Monday, January 22, 2018

Learn Cryptic Crosswords app by Teazel

CZD LogoI tried out this mobile app recently that shook me out of blogging hibernation. If you have friends new to cryptic crosswords and keen to learn, this might interest them.

Here are my impressions after trying it out on an iPhone. At this time, an iOS version of the app is available; the Teazel team tells me an Android version is coming soon.

Wish you a very happy 2018!

App Content

The first thing that struck me favourably about Teazel's Learn Cryptic Crosswords app is author Henry Howarth's concise writing style and selection of simple clues to demonstrate the clue types. Sample a page from Chapter 1 Hidden Words:

Teazel App Content Sample

The app has six chapters and they pack in plenty of information: other than clue types, topics such as connectors, abbreviations, punctuation are touched upon and explained with examples.

The content is designed to be consumed in sequence. Each chapter ends with a practice puzzle to reinforce what you've covered till that point. As you traverse through the content, the app tracks your progress (you also have the option to reset your progress).

Learn Cryptic Crosswords Content Progress

There are ten practice puzzles, and the difficulty level scales up gradually with each puzzle.

Practice Puzzle 1 is very accessible, with only hidden word and anagram clues in a 9x9 grid.

Learn Cryptic Crosswords Puzzle 1

Practice Puzzle 2 adds charades to the mix in a 10x10. Practice Puzzle 3 includes reversals and deletions. Practice Puzzle 4 covers a wide range of clue types including homophones and double definitions.

By the time you reach Practice Puzzle 5, you are solving a standard 15x15 grid with compound clues and tricky wordplay.

The last five Practice Puzzles are from newspapers such as the Daily Mirror and Daily Telegraph, with introductory notes about the nature of grid and clues to expect in the publication's crosswords.

Practice Clues: Parsing Interactively

Cryptic beginners often ask, "How can I identify which is the definition, which the wordplay?"

This is tough one to answer. Cryptic clues have no tell-tale marks on the words proclaiming their roles. Sometimes we sniff out the indicator first. Sometimes we look at either end of the clue, work out which is likelier to be the definition, then try fitting the rest in jigsaw-style. Sometimes we wait for the checkers to show up. Sometimes we biff. There is no set way, but with experience, the process of parsing happens smoothly and quickly.

In this app, the practice clues give you ready insight into this process. The app shows you the clue and lets you pick the indicator and definition from a list. If you pick correctly, it green-lights your choice, else it turns it red.

Hidden Word Clue: Item of furniture hidden in stables (5)

Each clue type has a thoughtfully designed mode of interactivity.

Hidden word clues offer a slider to move over the fodder (or "ingredients" as the app calls it) to highlight the answer. When the slider is positioned right, a little celebration of stars livens the screen.

App Practice Clue Slider - Right Answer

Anagram clues let you shuffle the letters around like Scrabble tiles, and drag and drop them in answer slots.

 Anagram Clue: Many lost out (4)

With deletions, the cross symbol marks the letters to be eliminated.

Deletion Clue: Reason left out of clause (5)

More intricate clues prompt you with descriptive hints.

Reverse Anagram Clue

Teazel Director James Brook says that finding a way of breaking the clues down, so that people can see the individual parts of the clues without just being given the answer, was the most challenging part of their development. He adds:

We have hopefully retained part of the challenge and provided an "ah-ha" moment despite the support given towards getting the answer. In the later chapters, the support is toned down further so that it feels like having someone with you helping you but not saying the answer.

Practice Puzzle Help

As you work on the practice puzzles, you can check your how you're faring at any point – how many correct/wrong answers, how many clues left to solve.

There are options to reveal letter/word/full puzzle, and to clear puzzle.

Each puzzle carries annotated answers that you can view per clue.

Cryptic Clue Annotation

My favourite feature of the app is its Settings control of how to fill the puzzles: whether to skip filled squares or not, move on delete, etc. [Those who solve different puzzles interactively would agree that a mismatch between the method we're used to and the publication's fill style is the top reason for typos.]

Revealing errors when typing can be helpful for some, spoilery for others - it's nice to be able to switch this on or off, too. [Hope you're listening, The Hindu]

Crossword Puzzle Settings


Chapter 1 is free, after which there is a single in-app purchase for GBP 4.99 / USD 4.99. The free chapter and its exercises should give you an idea of what to expect in the full pack.

In Closing

For cryptic beginners, Teazel's Learn Cryptic Crosswords app is a fine place to start. The interactive exercises should be especially useful if you are familiar with the rules and yet not making headway with newspaper crosswords.

Give the app a spin and if you like it too, spread the word. The website/download link is here.

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