In the first instalment of Q&A With Six New Hindu Crossword Setters, our setters gave us fascinating glimpses into their approach to crossword setting - their tools, the time they spend crafting each puzzle, what they find hardest and what they like best about creating crosswords.
It was lovely to see the response to Part I of the Q&A. The post has become one of the top shared articles on Crossword Unclued. Thank you for all the tweets, likes, bookmarks and stumbles.
Here comes what you've been waiting for – the second half of the Q&A with Arden, Cryptonyte, Buzzer, Mover, Scintillator and Textrous.
Q7: Do you participate in online discussions about your puzzles?
Arden: No. Once my puzzle is out in the public domain, it is for the solvers to air their opinion. I leave it to them and try to learn from my mistakes.
Cryptonyte: Not too much, only if I feel that my cryptic grammar has been completely misunderstood. I feel discussions about the published clues are highly subjective and it's best to let the solvers' community enjoy it the way they see it.
Scintillator: I do, but I rue the absence of a huge or a diverse online crossword community in India.
Buzzer: Yes. It is hard enough to get any feedback before publication so why would I keep away from the very few who have something to say about my clues.
Mover: I do not participate in online discussions about my own puzzles. As I am using a pseudonym as a setter, I do not feel comfortable about participating in discussions about my puzzles pseudonymously/anonymously.
Textrous: Not yet, but I am not averse to it.
Q8: Which crosswords do you solve?
Arden: The Guardian daily cryptic and the weekly prize crossword.
Cryptonyte: This is a little embarrassing – I do not solve any crossword regularly at the moment. But I used to solve The Daily Mail and The Hindu crosswords.
Scintillator: Not much these days, rarely I spend a relaxed Friday afternoon with the day's Guardian or FT.
Buzzer: Daily - THC, HT, FT, The Guardian and USA Today;
Occasionally - Independent, Times;
Whenever they appear - Mint, CrOZworld.
Mover: Rufus's puzzles in the New Indian Express regularly; The Times crosswords and puzzles by Araucaria in The Guardian, occasionally.
Textrous: The Guardian and occasionally FT.
Q9: Favourite setters:
Arden: Araucaria, Paul, Rufus, Boatman...et al.
Cryptonyte: From the limited number of crosswords I've solved – Anax, Textrous and Spiffytrix.
Scintillator: John Halpern, Don Manley, Neil Shepherd and Dean Mayer - setters characterised by extraordinarily clever and perfectly fair clues. In THC, Spiffytrix was very impressive as long as he was there. (Come back soon, buddy!)
Buzzer: There are several whose clues I take pleasure in unravelling. Anax with his ingenious wordplay is one. Boatman's puzzles are hugely rewarding. But for the great skill of keeping things simple in puzzle after puzzle, year after year, I admire Sankalak and Rufus the most.
Mover: Rufus and Araucaria.
Textrous: Anax, Rufus.
Q10: Crossword-solving aids are ...
Arden: ...not for me. If people use them to solve crosswords, it is their business.
Cryptonyte: ...to be used only when you've exhausted all possible angles of looking at a clue. They sometimes cannot be done without and have to be used to prevent excessive hair loss.
Scintillator: ...fine, as long as you use them for anagrams and not for text search patterns.
Buzzer: ...there for those who want to use them. If you look at crossword solving as an examination, then they might seem like cheating tools. If all you are after is how answers are derived, it doesn’t matter if you use a tool or ask a friend or look it up in a blog or press the cheat button.
Mover: I have no issues with solvers using crossword-solving aids for completing puzzles. I do not normally use aids while solving. I use the internet to confirm a solution and to get background information relating to the clue solution.
Textrous: Don't use any. I look up Fifteensquared for clues I don't get.
Q11: Crossword-setting rules are ...
Arden: ...a way of trying to be fair. (Presently there seems to be a gap between trying to be fair and being fair, but one keeps trying...)
Cryptonyte: ...what makes cryptic crosswords so enjoyable – because the solver has a fair chance to get to the answer and the setter has a good chance to entertain. The reason I stopped attempting things like Klueless is because there are no rules and it became very random and groan-inducing.
Scintillator: ...welcome, as they bring orderliness to an esoteric trade.
Buzzer: ...too many :) some are good to know, some good to follow, and the rest good to ignore.
Mover: ...only means to an end and not to be considered as writ in stone.
Textrous: ...excellent guidelines to follow, especially when one is starting out as a setter. But over time, one evolves one's own style, and this may entail the occasional bending or relaxation of a rule, albeit without overly impacting the clues' fairness.
Q12: One thing you wish to change about the way you set crosswords:
Arden: Spend more time on the clues – overcome the lack of doggedness in me to keep my nose to the grinding wheel till I get it just right.
Cryptonyte: The last minute rush. I think I could do a lot better if I set a few clues every day instead of finishing them off at the eleventh hour.
Scintillator: The way itself: if I had more time, I would love to forsake all software resources and return to the simple pencil-and-paper mode of setting. It is tough to do thematics that way, but I am sure it will certainly bring a charming simplicity to the clues and the puzzle.
