Tuesday 20 April 2010

On the grid: Where to start?

grid-directions Do you solve the clues in sequence, clue#1 onwards?

Do you start at the top-left of the grid, move right/down till you get an answer and then look at its crossings?

Or do you scan all the clues first to get a "feel" of the overall puzzle before zooming in on specific clues? (I do this sometimes, when I'm not in a hurry to finish quickly.)

In general, I try a little harder to solve words that run across at the top and left of the grid.  The idea is to crack the clues that give good checking letters for other words. A checked first letter is very useful, so getting 1 Across in the grid can be a big help for the rest of the crossword.

Apparently, John Sykes who won the Times Championship several times recommended starting with the last few Down clues, since the setters run out of ideas by the time they reach the tail end of the puzzle. This assumes of course that the setters write clues in numerical order – I don't know how many setters do that – but I think the strategy can work with the Everyman crossword (The Sunday Hindu Crossword). When I was new to solving and couldn't finish The Sunday Hindu, I would still get the answers at the bottom of the puzzle. What has been the experience of other Everyman/Sunday Hindu solvers?

I was reminded of this during my interaction with Anish (Maddy), hobbyist setter and a friend, regarding the latest crossword he has compiled. While I liked his crossword very much, I mentioned that I wasn't too impressed with 16 Down. Maddy responded:

This was the last word I clued and had lost patience by then :) so didn't put too much thought.

So there you have a setter whose crossword you can attempt in reverse order :) His 1 Across is quite brilliant as are several other clues, and there's also a rare kind of clue with the definition in the middle. Check out his crossword here:

Anish Madhavan's Crossword: Mad Heaven

Recommended reading: The section "Be grid-centric" on Peter Biddlecombe's site (which incidentally suggests starting from the top-left). I picked up the practice of marking word breaks in the grid from this guide, and it has made a difference to my solving.

[I'm on vacation till 2nd May 2010, might not get to respond to comments/emails during this time. Will get back to you when I return, thanks for your patience and happy crosswording till then!]

Related Posts:

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Krishnan said...

Have a nice time vacationing.

maddy said...

@ Shuchi - Very many thanks for citing and recommending my crossword in your post. I hope everyone enjoys it as much as you did. I did have a lot of fun setting it.Just loved the term you used -"Hobbiyist Setter" :)

@ Solvers - Any clarifications reg the annos can be sought at anishmadhavan@iitb.ac.in

It would be great if you would also let me know what you thought about the clues and the crossword in general :)

Shuchi said...

Hi Krishnan, Thank you!

@maddy: You're most welcome. By the way the credit for the term "hobbyist setter" must go to another hobbyist setter Boaz. He used it in an email to me and I liked it and "internalized" it :P

raju umamaheswar said...

Hi Raju

Interesting thoughts! Do post it on the blog itself, so that other visitors/followers could read it and respond. You can add a comment at the end of the post :



On Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 1:35 PM, sapna umamaheswar wrote:

Dear Suchi,

Great question, I should say.!! I have been trying my best to tell my mind to organize itself from its current random choice of the clues and then filling the rest, to go either all the acrosses or all the downs, but have never been able to achieve this . Does it speak of a disorganized mind? After all, crosswords are all about an organized mind , structured as they are with symmetry and squares or rectangles and the clues and grid in their correct order. Why then, we ramble to whichever clues that we find easier to tackle? Is it because we are in a hurry to take up the challenge of the compiler? Again, why do I always invariably end up filling the next letter in a clue ? I tell myself to calm down and stop being dyslexic and hence, nowadays I have learnt a new method by filling the letters backwards in a clue to compose my mind.!! I have been filling cryptics over the last nearly four decades and am yet to come to terms with this problem. Every time I start with a firm mind to go orderly,cursorily through acrosses and downs , in a few minutes my mind has already jumped and filled in those random clues and I complete the whole grid in about ten minutes or so.

Could mine be a case of a disorderly mind?

I'd love your followers and other solvers to give me an answer to this mysterious clue.!!

Raju Umamaheswar

Richard said...

