Friday, February 27, 2009

Charade Overdose

the-hindu-crossword Those of you familiar with the game of dumb charades would recognize patterns common between the game and cryptic crossword clues.

In dumb charades, how you convey the path to the solution is a lot like writing cryptic clues. You can act out the whole word or phrase (cryptic definition), break the word into parts and play them out in any order (charades/reversals), you can do a "sounds-like" (homophone) or change of tongue (foreign words in clues). All these devices have standard signals (indicators), and there are agreed ways to convey frequently-used components (cryptic abbreviations).

Sometimes the players will stretch the "break the word into parts" routine to such an extreme that they're literally spelling out the answer. Give them DEVA to enact, and they'll urge their team to run through the alphabet and spell out D+E+V+A. When this happens once too often, the rival team soon yells in protest.

This is exactly the trouble with Nita Jaggi's clues. The typical wordplay style is: split the word to its smallest components, use bits and pieces (country codes, prepositions and articles, units of measurement etc.) and string them all together as charade. When most of the puzzle is based on this, it does not challenge or interest the solver anymore. Examples of what I mean from today's crossword 9467:

28A: Not applicable for us at a point of advanced sickness (6) NA US E A
8D: South Africa to give evidence for one alien taken up on a celestial body (9) SA TELL I TE<-
26D: Note the Spanish film (4) RE EL

Some letter extraction techniques are drastically overused. Take "at the end of the day"/"day's end" to get Y. In the series of Nita Jaggi's puzzles published since 21-FEB-09 (9462 to 9467), it has shown up in every single puzzle, even repeated within the same puzzle (9462).

The Hindu Crossword 9467: Wordplay Breakup

Classifying today's clues by (primary) wordplay type, the breakup:

Wordplay Type Count
Charade 22
Anagram 2
DD 2
Container 1
Deletion 1
Telescopic 1
Total No. Of Clues 29

The largest chunk (76%) is charades, other clue types are not utilized enough.

Hope to soon see more variety in the clues!

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Silicon Valley Puzzle Day - 2009

ganesh-t-s Guest post by Ganesh TS, about the cryptic crossword workshop conducted by him at Silicon Valley Puzzle Day 2009. He shares with us the workshop slides and the tournament crossword puzzle.

The workshop material is an excellent starting point for cryptic crossword beginners. Try out the tournament puzzle, use the comments section to discuss the puzzle and its solution. The official solution to the puzzle will be posted on this blog in a couple of weeks.

Cryptic Crosswords Workshop

We had the annual Silicon Valley Puzzle Day this year on Feb 7 - 8. 2009.
On Feb 7th, we had the workshop, which I repeated from the previous edition, albeit, with slight modifications to include examples from American cryptic puzzles. You can take a look at the workshop slides by clicking on the link below.



Workshop Slides PDF

Tournament Puzzle

The cryptic crossword tournament was conducted on Feb 8th. The time limit for the puzzle was 30 minutes. To solve the puzzle, click on the link below.






Puzzle PDF

Puzzle Clue Text

5 It is wrong to box lithium and cobalt with a semiconductor (7)
6 Pay the check and pick this up (3)
8 Virginia’s loud cry on being sent back to the glen (6)
9 Norse god obtains unlimited halogen (4)
10 Absent sick (3)
11 Lose the right to turn away when rotated (4)
12 Reposed in conversation on the way (4)
13 Acrimony results when audit organization in the Orient gets rid of Pole (3)
15 In the alto, psalms are of the highest quality (4)
16 Mystery of the wail surrounding the unknown couple (6)
17 Actress Doris put off by the Spanish censoring (3)
18 Poison produced when electric current is passed through octane mixture (7)
1 Call ERP software professional inside around 5 and rebuke (11)
2 Fiddler who may draw a bow (9)
3 Renovate old Japanese capital (5)
4 Reason for Capone to leave Roman country (follows notarial blunder) (11)
7 Is a certain insect disallowed in this secure area? (2-3,4)
14 Deal with revolutionary Henry marks the beginning of a historic period (5)

Discuss The Puzzle

Use the comment section on this post to discuss the tournament puzzle and its solution. Clues you liked most or found the hardest to solve, how long it took you to complete the puzzle (the tournament time limit was 30 minutes) or anything else about the puzzle. It would be a good idea to restrict yourself to 1 answer a day so that other visitors to the blog have a chance to participate in the action.


The official solution to the puzzle will be published on Crossword Unclued in a few weeks. If you wish to keep track of further articles on Crossword Unclued, you can subscribe to it in a reader via RSS Feed. You can also subscribe by email and have articles delivered to your inbox.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Interviews With Ace Solvers: Part IV

Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers

Ganesh T S


ganesh-t-s Ganesh T S, an engineer from the San Francisco Bay Area, is the co-owner of the two most dedicated cryptic crossword communities on Orkut. He has also been actively involved in spreading the joy of cryptic puzzles in the SF Bay Area, by conducting cryptic crossword workshops at the Silicon Valley Puzzle Day every year since its inception in 2007.

Ganesh has some interesting anecdotes and a few tips to share with us.

Q1: When and how did you start solving crosswords?

Ganesh: It must have been sometime in mid-90s when I was in the 8th or 9th grade at school. My elder sister had just started out on her engineering studies then, and she used to study for her exams along with a couple of her friends at our home. I am not sure about what they did on the academic front, but they did get hold of the newspaper everyday to solve the crossword puzzle. One of them, Meera (with whom I still maintain contact, as she is a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area too!), was quite an adept solver, and I gradually learnt the tricks of the trade from her.

Till 2004, The Hindu was my only source of cryptic crosswords, and crosswords were just a way to pass time (non-serious hobby). In November 2004, I started the Orkut community for solving THCs, and it became an obsession. I had just started out on my Masters at Iowa State University, and I was lucky to have some friends (Mahadevan, Satyadev, Anupreet and Vidya) who were assiduous solvers and took the same interest in cryptic crosswords as me. We used to solve the crossword during our afternoon coffee breaks and the solutions to THC used to be posted by us within a couple of hours of the crossword appearing online. In fact, we used to wrap up the crosswords so quickly that our appetite got whetted, and we started solving the puzzles appearing in The Economic Times (Mumbai) edition too. I also used to enjoy the online interaction with the members of the Orkut forum. Chaturvasi was one of our earliest members on the forums, and when I went back to India in December 2005, I met him along with some other members of the Orkut community. The extent of his involvement with crosswords has since encouraged me to take up crosswords with a more serious mind frame.

