Saturday, April 28, 2012

None Means No One, Nonetheless...

none …cryptic crosswords surprise you with an unexpected meaning of the word.

Here's a container clue that uses "none" in a different way.

Times Jumbo 816: Coolness of church man caught breaking into church office (11) NONCHALANCE
CH (church) ALAN (man) C (caught), in NONE (church office)

NONE = church office?

That's right. None (sometimes nones) is a church service/office held at 3pm.

Chambers lists the church service as nones only but none, singular, is in Collins.

It is usual to find none/nones in this sense represented by the word "service" on the clue's surface.

Times 24313: Excellent thing, having service in front of university church (8) NONESUCH
NONES (service) U (university) CH (church)

If you solve made-in-UK crosswords, it is useful to remember the names of the daily cycle of services: matins, lauds, terce, sext, nones, vespers and compline. You'll come across them sometime or the other in the course of solving.

Nones as Date

In the ancient Roman calendar, nones = the ninth day before the ides. Cryptic clues often define this as "date" or "date in Rome".

Times 23937: West left behind on this date? (5) NONES
W left behind => No N E S

The Controversial NONE~nun Homophone

NONE, when it means religious service, is not pronounced as "nun", as I learnt when blogging about this clue:

FT 13143 (Bradman): Broadcast of religious service at 3pm (4) NONE
homophone of nun (religious, as noun); definition: service at 3pm

Eileen's comment pointed out that the pronunciation of NONE in this sense is "known".

What's more, NONE in its regular "no one" sense isn't universally pronounced as "nun" either. Non-RP speakers pronounce "none" to rhyme with "gone", as the discussion on T4tT about the next clue suggests.

Times 24814: Prioress's assistant reportedly without equal? (6,2,4) SECOND TO NONE
sounds like SECOND TO NUN (prioress's assistant)

Solve These

Enjoy solving. Answers on Monday 30th April.

Times 25089: To hand over service, make fresh poster (2,4,8)
Times Jumbo 783: Note to service workers: take no action (3,2,4,5)
Guardian Genius (Puck): In one sense offers a service (5)

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Nonetheless Means Yet, Yet…

nonetheless …cryptic crosswords do not let "nonetheless" mean that all the time.

Sample this.

Times 24945: Start to see us colour up, nonetheless struggling to be very careful (10) SCRUPULOUS
Definition: very careful;
Wordplay: (S[ee] + COLOUR + UP – O)*

"Nonetheless" in this case means that an O (none) is to be removed from the fodder.

A few more clues for you to solve, using that wordplay.

Times 25144: Somehow wreck a boat, none the less, in stagnant part of river (9)

Guardian 25337 (Crucible): False diagnoses nonetheless given out (8)

Guardian 25607 (Orlando): Fancy notepaper, nonetheless, for arrested juvenile (5,3)

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Alphabet Jigsaw Puzzles

As promised in the post on cold-solving, here’s a closer look at a special type of cryptic crossword in which cold-solving plays a significant role - the Alphabet Jigsaw puzzle.

Buzzer This article has been written by Bhavan, also known as the setter Buzzer in The Hindu Crossword. Bhavan lives on the Gold Coast and duels daily with a variety of crosswords from the world over. From his experience of solving and recent foray into creating Alphabet Jigsaws, Bhavan shares with us tips to crack these seemingly unconquerable puzzles and gives us a view of challenges a setter might face while creating AJs, with suggestions to get around them.

What are AJs?AJ-puzzle

Alphabetic Jigsaw puzzles or AJs are typically made up of 26 clues. Each clue is labelled with a letter of the alphabet instead of a numbered slot in the grid. The answer to each clue begins with that same letter.

In a standard cryptic crossword, the solver knows from the beginning where each answer needs to be entered in the grid. In an AJ puzzle, that step also needs to be resolved by the solver, fitting the answers into the grid like in a jigsaw.

Therefore, for a solver, tackling an AJ puzzle is a double challenge and consequently a two-step process:

  1. Solving the clues like in a regular cryptic.
  2. Fitting the answers into the grid without the advantage of knowing where each answers goes.

Background

There seems to be some uncertainty about the origin of this puzzle.

AraucariaCrosswords.com says:

John Graham (Araucaria) is credited with creating this new format of crossword, the 'alphabetical jigsaw' in which the clues are labelled not with numbers but with letters which are the first letters of the solutions; when solved, the answers are to be placed "jigsaw-wise, however they may fit," though of course only one arrangement will work.

Puzzler.com says:

The AJ puzzle appeared for the first time in magazine format in the August 1973 issue of Puzzler. A version of this puzzle, created by John Galbraith Graham (Araucaria) may have appeared in The Guardian at an earlier date, but this has not been verified.

AJ puzzles are a recurring feature nowadays in many publications like The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent. A recent example is the Financial Times 2011 Christmas special by Gozo - a double AJ, in which every letter of the alphabet had two clues. CrOZworld, the magazine published by Australian Crossword Club, carries an AJ puzzle every month.

Puzzles To Try

This AJ puzzle from Puzzler is a good introduction for new solvers. The answers are in the same sheet:
Puzzler Alphabet Jigsaw

These AJ puzzles are from the Guardian, set by Araucaria:

Guardian Prize Crossword No. 25125
Guardian Prize Crossword No. 25262
Guardian Prize Crossword No. 25580

Solving Tips

As a solver encountering an AJ puzzle for the first time, some of these questions will run through your mind:

  • Is it possible that I will be able to cold-solve all the clues because there are no crossings for help?
  • Assuming I somehow accomplish that step where do I start with fitting the answers in?
  • If I can't get all the answers before I start with the jigsaw what are my options?

