Saturday 25 April 2009

Keep Them Coming, Neyartha!

neyartha Of all the compilers of The Hindu Crossword, we come across Neyartha the least (2 a month on average?). What is it they say, about good things being scarce?

Whenever they appear, Neyartha's puzzles have a thunderbolt effect. The Orkut solving community becomes abuzz with activity, normally sparse blog comment spaces get a profusion of reactions, annotations for clues are hotly discussed.

Neyartha's puzzles are high on substitutions/deletions and combinations of clue types - one reason why parsing his clues is challenging. To add to it, there are the starred clues with no definition. Today's (THC 9516) takes the themed crossword a notch up, with the starred clues themselves forming a clue.

I find a unique identifiable character in his puzzles; a glance is enough to reveal it's his work (and I'm not talking about the smattering of asterisks). His choice of words is distinctive and the context very contemporary. There will be references to Bond films, Sarah Palin, Slumdog Millionaire. Some clues carry phrases in brackets - remember the revolutionary doctor (cheat) who was beseiged by misfortune, or the need (unwritten) when you fell over?

Then there are 'techie' quirks like using 'gate' to stand for logic gates, fractions (70% of the storerooms, 5/9th of something else!) and the inclination towards the sciences (chemistry and maths figure prominently).

Like with Gridman, the framework is assuredly Indian. Trains will travel between Delhi-Chennai, university will be BITS in place of OU and dance will be BHARATNATYAM rather than BALL. (Talking of BITS, his clue 15A from THC 9490 even made it to BITS-related press releases.) It is a comfort to solve puzzles with a cultural context that's closer home.

Hope we see more of this individualistic (or as Anokha says – crazy!) compiler. Keep them coming, star setter!

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anokha said...

Yes, keep 'em coming, Neyartha! And just to reiterate from my blog, I use 'crazy' for Neyartha in the following sense -



Informal. intensely enthusiastic; passionately excited: crazy about baseball.

Slang. wonderful; excellent; perfect: That's crazy, man, crazy.

having an unusual, unexpected, or random quality, behavior, result, pattern, etc.: a crazy reel that spins in either direction.

Raghunath said...


I am on to X words since about six months or more. I have found solving the ET puzzles easier to solve than Neyartha's. I am not sure if other's feel the same way. There is not so much of a crowd on the CROSSWORDMANIA forum, compared to the The Hindu one.

Shuchi said...

Hi Raghunath,

Except Sankalak I solve ET quicker than THC myself. ET has been recycling its old crosswords, many old-timers have solved them before maybe that's one reason the participation is low.

The community is new, it'll take a while to build membership. Also, a search-friendly name will help. People generally search for "ET crossword" or something of that kind, they won't find CROSSWORDMANIA unless they already know the name. I've put a link on the sidebar here, hope that sends some interested members to the community.

nachiketa said...

I found you from Anokha's blog and I am asking for help from you on her recommendation!So,here's a long post-hope you will have the patience to respond.What follows is copied from Anokha's blog.

Can you explain 18Ac and 14Ac again please? Does Fish mean 'net gains'?

Also,what is the point of having things in brackets in clues?

Couple of comments about the setter and his style.I am from his college.I think he borrows his idea of a 'themed crossword' from the very popular treasure hunts we used to conduct(I set a few of them) where in each clue cracked(usually based on word play) would finally be related by a final theme,which would be the final clue.

On the same theme,I find his crosswords to be much more 'crackable' as there are more prepositions indicating the relation between different parts of the clue.Again,coming from a treasure hunt background and being relatively new to crossword,I find it really hard to accept clues which don't give a complete meaning.I guess it has to do with the space constraint as in Treasure hunts,we are allowed to be more elaborate.It may also be because I am a newbie,but still it irritates me to no end.To be more specific,many times, in order to improve the surface reading the prepositions are altered giving a completely different meaning,I feel.For example,

22 Peter out to exchange the note for a discount

'for' would indicate to me that the answer will be a synonym for discount,which will be obtained from the rest of the clue.Also, 'to' indicates joining in crossword,I believe leading me to believe some form of 'Peter' has to join with some form of 'exchange'.