Q2: Which crosswords do you solve currently, how often and how do you fare with them?

Ganesh: The changes in my solving habits can easily be spotted by taking a look at the archives of the Orkut community. THC to THC / ET and then onto THC / ET / New Indian Express. I stopped solving the ET crosswords once I realized that the puzzles were getting repeated. Somewhere towards the end of 2007, I moved on to solving crosswords in The Financial Times and The Times, while just taking the occasional glance at THC.

Currently, I take the occasional stab at puzzles appearing in The Guardian and The Financial Times. Even on the days that I get to solve them, I get to spend only 30 - 45 minutes on the puzzles, managing to solve approximately half the grid (more on a good day) while having lunch. Unfortunately, no one at my workplace shares my enthusiasm for cryptic crosswords. I hope to get back to regular solving once my wife gets more interested in crosswords. It will probably be back to THC for some time at that juncture, I guess :)

Q3: How has the learning curve been for you?

Ganesh: The Orkut community has been instrumental in the transition of cryptic crosswords from being just one of my hobbies to an obsession (albeit, a really useful one!). In the initial days, I never worried much about the annotations, and was bent upon completing the grid. It was Chaturvasi who made me aware, both online and offline, of the importance of understanding how the clues worked. My vocabulary had levelled off after I completed my undergraduate studies (I no longer had the time to pursue my voracious reading habit). Looking at new words in puzzles, encountering them while using electronic aids for solving helped me improve my vocabulary and completed a positive feedback loop which improved my crossword-solving skills.

Q4: Do you have a favourite crossword, compiler or clue?

Ganesh: I am beginning to like The Guardian puzzles, not only for the quality of the clues, but also the online presentation (which is the only access I have, since I don't reside in the UK). It is by far the best newspaper crossword website amongst the ones I have visited (The Times / The Financial Times / The Economic Times / The New Indian Express).

Amongst crossword compilers from the UK, I relate easily with the works of Cinephile, Neo and Gordius. I manage to solve most of their puzzles completely within the limited time available at my disposal. Their clueing techniques give me satisfaction and don't leave me baffled for too long (which is good for me right now, but probably not for every solver out there!)

I had stopped solving THCs regularly by the time the paper decided to carry bylines for the compilers. However, I can recognize Gridman's work even in his earlier unaccredited puzzles and can only marvel at the consistency with which he produces puzzles of similar, if not the same, difficulty levels.

Though I do not have any particular clue to mention as my favourite, I do like those which adopt certain uncommon combination of wordplay types. A case in point is the usage of the telescopic / hidden type along with a charade.

Q5: What are the crossword references you use?

Ganesh: Considering the fact that I spend most of my day in front of a computer, it becomes inevitable that most of my crossword resources are electronic in nature. I do treasure the 'Bradford's Crossword Solver's Dictionary' presented to me by Chaturvasi. I also borrowed and went through D.S.Macnutt's 'Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword' from Chaturvasi a year or so back. It presented me with a fresh perspective of cryptic crosswords from the other side, i.e, that of the compiler. Recently, I purchased Tim Moorey's 'How to Master The "Times" Crossword: The "Times" Cryptic Crossword Demystified'  for my wife. I am yet to go through it. My favourite electronic resources include Antony Lewis's WordWeb Pro, The Chambers Dictionary & Thesaurus on CD-ROM v1.00, and last, but not least, Wikipedia :)

Q6: You’ve been conducting the Cryptic Crossword Workshop in CA since a few years now. How did the idea for this come about, and how has the response been?

The first Silicon Valley Puzzle Day was conducted in February 2007. It was initially organized to raise funds for the Morgan Hill Public Library with tournament participation requiring registration fees, but free workshops. I had spotted the website for the Puzzle Day and got in touch with the organizers. In the beginning, they had no plans to organize any activity related to cryptic puzzles (They are not as popular in the US, as they are in the UK or India). However, my background with cryptic puzzles (particularly, being the co-owner of a1000 odd Orkut community, and the fact that I had organized word puzzle competitions for a student organization at Iowa State) made them wonder whether I would be interested in conducting a cryptic crosswords workshop. I jumped at the opportunity, and since then, have repeated the workshop in both 2008 and 2009. The number of people attending the workshop has been steadily increasing, with almost 50 people attending it this year. As the Puzzle Day was spread over the weekend, we were able to fit in a cryptic crossword competition too. Since the cryptic puzzle tournament was being conducted for the first time, we weren't sure how many people would translate their enthusiasm for participating in the workshop to actually participating in a timed puzzle in a competitive environment. We were pleasantly surprised to see around 30 participants. With 18 clues to solve and a time limit of 30 minutes, we had 3 people at the top, getting 17 out of the 18 right! One of the top 3 entries belonged to a person who had never before solved a cryptic crossword puzzle in her life, and had gotten introduced to it the previous day in the workshop.

Q7: Any memorable crossword-related experiences that you’d like to share?

Well, these are too many to count. It has always been a great experience with the Orkut community, particularly when I got to meet some of the regular members in person on my trips back to India. Recently, the response I had to my crossword workshop as well as the competition puzzle was very gratifying. One of the participants in the workshop, as well as the competition, was a regular compiler of crosswords for The NY Times. She came in as one of the top 3 contestants in the tournament and appreciated me for the effort put in creating the puzzle. The 'Wow' effect from the participants on recognizing the puzzle's theme was also a joy to watch!

Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers

Other Interviews:
Part I: Interview With Sridhar Shenoy
Part II: Interview With Chaturvasi
Part III: Interview With Vinod Raman
Part V: Interview With Peter Biddlecombe
Part VI: Interview With Deepak Gopinath

Coming Soon on Crossword Unclued: A guest post from Ganesh about the Silicon Valley Puzzle Day 2009. The crossword workshop slides will be made available and you'll also get to try out the puzzle from the cryptic crossword tournament.


