Tuesday 12 January 2010

Themed Crossword Variations

As the outcome of the Neyartha vocabulary poll suggests, many of us are not too happy with Neyartha's themed puzzles in The Hindu Crossword.


To summarize our objections:

  • the themes are dry, academic, lack humour
  • the answers are obscure words, unlikely to be known to those who have no interest in those specialized areas. Since the wordplay is complex too, the crossword requires heavy use of external aids for solving.
  • the entire set of answers is easily obtained with one Google search, after which the game is over – it's just a matter of matching the words with the grid.

I have some suggestions that would retain the concept of thematic grids but also keep non-scholarly solvers entertained. Here goes.

Unstated Themes

Neyartha does unstated themes even now but that's hardly a change from the starred clues without definition style, because the definitions are the same in all clues, like "dance" (THC 9515) or "a pattern in the sky" (THC 9733). The theme is obvious even before we start solving.

How much more enjoyable the crossword will be if the theme unfolds slowly as the grid fills up. This can happen if the commonality depends on the answers and not their definitions.

If we find words in the grid like CACAPHONY, VITAL STATISTICS, IMPEDIMENT, GET A FIX, we'd exclaim - "Hold on, these are words on which names of Asterix characters are based." Knowing the theme might help to fill up the slots for OBELISK and FULLY AUTOMATIC, but we'll need to solve some before that can happen.

Open-Ended Themes

Themes in which all the answers aren't from a fixed, definite set and cannot be looked up at one place on the internet.

The setter can challenge the solver to think of related words in various, unexpected directions. A list like WAVE, RAPUNZEL, SHOCK TREATMENT, HAIR-SPLITTING, SPRAY, CHAETOPHOBIA, FRINGE are all linked to the theme 'HAIR', but it's not a list you'll find on a single Wikipedia page.

Subtle Themes

Themes can be made difficult to discover, and will provide a lot of satisfaction to solvers who do work them out.

For example, words like GENTLEMAN, INDIAN, JEANS, BOYS, STRANGER, ROBOT have no obvious link, but the Tamil movie buff will see that they're names, or translations of names, of movies directed by S. Shankar.


In all the above examples, solving does not suffer if the theme is undiscovered, and gives a thrill when it is.

I'll be happy to see The Hindu Crossword do something like this for a change.

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