Thursday 18 March 2010

Clue-Writing Contests

crossword-clue-writing-contests Clue writing contests (CWCs) provide a great way to polish clueing skills and improve crossword knowledge.

Here are some recommendations for CWCs on the web. Check them out, participate and have fun.

DIY COW Clue-Writing Contests
Anax's DIY COW Clue-Writing Contests

A weekly contest on the site owned by Anax, a setter with the Times UK. Anyone can register to participate.


How It Works:

  • Each week (generally on a Sunday), the judge for the current round sets a word.
  • Participants post their clues for the word with an explanation.
  • Judging happens over the weekend. The judge evaluations the clues and picks the best clues. The winner goes on to become the judge for the next round.

The Rules:

  • The clue should preferably be Times-style; for more look at their Basic Rules page.
  • Multiple entries are allowed.
  • Revisions to old entries are allowed.
  • Entries are open for around a week; the exact duration/dates may vary. See the judge's opening notes for the round.

The Winner Gets: A chance to set the word for and evaluate the next round, and an entry into The Winners archive.

My Comments/Tips: The friendliest clue-writing forum that I know of. You'll find here a wealth of clue-writing talent, some brilliant evaluation of clues (sample 1, sample 2) and a cheerful atmosphere. For a new setter, this is a great place to start and learn.

As all entries are visible publicly, it works out better (at least for me) to avoid looking at others’ clues before writing your own.

In-jokes develop rapidly on this forum. If you keep away for a stretch, you might be mystified by some of the jargon when you return. (e.g. an "otter" = a bad clue, I haven't figured why!)

Times Clue Challenge
Times Crossword Club Clue Challenge 
A monthly clue writing contest open for members of the Times Crossword Club. Judged by a Times setter, currently Richard Rogan.

Link: (Login required) 

How It Works:

  • At the start of the month, the word for the clue challenge is announced.
  • Participants send in their clues by email.
  • Results are announced when the month is over. All the clues with the judge's comments are published. The top-3 winners and the runners-up are named. Along with the results, the word for the next challenge is also set.

The Rules:

  • The clue must be in the style of the Times daily crossword. Look at the page on ‘Clue Challenge Rules’ for more.
  • Only one entry per person is allowed.
  • Only the first entry is considered. No revisions are allowed.
  • The entry needs to carry a separate explanation of the clue's workings, else it might be disqualified.

The Winner Gets: An award of £50, and entry into the Clue Challenge Hall of Fame.

My Comments/Tips: This contest is pretty strict about admissible indicators, connectors and abbreviations. I have been submitting clues in this contest for a few months now and each time find out something new about what Times does not consider valid. Lesson learnt: When your wordplay looks questionable, it's wiser to err on the side of caution. Double-check abbreviations or obscure words with the COED and the Collins English Dictionary. Make sure that your clue satisfies all the listed Clue Challenge Rules.

Since only the first entry by a participant is considered and no revisions are allowed, send in your clue only when you're sure it is your best effort. There is a month's time - hold on to that impulsively written clue, you might think of something nicer soon.

CCCWC by &lit
The Crossword Centre Clue-Writing Competition
A monthly clue-writing competition open to all members of The Crossword Centre ( mailing list.


How It Works:

  • The organizers set a word for clueing each month. Some contests come with special instructions such as Printer's Devilry or Wrong Number.
  • Participants put in their entries through the Entry Page (login required) on the site.
  • After entries are closed, the clues are displayed for voting. Any registered member can vote, even if they have not entered a clue in the contest.
  • Clues can be awarded points on a scale of 0-5. The voter can give a maximum of 5 points to any clue, and up to 15 points in total. Comments can be included, too.
  • After voting closes, the result is announced. The clue that gathers the highest points during voting is declared winner. The clue-writer’s name is shown if the clue features in the top ten. All comments are linked along with the relevant clues.

To understand the process better, see the competition help page, and a competition result page.

The Rules:

  • Only one entry per person is allowed.
  • Clues can be edited any number of times or withdrawn, up to the entry closing date. When voting begins, the latest version of the clue is considered.
  • The entry can carry a separate explanation of the clue's workings.

The Winner Gets: The top clue each month gets a prize donated by Collins. The top ten clues are awarded Annual Honours points, which go towards the Annual results.

My Comments/Tips:

A very well-organized forum. The best setting talents, including professional setters from reputed publications, participate on this CWC. The hidden voting system (only the clues are shown during voting, not the clue-writers' names) ensures that there's no elitism.

The Ximenean style of clueing is preferred, though the contest sometimes throws up surprises (e.g. in the Jan 2010 contest, an unXimenean clue was third). Some voters leave detailed and well-thought out feedback (sample). Note: Not all clues get feedback, only the ones the voters choose to comment on.

For the newbie setter, it helps to be mentally tough while participating here as the comments can sometimes be harsh. It can also be unsettling to see your clue languish at the bottom of the result table with near-zero points. For all that, it's worth the experience as you learn a lot by participating alongside very talented setters. Popular voting gives a real-world simulation of how your clue would be taken by solvers in print.

[Thanks to Vinod Raman, an active participant on CWCs, for his inputs.]

Related Posts:

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, or follow me on twitter to get notified of new links.


Chaturvasi said...

There are also the Simple Clue-Writing Contest and other advanced CWCs that are being conducted for years at the Usenet group rec.puzzles.crosswords
I initiated the SCWC (now in its 101st edition) and it differed from other CWCs in prevalence in that the clues are visible to all entrants instead of being sent privately to the moderator/judge.
Once or twice I had the privilege of conducting this contest.
The SCWC - like other contests in the Usenet group - has been a friendly contest though some recent editions saw some acrimonious debates. If someone decides to throw a spanner in the works, you can't help it, can you?

S T Sahasrabudhe said...

There is also the weekly clue-writing contest (of Sunday Times) judged by Mr. Peter Biddlecombe, which carries the prize of £ 20 for the setter of the winning clue. Details about it could be added to the Article.