The next ace solver interview in the series will be published on 3rd March 2009. If you wish to keep track of further articles on Crossword Unclued, you can subscribe to it in a reader via RSS Feed. You can also subscribe by email and have articles delivered to your inbox.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Homophone Indicators

Neyartha's recent puzzles in The Hindu Crossword have carried well-disguised homophones, such as "team report" for CIDE{~side} and "closing word for the auditor" for YAWS{~yours}.

So I thought of putting together a set of homophone indicators. The basic trait of these words/phrases is a reference to sound or hearing.

Homophone Indicators




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Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Hindu Crossword 9460: Neyartha

the-hindu-crossword Over at Col. Gopinath's blog, there was a comment yesterday that we'd probably see starred clues in the next crossword. Sure enough, the puzzle today has them.

Thematic cryptic crosswords have this snag: you get one starred solution, and you get all the rest without effort. THC9439 of last month had rare gases as theme. 23D was the first clue I'd solved in that puzzle, and bang came all the other starred answers. The same happened in this puzzle - EARTH was enough to reveal all.

I enjoy thematic crosswords in general, but the theme should have a sufficiently broad solution set – so that even after one has caught on to the theme, the rest of the starred clues pose a challenge to the solver. The fruits theme from THC9361 worked better that way.

Here are the answers to this puzzle.


 1 Taking advantage of Inuit cops in order to smuggle wine inside (13) OP{PORT}UNISTIC*

9 Swallow sound on spotting carnivorous mammal (6) MARTIN for SWALLOW MARTEN
Update: Wikipedia tells me that MARTEN is a carnivorous mammal. So, that is more likely the answer and MARTIN its homophone as indicated by 'sound'. 'on spotting', just a filler then?

10 Guide for the European informers’ return (4,4) POLE STAR<-

11 Knocked cold by umpire’s decision (3) OUT [2] 

12 * Reject the Austrian usurpation of power (6) SATURN (SPURN - P + AT)

13 Supported the German’s firing, despite being detached (8) UNPINNED
That's "detached", but can't see the rest. Update: Ganesh clarifies that the annotation is UN{-der}PINNED.

14 Stable insects not to be disturbed (10) CONSISTENT*

17 Go over this when happy (4) MOON [CD]
The expression is "go over the moon", this clue doesn't take care of the "THE"!

18 Closing word for the auditor with infectious disease (4) YAWS {~yours}
YAWS=infectious disease. Don't know about the auditor's closing word. Is it a homophone for "yours"? Update: Yes it is! Closing word as in, the end of a letter.

19 Lady involved in trade-in is confused and put off (10) DI{SHE}ARTEN*

21 Amateurish bases for wordplay (8)HOMES PUN
My favourite clue of the puzzle. Clean, succinct and witty.!

23 Order to empty sherbet by mistake (6) BEHEST*
I don't like "empty" much for removing a single letter only. "cored" or "disheartened" are more apt, but of course the surface would suffer with them.

25 Port in Puri, Orissa (3) RIO [T]

26 Affront for old king from the east by one ex-PM (8) DIS {RAEL}<- I

27 * Beginners unearth radioactivity around Italian tourist village (6) U R A NUS
The connector "around" is jarring here. It leads one to think that URA will contain NUS, which is not the case. Update: Ganesh points out that "around" is part of the acrostic and not an indicator.

28 General coming back with frisky deer aboard fishing vessel is a smooth operator (7,6) WHEELER DEALER (LEE<- and ERDE* in WHALER)
The cryptic reading is fine but the surface too convoluted.


2 Town square of a mountain retreat in Arizona (5) PL{AZ}A<-

3 Fits and removes boxed model cutting tool (9) OU{T BUR}STS Update: Thanks Anonymous for the tip!
Is there an extra S in here? I read this as: removes=OUTS, boxed=> c/c indicator, model=T, cutting tool = BUR. Which gives OUT{T BUR}S, not OUT{BURS T}S. There must be a better explanation.

4 Monarch overwhelmed by the Pole’s voice projection (5) TENON
TENON is projection, how does the rest work?
Update: Thanks Arav and Ganesh for contributing the anno: TENO{-r}{+N}
Monarch – R, overwhelmed by - substitution indicator, the – connector, Pole – N, voice - TENOR

5 * Revolutionary writer’s song (7) NEP<- TUNE
I'm getting used to Neyartha's pet reversal indicator :) Revolutionary is CHE no more!

6 Splattered incompletely by accident with a fertilizer (9) SALTPETRE*

7 Letters from a glib senator to the Norwegian playwright (5) IBSEN [T]

8 Pay attention to the game in the British gallery (4,4) TA{KE NO}TE

15 Musical work by an eloquent speaker on a Greek nymph (8) ORATOR IO
Crossword compilers must thank the Greeks for giving such a clueable name to the nymph.

16 Door jamb (broken) espied by one in church (9)SIDEP{I}E* CE
Is "by" valid as a container indicator? The clue made me expect a charade between SIDEPE and I. A quibble again about the "in", it interferes with the wordplay in this clue. Connectors are more a problem in complex clues such as this - anagram+container+charade here. It is misleading when one word is an indicator, and another similar word in the same clue only a filler.
Update: See Ganesh's comment for an alternate explanation of this clue.

17 Drug used in tin mining as a humanitarian alternative (9) MARIHUANA*
Excellent clue. "tin mining" is a smart way to signal removal, and "humatiranian alternative" great as anagram.

20 The nurse is in trouble following the morning event (7) SUNRISE*

22 * Circuit connection (5) EARTH

23 Hide this description of a traditionalist (5) BOUND [2]
"Hide" in the sense of skin, in the cryptic reading. Neat double-definition.
Update: See Ganesh's comment for an alternate explanation of this clue.

24 Coastal spray in south Maine found to contain plutonium (5) S{PU}ME

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Interviews With Ace Solvers: Part III

Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers

Vinod Raman


Vinod Raman, an IT professional in Bangalore, is not just a whiz at solving cryptic crosswords – he also writes excellent cryptic clues. An active member of many reputed clue-writing forums such as the Crossword Centre Clue Writing Competition (now called Andlit), in which he has been a runner-up 6 times, his clues are striking for their wit and contemporary edge. I wait for the day he takes up creating crosswords professionally.

