Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Cockney TH

cockney-th-fronting If the word "Cockney" appears in a cryptic clue, its most common purpose is to indicate H-dropping. On occasion it refers to other Cockney accent features like th-fronting.

Th-fronting according to Wikipedia technically means:

The use of the labiodental fricatives [f] and [v] for the dental fricatives [θ] and [ð]

Simply put, th-fronting is the pronunciation of "th" as "f" or "v". So "think" in Cockney speech becomes "fink", "brother" becomes "bruver".

This facet of speech is put to use in cryptic clues such as:

Times 24508: Release a trio of Cockneys? (4) FREE
THREE (trio) would sound like FREE (release) in Cockney accent.

As with H-dropping, other indicators of Cockney pronunciation are names of geographical areas where Cockney English could be spoken - East End, Bow, Albert Square, etc.

FT 13854 (Bradman): Nonconformist wise men from east of London may introduce themselves thus, we hear (3,4) WEE FREE
A member of the Free Church of Scotland is colloquially called Wee Free, which is how those from east of London may pronounce "we three" (wise men).

One for you to solve:

Independent 7869 (Dac): Plain and unsensational, as a Cockney might say? (2-6)

PS: Why actor Hrithik Roshan, who has no Cockney connections AFAIK, pronounces "th" as "f" is as yet an unsolved mystery.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

3-Segment Container Clues: {A in (B+C)}

container-clue-indicator-plural In a simple container clue, you are given two components: the container and the content, and the indicator tells you to put the container around the content. For example, the word EARTHEN can be clued as EARN around THE.

Things get more complex when the wordplay splits the answer into more than two components. If EARTHEN is treated as "EAR and TEN around H", then it can be clued in any of these ways:

    Case 1: EAR + (TEN around H)
    Case 2: (EAR+TEN) around H

A majority of 3-segment container clues are written in the more intuitive style of Case 1. Case 2 is harder to reconcile with for most solvers, and that's the one this post is about.

In generic terms, a word can be clued in the form {A in (B+C)} where A goes anywhere inside (B+C): within B, within C, or within the gap between B and C.

Indicator Grammar: Singular or Plural?

If a verbal indicator, say "surround", is used in the clue for {(B+C) around A}, then should it be written as {(B+C) surrounds A} or {(B+C) surround A}?

The answer depends on whether (B+C) is treated as one item or two. Both styles are seen in published clues, as in these two examples from the Times:

Singular Indicator
Times 25321: A high street store, defaulting on rent, holds firm no matter what (2,3,5) AT ALL COSTS
(A + TALL + ST + S[tore]) holds CO

Plural Indicator
Times 24448: Man books house round the corner - probably not for this! (3,5) HEN NIGHT
(HE + NT) house NIGH

Another interesting example of the use of a plural indicator:

THC 10294 (Arden): They could be cast because people have one (10) ASPERSIONS

At first glance you might read the wordplay as "AS + (PERSONS around I)" and think that the cryptic grammar is off. The indicator needs to be in the singular form – "has" instead of "have" - to justify this parsing. But the setter intends you to read the wordplay as "(AS+PERSONS) around I": AS and PERSONS together have I inside them.

When the wordplay extends beyond two components, the setter has the flexibility to place invisible "brackets" in the cryptic logic. The solver needs to work out where those brackets are and apply the first rule of BODMAS: process whatever is inside the brackets first. In the ASPERSIONS clue, the position of the brackets makes all the difference to the cryptic grammar.

As With Containers, So With Deletions

3-segment wordplay works with deletion clues as well: {(B+C) – A} could mean that A is deleted from within B or within C.

Times 23516: Watered animal died – that’s not right (5) HOSED
(HORSE + D) minus R

FT 14152 (Dogberry): Basic source of mould removed from the Spanish cheese (9) ELEMENTAL
M deleted from (EL + EMMENTAL)

Is {A in (B+C)} wordplay Ximenean?

As far as I know, Ximenes had no explicit rule about this type for wordplay. Ximenean setters/publications like Azed and the Times use it in their crosswords. It looks fine to me but some solvers don't like it – if you have the patience, you might want to go through a lengthy debate from 2010 about Anax's clue in this CWC thread. The clue was:

A juke box versus a more modern version? (7) ADVANCE
A + DANCE (juke) box i.e. contain V (versus)

What do you say to {A in (B+C)}? Fair or not?

Solve These 

Pit your wits against these clues with {A in (B+C)} wordplay.

Times 25078: Boorish Conservative impulse solely to conceal bad name (12) _U_________Y
Times 25311: I have got in a state, giving up being very active (5,3,7) _____ ___ K______
Times 25305: Toiling hard in Brazilian location, American breathes in powdery stuff (11) __D______O__

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Puzzazz: Puzzle e-bookstore for iPhone, iPad

Puzzazz If you use an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, try out this app called Puzzazz, a collection of puzzle e-books that allow you to solve puzzles directly on the pages of the e-books.

The Puzzazz app has been developed by a Seattle-based puzzle technology startup, founded by crossword setter and software architect Roy Leban.

For cryptic crossword solvers, Puzzazz has four e-books in the bookstore at present including one by Brian Greer, popularly known as Brendan in The Guardian. His e-book Across and Down the Guardian Path with Brendan contains 20 handpicked puzzles originally published in The Guardian, including one that was discussed in 2009 on Crossword Unclued: Sample a Themed Guardian Crossword. The other three cryptic crossword books are by Mike Selinker, Todd Rew and Wayne Robert Williams, setters of repute on the American cryptic circuit - visit the author profiles page for details.