27 Pulls back to interrupt the erratic siren with the guides (9)

Again,the preposition 'with' seems to indicate erratic siren has to join with some synonym for guides. I understand how the clue is to be cracked,but all the while I was confused where the definition is 'pulls back'.I would use 'for' or 'giving' instead of 'with'.

13 Takes care of harbours (6)
8 Harbour hammock (5)

I believe these are double definition clues.What is the indicator to think it is that way?

4 Greek hunter loses the right to a new kitchen bulb (5) O(-R)(N)ION

I liked this clue very much.But to me,it doesn't seem clear why 'to a new' indicates that 'n' should be added.Wouldn't it have been better with something like 'adds/gains new..'?I would definitely not have the articles 'the' and 'a' in the clue.

25 Say salaam to the star officer

Why should officer be the meaning? Where is the indicator for that? Compare with 19d or 1d and the difference is obvious.

I am not trying to discredit the setter here,because I feel his crosswords are the best.But I am trying to address a more generic road block for me in trying to crack crosswords as almost always the clues are rife with misordered prepositions which completely change the meaning of the clue.The other problem,I feel crosswords have,is 'missing information'.

You can probably now imagine my hair pulling agony with the previous setter.Please correct me wherever you can.

Shuchi said...

Hi nachiketa, welcome here and thanks for the well-written comment. It'll take a while to answer :) but here goes:

Can you explain 18Ac and 14Ac again please? Does Fish mean 'net gains'?14Ac: Yes, net gains = FISH. It is a cryptic way of defining fish, similar to 'kitchen bulb' for onion. This style of definition is quite acceptable in cryptic crosswords, and witty IMO.

18Ac: dry = teetotaller = TT, year = YR. Both standard crossword abbreviations.
year-round => put YR around TT.

what is the point of having things in brackets in clues?It works for the clue's surface. A challenge for the setter is that in addition to have a perfect cryptic meaning, a clue should also make sense on the surface. Take NJ's clues - many of them do not meet that standard. Neyartha's do.

I do not usually find parenthesised words in clues written by experienced setters - their clues read well even without the device. I think of the bracketing as an identifiable trait of Neyartha's, and a smart way of keeping the clue's surface coherent.


More to follow...

Ganesh T S said...

Taking CVasi's advice into consideration, I am posting my response in Anokha's blog here too:

@ Nachiketa:

I would scarcely credit Neyartha's idea for themed crosswords to treasure hunt events in your college (what is Neyartha's alma mater, by the way?).

Themed crosswords have been long existent in British puzzles, and I think Neyartha has shamelessly copied them into his / her THC puzzles.

I guess people would chime in to answer your other queries (Maybe, I myself will return to answer some of them later).. Till then, this reply thread can discuss the origins of themed puzzles, probably!

Shuchi said...

Treasure hunts seem to be popular in all colleges, they were in mine too.

Themed crosswords are new the The Hindu but as Ganesh mentions, they're common in other publications. There are many variants like a mysterious acronym with the same meaning throughout (FT 13051), incomplete cryptic indications, a single letter unclued (Beezlebub), or themes that are not spelt out, you unravel them only after you've solved some of the puzzle (Guardian 24673).

Ganesh T S said...

I think the first themed puzzle in The Hindu was a puzzle dealing with the various Carnatic Ragas, which were not clued in with any direct definition, but were starred.

Did some Googling, and here it is:

This one is from the days before which The Hindu started crediting the puzzles with bylines, but, a glance through it reveals that it is unlikely to be Neyartha's work.

All in all, don't give Neyartha the undue credit of bringing thematic puzzles into the realms of THC!

nachiketa said...

Firstly,I am sorry if the bit about trying to guess the psychology of 'Neyartha' touched a raw nerve somewhere. I thought people knew who he was.Anyway,the first couple of paragraphs are completely tangential to my main concerns which follow.

