Monday, 2 September 2019

What is a DOOK?

On 16 December 2014, the New York Times puzzle grid carried this answer which led to much bafflement in the solving community:

DOOK in NYT Crossword
Source: © 2014, The New York Times

The clue (33a) was "Scrape by" – but why was its solution DOOK? Solvers checked standard dictionaries and found the word unlisted; they combed through online sources and discovered the word could mean bathe or plunge, a Scottish variant of duck, a misspelling of the University in Durham, a plug, a clucking sound made by a ferret. There was nothing to support "DOOK = Scrape by" as defined in the puzzle.

Comments on NYT crossword blogs were abuzz with conversation around this mysterious word…

…till someone pointed out that DOOK is not "dook", DOOK is "do OK".

No Enumeration, Cause of Confusion

In the New York Times crossword, solution lengths are not stated. The total count of cells to be filled for each clue is evident from the grid, but the clue does not tell you if its answer is a (4) or a (1-3) or a (2,2). This property was used to fantastic effect in the 1996 NYT Election Day crossword; this property also led to the DOOK confusion.

DOOK as Crossword Jargon

Since the time it was first noticed, DOOK has become a blog shorthand for words placed together in the grid (typically parts of a multi-word answer) that can be misinterpreted.

DOOKS do not normally affect British cryptics except in the rare case of enumeration errors: Guardian 24032 – what does doordie mean?

Usage examples:
"I'm nominating DOOORDIE for DOOK of the year." [source]
Comment on puzzle Give Me Some Space, in which one had to insert spaces in themed clues (GOON –> GO ON, NOTABLE –> NOT ABLE, etc.) to arrive at their answers: "IT'S A DOOK PUZZLE!" [source]

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Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Shajarur Kanta, and the mystery of the PORCUPINE anagram

Crossword sightings in Indian films are rare. And so I watched with great interest as Byomkesh Bakshi in Shajarur Kanta (2015) lingered on the puzzles section of the newspaper while holding forth on the art of murder.

Byomkesh Bakshi with Crossword

A close-up shot of the crossword on the page revealed this:

Shajarur Kanta - Crossword

What do we see? A blocked grid crossword, partly solved. A few cells are filled in here and there. Strangely, many of the filled cells are unchecked and the words they belong to are unsolved. How exactly is Byomkesh solving this crossword? Has he cracked the Nina before the individual clues? Is he filling in letters at random? Has he confused the crossword with the Sudoku?

We don’t learn the answers to these questions. But we do move on to bigger oddities in the adjacent Jumble section.

The PORCUPINE strikes

Check out the last jumbled word of the set: UCRONIPREP.

Shajarur Kanta - Porcupine Jumble UNCRONIPREP

While our detective is talking about the efficacy of porcupine quills as lethal weapons, the Jumble has served him a Baader-Meinhonf moment: an anagram of PORCUPINE.

Except that UCRONIPREP is not an anagram of PORCUPINE.

Take a closer look at the image, and you see the font of UCRONIPREP does not match the other jumbled words, the empty squares run into the explanatory text. Makes one smell a porcupine rat: this word was not part of the original puzzle - the film makers have been up to mischief and tacked it on later.

Someone from the film team must have noticed the gaffe too. By the time the puzzle shows up on screen next, the superfluous R has miraculously vanished.

Shajarur Kanta - Porcupine Jumble UNCRONIPEP

Byomkesh struggles with cracking that last anagram even after the correction.

He then sets the newspaper aside to meet a distraught client. While talking to this client, he has a PDM, exclaims "PORCUPINE!" and grabs the paper to fill in the pending word.

That's Byomkesh triumphantly writing in PORCUPINE:

Shajarur Kanta - PORCUPINE Filled

Here comes another twist.

Between the two scenes above, the illustrated puzzle that accompanies the jumbled words has been brutally scratched out with a black pen by hands unknown.

Image Puzzle Scratched Out: Before and After

What was the motive of this seemingly purposeless act of violence?

I set out to do some detective work of my own.

The Final Piece

That crossed-out image, as Jumble solvers would know, is the final piece of the puzzle: the circled letters from the four words are anagrammed once again to answer the clue in the image.

The clue in the image (as you can see in the "Before" screenshots) is:
When it came to protecting their castle they were "????-??????"

Its solution expects 4+6 = 10 letters. The quote marks around the blanks suggest a pun.

The contributing letters from the first three words in the puzzle:


AM+DT+OTA totals 7 letters, which means 3 more letters are to be had from the fourth word to make ????-??????, *not* 4 as the encircled letters in PORCUPINE suggest.

Rearranging the contributing letters AMDTOTA??? to correspond to ????-?????? in the image clue gives us a fair idea of what the overall answer could be.

That answer would fall into place only if the circled letters in the last word were IVE. PRPE of PORCUPINE does not fit the bill.

Detective work conclusion: The film makers couldn't make the fake PORCUPINE fit the final puzzle - so they crossed out the final puzzle to bury the evidence!


What WAS the real word hiding behind the fake PORCUPINE? I invite you to find the answer.

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      Wednesday, 24 April 2019

      Crossword Software To Make Puzzles With Multiple Letters Per Cell

      In the article Crossword Grids That Hold More Than One Letter Per Cell, cryptic setter eXternal (Steve Bartlett) gave us a detailed tour of “rebus” crosswords, with tips for setting and solving such puzzles. In this article, he walks us through software that can be used to create crosswords with the many-letters-per-square gimmick.