Q13: Favourite clue of your own:
Arden: I have no favourites.
Clean without water (4)
A tower which leads ships? (7) [CD]
Scintillator: Just one? That's unfair! I have a few here...
When bud gets new life (10) [semi &lit]
One could be a Java expert (7) [CD]
Foremost thing arranged for newly-weds? (5,5) [semi &lit]
You’re very perverse and I'm no less (6) [anag]
Buzzer: Keeps changing, but for the time being:
ABCDEF are set in bold (9)
Are transvestites angry with furniture items? (5-8)
Flying pigs off cue here? On the contrary (6,2,6) [anag semi-&lit]
[Answers available here. - Shuchi]
Q14: What is more important - a great surface or flawless cryptic grammar?
Arden: A great surface.
Cryptonyte: A great surface. The primary job of the setter is to entertain his solvers and he must try his best to give the solver a fair chance to solve the clue. This is why the balance becomes critical – because the solver is entertained only if he gets the answer or when he sees it, is able to think that he had a fair chance.
Mover: I prefer a great surface.
Textrous: A great surface.
Buzzer: As a solver I want both (managed to insert that answer you didn't want to hear :-) ). But as a setter I'm happy to sacrifice the grammar for surface (that statement might come handy defending future clues...or the ones like I mentioned above as my current favourite).
Scintillator: Flawless cryptic grammar. A cricketing analogy will be splendid shots versus solid technique. A player with a solid technique will play splendid shots once in a while. People who play splendid shots without having a proper technique lose their way (or interest) in the game in due course of time. Moreover, 'great surface' is an ideal concept. 30 great surfaces can win you 30 clue-writing competitions, but may not group together to form one brilliant puzzle. You need to mix and match between great, good and easy clues in a daily puzzle.
Q15: Should The Hindu have a crossword editor?
Arden: Yes, and enough has been said about this. It is for the people at The Hindu to do something about it. The sad truth is that the crosswords per se do not figure high in the list of priorities among the Indian dailies. For many it is just a space-filling exercise.
Cryptonyte: I've never really worked with a crossword editor per se, but the clues I set on The I-do-it Box with Vinod were more refined because it passed through the Vinod filter (and Vinod's clues through mine) before they got published. It certainly helps, but we can live without an editor as well.
Scintillator: Absolutely yes, as basic grammatical and phonetic flaws often crop up in the puzzles. The feature needs someone to choose the right puzzles to publish and also time them appropriately. No one wants to solve a toughie on a Monday morning (personal experience!) or a glut of amateur puzzles full of bland, software-generated anagrams or clues plumbing deplorable depths under the pretext of libertarianism. There is a lot of scope and responsibility for that to-be editor. If THC's to attain the high levels of standard set by British dailies, then having an editor is a good place to begin with.
Buzzer: Should The Hindu have one?
Will it have one?
Given the indifference with which the online puzzle is treated - no direct link on the main page unlike Sudoku, no space between clue numbers and clue text, previous day solutions are titled "related photos" – I could go on but the point is, if there is no intent to address such minor issues, talking about a crossword editor is moot.
Mover: Mixed feelings about this one. A really good editor would be nice but a mediocre or opinionated editor may not be a great idea.
Textrous: If I understand it correctly, they already have a "listings editor" who is kind enough to go through enumerations, consistency between clues and solutions etc. But yes, it would certainly help to have someone dedicated to vetting our crosswords.
Q16: When you are not creating crosswords, you are...
Arden: ...busy with other things. There is always something to do.
Buzzer: ...surfing, snorkeling, sailing, paragliding, preparing for my helicopter license...no that didn't come out right :)
Out trekking or bushwalking or at badminton/tennis/golf depending on the day of the week.
Cryptonyte: ...doing all sorts of things – I just finished my MBA from IIM Kozhikode and will be joining TAS shortly. I used to tweet and blog a bit, I like reading humour, love sports and at the moment I'm looking forward to a nice honeymoon.
Scintillator: ...playing other roles in life: the fraction of time I spend on crosswords is very minimal.
Mover: ...a senior bureaucrat belonging to the Indian Administrative Service. My other passion is playing Scrabble. I was the national Scrabble Champion for several years and was the first Indian to represent India in the World Scrabble Championship Tournament in 1999 in Melbourne. Since then I have been on the Indian WSC team in 2001 and 2007.
My other interests include wildlife and nature photography. I recently published a book Nature Rambles dealing with urban biodiversity.
Hope you all enjoyed the interviews. Though I had read the answers before individually, putting the post together with six different perspectives laid out alongside was like seeing them with new eyes. Diversity, such a wonderful thing!
Many thanks to Arden, Buzzer, Cryptonyte, Mover, Scintillator and Textrous.
Have a go at the setters' favourite clues (Q13). Do post your answers and your thoughts in the comments section.
- Q&A with six new Hindu Crossword setters: Part I
- Surface Reading, Cryptic Reading
- Crossword Solving Aids
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