May be I got a bit too ahead of myself in proclaiming Neyartha's inspiration from Treasure hunts.But I thought I knew who Neyartha is but now I am not so sure.I thought people knew the identities of regular setters. Anyway,will respect the confidentiality if 'Neyartha' so desires.Although,a big clue about his alma mater could be found in Shuchi's original post (Refer comments regarding trains and universities and press releases!)

Shuchi said...

Thanks for the link, Ganesh, I had missed that puzzle. Perhaps with Neyartha, the themed puzzle has become a more regular feature than an exception.

Ganesh T S said...

@ nachiketa,

Ah! BITS! I am a BITSian myself, and would really like to find out whether Neyartha is a BITSian. Well, that is tangential to the discussion again!

Btw, I didn't want to sound too offensive in my reply.

The nice thing with this blog is that it is quite famous, and it is highly possible that the setters do read the posts and discussions.

Another good thing about Neyartha's puzzles, as far as I am concerned, is that they only appear twice a month. I can solve them at leisure (but Anokha posts the solutions way too early!) without pulling my hair in frustration (can't say the same about some of NJ's and MManna's puzzles I had tried some time back, when I was a regular participant in the Orkut community).

A tip for the avid crossword enthusiast regarding connectors:

When you come across any connector (with / the / a / an / about / on / in etc.), treat them with the utmost suspicion. Try parsing the clue without them, and most of the time, you will hit upon the solution if the 'connector' (or, rather, the word you thought was the connector) is not actually a part of the wordplay.

Shuchi said...

The 'true identity' of Neyartha was not really the concern of my post. Whether setters use their real names or pseudonyms is irrelevant to solvers, isn't it - M.Manna or Neyartha or Sankalak may be real identities or assumed ones, for us they are just names in the paper with which we identify the puzzles.

Coming back to your original comment, nachiketa:

I find it really hard to accept clues which don't give a complete meaning.
Absolutely. Cryptic does not mean vague; clues must lead to the answer accurately. To quote the famous setter Ximenes: "I may not mean what I say, but I must say what I mean."

I guess it has to do with the space constraint as in Treasure hunts,we are allowed to be more elaborate.
An expert setter manages to write beautiful, accurate clues within the space constraint. The New Indian Express Crossword has perfectly constructed clues with approx. 6 words on average. [If interested check out a sample length analysis for a month's data of The Hindu's clues:]

in order to improve the surface reading the prepositions are altered giving a completely different meaningThe double-bluff. We expect prepositions to be connectors, but there is no rule that they should be so! This is a valid way for the setter to take the solver by surprise.

27 Pulls back to interrupt the erratic siren with the guides (9) Again,the preposition 'with' seems to indicate erratic siren has to join with some synonym for guides. I understand how the clue is to be cracked,but all the while I was confused where the definition is 'pulls back'
We need to try out which is the definition and which the wordplay and zero in on the one that satisfies the whole clue. There can be many combinations possible, as we solve more we build an intuitive sense to get the right combination. Your initial thoughts could have led to the solution, but they do not - so we set them aside and try out another combination.

I would use 'for' or 'giving' instead of 'with'. - 'with' is an acceptable connector here, and gives a mischievous connotation to the clue's surface. 'for' or 'giving' do not work the same way.

Ganesh T S said...

@ Nachiketa:

The interesting thing about double definition clues is the absence of any indicator! Sometimes you can have triple definition clues too!

Example: The insect is fair game! (7)

Can you guess the answer?

The Greek hunter clue is a substitution, and not a simple deletion / addition one.

When the setter says: "Lose A to B", or "Exchange X for Y", he asks the solver to put B in place of A, or Y in place of X.

Thus , 'to a' and 'for' are examples of part of the wordplay indicators (Refer Shuchi's excellent substitution indicators compilation in a previous post).