Hi Shuchi

Enjoy your well-deserved holiday.

I too had discovered years ago that the last few 'down' clues tend to be easy-to-crack. So often I start from the lower end. Once you manage to fill a few of them, then the answers to clues across 'flash' faster.

Normally, I too, as your lead post mentions, quickly run through the entire list to begin with.

Invariably I hit upon a few by way of surface reading.

anax said...

Here’s one tip:

Take a casual glance at the entire set of clues (without actually reading anything) to get a feel for how long they are. When I first began setting professionally Roger Squires advised me that, with few exceptions, I should aim for a maximum of eight words in a clue – fewer if possible. It’s by no means a rule, but there is a natural inclination on the part of the solver to see a lengthy clue as one with complex wordplay. Short, snappy clues, tend to exploit double meanings, two-part charades or cryptic definitions; a hallmark, indeed, of Roger’s clues.

If you see a full set of long-looking clues, it’s probably best to work your way through from the first across clue. If its answer doesn’t jump out immediately, move to the next, and so on until you are able to put your first entry in the grid. At this point, continue reading through the clues to spot any others you can solve straightaway.

With any luck, you may end up with 3 or 4 placed answers, whereupon you can start to look again at clues whose answers cross-check these. By this stage it’s also possible you will have started to get onto the setter’s wavelength, and previously tough-looking clues may fall more easily.

If, on the other hand, it’s a set of fairly short clues, there’s a good chance many of them will be very easy, and concentrating on clues whose answers cross-check the first one you’ve found can quickly lead to a filled corner of the grid. As soon as you get stuck, look for clues whose answers are either close to or cross-check the answers you’ve found – at least one or two should fall quickly enough to allow you to continue at a steady (perhaps even rapid) pace.

Enjoy your holiday Shuchi!

raju umamaheswar said...

Dear fellow-crossword buffs,

Nice to know that there are lots of you out there. In fact, when I was in India in the 70s, I had tried through the press to form a crossword solvers club and I was rather amused over the response, when anxious fathers wrote back to me as to how they are struggling to get their daughters married and how costof living had gone up etc. Though things may not have changed much to fathers of this generation, crosswords have moved on, from paper to the cyberspace and one is spoiled for choice to solve all of them. Today, though I do not even know how to create my own blog, what with convoluted process of identifying heiroglyph words etc, I still want to participate and thanks to Suchi, I have made a beginning.

Crosswords being a single person's selfish hobby, taking up the challenge with an unknown compiler, sharing one's thoughts with other buffs is indeed very charitable. When I was going to Nairobi, in Kenya, on a posting ,in the 70s, I was neurotic about missing my Times of India Cryptics, but I was assured that I'll have enough unto more , with the London papers there, thanks to the colonial relics left behind. Those white men who used to wait for the papers to arrive at the Women's coffee house would hear nothing about a native (that's what they called me!!) sharing the crosswords, getting huddled together to solve from each paper and then sharing the glee of having cracked. As a strapping youngster then, they used to look at me askance as to how this chit of a guy could solve the London crosswords.!! I later on proved to them that I'm indeed a fanatic and went on to make many friends, many even unknown by face but only by voice over the phone. I became popoular when I won prizes after prizes for the game parksand beach resorts , one night for two, all found. The sponsors stopped giving me the prizes and I had to adopt monickers and pseudonyms to beguile them. Those were the days.

Daily Telegraph had come out with a collector's edition of 80 years of cryptic crosswords, with the evolution of world events alongside that of crossswords. I have a copy, much cherished in my collection of crossword memorabilia, one of them being the world's largest, longest etc.I had successfully put up an exhibition for a day in Nairobi, which was widely covered by the press and TV. I would bne delighted to repeat it in India. How do I go about it?
Any tips, friends?

Lets try to foster cryptic crosswords and help the world to become a more peaceful place to live. There will be less of domestic stress and strife from the spouses.!!! .
More when I see your responses on this link.

Good luck to all of you and happy solving.
Raju Umamaheswar

Chaturvasi said...