"TouchWrite" for handwriting recognition

The app lets you enter crossword answers in an interactive grid using either the keyboard, or a unique feature developed by the Puzzazz team called "TouchWrite" - a way to hand-write answers on the screen with your finger. TouchWrite recognizes a variety of different writing styles: for example, you can draw an E in one stroke like a backwards 3, or in four strokes. The technology seems pretty intuitive and it doesn't require much practice to get it to work accurately. If you do need help, the app provides a TouchWrite guidelines section.

The ability to write directly on the puzzle is very useful on smaller devices like an iPhone because the keyboard takes up a lot of screen space. Check out the video at the end of the post to see TouchWrite in action.

How much does it cost?

The price per e-book ranges from $0.99 to $4.99. The app itself is free, and every e-book in the store is "try before you buy" - at least the first puzzle in every e-book is fully solvable without cost. To view the free puzzle, tap on its number/title. If you view the other non-free puzzles, they will be greyed out and the option to buy will be shown above the puzzle.

Screenshots from Brian Greer's e-book:


At this time, the Puzzazz store contains 29 puzzle e-books by 17 constructors. Puzzles available so far include crosswords (cryptic and quick) and other word/logic puzzles such as rebuses.

Demo: Watch Puzzazz in action

Here's a 1:38 min video of Puzzazz (version 2.0) in action. The video shows an overview of the e-bookstore, the cryptic crossword page with a sample crossword by Mike Selinker, and the use of keyboard + TouchWrite to enter answers. I guess it is obvious from the demo that I am not accustomed to a touchscreen! Thanks to my friend Paul Schloss for lending his iPhone to try out Puzzazz. [RSS/email subscribers: In case you can't see the video embedded below, please visit the blog.]

Have a look at this Geekwire video as well, which includes a voiceover by Puzzazz founder Roy Leban.

You can get the Puzzazz app here. If you're a crossword setter interested in publishing on Puzzazz, you might want to visit Puzzazz - Call for Constructors.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Clueing long solutions with anagrams

A guest post by Otterden aka Gordon Holt, who has been a crossword setter for the British weekly New Statesman magazine since 2004. The name 'Otterden' came from the fact that otters live in 'holts'! Before he turned to setting puzzles, Gordon Holt had a career in town planning and was the founder/editor of the profession's weekly newspaper.

abbreviations The inclusion of long solutions in cryptic crosswords, often titles, sayings, phrases, quotes etc. (let us say of 15 or more characters in length) can be quite compelling for puzzle setters. The main reason is that the use of lengthy composites can help to add interest and diversity to a puzzle, making solving more fun. Indeed, in compiling a themed crossword the use of longer entries may sometimes prove to be essential. Another positive is that long composites facilitate connectivity within the whole of a grid making it less likely that a solver will get stuck in one particular sector of a puzzle. There are downsides to be cautious of, though. If the clue is too easy much may be given away too early in terms of copious checking letters for other solutions in far-flung parts of a puzzle. Another danger is that if the solution is composed of a number of shortish words the pattern of enumeration alone can provide the key to solving, and a setter's elaborately worked out wordplay completely by-passed.

In deciding to include a long solution in a given puzzle a compiler is making a rod for his own back as clueing problems are far more likely to occur. It is possible that at the end of the day he or she will be forced to indulge in a complex series of wordplay devices in order to construct a satisfactory wordplay. In many cases succinct definitions of long solutions prove elusive. All of this may make the achievement of a clue with a fluent face reading difficult and may result in a clue that is awkward, tortuous and difficult to solve.

So, if there is an anagram available for the totality of the words in the solution all well and good. Unlikely maybe, but like most setters I always have a look for one at a very early stage in the clueing process. From my own experience by far the best result came when clueing one of my New Statesman puzzles. Here I had set myself the task of theming fictional characters who wore masks. Clearly, apart from Zorro, Batman etc., one of the solutions just had to be the 19 letter composite THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK.  The chance of there being a total anagram for nineteen letters was slim but after I had a quick look at the multitudinous jumbles of words provided by electronic anagram finders, it dawned on me that buried here were the words I am the throne man’s kin which, joy oh joy, was also exactly the situation of the title character.  So all I had to do was to add the ubiquitous 'perhaps' and I had an &Lit.

A particularly amazing cognate anagram of 23 letters is to be found in Michael Curl's Anagram Dictionary (this publication is unfortunately now out of print): A NOVEL BY A SCOTTISH WRITER leading to Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.

No account is complete without mention of the celebrated 26-letter clue by Araucaria of The Guardian:

Poetical scene has surprisingly chaste Lord Archer vegetating (3, 3, 8, 12) THE OLD VICARAGE GRANTCHESTER

This may need some explaining to non-British solvers. The Old Vicarage, Grantchester is a poem by Rupert Brooke but later the home of Jeffery Archer, the British politician and author who at the time was keeping a low profile there after a sex scandal.

Of course, lengthy cognate anagrams of this sort are only going to be achievable once in a blue moon, but occasionally more conventional total anagrams are possible.

Some examples for readers to solve from past puzzles of mine:

Bones (knees and hips) are dislocated quite often on racehorses (9,8)
Was relieved to be off seeking image to change (5,2,8)
Brothers were aggrandising hero, perhaps (6,3,3,8)

In a further posting Otterden will discuss how, and how not to, clue long words with clueing devices other than anagrams. [Update (10th November 2013): Otterden's follow-up post – Clueing really long solutions in a crossword]

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