In this interview, Vinod talks about his introduction to cryptic crosswords, his approach to solving and what keeps his skills sharpened.

Q1: When and how did you start solving crosswords?

Vinod: I don’t remember exactly when, but it was sometime in high school during summer vacations that I got into cryptic crosswords. Back then (early 90s), TOI used to feature a cryptic crossword sourced from a British newspaper. Utterly bored of TV (with 2 national channels, we weren’t exactly spoilt for choice), books, cricket, carom and scrabble, my brother and I were desperately seeking something stimulating. We were already into quick crosswords, but had never treated the accompanying cryptic clues as anything more than incongruities of nature. But that day was different. I vividly recall sitting with my brother trying to make sense out of seemingly absurd sentences. At the end of the day, we could crack only one clue, and that too because it seemed more like a straight clue (we were unfamiliar with Cryptic Definition or Pun clues then) than a cryptic. The clue, if my memory serves me right was –

An old timer perhaps? (11,5) Grandfather Clock

We looked up the solution grid the next day, and tried to reverse engineer the explanations to the answers. What opened up before us was a whole new world, thrilling but unfamiliar, challenging but fun beyond words. We just got hooked and from then on, to our dad’s pleasant surprise, we would want to lay hands on the paper before he did.

I remember how crestfallen we were when TOI stopped publishing these, and had the NY Times crossword instead. We suffered from withdrawal symptoms of sorts, but luckily The Hindu came to our rescue.

Q2: Which crosswords do you solve currently, how often and how do you fare with them?

Vinod: The Economic Times Crossword (sourced from The Daily Mail), twice or thrice a week…sometimes more often if time permits. With my good friend and ace solver Anand Ganapathy for company, we generally manage to complete the grids.

Q3: How has the learning curve been for you?

Vinod: The cryptic crossword has been a wonderful and inseparable companion, and over the years, I’ve had a great time getting to know it more intimately. The credit for whatever interest and knowledge I have, almost entirely goes to TOI, The Hindu & The Economic Times. In my opinion, no book or teacher can substitute the learning one can get by solving these crosswords. I have also regularly participated in Crossword solving and Clue Writing Contests. I still actively participate in Andlit, a popular and widely respected CWC ( This features some of the best cruciverbalists and compilers in the world. I’ve learnt a whole lot just by seeing these folks’ clues. The fantastic thing about cryptics is, there’s something new to learn everyday.

Q4: What is your technique for solving the crossword?

Vinod: I invariably start with 1 Ac & 1 Dn. Whether or not I get them, I proceed to identify clues involving anagrams, for I find these easiest to crack. Then I sample the short clues, because these are typically Double Definition clues. But that’s it. After that, it’s pretty much a random attack.

Q5: Do you have a favourite crossword, compiler or clue?

Vinod: Favourite compiler – Azed ( ). Favourite clues – too many to list.

Q6: Any memorable crossword-related experiences that you’d like to share?

Vinod: Every crossword is an exciting and memorable experience in its own right. The heady kick that cracking a good clue gives is threefold – the satisfaction of getting the solution right, the subsequent awe of the compiler’s wit and wordplay, and the inspiration to come up with clues as brilliant. This is what keeps me going.

Q7: What are the crossword references you use?

Vinod: I found a nearly comprehensive list of substitutions used in cryptic clues a few years back on the net. I promptly saved it for my reference. I have since made several attempts to locate the list and compiler online, but to no avail. Those interested can find this list on my now defunct blog If someone knows the source or author of this list, please share it with me. I’d be glad to add the necessary credits.

Q8: Please share some tips for beginners to help them improve their solving skills.

Vinod: Solve cryptic crosswords regularly. Make a note of good clues. Try forming your own clues. Participate in CWCs. Join the Orkut communities: - and

Here’s wishing you a lot of fun with cryptic crosswords.

Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers

Other Interviews:
Part I: Interview With Sridhar Shenoy
Part II: Interview With Chaturvasi
Part IV: Interview With Ganesh TS
Part V: Interview With Peter Biddlecombe
Part VI: Interview With Deepak Gopinath

The next ace solver interview in the series will be published on 24th Feb 2009. If you wish to keep track of further articles on Crossword Unclued, you can subscribe to it in a reader via RSS Feed. You can also subscribe by email and have articles delivered to your inbox.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Hindu Crossword 9456: Sankalak

the-hindu-crossword This is the first Sankalak puzzle that I'm writing about - I realize I've mentioned all other compilers of The Hindu Crossword on this site before except him.

Of all THC puzzles I usually finish Sankalak's the fastest. The wordplay is fair, not too taxing, and the vocabulary is within reach. I suppose that applies to other solvers of The Hindu Crossword too: on the THC community, the protocol is that each member contributes 4 answers to the puzzle. It is normal for the puzzle to get completed by 11am, but since the last two days on which Sankalak's puzzles (9455 and 9456) have been published, I login at 8am and find the puzzle wrapped up already.


1 Incapacitate the biased student somehow (7) DISAB{L}E*
Getting the first solution into the grid is half the battle won. (I was writing here about the criticality of solution positions on the grid, but it was getting too long. Will keep that for a separate post. Update: On the grid: Where to start?)

5 Would such a house be full of 'spirit? (7) HAUNTED [CD] 
For a moment I wondered if the apostrophe before spirit was signal for dropping a letter. Well it was not. This was a cryptic definition for HAUNTED, and there should've been a closing quote mark after spirit.

9 Completing studies - at a place where social graces are taught (9,6) FINISHING SCHOOL [2]
Do finishing schools still exist? My knowledge of them is only through British novels from the last century. Anyway, the answer got into the grid quickly. As it spanned across the entire width of the grid, all the top-half DOWN clues got a lot of helpful letters filled in.

10 Take for granted that flightless birds return after a bit of a sortie (6) A S SUME<-
This one makes you wonder how flightless birds will even do a sortie. I think I enjoyed this clue because of the debatable surface reading!

11 Permit holder is untruthful reportedly, never beginning to understand (8) LICE{~lies} N SEE
LICENSEE is easier to spot from the definition in this case, and then the wordplay gets worked out later.