I have a somewhat similar experience.

In 1966 I was a college student and went to Jamnagar, Gujarat, for a stay with my sister and her husband, a navy officer, during summer vacation.

They were getting the Times of India. I, having been introduced to a UK 13x13 crossword in a Madras eveninger some years earlier and self-taught, solved the cryptic crossword in it quite successfully.

In the evenings I would get a chance to meet navy officers who used to compare notes on the day's crossword.

They were surprised that a mere student was on equal - and sometimes better - terms with them.

The worst disaster that can happen is the newspaper company shifting the Daily Mail cryptic from ToI to ET; and there repeating the same puzzles over and over and over again at intervals of some months.

Detection of such frauds has become possible because of computers, Internet, etc., that you mention.

Have you read Shuchi's interview of myself:


veer said...

Hi Shuchi: Enjoyed reading through your very informative articles as usual. On a future topic may I suggest link-words? Recently, I have been thinking about how a clue is organized in terms of Definition and word-play. Seems to me that there are likely rules about how link-words can be used: some can be used two ways, for example, Def. as word-play or Word-play as Def. and some are necessarily one way, such as word-play for def. In these two examples, as and for are the link-words. Can you discuss some of these rules in a future article?

On the topic of what Raju raised regarding the mindset of the solvers and if it improves the daily life of the solver, there is some related research going on in this area. Dr. Kathryn Friedlander and Dr Philip Fine at the University of Buckingham are investigating the cognitive skills, motivation and development of expertise in the domain of cryptic crossword solving. They are gathering data through a survey (link: [link]http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/X8LFT67 [/link]) and are requesting input from cryptic solvers such as ourselves. I came across this bit of info in the Times for the Times blog.

raju umamaheswar said...

Dear Shuchi and other fellow-crypticians, ( A new coinage by me?)

I am amazed at the patience and perseverence you folks have got in explaining the various methods and routes to solve cryptic crosswords. Even to explain orally to the uninitiated ( which includes my wife, who terms all of us as ''whacked'' whenever I share a peculiar and clever clue's answer) it is a tremendous task. I hardly get time to take in my daily quota to keep up my records with the Limca Book , whereas you folks explain, annotate and clarify each clue every day. Even colouring the letters, parenthesising them and explainin g in detail as to how the setter's mind had worked? Hats off to Mr Gopinath. .

As Peter Widdecombe has explained clearly, there are always surprises from each compiler, who makes sure that he/she is never typecast. There is one compiler who sets the Sunday Nation from Kenya who is absolutely out of this world, with his whimsical setting.
I'm sorry Shuchi, I have encroached upon this space but I'm not yet savvy enough to participate actively in your group. Pardon me for that.

Let me know what others say to my comments.

Raju Umamaheswar

Shuchi said...

Hello everyone, I'm back after my longest break from crosswords in many years. Thanks for all your comments.

@anax: Roger Squires abides by the max-8-words rule for sure, I always marvel at the brevity of his clues. [For those who missed it, see the Telegraph article on Roger Squires.]

Thanks for the tip about varying the approach according to clue length/complexity. Makes sense. Besides, in a hard puzzle we might not crack so many at first pass to be able to jump to crossings.

I think a crossing clue is still worth attempting out of sequence if we get very helpful letters for it. If an Across clue gives me V??? in a Down slot, I'll be tempted to look at its clue instantly no matter what!

@veer: I've written about link words in the past, here are the articles:
Thoughts on connectors
Same connector, unequal impact
When fillers are not fillers

To add to that, different publications/setters may have different views about some link words. A case in point is "with". I don't think it's a very fair connector between definition and wordplay, but I've seen good setters use it (Rufus and Falcon of FT, for example).

Another example: "for" and "from". Many (including the Times) treat them as directional link words. It can only be "DEFINITION from WORDPLAY" or "WORDPLAY for DEFINITION", not vice versa. But setter Alberich reasons here that "for" and "from" can be considered valid in both directions if treated as an = sign in an equation.

I enjoyed filling up that survey, and look forward to seeing the results.