Monday 10 May 2010

The Air India Crossword

air-india-inflight Air India's in-flight magazine Swagat carries a monthly prize cryptic crossword. The prize is not bad – one winner is blind-picked from the correct entries and gets a free domestic return ticket.

When I saw this crossword in 2007, it was of dismal quality and went so far as to include non-existent words in the clues.

I've been flying Air India (earlier Indian Airlines) a fair bit in the last few months, and the first thing I do (after reading the security instructions :)) is to look at the crossword. The current setter (Vivek Kumar Singh)'s work is pretty decent, a major improvement from the 2007 days.

I wonder if the setter gets any qualitative feedback from solvers about his puzzles. I thought I'll post some here.

These are very easy 15x15 cryptics; anyone with a passing acquaintance with cryptic crosswords should be able to complete them. The grids used are good – symmetrical and well-connected. Checking is fair too; less than 50% for some words of odd length but that doesn't pose a problem.

The wordplay is generally grammatical though the clue surfaces don't always make sense (e.g. Lex, my confused plant carrier (5)).

There are simple &lits and semi-&lits that I like,
e.g. Made up, or neat! (6)
       Part of a person's vintage! (3)

A couple of the clues that I wasn't entirely happy with (from Crossword No. 100, April 2010):

It's not proper for Goliath to take sides with Manmohan (5) SIN GH
Goliath gives sides (=GH) here, does not take them. Why Goliath anyway, why not a more common Indian name like Ganesh?

Capture Dreze as doctor left earlier for acrobatics (7) TRAP {-dr}EZE
"Dreze" seems contrived, and "earlier" is redundant.

Topical References

What I enjoy most in the Swagat crossword is the reference to Indian pop culture and current affairs. Politicians, film celebrities, sportspeople - all make an appearance. In 2009, a clue referred to the Satyam scandal. The latest crossword mentions Bachchan and Yagnik. April 2010 even had a 4-letter answer for "Hurley's man" who "participated in a marathon".

A Curious Requirement: Your Visiting Card

Submission instructions ask you to attach your visiting card and a copy of the boarding pass with the completed crossword. The visiting card bit puzzles me. If they want it for the entrant's address/phone, that can be simply written down. If they want it for proof of identity, there are better ones (visiting card is not accepted as ID proof at the airline check-in counter).

What about travellers like homemakers and college-goers who may not have visiting cards - are they not expected to participate?

In any case, since they ask for the visiting card which usually includes the entrant's profession, they print details of it in the monthly announcement. In fact, they also print the setter's – he is IAS, Secretary, Art, Culture and Youth Department, Bihar.

The last two months' winners have these designations:

April 2010: IAS, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
May 2010: IAS, Member Secretary, Ministry of Women & Child Development, GoI

Non-IAS solvers: Are you not flying Air India, not sending in your entries, or are you out of favour with Lady Luck?

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L N Srinivasakrishnan said...

Nice post. I agree that 'visiting' card bit is a little odd. It's also very Indian. In Indian hotels, they ask for it.

It's nice that at least you got to do a crossword while flying.

Deepak Gopinath said...

Hi Shuchi,
I too used to do the Swagat CW when we had to compulsorily fly Indian Airlines whilst I was in service. Did submit the CW on a couple of occasions but was never lucky to be picked by the computer for the prize.Wonder if it's fixed as all the winners are the IAS types!!
Vivek Kumar Singh seems to be their only setter as I remember his name from the time when I used to do the Swagat CW. He seems to be the permanent Secretary, Art, Culture and Youth Department, Bihar as that was the appointment those days also

Shuchi said...

...I remember his name from the time when I used to do the Swagat CW...: When was this, Colonel? It's possible that the same setter has improved with time. Then again, those nonsensical words earlier might have been the printer's devil at work rather than the fault of the setter. Still find it hard to believe that an officer would hold the same post for over 5 years.

This controversial bestseller says that all it takes to get something is to believe you have it already. If only it were that simple, but no harm trying :) So I am imagining flying Air India for free and hoping I can break the jinx :D

PS: A comment on Crossword Unclued's Facebook page, from a past winner of the prize.

Chaturvasi said...

I remember having seen this crossword as my first/last leg of all international flights was on IA.
It was the same composer and I thought the clues were inconsistent.
It might interest you to know that the (straightforward) crossword that The Hindu Business Line carried was set by an IAS officer. For some years there was a retired IAS officer on the THC panel.