Thursday, September 25, 2014

Really Well Hidden Long Answers

telescopic-clue-type-long-answers Cryptic clues with hidden answers are perhaps the trickiest for the crossword setter to disguise. Since all the letters of the answer have to be given out to the solver, in the sequence expected, the clue can end up being too easy. And so, most often, setters reserve the use of this clue type for short words as they are more convenient to conceal in the clue.

Embedding long answers in a clue is quite a feat – the fodder tends to cut across multiple words but it has to be inconspicuous, the clue surface has to be meaningful, the hidden word indicator has to be fair without letting out instantly that the solution is stashed inside the clue.

Sharing some exceptional clues using the hidden clue type, in which long answers span across multiple words of the fodder.

Times 25538: Academic rose, condemning boxing in an instant (11)

THC 11161 (Buzzer): Burst and tore as one keeping fit (5,2,6)

Times 25900: Henceforth, ATM at terminal — at the centre, indeed  (3,4,6)

Guardian 25260 (Boatman): Railhead activity leads to accident — rain mention­ed in covering letters (11)

Guardian 26158 (Paul): Nevadan died in Montana, dog buried there (6,7)

Tim Moorey's How To Master The Times Crossword quotes this as possibly the longest hidden clue ever:

Times: As seen in jab, reach of pro miserably failing to meet expectations (6,2,7)

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Unlikely Movie Characters as Potential Crossword Setters

Unlikely Moviiew Characters as Potential Crossword Setters There are times when, while watching a movie, we find a character say something that prompts us to think – here's someone with the makings of a cryptic crossword setter. This character need not be in the mould of a glib-tongued Bond; s/he may be a person ordinary within the film's framework who lets out an unexpected flash of lexical wizardry.

Some such characters from movies I've seen.

1. Lata Srivastav, Chupke Chupke (1975) 

Lata Srivastav, potential crossword setter

Why her?
Lata asks Vasudha why the man has given her a ring with the letter 'S' on it, when her initial is 'V'. The exchange between them:

Vasudha: Wo mera naam hai na Vasudha, V-A-S-..., wo S hai.
Lata: Wo S nahin, tu ass hai.
Rough translation:
Vasudha: That's from my name Vasudha, V-A-S-..., that's the S (pronounced 'ass').
Lata: That's not the S, you are the ass.

Wordplay type demonstrated: Homophone

2. Gru, Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Gru, potential crossword setter

Why him?
Gru resists being arm-twisted into an undercover job for the Anti-Villain League (AVL), and takes his leave from the head of the league with these words:

Gru: Good day, Mr. Sheepsbutt.
Silas Ramsbottom (AVL head): Ramsbottom.
Gru: Oh, yeah, like that's any better.

Wordplay type demonstrated: Charade

3. Inspector YP Singh, Raja Natwarlal (2014)

YP Singh, potential crossword setters

Why him?
This policeman's mission in life is seemingly not just to nab Raja, but to craft all possible cryptic clues around the word CON. Not a chance for crossword-style wordplay slips by when he's around.

Example 1:

Heroine (answering her phone): Hello? Kaun?
Policeman: Con! Con hi to karne gaye ho wahan tum log.
Rough translation:
Heroine: Hello? Kaun (Who's that)?
Policeman: Yes, you've gone there for a con.

Wordplay type demonstrated: Bilingual homophone

Example 2:

Heroine: Wo ek chhota-mota contractor hai.
Policeman: Contractor! CONTRACTOR mein se TRACTOR uda de. Kya bacha? Con!
Rough translation:
Heroine: He is a small-time contractor.
Policeman: Contractor! Strike out from CONTRACTOR the word TRACTOR and see what you get. Con!

