Thursday 14 May 2009

An Odd Question


This clue from The Hindu Crossword 9532 (Nita Jaggi): 
        Odd girl very boring and sad (4) G R E Y
led to an interesting discussion on the THC community. Keep aside the weak definition (how does 'boring and' help the clue?), the focal error is that odd letters from 'girl very' do not lead to the expected answer GREY, but to GRVR.

An open question on the forum is as below, which I thought I'll talk about in a bit more detail here.

In an odd letter fodder, do we take letters 1,3,5, etc and in an even letter fodder, do we take letters 2,4,6 etc. Can we be expected to string letters 1,3,5 in a clue which uses odd/oddly. And in a clue which has 'regular/regularly' which letters do we pick up?

I think the simple answer is that as with any indicator, we do with the fodder what the indicator logically implies.

'The odds of' can be translated to 'take the odd letters from [fodder]', so I pick letters 1, 3, 5, 7...
'Oddly lacking', 'ignoring the odds' can reasonably be read as 'remove the odd letters from [fodder]', so I drop letters 1, 3, 5, 7…
'Evenly' suggests selecting 2, 4, 6…, and 'evens out', 'seconds away' point to removing the letters 2, 4, 6…

'alternately' and 'every other' could either be read as 'pick odds' or 'pick evens'.
Indicators like 'regularly' and 'uniformly' give more leeway to the setter – in plain English they mean any consistent pattern, so I think it is valid even if they indicate a sequence like 3, 6, 9, 12. (A gentler clue would of course state more transparently: 'every Nth' for a letter pattern with gaps > 1).

Coming back to the original clue: Even if the solution is GRVR, can 'odd girl very' be interpreted as 'take the odd letters from GIRL VERY'? I can't bring myself to think so. Though I've come to recognize it as a letter sequence indicator from its appearances in crosswords, I don't get how 'odd [fodder]' is equivalent to 'the odd letters of [fodder]'; to me it looks like a discrepancy between what the indicator means and what the compiler expects the solver to do.

Or am I missing something here?

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anokha said...

Think Ms. Jaggi tricked everyone:)

Odd girl very boring and sad (4)NITA

xwd_fiend said...

I think {odd = 1,3,6,8} as required here is just a careless mistake.

On the "boring" side, the Concise Oxford confirms my impression that grey = "dull and nondescript", so
"boring and" does help. If anything, it's "sad" that's doubtful for me!

xwd_fiend said...

"odd XXX" as an indicator: You're right, strictly speaking it doesn't mean "odd letters of XXX" in any form of English outside xwds. I slightly prefer things like "XXX oddly" but they're debatable too. Trouble is that if the indicator is completely fair, there's a danger that the clue becomes absurdly easy. In the interests of it actually being a puzzle, I don't think this is too great a crime!

Shuchi said...

Thank you for your comments, Peter. I can see your point about 'odd XXX'.

Collins/Chambers support 'dismal/gloomy' for 'grey' too. I wasn't questioning the validity of 'boring', but thought that both 'boring' and 'sad' were sufficient independently as definitions for 'grey' and didn't see much value- add in putting them both into the clue.

Col_Gopinath said...

Ms NJ needs to be sent back to the KG section of her school to refresh her odds and evens

Raghunath said...


I had posted the comment about Ms NJ's Odd usage. There is an inconsistency in her annotation. These are her clues appearing in different THCs:

19 - Odd girl very boring and sad (4) - {G}{R}{E}{Y}

Odd alpha... G R V R??

25 - Cook the odd bird as it steams (6) - {B}{R}{A}{I}{S}{E}

So thinking along the lines of the setter leads us to to wrong ans.

Shuchi said...

Hi Raghunath,

Odd letters are (1, 3, 5...) by convention, and that's what NJ uses otherwise. The first clue with (1, 3, 6, 8) looks like a one-off mistake.

The second clue you quote has the odd letter numbers right, but there's a different problem: the letter 'M' from 'BiRdAsItStEaMs' is not used in the solution. Ideally the letter sequence fodder shouldn't have dangling letters.

Raghunath said...


"Ideally the letter sequence fodder shouldn't have dangling letters". Makes it more difficult, I think, to adhere to this. Probably, setting clues with the Odd variation might be toughest?

Shuchi said...

Can't say about difficulty of setting, raghunath...but other compilers seem to follow this.

Since we're comparing with other compilers, they don't use this clue type as much as NJ does. For the solver the odd/even letter clues are quite easy to crack, and I think it's better not to have too many of them else the clues begin to feel repetitive.