      Steve is the editor of Enigmatic Variations crossword in The Telegraph. He also sets advanced puzzles in the series of The Listener and Inquisitor, and standard cryptic puzzles for The Daily Telegraph (as proXimal), The Independent (as eXternal), Financial Times (as ARTEXLEN), The Herald (as Boz) and The National (as Claymore).

      Handing over the reins to Steve for this article…thank you!

      - Shuchi

      It is quite simple to create a puzzle with more than one character per cell by using crossword-creating software. I will describe how to do this using Qxw, which can be downloaded for free from Quinapalus. I use this tool for all my barred puzzles and thoroughly recommend it, as it enables the setter to produce complex puzzles relatively easily.

      I'll demonstrate how to use Qxw to produce puzzles with multiple letters per cell with reference to a couple of puzzles I created: one called Odd One Out in collaboration with Serpent for The Inquisitor series in The i; and one called Disappearances, which appeared in the Enigmatic Variations series in The Sunday Telegraph in 2017.

      Odd One Out by eXtent

      Serpent and I decided to theme a barred puzzle on Brexit. We wanted a grid which would include IVR codes of members of the EU in single cells. The number of letters in IVR codes for these members ranges between 1 and 3 — for example, Portugal is P, Czech Republic is CZ and Ireland is IRL.

      Below is an outline of the grid we prepared:

      Odd One Out by eXtent - The Inquisitor - Grid Outline

      In order to get the three letters IRL in one cell, we needed to do the following:

      Click on Edit — Cell contents. Then just enter IRL in the dialog box.

      Qxw - Edit - Cell Contents

      Qxw - Edit - Cell Contents - IRL

      Qxw then suggests a number of feasible entries (show in the panel on the right) for insertion.

      We simply repeated this procedure for other cells around the grid for each of the two- and three-letter IVR codes. The final grid appeared as follows:

      Odd One Out by eXtent - Filled Grid

      A blog of the puzzle by HolyGhost at Fifteensquared can be found using this link: Inquisitor 1588: Odd One Out by eXtent.

      Disappearances by proXimal

      I had decided to base a puzzle on a theme of the decline or disappearance of stores from High Streets. The phrase THE HIGH STREET lends itself really well to being used in a barred crossword, as it has 13 letters and such grids are often 12x12 or 13x13. I decided to have THE HIGH STREET as a thematic unclued entry running down the central column of a 13x13, with names of shops which have disappeared produced by clashes on both sides of THE HIGH STREET. The clashes could be nicely thematically represented just by leaving the clashing cell blank, thus the stores are disappearing.

      So, I started with a grid as follows:

      Disappearances by proXimal - THE HIGH STREET

      I decided to have five shops either side of THE HIGH STREET to produce a nice range and an interesting challenge for the solver. Firstly, I searched for shops which would lend themselves easily to being divided, to be produced from clashing words using Across and Down entries, but also ones that were relatively well-known. One of the most famous which I decided to use is WOOLWORTHS, which could be split as WOOL and WORTHS.

      There is a useful pattern-matching tool on the internet called Qat, designed by Quinapalus, who also developed Qxw; I used Qat to check which words could end in WORTHS and which could start with WOOL. The picture below shows the search for words ending in WORTHS (using search term *worths):

      Qat - Word Pattern Search

      I liked the look of JOBSWORTHS and decided to have this entry in the grid to provide a clash in the last cell of a five-cell entry; the number of words starting with WOOL, to provide the Across clash, was much higher.

      Back to Qxw, I put JOBS in the entry at 27 Down with the last cell blank to accommodate WORTHS in one cell. To enable Qxw to work with clashing entries, one does the following:

      1. Select the cell which you want to use (shown in yellow below), by clicking Select and then Current cell, when the cursor is in the cell.

      2. Click on Properties — Selected cell properties. Then tick the box which says Override default cell properties and further down, change 'Lights intersecting here' to 'need not agree'.

      Disappearances by proXimal - Qxw - Intersecting Cells Need Not Agree

      This now meant that I could specify an entry beginning with WOOL at 40 Across, with the four letters of WOOL being accommodated in the first cell, to clash with WORTHS provided by the down entry. In order to do this, the following is required:

      Click on Edit — Cell contents. Because I have previously specified that the cell can accommodate clashes, a box appears which allows us to enter multiple letters for the Across and Down entries meeting in this cell.

      Disappearances by proXimal - Cell Contents

      Hence, once I had specified that the contents of the cell for the Across entry should be WOOL, Qxw provides me with a number of feasible entries: WOOLDINGS, WOOLFELLS, WOOLIEST, WOOLPACKS, WOOLSHEDS, WOOLWORTH.

      I then repeated the same process in various cells around the grid to accommodate the nine other shops. The completed grid appeared as follows:

      Disappearances by proXimal - Filled Grid

      So, for example, SKEETER at 1 Down clashes with COMPASS at 16 Across to create COMET. In this puzzle I also wanted to have real words left when the clashing cells were deleted, so the deletion of the COMET clash would leave words SKEER and PASS in the final grid.

      A blog of the puzzle by Dave Hennings at Fifteensquared can be found using this link: Enigmatic Variations No. 1296: Disappearances by proXimal.

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