Tuesday 17 February 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 (http://www.andlit.org.uk/cccwc/main.php). 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 (http://www.crossword.org.uk ). 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 http://vinodraman.blogspot.com. 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: - http://www.orkut.com/Main#Community.aspx?cmm=59903 and http://www.orkut.co.in/Main#Community.aspx?cmm=770537

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.


Tony Sebastian said...

You are not the only one waiting for him to start clueing professionally :) In my short acquaintance with Cryptic Crosswords, Vinod has been the most brilliant cluer I have come across.

Great blog btw :)

Shuchi said...

Hi Vinod, Thank you for taking out time from your busy schedule for the interview. It was a very engaging read. I can so identify with the "withdrawal symptoms" you talk of, when TOI stopped publishing the cryptic crossword.

It is a theory of mine that one can learn a lot about a newspaper by the crossword it publishes. TOI did not just drop the cryptic crossword at that time, they went through a total character overhaul - the tone and content of all else in the paper changed too.

Vinod Raman said...

Shuchi, thanks for having me on your wonderful blog. It's fast turning out to be a Mecca of sorts for budding crossworders and veterans alike. Wish it even more resounding success in the time to come.

Big Dave said...

@Vinod Raman

Is this the list that you mentioned in your answer to Q7?

Ross Beresford's List on rec.puzzles.crosswords