15 Abe put out but optimistic (6) UPBEAT*
'put out' flows well. It is nice when the anagrind blends with the anagram fodder.

19 No end confident? Get on, conquer! (8) SUR{-e} MOUNT
This would read better as "Confident no end? ..". A good clue otherwise.

22 Supplemented by a prosecutor and finished off (8) A PP ENDED
Nita Jaggi-ish charade isn't it? :P

24 A tree for the general public, say (6) PEEPAL{~people}
PEEPAL and PEOPLE sound alike in an Indian accent - a fine homophone in that context. The same clue might have raised eyebrows in a British publication. Homophone clues are tricky to write for an audience with varied dialects, there are always peepal er…people who don't pronounce the two words the same way. More on this: Not Quite Homophones To The Indian Ear.

28 Three feet and one upper limb seen on a ship (7) YARD ARM
Not a word I knew, the last one I entered after confirming the meaning of YARDARM. The play on the word 'feet' is neat.


1 Fed up, one worker is mutinous (7) {DEF}<- I ANT
This has all the crossword clich├ęs but strung together well.

2 Bodily cavity in humans in use constantly (5) SINUS [T]
Well-concealed solution!

5 An unpleasant woman soldier's meat dish (6)HAG GI'S
HAGGIS – a dish I know only from crosswords.

6 Relative who makes advances (5) UNCLE [2]
UNCLE is also a pawnbroker, therefore the 'makes advances'.

16 Orczy's floral hero's signature! (9) PIMPERNEL
Another one that I had to look up for the Orczy connection.

18 Daily record includes honour for a government with two heads (7)DIAR{CH}Y
I wish there were abbreviations for Bharat Ratna and Padma Shri too, for some more local ground to play upon.

20 Message sent: Delete unknown error (7) TELEXED*
A very smart clue, no connectors makes it even nicer.

21 Utter confusion that led MBA astray (6)BEDLAM*
MBA is colloquially used to mean not just the degree but also the person holding the degree, but I'm not sure if that is actually valid. 

23 Jejune traditions that capture a girl (5) NETRA [T]
Another hidden word that I didn't spot instantly, one reason for it being that NETRA is an uncommon name.

26 Aggressive remark from advocates: brouhaha starts (4) BAR B
I like Sankalak's way of picking interesting words for taking bits and pieces from. 'brouhaha' here and 'sortie' in 10a for example.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Interviews With Ace Solvers: Part II

Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers


interviews-with-crossword-solvers If you're a committed solver of The Hindu Crossword and have an online presence, the name of Chaturvasi would be familiar to you. Chaturvasi is the pseudonym used by the co-owner and moderator of the active Orkut community, The Hindu Crossword Solutions. Members of the now-defunct yahoogroup The Hindu Crossword would also recognize him as a prolific poster. In his non-virtual avatar, Chaturvasi is a retiree living in Madras (Chennai).

He is the go-to person for any unexplained clues in the crossword, the final authority we refer to on the The Hindu Crossword community. With decades of solving experience and the ability to work out most of The Hindu Crossword without the grid, he shares with us in this interview the secret of his rare skill and valuable suggestions on how to improve your own technique.

Q1: When and how did you start solving crosswords?

Chaturvasi: Well, long, long ago, as my granddaughter starts her stories. One day in the Sixties of the last century the topic of crosswords cropped up in a conversation among a bunch of cousins and friends sitting on a 6ft by 2ft plank hanging from the ceiling of the colonnaded veranda of our palatial Madras-terraced house in Gopalapuram in what is Chennai now. The oldest among them mentioned a clue for ACID and told us how it worked. Yes, I remember even the wordplay: account I had...

This piqued my interest and I bought The Mail, an eveninger of Madras, to do the crossword every day. (The Hindu didn't have the feature in those times.)

From the word Go (this two-letter word wasn't in the grid!) I got hooked (I wasn't married then!).

Unfortunately, I could not share this hobby with that cousin of mine. He was an air force officer and soon after that visit he became a martyr in an India-Pakistan war. But, I have remembered him to this day as one who introduced me to an engaging pastime.

Q2: Which crosswords do you solve currently, how often and how do you fare with them?

Chaturvasi: Many, including some in UK papers; generally no ill-faring, usually exceedingly well, sometimes rather bad (depending upon the crossword!). I can do it at any time of the day (even in sleep) anywhere (including the small room); nearly 70 per cent of some puzzles straight off and the rest with grid entries; fifteen minutes or less for India-made crosswords or the 13x in NIE. No partner in crime; it's a one-man job.

Q3: How has the learning curve been for you?

Chaturvasi: Steep! But this depends upon the solver. If one gets four or five answers in a crossword containing some 30 clues and then abandons it, then I am afraid one's solving prowess may not see any perceptible improvement.

When I started out in the late Sixties, there were no crossword aids. My solving skill improved because of sheer persistence on my part.

When I began solving the Mail crossword (I bought the paper laying out a few paise from my pocket allowance) I used to get just half-a-dozen answers. What I used to do regularly was I looked up the published answers the next day and assiduously did dictionary work to see how they worked. Even today any solver with a good knowledge of the English language can certainly get better just this way - without any "how to" books.

I shall give an example offhand. Take the clue "The condition of the nation (5)". This is one from my very early days but I had no difficulty with that. Now, if one did not solve this and then forgot about it, how will one see improvement in the ability to crack clues? On the other hand, if the solver looks at the answer STATE the next day, he can guess that both "condition" and "nation" lead to STATE. If that justification does not dawn on him immediately, it would certainly occur to him if he takes up a dictionary, or a thesaurus, which will have STATE under the entry 'condition' or 'nation'.

Q4: What is your technique for solving the cryptic crossword?

Chaturvasi: First read the clues; then think (scratch the head, if needed). Just kidding!

One can develop one's own technique as one goes along.

Mark the word divisions by drawing thick lines on the grid. The enumeration for a clue leading to the answer PAVES THE WAY is 5,3,3. Draw lines like this _ _ _ _ _|_ _ _| _ _ _ on the grid. The moment you enter S in the fifth letter position or T or E in the second component or W or Y in the third, the answer is likely to occur to you.

