Wednesday 27 October 2010

Interview With Cryptonyte (Tony Sebastian)


Cryptonyte made a sparkling debut in The Hindu last month as their latest crossword setter. Well-known as @notytony on social media, Cryptonyte's gift of wordplay is renowned - he compiles sniglets for emags, writes in publications and runs a popular humour blog.

Read on to know the person behind the pseudonym as he talks with us about himself, his crosswording experiences and his progression as a setter. Meet Tony Sebastian.

Q1: Welcome, Cryptonyte, and congratulations for your superhit debut in The Hindu. Your first puzzle generated a lot of curiosity about your real identity. Tell us about yourself.

Cryptonyte: Thanks Shuchi, it's such an honour to be here. I was pleasantly surprised to see such tremendous response on the Orkut community and the colonel's blog to the first crossword. And about my 'real identity', my pseudo-pseudonym and a 'help'ful  12 across should have sealed the deal for anyone who knows me. For those of you who don't, I guess we have established by now that I am self obsessed. I am your average 23 year old Indian (engineer, worked in a software firm for two years and now pursuing my MBA at IIM Kozhikode) with an above average appetite for wordplay.

Q2: How did you get introduced to crosswords?

Cryptonyte: Like most kids of my generation I came across The Hindu Crossword during my school days. My dad had solved about half of the crossword and my brother and I were trying to figure out how the solutions came about. And as we unravelled each answer we were filled with awe. So we promptly shelved the crossword and went to play cricket instead.

It was in college that I picked up crosswords again, it was like the woman of my dreams: fair, symmetric and intelligent. And like most other women she made very little sense to me. But slowly I figured out the subtle hints and understood what she meant. And before I knew it I had been tricked into being with her for life.

Schizophrenia apart, there were three of us from Metallurgical Engineering (The Grid-iron Gang) – Jagdheesh 'Pedro' Singaram, Phalgun Nelaturu and I who used to solve THC and the ET crosswords on a daily basis (mostly in class). That’s where the interest started, and it just grew from there.

Q3: For someone so young, your clue-writing shows surprising maturity. What is the secret of your talent?

Cryptonyte: All the credit for that should go to Vinod Raman easily one of the best setters I've met, whom I fondly call Snow White (the fairest of them all) who mentored me from the very beginning. We met on the Orkut THC clue writing forum and I was awestruck by his clues. I got in touch with him and he helped me from there on. He would go over each clue I write very patiently and suggest improvements. Our blog The I-do-it Box gave me a lot of confidence.

Q4: What advice would you give to solvers who want to become setters?

Cryptonyte: Keep at it. I think it's as simple as that. Before The I-do-it Box, I had started setting my own crosswords as early as 2006 at By "my own", I mean all rules were mine, the surface reading was intelligible only to me and the clueing was, to put it mildly, downright pathetic. The blog is still on the internet only for one reason - blogger is a free service. In addition, I hope that anyone who ever tries their hand at clueing and decides to give it up will first take a look at the blog and realise they started off way better than I did.

All you have to do to be a setter is put in your 10,000 hours (or a lot lesser than that in my case) because the small world of crosswords is a friendly one that provides enough and more support. I've received a lot of help all along the way from Vinod, Chaturvasi and even the likes of Anax. And with the existence of this truly wonderful site I guess the journey these days is a lot easier. Crossword Unclued tells you all that you need to know as a setter and a lot more too.

Q5: When you're not setting crosswords, what do you do?

Cryptonyte: The rigours of the MBA course have pretty much thrown me off track but I used to play a good amount of Scrabble. I've played at the national level and won a few semi-pro tournaments. Other than that I used to run a 'humour' blog and be pretty active on twitter which essentially translates to crass cornography on the internet.

Q6: You must be the youngest crossword setter to be published in a national daily. Have you checked with the Limca/Guinness book of records yet?

Cryptonyte: I am not one to better a previously achieved feat and keep talking about it. I wouldn't want to sound like a broken record. I don't pay much attention to these things; I think THC solvers are wary of record holding setters anyway ;)

Q7: Your message for The Hindu Crossword solvers:

Cryptonyte: Give objective form of I and direction wise man, that's what I have to say to you (7)

Your feedback is invaluable so please be free and objective with it, it tells me how I am doing and which way I should go. Thank you for all the kind comments about the first crossword and I hope I can continue to do justice to this wonderful opportunity that I've received. Thank you for bearing with me through this interview and CU soon. Cheers.

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anax said...

It's really great to see this talented new setter getting exposure. Even better because, if his FB/Twitter presence is anything to go by, he's one of the few truly "human" setters who reminds us that crosswords are one part of our lives but there's a whole lot more besides.
The very best of luck in your setting future Tony, although you have enough talent to ensure that luck is unlikely to have a major role.

sanhelmet said...

Congrats Tony, and all the best...

Anonymous said...

Tony, liked your CW and your message for us.

All the very best.

Amrith said...

Super interview!
Well done Tony! Very well done :)
@shuchi, Perhaps a question on how the Hindu opportunity came along? If you could, please add that too. Would make for great reading :)

P.S Setting crosswords for a national daily while in an IIM - RESPECT.

Krishnan said...

Congtats Tony, I like cracking your crosswords.

Krishnan said...

Suchi, thanks for the interview with Cryptonyte.
Any idea who is Spiffytrix ?

Shuchi said...

Thanks a lot Tony for taking the time out of your busy schedule for the interview. It made for great reading. Truly wonderful to have you featured on Crossword Unclued.

All the very best!

PS: I wish there was an FB-style "Like" button to click for Anax's comment.

Tony Sebastian said...


I can't thank you enough for this wonderful opportunity, I consider it a great honour to be featured on Crossword Unclued.

Thank you all for reading and for your kind comments, I am humbled.

maddy said...

Hi Shuchi,

Many thanks for the interesting interview. I ve been a big fan of Tony's since his TIB days and was hugely disappointed when they discontinued the series. Great that THC has empanelled him, the only crib being that one xwd a month is just not enough to whet my appetite.

Shuchi said...

@Krishnan: Spiffytrix hasn't made public his/her alternate identity AFAIK.

@maddy: +1 to that.