isn't just about wordplay for some setters, then; this is an expression of their values, their stand on issues that affect the world.

And why not, the setter may ask. If creating crosswords is an art, self-expression should be its prime function just as for writing poetry or painting.

How well are opinionated crosswords received?

The track record shows that extremely opinionated crosswords divide solvers into love/hate camps.

Guardian 24930 by Brendan is a textbook example. When this politically charged crossword was published in 2010, it received widely divergent comments ranging from "stunningly witty", "moving", "one of the best I’ve seen in more than thirty years of solving the Guardian crossword" to "bad taste", "one of the most unsatisfactory Guardian crosswords I’ve seen in forty-odd years"!

Over to you

As a solver, how do YOU like your crossword? Do you enjoy those in which the setter's self is overtly stated? Or do you prefer the setter to stay in the background, remain objective and let play of language reign supreme?

If you are a setter, what is your style? Are you mindful of personal tastes and judgements colouring your puzzles?

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Clever Charades for Phrases in the Grid

charades-for-phrases Phrases give the crossword setter scope to construct charade clues in ingenious ways. A phrase can be split up such that it reads like a different phrase, making it harder for the solver to reach the answer.

For example, the phrase IN EARNEST can be read as "I near nest", a fact often exploited by crossword setters:

Everyman 3329: I approach home with sincere intentions (2,7)
Times 24113: Not joking, I close refuge (2,7)
FT 13620 (Styx): One close to refuge with sincere intentions (2,7)
Indy 7507 (Nimrod): Seriously close to home, one's in the lead (2,7)

Here are a few such clues for you to solve. Each of them has a phrasal answer and uses the charade clue type to split the phrase into another sequence of words. Enjoy! Post your answers in the comments section.

1. Times 24003: In general area, spotted gap (2,1,5)

2. Times Sunday 4304: Alf's taken up hunting for a sport (4-6)

3. NIE 23-May-09: Behave awkwardly when you get the bill and get put out (3,2)

4. Times 24970: A delicate fabric under discussion  (2,5)

5. FT 13815 (Phssthpok): Square corners supply hard puzzles (5,6)

6. Times 24910: One doesn’t stop bishop wearing old hat extremely rakishly (6-2)

7. Guardian 25439 (Orlando): Period in China, both useful and unpleasant (3,7)

[Update: Answers available in the comments.]

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Cluedo Clues

cluedo Among the games invoked often by setters in cryptic crosswords, the board game of Cluedo is not too far behind cricket and bridge. There have been a number of clues and whole puzzles themed around Cluedo in the last few months.

For those who aren't familiar with Cluedo, a quick guide to help you answer clues based on the game.

Suspects, Weapons, Rooms

Cluedo is a murder mystery-solving game. The winner is the player who correctly deduces who killed the victim, in which room, with what weapon.

There are 6 suspects, 6 weapons and 9 rooms in the game. Each suspect is represented using a coloured playing piece. Cryptic clues use the names of suspects and victim most frequently, and you can see why when you look at their wordplay-friendly names:

Suspects Victim Weapons Rooms
Miss Scarlett
Colonel Mustard
Mrs. White
Reverend Green
Mrs. Peacock
Professor Plum
Mr. Black Candlestick
Dagger
Lead Pipe
Revolver
Rope
Spanner
Ballroom
Billiard Room
Conservatory
Dining Room
Hall
Kitchen
Library
Lounge
Study

Examples:

Sunday Times 4387: Colonel sometimes suspected condiment (7) MUSTARD
Double definition; the first definition "Colonel sometimes suspected" is Colonel Mustard of Cluedo.

Times Jumbo 906: Loudly accuse Mrs Peacock? (3,4,6) CRY BLUE MURDER
Cryptic definition; Mrs. Peacock, the blue-coloured murder suspect from Cluedo.

FT 13788 (Redshank): Professor on board with bishop? Exactly (5)
PLUM (Professor on the Cluedo board) B (bishop)

Solve These

Times 24245: Dealt with murder suspect, and went swiftly to bed? (9) P________
Telegraph Toughie (Elgar): Push forward suspicions of Plum and Library, having got weapon (6) P_____
Guardian 24662 (Puck): What you have here is no party game (4) C___

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