If you think the required word ends in -S, or -ED or -ING or any such string, put it in and you might get the answer with one or more crossings.

Try to guess the short components in the phrasal answers. In the above example, the second one is likely to be THE or AND (in some it might be WHO or some other word but that's rare). The moment you mentally reject AND and think of THE, with S there already in, you might get PAVES THE WAY.

Suppose you find that you have ?A?E for a clue with which you're stuck, merely staring at the slot won't give you the answer. Keeping in mind the clue, do what I call a letter run. Looking at the first position in the slot, run the letters of the alphabet in your mind. ABC... and when you come to P, the word PAVE might occur to you, if that is indeed the answer. Or, if you do the letter run for the required letter in the third position, when you come to V, the answer might suggest itself.

Don't try to solve clues one by one in the order in which they are printed (even in your Std X exam, you didn’t do that, did you?) . Run your eyes along the clues and, as the answers occur to you, enter them in the grid. The crossing letters are a great help. The answer to 5ac, say, after skipping 1ac, will give you beginning letters for some Dn clues - so the game continues! Solving clues in the cold - outside of their element, viz., the grid - comes at a very advanced stage in the career of a cruciverbalist (I hate this sesquipedalian, arcanely evolved word, give me the instantly comprehensible 'crossworder'!).

For anagram clues, if you write the letters in a circle and look at them, the answer might occur to you because of the contiguity of letters in that representation. With experience, just staring at the anagram fodder will have the effect!

Even with all the technique in place, an intelligent clue can trip you up! It may take ages for you to determine which is the definition and which the wordplay. Therein lies the mystique of this everlasting two-man tussle between the setter and the slumdog (sorry, solver).

In such a case, lay aside the crossword and relax! When you wake up after a good night's rest, the answer might come to you even before you have removed the toothbrush from its holder at the sink. Smile at your image in the mirror in front of you!

You will have noted that I have avoided mentioning any word finder software. This must not be resorted to unless it is the last word in a prize crossword. After all, there can be a software that produces a crossword grid, with clues and all, and then solves the puzzle itself! Not only that, it can even flash a message of congratulation saying that the crossword has been completed!

Besides, a crossword solver is only as good as its database. Take B_U_I_. A crossword composer with a penchant (or taste) for Indian words can have BHUJIA for this pattern in the grid but no software is likely to serve up this match! The clue may be so easy that you can lap it up instantly!

Q5: Do you have a favourite crossword, compiler or clue?

Chaturvasi: No, anything is grist to the mill (I don't carry any axe to grind). No faves among clue types, either. I would look critically at every clue; in a puzzle I may clasp even a hidden clue if it's cleverly hidden.

But I can tell you that not all crossword compilers are the same!

Years ago in my enthusiasm for the pastime I bought three collections of crosswords published by a UK company. I came home and started out. A few tentative attempts and I threw the books away! The clueing technique was so bad! No UK broadsheet would have published those crosswords!

On the other hand, the UK compiler Rufus is unforgettable! Who is this? Why? You know the 13x crossword that is published in the New Indian Express? That one is composed by him, I think. I know this puzzle from the Seventies and I marvel at the continuity and fairness of the clues and the entertainment value of this crossword. Rufus is a prolific compiler and the Monday puzzle in The Guardian is his.

Q6: Any memorable crossword-related experiences that you’d like to share? Friendships forged through the shared hobby?

Chaturvasi: When I as a postgraduate student was on a visit to Jamnagar (Gujarat) for a month or so sometime in the late Sixties, I used to solve the ToI crossword every day and compare notes with Navy officers at the officers' mess in the evening. They were happy to be in conversation with a young man.

In the Seventies, I wrote to the Editor of a small-time magazine in Madras seeking the address of the writer of an article on crosswords and wrote to the lady who corresponded with me for some months. I even met her when she was on a visit to the city.

During the same period, when the Hindu was publishing crosswords every other day, I used to exchange PCs (postcards) with answers/comments with a Statistics Professor in a city college (that was before the advent of PCs and Internet in India and when speedpost was in action, not just in name).

I once appeared in a crossword show on Doordarshan - when I was on the solvers side. Later, I conducted crossword quiz shows in IIT-Madras and other city colleges when I was on the other side!

I may also mention here: don't expect every crossword solver to be as mad you are! Take my dad or my brother-in-law. I never saw them do a crossword. Yet give them a clue that has stumped you and they would give you the answer! My dad was an officer in the Air Force and in the pre-Independence era he had moved with British colleagues. A B.A. Botany graduate, his command over the English language was infinitely better than some of those M.A. English, M. Phil. graduates of today who cannot recognise a well-known line from a well-known poem but yet flaunt their certificates. Though he had never gone to the UK, he was quite familiar with its people and culture.

Q7: What are the crossword references you use?

Chaturvasi: There cannot be any better reference than the latest edition of a standard dictionary (throw away that old, tattered volume that your grandfather palmed off on you before he got a revised edition) and a thesaurus.

Q8: Please share some tips for beginners to help them improve their solving skills.

Chaturvasi: The platinum tip of a fountain pen; if the ink spreads on the newsprint, take 045 Reynolds or not-too-well-honed a pencil so the point may not make holes in the grid design.

Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers

Other Interviews:
Part I: Interview With Sridhar Shenoy
Part III: Interview With Vinod Raman
Part IV: Interview With Ganesh TS
Part V: Interview With Peter Biddlecombe
Part VI: Interview With Deepak Gopinath

The next ace solver interview in the series will be published on 17th Feb 2009. If you wish to keep track of further articles on Crossword Unclued, you can subscribe to it in a reader via RSS Feed. You can also subscribe by email and have articles delivered to your inbox.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Container and Content Indicators

The last post described container clues and the indicators that go with this clue type.

Here's a compilation of frequently seen containment indicators, grouped into two categories: content indicators describe putting the inner word within the outer word, and container indicators describe wrapping the outer word around the inner word.

Content Indicators - Inner Word Inside Outer Word




Container Indicator -  Outer Word Around Inner Word





  • Consider variants of the word as well – e.g. COVERS => COVER, COVERING etc.
  • Words that act as indicators may not always be indicators e.g. ABOUT can be an abbreviation for RE or CA, COVERS can be part of a charade clue to mean TENTS.
  • This is an illustrative list, not a comprehensive one. Expect the unexpected, that's half the charm of crossword-solving.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009


In a container clue, the solution is broken into parts, and one part is embedded within the other.