25 Say salaam to the star officer

The clue should be parsed as below:
Say : Homophone indicator
salaam : bow
which sounds like BO in the final answer
to the : connectors to be ignored
star : sun
officer : direct definition

A source of confusion is probably the fact that there is no connector between the wordplay and the direct definition.

IMHO, all clues must be like that (no connectors between the wordplay segment and the direct definition). This means more fun for the solver, as the puzzle becomes more challenging.

Hope Neyartha is listening!

Chaturvasi said...

To quote the famous setter Ximenes: "I may not mean what I say, but I must say what I mean."Actually Ximenes did not himself make that statement. He only quotes it in his seminal work on crosswords. The statement is attributable to Afrit in a book which was long out of print and which has now been republished.

Chaturvasi said...

I believe these are double definition clues.What is the indicator to think it is that way?
If I write a clue like
Give word that means Press as well as Club (4)
nachiketa will have all the indications for a double definition clue.

If I just write

Press (4)


Club (4)

nachiketa might solve the clue but he will be solving a straightforward clue.

On the other bejewelled hand,

if I write

Press club (4)

nachiketa will probably be thinking of a bunch of journos at a convivial meeting swilling their drinks sponsored by some liquor baron or the other until he starts exercising his grey cells and the spark from heaven creeps through the window and falls on him.

Ah, we have to look at these two words separately but each leading to the answer word.

Therein lies the cryptic element of that double definition clue!

Deepak Gopinath said...

I guess it has to do with the space constraint as in Treasure hunts,we are allowed to be more elaborate.To add my two bits to the discussion, clues should be short and sweet as that is what Cryptic is all about, My dict desribes cryptic it as (Mysterious or obscure in meaning; a good example is the TOI Cryptic CW which appears on Sundays, I had posted the one of 26 Apr on the Orkut group site, in fact the grid appears with a Cryptic plus a Quick set of clues.
As regards Treasure hunts I don't think we can restrict it to BITS we had them in in my college in the late 60s!!!

Shuchi said...

The statement is attributable to Afrit
Really? I find this quote attributed to Ximenes wherever I see it (and I've seen it in more places than one), with no mention of Afrit - including Guardian's online articles on how to solve cryptic crosswords.

Reminds me that statements get misattributed/altered when they're passed on, like Chinese Whispers. There are these oft-repeated quotes like "Everything that can be invented has been invented" (Commissioner US Office of Patents, 1899) and "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers" (President IBM, 1943) - quotes found in self-development books, CEO presentations, etc. to show errors of judgement in the past. There is scant evidence that such statements were ever really made.

At least with the Ximenes quote, the real origin may be relatively unknown but the quote is spot-on. Thanks for the information, CVasi Sir. I think the book you're referring to is Afrit's Armchair Crosswords. I remember you had recommended it to me.

Chaturvasi said...

Quote begins:
[That aim] will not be achieved unless the composer becomes an unwavering adherent of a principle laid down for clue-writers long ago by Afrit of the Listener: "I need not mean what I say, but I must say what I mean."
Quote ends
Excerpted from Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword by D. S. Macnutt (whose pseudonym was Ximenes), one of the prized possessions in my library, behind which there is an interesting tale going back to 1970s but it is a long and private one and must wait to be narrated when we friends meet some day somewhere (I am ready to come to Bangalore where you and the Col live).

anokha said...

I will round this off by just saying - HATS OFF to everyone!!!!!!

nachiketa said...

Thanks everyone for their feedback. In effect,what everyone is saying is that the confusion caused because of misleading connectors is part of the fun.As Shuchi said,with more experience I will be able to figure out the definition and the word play part irrespective of the rest of the clue.Thanks again to everyone.

As an aside,in hindsight,I realize I could have been a bit more humble in my original post-didn't quite comprehend the expertise of people posting here.A bit naive as well,on my part,the bit about treasure hunts and to try guessing the compiler's Id.In the latter case,I assumed everybody knew, hence took the liberty.If I say any more,I might spill some beans.Either way, my sincere apologies for both.Will be more careful/sincere next time onwards.