Tuesday 3 November 2009

Interviews With Ace Solvers: Part VI

An addition to the series of interviews with expert crossword solvers: get to know Colonel Gopinath, one of the most popular solvers of The Hindu crossword (THC).

Deepak Gopinath interviews-with-crossword-solvers Deepak Gopinath, a retired Colonel living in Bangalore, began his daily blog The Hindu Crossword Corner in Feb'09. The blog soon became a huge hit with Hindu crossword fans.

The complete solutions are published on his blog each morning, with annotations and links for word meanings. You can time your watch by the blog's punctuality. A new post is up each day at exactly 8.30am.

Always willing to help out with solvers' questions, Col. Gopinath has aided many in becoming better at the game. In this interview, Col. Gopinath shares with us his personal journey with the crossword, his technique of solving, and more.

Q1. When and how did you start solving crosswords?

Col: I don't remember exactly when, but it must have been around the late 60s or early 70s, when I was in engineering college at Coimbatore. A distant cousin of mine who was in IIT was into crosswords and I too got bitten by the bug.

After my engineering I joined the army and the initial busy life kept me away from crosswords. The interest got rekindled when I was posted at Pune in '81 as an Instructor at the College of Military Engineering, after which there was another break when I was posted in the Kashmir valley from '87 to '91. I have been solving regularly since then.

Crossword solving has been totally self-taught for me, without the use of any books or mentors. The only help I had prior to the computer age was any dictionary that I could lay my hands on, and a '76 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus. In the initial years the answers just came off the top of the head and I had never given a thought to the actual parsing of the word.

Q2. Has blogging changed you as a solver?

Col: It has, for sure. For one, it has made me more regimented. I took a decision, a month or so after I started blogging, to ensure that the blog appeared at a fixed time. This made me concentrate a bit more, unlike earlier when I would tend to leave out the unsolved clues.

I started my blog in Feb '09 or so. The inspiration came from a Chinese American lady who blogs on the Star Tribune Crossword in America. The same crossword appears in the Times of India after a lapse of a couple of months. For a few years from 2001 to 2003 I had stopped doing the cryptic crossword from The Hindu and used to do the crossword from the Times of India, of which I soon got fed up because it had too many American terms and names.

Q3: What is your technique for solving the crossword?

Col: I start off with the Across set of clues and the minute I solve one I look for any of the down clues emanating from the solved across clue, as I find that if the first letter of the answer is available it tends to become easier. Once I have made a first pass through the Across clues I then move on to the Down set following the same procedure. Generally it takes me about two to three passes to thrash out most of the answers leaving aside a few. As a last resort, if I cannot get them; I make some guesses and turn to the Internet to check out the meanings.

However, I avoid using tools like pattern searches or anagram solvers on the net.

I have found the best way to unravel an anagram is to put the letters in a circle. Normally, as I am putting the letters into a circle the answer generally comes out before I finish writing all the letters.

Q4: Are there times when you think “Uh-oh, 5 minutes to 8.30am and half the puzzle unsolved. I guess I will have to give up on today’s blog post.”

Col: Certainly, it has happened but not half the puzzle. There have been occasions when I have had to post the blog with a couple of clues unsolved, and some without annotations, but I have never given up on posting it.

I picked up the procedure of annotating after I joined the Orkut group which solves The Hindu Crossword.

Q5: If a genie gave you three wishes that you could use on The Hindu Crossword, what would you ask for?

Col: One of the wishes I would most definitely use to make a couple of our infamous setters either disappear, or make them better at their trade.

The second would go to banish the overactive printer's devil from meddling with the crossword at The Hindu. The third wish I would use to make The Hindu appoint a resident crossword editor on the lines of what all foreign papers have.

Q6: What are your interests other than crosswords? Have they had an impact on your skill with the crossword?

Col: Reading novels, playing Scrabble - both have of course contributed towards improving my vocabulary, which helps while doing crosswords. Solving puzzles is another passion of mine, a passion which my mother still has at her ripe old age of 84.

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

Col: I remember while I was an instructor at Pune, the college used to invite some guest lecturers to deliver lectures to the entire community. Some of them used to be so boring that invariably I would carry the crossword, which I would cut out from the newspaper, hide inside a book and solve instead of listening to the monotonous lectures. Setting a bad example I am afraid, luckily for me I never got caught doing it.

I have forged some good friendships of late especially after I started my blog on The Hindu Crossword. To my surprise I had a visitor from Portugal, Indian of course, who has settled there after his retirement.

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

Col: First of all I do not consider myself to be expert enough to be providing tips to beginners, however I can definitely advise beginners to persevere and not give up. At the beginning there may be days when one may not solve even one clue but practice will pay off in the end. They should always check the answers when the solution appears the next day and analyse where they went wrong.

Waiting till the next day may not be needed in the current times, as there are so many communities and blogs that solve almost all the crosswords that are published.

Introductory Post: Interviews With Ace Solvers

Previous Interviews:
Part I: Interview With Sridhar Shenoy
Part II: Interview With Chaturvasi
Part III: Interview With Vinod Raman
Part IV: Interview With Ganesh T S
Part V: Interview With Peter Biddlecombe

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Shuchi said...

Thank you Colonel for the interview. Very interesting to know more about you and your method of solving.

It's always nice to see the camaraderie in the comments section of your blog. Best wishes for The Hindu Crossword Corner!

Chaturvasi said...

I am glad that Col. Gopinath mentions that he started using annotations in his blog after he saw the practice in the Orkut community, The Hindu Crossword Solutions.
My mind goes back to 1961 when I, on a visit to Jamnagar, used to solve the cryptic crossword in the Times of India and had a notebook in which I wrote down the clues under different classifications and the annotations.
As I believed that annotations helped beginners to understand how the clues worked, I insisted on solvers adding annotations when I became a member of the now-defunct Yahoo group on THC. The Orkut group on THC have the annotations from its very start. I introduced some characters for homophones and the likes.
Where did I pick up this device of annotation? Well, in the 1970s, solutions in run-on paras at the back of books of crosswords used to carry annotations. They were rudimentary: stars for anagrams, daggers for reversal and double daggers for hidden. Components in the charades and container/contained clues were separated by hyphens.
Two collections of crosswords by Don Putnam had a lot of explanatory notes on the art itself and more elaborate annotations for the solutions.
With change of font rendered easy by computers, manuals on the crossword published later adopted even more sophisticated methods for annotations.

rajesh said...

Awesome Shuchi.
Posts like this act as a reminder to people like me who have been neglecting crosswords for a while.
Very interesting series.

Vasana said...

Great interview. It was a great read, thanks Colonel. I visit your blog everyday to check on answers that elude me (and they are many of them ;) Never commented, it is too late in the game because of the time difference.

And a big thanks to you, Shuchi.