The last two years have seen major overhauls in the setting team of The Hindu. The controversial setters Nitaa Jaggi and M Manna stopped contributing, several new setters were empanelled whose puzzles now appear once or twice a month. We're still getting a feel of their individual styles – Arden's affinity for the smooth clue surface, Scintillator's fiendishness, Mover's and Textrous's penchant for the anagram…
The new setters come from different backgrounds and age groups but they have something in common – almost all have been solvers/hobbyist setters so far and are new to setting cryptic crosswords professionally. I thought it would be very interesting to know how they look at the same aspects of their craft. If we get a peek into their crossword setting methods, tastes and philosophies, will we discover uncanny similarities or surprising differences?
And so I put to six new setters of The Hindu Crossword the same set of questions. Presenting for you their answers in a two-part series. [Done reading this? Hop over to Q&A With Six New Hindu Crossword Setters: Part II]
I thank Arden, Buzzer, Cryptonyte, Mover, Scintillator and Textrous for their enthusiastic participation.
Over to the Q&A.
Q1: The best thing about being a crossword setter:
Arden: Is that you are learning all the time.
Cryptonyte: Custom made proposal ;) Seriously, a large audience to present your clues to and get feedback from.
Scintillator: The pay. Oh no, just kidding! For me it is the exposure to the dictionary; I get to learn many words, idioms, phrases and etymologies which would otherwise take a lifetime of book-reading and more.
Buzzer: Some people think you are smarter than you actually are.
Mover: Am still captivated by the mystical process of producing a filled grid and cluing to ultimately create an enjoyable puzzle. I find the unspoken communication between the solvers and the setter somewhat magical.
Textrous: The immense satisfaction of solvers confessing their "aha moment" after getting one of your clues.
Q2: Your crossword-setting tools:
Arden: Crossword Compiler, Oxford dictionary, Bradford's Crossword Solver's dictionary.
Cryptonyte: I use a very basic crossword compiler from Spoonbill software for grid fills (in the beginning I used MS Excel and oneacross.com :) and rely on Wordweb basic and dictionary.com for definitions. Occasionally I use the internet anagram server for anagrams.
Mover: For setting, I use Crossword Compiler. For reference, my favourites are Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and the Collins Scrabble Dictionary.
Scintillator: I will rather keep mum about the software lest someone should ask my keys. I use Oxford dictionary, Chambers and the Collins.
Buzzer: Crossword Compiler 8, Chambers 12th edition, Chambers dictionary of XWD Abbreviations.
Before buying any of these software or books I used to do it in MS Excel.
My preferred end when starting off on a puzzle is easy to guess right?
Textrous: Dictionary.com, Anagrammer.com, Onelook.com, Chambers Dictionary, Crossword Compiler.
Q3: Publications you set for:
Arden: The Hindu.
Cryptonyte: Mint, The Hindu.
Scintillator: Only The Hindu. The other biggies in India do not really bother about carrying original cryptic crosswords.
Buzzer: The Hindu and CrOZworld, a monthly magazine published by Australian Crossword Club - this is a recent opportunity.
Mover: Only the Hindu now. I used to earlier contribute thematic crossword puzzles for Business Line and Financial Express.
Textrous: Mint, The Hindu.
Q4: Time you spend on creating a standard 15x15:
Arden: About 12 hours (spread over 3 days).
Cryptonyte: Haven't really timed myself, but I'd guess it takes between 4 and 8 hours.
Scintillator: It varies widely. Sometimes I spend hours on a grid-fill alone: conceiving a good theme and achieving a grid with minimum obscure words is itself a big challenge, even with all available software resources. The more the time you spend thinking and working on the possibilities a word offers, the better the chances are that you will end up with a good clue.
Buzzer: ...more than I should be. I don't have any cold numbers here. At times I'm creating a couple of puzzles every 2 or 3 days and at others struggling to finish one even after 10.
Mover: About 8 hours.
Textrous: Since I contribute only one 15x15 puzzle per month, I am generous with the time I devote to it. Typically 4 to 5 days of leisurely clueing.
Q5: Ximenean or Libertarian?
Arden: It is for you to judge and attach whatever label you think is appropriate.
Cryptonyte: Wannabe Ximenean would be the best description.
Scintillator: I am basically a Ximmer, but would not mind the occasional indulgence if that leads me to a nice clue (surface). To me, Ximenean philosophy is similar to what the Gita says - "This knowledge...is more arcane than any mystery. Consider it completely. Then act as you choose." Unfortunately the "complete consideration" part does not happen with many setters, resulting in unsatisfactory clues and making libertarianism undesirable as such.
Buzzer: Can I take Juliet's rosy stand? :)
Textrous: Ximenean for the most part, with the occasional liberty in the interest of surface.
Q6: The hardest part of setting:
Arden: Clue writing. Sometimes a brainwave hits you and you come up with an excellent clue straight away. But, alas such moments of serendipity rarely come by and one has to keep at it.
Cryptonyte: Maintaining the correct difficulty level and the balance between entertaining and too contrived.
Scintillator: Facing solvers after dishing out a toughie. For Indian solvers it's almost always "the puzzle is tough and obscure" and never "I have not been good enough to crack it." On those days, I brace myself for vague remarks.
Buzzer: … is to have empathy for the solver. Because setters start with the word and frame a clue, it is easy to forget how hard it is the other way round.
Mover: Cluing the puzzle entries.
Textrous: Knowing how to avoid having too many of the same kind of wordplay in a puzzle.
I hope you have enjoyed the first instalment. In the second instalment Q&A With Six New Hindu Crossword Setters: Part II, our setters let us in on what they wish to change about the way they set crosswords, their favourite clues, their take on the need for a crossword editor for The Hindu, and more.
- What does Ximenean mean?
- Interviews of The Hindu Crossword Solvers
- Useful Tools for Crossword Setters
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