It looks impossible at first glance but there are few things in your favour:

  1. You have starting letters for all the clues. This is a bigger plus than you realize initially.

  2. A fair setter will ensure that the grid design allows you to try and fit some of your answers – especially the long ones. This means you will not need to cold-solve all the clues before beginning to fit them in.

  3. The minimum number of answers you need to cold-solve depends to a large extent on the shape of the grid and the number of unique length answers. It is not unusual to begin with the longest answers first.

  4. Using the letters available as a result of entering your first answer(s), you can tackle the next set of clues. As you repeat this step, your options narrow down enough to attempt any unsolved answers as well as fit them into the grid.

  5. Sometimes the puzzle will have more than 26 clues with one or more letters giving you two answers. Comparing the answer lengths for such clues with the grid, you can easily identify where they go without even having to solve them.

    As an example, if you look at the Guardian Crossword No. 25262 linked above, you will see that the letters B and J are repeated.

    Take the J clues. The answer to one is 12 letters and the other is 7. The only place in the grid where this can happen is at the very top (row 1, column 3).

    alphabet-jigsaw-1

    Similarly for the B clues with answer lengths of 7 and 5, the only slot in the grid is row 9, column 11.

    alphabet-jigsaw-2

Setter’s View

[As a budding setter, my own experience with AJ puzzles is limited, but penning down the problems I faced and the way I overcame some of them.]

As a setter creating an AJ puzzle, you’ll need to bear a few more things in mind beyond what you would with a regular cryptic.

  1. First and foremost is the grid. While the way you frame the clues themselves is only limited by your imagination, it is your job to ensure that answers have a fair distribution in terms of lengths to help the solvers with fitting them into the grid.

    Look at the first grid. No matter how fair and unambiguous your clues are, chances are your solvers will quickly abandon the puzzle after cold-solving a few clues.

    setting-alphabet-jigsaw-crossword-1

    This second grid on the other hand has a much better distribution of word lengths. The 11 letter answers give a good starting point for your solvers.

    setting-alphabet-jigsaw-crossword-2

  2. Be prepared to spend more time than your average grid fills. It is not going to be easy to find relatively non-obscure words especially with Q, X, Y, Z.

  3. Even when you finalise the words it is going to be a manual trial and error process to fit them into the grid. Software like Crossword Compiler will help you to a certain extent in terms of suggesting possible words.

  4. You can use a grid that contains more than 26 clues and still make an AJ puzzle. The excess clues give you the option to repeat some of the starting letters in your answers. That gives you some leeway in terms of trying to fit the unique answers and also allows your solvers to fix positions for some of the letters in the grid easily.

Useful Links

This article on fifteensquared discusses how to solve an AJ puzzle using Guardian 25484 (Araucaria) as an example.

Update (23rd April 2012): The Stickler (David Stickley), a setter for the Australian Crossword Club, has shared with us an AJ puzzle set by him. Solve it here. More AJ setting tips by him here.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cryptonyte’s Special Crossword in The Hindu

While solving The Hindu Crossword 10437 by Cryptonyte (Tony Sebastian), I could spot the hidden (22d) references early on since I know Tony is getting married on 21st April 2012 (21a). And so the wedding mentions (1d, 9d), his fiancée's name (16d)…was there more? A Nina? I couldn't see one.

Perhaps in-jokes that we aren't expected to know, I thought, and left it at that.

I did wonder why 5d had a word in it for no reason at all.

Your ploy involves discretion towards the in-charge (6) TACTIC
TACT (discretion) IC (in-charge)

Why "your ploy"? Why not just:

Ploy involves discretion towards the in-charge (6) TACTIC

Then, with another look at the clues, the penny dropped.

cryptonyte-special-hindu 

Do you see what I see?

Will update the answer after a few hours.  Follow other discussion about this crossword on THCC.

Update: The clues contain a buried message, highlighted here.

Congrats and best wishes to the happy couple.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What does cold-solving mean?

cold-solving "The perils of cold-solving a cryptic definition clue!"
"We hope the paper sticks to grids that do not need so much cold-solving."

Common expressions in any crossword forum. If the term 'cold-solving' has perplexed you before, read on to understand what it means.

To 'cold-solve' a clue is to derive its answer without help from crossing answers in the grid. When you start with the first entry into the crossword grid, or when you run an eye over all the clues deducing the answers mentally, you are cold-solving.

"How many clues in this crossword did you solve cold?" can be a way to estimate the puzzle's difficulty. It can also be a marker of the solver's skill.

In theory, it should be possible for every clue in a standard cryptic crossword to get cold-solved since a good cryptic clue is expected have an unambiguous answer. The same does not hold for a quick crossword clue – a quick clue might lead to more than one answer and checking plays an important role in determining which one fits into the grid.

Some hard cryptic puzzles such as the Listener and Azed introduce additional complexity like deliberate misprints in answers, no word lengths, etc. Cold-solving acquires greater significance in such puzzles, as the point at which a solver can start to make entries in the grid depends on a subset of clues that have been cold-solved.

[We'll take a closer look at one such type of crossword in the next post.]

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