Thursday 9 December 2010

Books crossword setters used in days bygone

Chaturvasi (Rishi) reminisces about specialist dictionaries that he has relied on in the past decades for compiling crosswords. Our guest author is a published crossword setter.

crossword-booksAnax’s post the other day mentioned some crossword software within which one can get results for given word patterns to go into the slots in the grid.

Before the development of crossword software or mere word pattern search software, we had books that listed in a straightforward or elaborate manner words classified by length or position of letter(s) or both. No doubt these were prepared with computer aid but before the wide use of the Internet.

This article, written in a nostalgic mood, recalls some specialist dictionaries which I collected from my initial days of crosswording. When I turned a setter, at hand were aids whose potential I may not have realised fully at the time of purchase.

The Modern Crossword Dictionary

It so happens that the first book that I obtained on April 29, 1968 - within a month of my taking up job as a newspaperman - still happens to be my favourite. It is The Modern Crossword Dictionary compiled by Norman G. Pulsford (A Pan original, 1967). The entries are arranged in alphabetical order according to the number of letters in them. What I like about this book is that it has phrases in the first section, while words appear in the latter section. Let’s say you want a 15-letter phrase beginning with the letter B. You turn to B–15 and find listed under it phrases from BARE-FACED NELSON to BYZANTINE SCHOOL. The Words section lists words only 3 to 9 letters. If you want a 10 or more-letter word beginning with B you will have to look elsewhere.

Cassell’s Crossword Finisher

The next book is Cassell’s Crossword Finisher compiled by John Griffiths (Cassell, 1975) which I bought on July 19, 1976. Despite the title, it’s as good for a person who sets out to compile a crossword rather than the solver who desperately wants to finish off the unfinished crossword. This book, obviously put together by a computer expert, helps us to pick up words based on any one or two known letters in a word. Suppose we want a 7-letter word for ?O?N??? we go to the relevant section and find we have a choice of several words from BONNILY to YOUNGER. Geographical proper names are marked with an asterisk and personal proper names with a plus sign. Proper names include first names, mythological names and a selection of surnames of, amongst others, artists, writers, composers and statesmen. Only words are given, no meanings or further details as these are outside the purview of dictionaries of this kind.

Longman Crossword Key

A book that I have used most before the advent of crossword pattern search software is Longman Crossword Key ed. by Evelyn Marshall (Longman, 1982). The book lists words not only by length but also by letter position.

If, for instance, we want a six-letter word whose third letter is e (??e???), we turn to the section for six-letter words. Then we find ‘position = 3’ and look through the letters printed in bold type until we come to ‘e’ as the third letter. There we find words from ‘acedia’ to ‘wretch’.

This use of bold type for a letter in a known position makes it very convenient to scan the list and move from ??a??? to ??e???. I would have preferred to have the words in upper case.

The Crossword Completion Dictionary

An unusual dictionary is The Crossword Completion Dictionary compiled and devised by R. J. Edwards (Stanley Paul, London, 1983), which I acquired on January 17, 1985. Words are grouped according to length and arranged in alphabetical order from the end of each word. In the 3-letter section, words ending in ??A are first, followed by ??B, ??C, ??D and so on to words ending in ??Z. Suppose we need a 9-letter word that has the letters ??????A?D, we first go to the section --------D in the chapter Nine-letter Words, then look through the seventh-letter column for the letter A and find in the relevant area words from DISREGARD to HAPHAZARD.

Bradford’s Crossword Key Dictionary

A book which I got during a visit to the USA in 2004 is Bradford’s Crossword Key Dictionary ed. by S.M.H. Collin and P. H. Collin (Peter Collin Publishing, Teddington, Middx., U.K., 2000).

Suppose we need a word that is 8-letters long, with C as the fifth letter and C as the last letter. We turn to the chapter for 8-letter words; to the section that has these words organised by the fifth letter, look down the list till we find words with C and look within this group for words that have C as the last letter. We have words from ANARCHIC to GALACTIC.

Each page has a top line indicating the length and letter position. (In the above instance the page will have 8 LETTERS > LETTER 5 at left flush and □ □ □ □ ■ □ □ □ at right flush.) However, the fifth letter in each of the words in the list itself is not in bold.

Of all the books that I have mentioned above, only one, The Modern Crossword Dictionary, provides in the first section an alphabetically ordered list of phrases, tabulated according to the number of letters they contain. This is of great help to compilers when they look for phrases to be inserted in long slots as they start grid-filling.

