Friday, October 25, 2013

Setting a Hindi Crossword: Lessons Learnt and Recommendations

hindi-crossword-lessons-learnt While setting a Hindi crossword earlier this month, we ran into a few hurdles - some anticipated, others unforeseen. Many clues and the grid went through an overhaul to improve variety, balance and fairness.

Sharing with you the key lessons we learnt in the process and, based on our experience, recommendations for setting cryptic crosswords in Hindi.

Note: If you haven't sent it your entries for the Hindi prize puzzle yet, do it now – today ie 25th Oct 2013 is the last day!

1. Grid Checking

The English cryptic standard of 50% checking per light may not be sufficient for a Hindi crossword with syllable-based grid fill, since each crossword cell can contain a consonant-vowel combination of different weight/complexity. e.g. a word like पक्षी checked as प? (50%), is equivalent to PAKSHI checked as PA???? in English (33%).

We tried to get at least these checked:

a. every complex syllable
b. the initial or the end syllable, ideally both. Where that ideal looked infeasible to work with, we let an easy clue compensate for lack of checking.

2. Adjacent Unches

The rule of thumb for a regular English cryptic grid disallows three or more consecutive unches, but a tighter rule is needed for Hindi since one cell gap in Hindi can be equivalent to several in English. e.g. a word like वज्रपात with two unches in the center (व??त) would be extremely hard to crack if the word is unfamiliar to the solver.

We added more lights to the grid to avoid two unches in a row anywhere.

The complexities related to checking might have been eased if we had tried unicode normalization for grid filling – i.e. a consonant-vowel sequence treated independently instead of as a cluster – but that did not seem intuitive. Perhaps it's an exercise other setters could try out. We did make ample use of normalization for wordplay.

3. Grid Size

Since Hindi word lengths are short and checking in the grid is expected to be high, the usual 15x15 turns out to be Jumbo-sized for Hindi. In terms of number of clues, a 9x9 Hindi grid would roughly match with a 15x15 of English.

As against about 30 words of a 15x15 English cryptic crossword, our 11x11 Hindi cryptic crossword had 50 words.

4. Solution Variety

Another impact of short word lengths and more checking is that a Hindi grid risks ending up with many similar-looking lights. The problem is compounded if we use words with reduplicated sounds, a pretty common property of Hindi words. So if one entry in the grid has the matra of , the entire corner of the grid might end up laden with words containing .

To have more variety in the grid, a conscious effort is required to use words in which consonants/vowels do not get repeated.

5. Interlocking

Some Hindi syllables show up mostly as start points of a word, others as end points, and the intersection of the two sets is limited*. The crossword setter needs to keep a vigilant eye on syllables that appear at junction points of crossing words. Words like तात्पर्य or बुद्धि in an Across light will create deadlock if the last syllable is the initial of a Down light. More such words to avoid: those of the form *णा, *ड़ी, *ज्र etc. The end-points of crossing words need to be watched as well - syllables with say, the matra of , severely limit grid fill possibilities if they sit in terminal cells.

[* a fact antakshari enthusiasts would be well aware of: compare the preponderance of songs starting with म, ह, न with those starting with ड़.]

6. Complex Ligatures

One way to address interlocking issues is to avoid complex ligatures altogether. No प्रातः, प्रश्न, प्रत्यक्ष or प्रार्थना. This would exclude a number of interesting Hindi words from the purview of cryptic crosswords, which is a loss, but a middle ground has to be found that meets the needs of grid checking as well.

7. Absence of Software

A Hindi crossword setter needs to work the way English crossword setters probably did some decades back – without sophisticated crossword setting tools.  So, to fill a light starting with कू for example, if no reasonable word comes to mind, one has to run through the dictionary.

No word search or anagram software was available to us (if such software exists, let us know!), we set the old-fashioned way. Solvers too would have been similarly hampered.

8. Spelling Flourishes

The fine-grained distinctions between and , and ड़, or है and हैं, make spell check much harder in Hindi clues than in English. We learnt to proofread closely with the font size enlarged and automatic spell-check off - red squiggles under Hindi words in the English text editor interfere with spotting typos!

9. Word Variants

Some words are listed in the dictionary (we used Bhargava's Standard Illustrated Dictionary compiled by Prof RC Pathak) with more than one way to spell, probably due to regional variations. In such cases, we went along with the spelling we recognised as the more widely accepted one.

10. Clue Types

Treating Hindi consonants and vowels as independent characters (instead of clusters) for wordplay greatly widened the clue type options. As expected, Hindi-friendly clue types such as anagrams, deletions and hidden words were called upon liberally while others like homophones could not be used.

It may be a good strategy to keep an eye on the counts per clue type in Hindi crosswords while clue-writing. However, some Hindi words just don't lend themselves to being clued in multiple ways and a concrete percentage or numeric max-limit may be too restrictive for the setter. We did not impose a structure or specifics on clue type distribution but worked with the general idea of having wordplay diversity.
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It was tough with all these constraints, but loads of fun nevertheless. If you have tried out setting crossword in Hindi or another language with similar attributes, do share your experience with us.

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