Some words that can form container clues: cryptic-crossword-container-clue-type-example


Container Clue Structure: The clue consists of -
1. Solution definition
2. Definition for the outer word (container)
3. Definition for the inner word (content)
4. Containment Indicator – This can either indicate that:
    (A) Inner word is to be put inside outer word – e.g. held, occupying, flanked, inside. 
    (B) Outer word is to be taken around inner word – e.g. admitting, frames, swallowing, outside.

Example (using container indicator type (A)):
THC 9450: Building for the workers in principle (8) TENE{MEN}T
Solution definition: building
Outer word definition: principle = TENET, Inner word definition: the workers = MEN
Containment indicator: in

Example (using container indicator type (B)):
NIE 01-Feb-09: Horseman capturing a freebooter (6) R{A}IDER
Solution definition: freebooter
Outer word definition: horseman = RIDER, Inner word definition: a = A
Containment indicator: capturing

Container Clue Characteristics

  • Container clues are quite similar to charade clues – in both clue types, the solution is broken into smaller parts. The difference is that the parts are placed in sequence in a charade but one inside the other in a container clue. Also, charades may not have indicators whereas container clues must.

  • Container clues are often combined with abbreviations, or bits and pieces of words (such as first/last letters).
    Times 24132: Problem about university affected person (6) POSE{U}R
    Times 24131: Astonishment, securing extremely youthful stage role (7) SH{YL}OCK

  • The outer/inner words may not have straight definitions; they may in turn be clued as anagrams, reversals etc. In such cases, the relevant indicator would be present in the clue at the appropriate position.
    Container + Anagram:
    THC 9443: Showing clemency, allow nine to dance inside (7) LE{NIEN*}T
    The inner word (NINE) is to be anagrammed; the anagram indicator 'to dance' is placed next to it.

    Container + Inner Word Charade:
    NIE 04-Feb-09: Look includes a ship of the line (5) L{A SS}O
    Note that words that act as fillers in some clues (such as 'a', 'on') are often part of the solution in  container clues.

    Container + Outer Word Charade:
    Times 24131: Material in gold now at first available in a strip (7)OR GA{N}ZA
    In clues that combine other clue types with containers, the word order in the clue is important - in this case for example, the containment indicator can only be positioned between the definitions for N and GAZA. The word order gives you hints for how to arrive at the solution.
  • At times there may be nested embedding of words i.e. the contained word contains another contained word.
    Guardian 24138: Double jeopardy securing work, then left in fix (12) DOPPLEGANGER
    DANGER around {OP + {PEG around L}}

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Interviews With Ace Solvers: Part I

Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers

Sridhar Shenoy

interviews-with-crossword-solversSridhar, 60, a retired employee and an entrepreneur, is one of the most committed solvers on The Hindu Crossword community. With his extensive vocabulary and analytical mind, he is usually the one to first crack the more devious clues of a puzzle. Modest about his skill, it was tough to get him to even acknowledge that he could have ‘expert’ tips to share! Really glad that he finally relented.

Q1. When and how did you start solving crosswords?

Sridhar: In the 1980s a very senior, very intelligent, egoistic colleague, after 2 years of working in the organization together wanted to weigh his crossword solving capabilities against mine. I hadn't tried more than a few cursorily before, but was game (young blood loves a challenge!).

After comparing our achievements in the cryptic crosswords in 'Poona Herald' over a few weeks, he acknowledged that I am at least his equal. I gave up thereafter, as there was no challenge and had other things that took priority.

In 1998, I had to close my firm and so, retired involuntarily. To keep the brain cells active, I took up solving crosswords in 'The Hindu', 'Indian Express' and 'Udayavani - Kannada' (Sunday edition). As an extra stimulant, I did not use pencil and eraser and never checked the answers for the clues I could not understand. And some 3 years back kids made me join Orkut and there I found the THC group. Chaturvasi/Ganesh were kind enough to accept my request for membership. Cryptic crossword solving is perhaps going to be the last of my achievements in life.

Q2. Which crosswords do you solve currently, how often and how do you fare with them?

Sridhar: I take up crosswords as soon I get up (anytime between 4 am to 8 am). The day's issue of THC normally reaches me only at about 5:15 am and NIE only after 6:30 am. On most days I complete or nearly complete THC in 20 to 30 minutes. NIEC takes 15 to 20 minutes. Anyway by 8:15 am I have to post my quota as my better half calls me to join her at the breakfast table - we have made a rule that we always try to take all our meals together. On the days I get up early, I try the crosswords from British publications. These take a little longer to solve. Generally I do not look up the solutions posted by others after finishing my quota, as I like to chew on a few clues by myself when I get in to the mood!

Q3: How has the learning curve been for you?

Sridhar: My only aid is my Riverside dictionary. Only a few times, I have taken Internet search and that too only for looking up words my dictionary does not contain, never for solving a clue. The best literature I have gone through ever on crossword solving is what is provided by THC club here! Till then I did not know most of the nomenclature used like ‘telescopic-T’, ‘dual meaning – [2]’, and had to scratch my head to understand some others!

Q4: What is your technique for solving the crossword?

Sridhar: I think there is a general method in my madness! I start going through the clues one by one and when I find a definite answer, I check the crossings and the chain gets built up. If this does not happen, I go further down the clues. It is a great disappointment when the chain begins with the first clue and goes on till complete or nearly complete crossword gets solved in 15 minutes.

I take my wife's help when terms dealing with names of flowers, fruits, nuts, vegetables and girls crop up. But that happens less than once a month, I mean consulting my wife!

When I get the first letter of a solution through crossing and a few more with blanks, I once in a blue moon do consult my dictionary, which is somewhat tedious.

Anagrams are generally the easiest to solve.

Q5: Do you have a favourite crossword, compiler or clue?

Sridhar: Let me answer this the other way around. I dislike the crosswords of the type appearing in The Times of India.