You can imagine why that book was a favourite of mine. Another book that I acquired subsequently, The Crossword Phrase Dictionary,compiled and devised by R. J. Edwards (Stanley Paul, London, 1981) excelled itself – in it the phrases are arranged not only by number of letters in the phrase, but by the length of the individual words.

I may also mention The Oxford Paperback Crossword Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2000) which lists words and phrases of a given length. However, the compilation being that of Modern House Books Ltd rather than an editor, the list has odd entries such as ‘usurp the place of’ or ‘put one’s mind to’ – phrases which are quite unlikely to be entered in a crossword grid, what with those prepositions at the end.

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veer said...

Reading this article brought back back memories of my visit to CVasi sir's house. He shared his collection of books with me at that time while munching snacks and of course imbibing the trademark South Indian coffee. It was indeed the single biggest trove of crossword literature that I have come across in any one place. He did say he had to store several of them in boxes since he did not have shelf space. In addition to the ones he has talked about here, he put me on to Ximenes and the art of the crossword, the Chambers xwd manual, Bradford's xwd dictionary and also one old edition of Alec Robins' ABC of crosswords which also looked very interesting.

Ramasamy said...

Nice article Rishi. No wonder trees have become scarcities! We should really be thankful to modern technology. An appeal to those authors to kindly stop publishing such books and join hands in conserving nature!

Krishnan said...

CVasi Sir: What is the best dictionary that is available in India you would recommend for crossword solving ?

C.G. BHARGAV said...

@ Krishnan: This is what C-Vasi had to say elsewhere for your query:

For any person and for even a crossworder single-volume Concise Oxford Dictionary is good. Indian edition is available within India. For less than Rs. 1,000. It is regularly revised and updated so one can buy the latest edition in any bookshop, being careful that you are not getting an old one when a later edition is out. Contains some Indian words.

For a crossworder a better option will be The Chambers Dictionary. Previously we used to get Indian edition. Now it is not being printed here by the Indian company by arrangement.

One may see if any old bookseller has any old copy of this and buy it second-hand.

The Chambers Dictionary is not to be confused with The Chambers 21st Dictionary - which is quite a different thing, abridged and without those rare words that we may see in crosswords.

As the latest UK edition is costly, I suggest that one might try for the Chambers dictionary in any old/second-hand/used/half-price bookshop and get the last Indian 1998 edition or even the earlier 1993 edition - one won't miss much.

Krishnan said...

Thanks a lot Bhargav.

Chaturvasi said...

In the Col's blog someone gave a link from where one can buy the last Indian edition of the Chambers dictionary for Rs. 625.
I may mention that I don't see it in any bookshops.
The Intenet source may still be having some unsold stocks.
The ISBN that you must look for is
This is Indian edition of the dictionary's 10th edition (1998). Mine was reprinted in 2003. I am not sure if there has been any subsequent reprint in our country.
In the UK it is the 11th edition - which you can order for Rs. 2500-3000.
I gave most of these details in the Comments section under a post in the Col's blog. I am not sure if 'site search' facility takes into view Comments under the posts.

Krishnan said...

Thanks a lot CVasi Sir.

Deepak Gopinath said...

See the discussion on my blog on 29 Nov 10.
The dictionary is available at the following link Chambers Dictionary

Raju Umamaheshwar said...

I had to hunt high and low for a book '' The Complete Book of Crossword Reference Book ( Thorn System-- whatever that meant?) published by C.Arthur Pearson Ltd in the UK, published first in 1939,and reprinted in 1949, 1956, 1963 & last in 1967 which book I found in the British Library in Bombay in the 70s, but could never get to see it anywhere even in the streets of Hornby Road in Bombay. With more or less the same contents, this book took an avataar with the title The Hamlyn Crossword Dictionary edited by J M Bailie. Serendipitously, whilst in Kenya , a fellow crossword buff and doctor whom I befriended, had the original of the first book , which he so generously gifted to me, with all his notations of the new words, during his solving of the cryptic crosswords. I still cherish possessing both the books , along with the Book of Idioms and Phrases by Norman Pulsford, which is so invaluable to verify and confirm one's own chance discoveries as one solves more and more cryptics. In fact, my notations have been added on in this book of idioms and phrases , which has never been republished since 1983.

I do not find the Anne Bradford's Books very useful, but I can say that Pears and Chambers had come out with many books on crosswords.

These books were so invaluable in those days when internet was unheard of. What do you think of folks who do the crosswords by googling for the words ? I'd rather rummage and browse my wide collection of books to confirm my entry.