Wordplay type demonstrated: Deletion

4. Meeta Sen, Anubhav (1971)

Meeta Sen, potential crossword setter

Why her?
In the song Mujhe Jaan Na Kaho Meri Jaan, Meeta Sen asks her husband not to call her jaan (beloved), with this rationale:

Jaan na kaho anjaan mujhe, jaan kahan rahti hai sadaa
Anjaane, kya jaanein, jaan ke jaaye kaun bhala
Rough translation:
Don't call me jaan (beloved), anjaan (ignorant one) - jaan (life) does not last forever
Anjaane (naive people) kya jaanein (do not know any better), nobody departs jaan ke (on purpose)

In true cryptic crossword tradition, when the word jaan appears multiple times in the opening line, the hearer does not know that the one of the jaans refers literally to life. The cryptic reading is revealed only a little later. The meaning of jaan keeps switching fluidly from 'life' to 'beloved' to 'know' and the hearer has to keep up with the shifts to make sense of the song.

Wordplay type demonstrated: Multiple Definitions 

5. Danish, Shamitabh (2015)

Shamitabh, Name Wordplay

Why him?
Aspiring actor Danish is speech-impaired, but with the help of "voice transfer" technology, he manages to speak in the voice of another man (Amitabh Sinha) and lands a big role in a Hindi film. He is then asked to choose a screen name. Danish picks the name "Shamitabh", and explains his choice in a way that would do a pro setter proud.

(i) Shamitabh is hidden within 'DaniSH + AMITABH Sinha'
(ii) Shamitabh is a charade of SH (silent) + Amitabh, which implies that behind the mute front stands the voice-lender

Wordplay type(s) demonstrated: Hidden Word, Charade with Cryptic Abbreviation

Over to you. Can you add to the list?

PS: In case you missed the memo - an Open Magazine feature about cryptic crossword solvers in India: The High of Hidden Words.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Alphabetic Letter Names in Crosswords

letter-names Every letter of the English alphabet has a "letter name". Vowel names are the same as the letters they represent, consonant names are usually <consonant>EE (e.g. B = BEE, C = CEE) or E<consonant> (e.g. F = EF, M = EM).

Though a letter naming standard exists, its practical usage in the real world is limited to scenarios like saying the alphabet aloud, answering queries of the form "how do you spell PHNOM PENH", or creating rhymes/songs. In the cryptic world, on the other hand, the possibilities of letter name usage are rich.

Clue Examples

Letter names like BEE (B) and GEE (G) are also dictionary words with other independent meanings, and can be used on a clue's surface with interesting results.

Guardian 24893 (Pasquale): Alert old maid, possibly as bee-keeper (9) OBSERVANT
O (old) SERVANT (maid), keeping i.e. containing B (bee)

Letter names can provide wordplay options that the simple letter would not.

Guardian 25704 (Puck): Leading lady's letter to the papers (7) EMPRESS
EM (letter M) PRESS (the papers)

Guardian 26076 (Arachne): Wrongly use double ef in "defiled" (8) BEFOULED

The longer ones can be used for grid fill.

Times Cryptic 4524 (Dean Mayer): Start to write the letter (3) WYE
W[rite] YE (the)

Sometimes, an unusual clue comes along with the letter on the surface and its name in the answer.

Guardian 26240 (Qaos): Writer who claims S, perhaps, equals T? (8) ESSAYIST
ES (letter S) + SAY (perhaps) + IS T

The Letter Name Reference Table

A reference list of names for all the letters of the English alphabet, from the Chambers dictionary

Letter Code Word
A a
B bee
C cee, see
D dee
E e
F ef
G gee
H aitch
I i
J jay
K kay
L el
M em
Letter Code Word
N en
O o
P pee
Q cue
R ar
S es, ess
T tee
U u
V vee
W double-u, double-you
X ex
Y wye
Z zee, zed, izzard

A closely matching list from the OED is on Wikipedia.


1. A wise crossword setter would use letter name substitution sparingly, as this device can easily slip into charade overdose territory.

2. If you've wondered why there isn't consistency in the naming of consonants (why should D = DEE and not ED, or M = EM and not MEE?), the reason can be traced back to Latin letter naming system, in which stop consonants were named <consonant>EE, sonorants and fricatives took the form E<consonant>. This link offers more insights.

Solve These

Guardian 25900 (Philistine): A desire or aspiration (5)
Times 23937: Disney character after rest moved casually (7)
Times Club Monthly 20145: Innocent follower of ex (X) in action? (4-4)

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