THC, even with multiple setters acknowledged, is the best. It is also gratifying to get the attention and response from the Readers' Editor. For newspapers, crosswords normally are a necessary evil. NIE has nearly killed its crossword by changing the font and the size and hasn't cared to set things right even after being told about it by many. My old eyes are too weak to read the clues and the grid is too small to fill-in without overwriting the numbers in them. But then younger people are taking up crossword solving and the problem is mostly for oldies like me who perhaps are in the minority or silent (unlike yours truly!).

I feel Gridman does add a few superfluous words in the clues. Also, the definitions are either not exact or refer to an uncommon usage of the word/ phrase. His vocabulary is outstanding.

Nita is fond of smaller words and her crosswords are easier.

Kannada crosswords in the regional paper 'Udayavani' is a bold attempt but transgresses all the accepted rules in setting them. I am sure crosswords in Indian languages can be far more challenging then in English, but are more difficult to set.

Q6: Any memorable crossword-related experiences that you’d like to share?

Sridhar: I have a young friend in our club. I was surprised when he said hello to me and sent a long anagram of a birthday greeting as a scrap. I never expected a young man of his temperament getting to be a crossword enthusiast. Surprises never cease and pleasant ones at that!

I have come across scores of lovely clues but remember few offhand and anyway too many to be mentioned. Sometime I will sit back, recollect them and share and enjoy them with all of you.

One outstanding experience is that a fellow club member and I seem to have connecting telepathic transmission lines. It may not be unusual that many solvers get the same few answers first, due to the clues being easy or the clues being precise or both. But the commonality I have been seeing with this member is beyond such explanations! I do enjoy this pleasant experience and hope it continues!

Q7: What are the crossword references you use?

Sridhar: Mostly, (as I mentioned earlier) only my good friend, ‘Webster’s New Riverside University Dictionary’’, which is 18 years old! Believe me, I bought it for a special bargain price Rs.275/-(original price some Rs.1,000 or so) and what a friend I have found for such a small price!

Q8: Please share some tips for beginners to help them improve their solving skills.

Sridhar: Again let me start with one thing we oldies love to do – advise! Crosswords are quite addictive. Youngsters,when they appear dreamy-eyed and oblivious of surroundings, can be expected to have romance on their minds. But if he/she is a crossword addict, it may as well be a mundane unsolved crossword clue! If you are old like me it is the only likely thing in mind.

Anyway, so long as you are not going to allow it to interfere with your time for productive work, go ahead and acquire the addiction!

Solving crosswords requires all of vocabulary, mental agility, imagination, information and patience. Those with a reading habit have a big edge. Being good at spoken English does not help as much. Buy a good dictionary or get used using online dictionaries. Do not use the search engines, though it is tempting to do so. Don't be afraid of high-sounding terminology like anagram, acrostic, charade, etc. If you want to participate in the Hindu Crossword Community, read through the guidelines provided by the crossword club first. And then there are the indicators for anagrams, synonyms etc., which you must try to remember. These are handy when looking up solutions given with annotation by some kindly souls (like me!).

Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers

Other Interviews:
Part II: Interview With Chaturvasi
Part III: Interview With Vinod Raman
Part IV: Interview With Ganesh TS
Part V: Interview With Peter Biddlecombe
Part VI: Interview With Deepak Gopinath

The next ace solver interview in the series will be published on 10th Feb 2009. If you wish to keep track of further articles on Crossword Unclued, you can subscribe to it in a reader via RSS Feed. You can also subscribe by email and have articles delivered to your inbox.

Interviews With Ace Solvers

interviews-with-crossword-solversSolvers who are new to cryptic crosswords often go through an initial phase of extreme exasperation. I receive mails that say – we know all the crossword theory, but we still don't seem to be going anywhere with the solving. How do some people fill up the grid in a matter of minutes? What is their secret?

So I thought, why not talk to the experts and get to know their crossword story - did they struggle as much in the beginning, how long did it take them to reach where they are, what is their solving technique?

I am happy to have received very favourable response to my idea from some of the best solvers I know. I am sure that each of us reading their insights will find something to relate to or learn from.

Interviews with expert solvers will appear as a weekly series on this site, each Tuesday starting 3rd Feb 2009. To keep yourself updated of new content, subscribe to the feed or check Crossword Unclued each Tuesday this month.

Read The Interviews:

    Part I: Interview With Sridhar Shenoy
    Part II: Interview With Chaturvasi
    Part III: Interview With Vinod Raman
    Part IV: Interview With Ganesh TS
    Part V: Interview With Peter Biddlecombe
    Part VI: Interview With Deepak Gopinath

If you wish to keep track of further articles on Crossword Unclued, you can subscribe to it in a reader via RSS Feed. You can also subscribe by email and have articles delivered to your inbox, or follow me on twitter to get notified of new links.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Obama's Impact On The Crossword

obama-impact-on-crossword Humankind has been abuzz with talk of Obama throughout the last year. The world of cryptic crosswords has been no exception.

The name 'Barack Hussein Obama' gives a goldmine of wordplay options to setters. A single-letter substitution in 'Obama' results in the name of the infamous terrorist head. A letter added to 'Barack' transforms it to the word for housing for soldiers. 'Obama' within itself has a convenient letter placement, enabling creative telescopic, charade or reversed clue constructions.

I'd posted about this clue some time ago. Here are a few more from UK publications in which Obama made an appearance. (These were published before he assumed office.)

Guardian 24442: Democrat retaining right ways to circumvent order to dance in 19th century poems (7-4,7) BARRACK-ROOM BALLADS
Definition: poems
Democrat = BARACK (Obama), holding right => BAR{R}ACK
ways = ROADS, order = OM (Order of Merit), dance = BALL, 19th century = AD
ROADS to circumvent OM, BALL AD => RO{OM, BALL AD}S

Guardian 24351: Democrat circle upset a fairy (5) OBAMA
Definition: democrat
circle = 0, a fairy = A MAB
O upset {A MAB} => O {BAM A}<-

There were some other nice ones, I wish I had recorded the exact wordings. One used a neat transpose: the clue talked about morally condemned candidate becoming a wanted man ('Obama, Sin Laden' to 'Osama Bin Laden').

Nothing on Obama in THC! Or was he there and I missed spotting him?

Related Posts: Osama Bin Laden

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