Thursday 24 March 2011

Possibly the oldest Nina

[Wondering what a Nina is? Read this.]

Ninas in cryptic crosswords go back a long time. The one I'm writing about appeared in July 1967 – this is so far the earliest known occurrence of a Nina in a cryptic crossword.

You must hear the story behind it before you see the grid.

Alfred Bately, Head Of Maths at Westcliff High School for Boys in Essex in the 1960s, was an ace solver of The Times crossword. When he was due to retire in July 1967, his colleague wrote to the The Times crossword editor to ask if, on the day of his departure, they could include an appropriate clue in the crossword.

The crossword is not a place for passing on personal messages, was the crossword editor's crushing response.

On the last day of summer term at school, the staff of Westcliff High School began doing the Times crossword. They guessed something was up when 1A produced the answer GOODBYE, and then clue after another led to grid-fills associated with the Maths teacher. Evidently the crossword editor wasn't the heartless creature they had taken him to be. The Times hadn't dedicated just one clue to Alfred Bately, they had constructed a Nina for him.

While the rest of the staff was working on the crossword, Alfred Bately was away. A fresh copy of The Times was quickly procured and the blank crossword left for him to decode. We can well imagine how delighted he must have been on spotting the Nina.

Here is the image of this special crossword taken from the 75th anniversay book of Times crosswords, with the grid filled in Peter Biddlecombe's hand. His "o" marks around the grid indicate the thematic answers.

Times Crossword 11,602 - with a Nina 
                       Times Crossword 11,602: Grid with Nina [click the picture to enlarge]

Many thanks to Peter for sharing the details about the Times crossword Nina of 1967.

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Anonymous said...

Cool! Can anyone throw light on why PB seeems to have marked 1d Grammar. Was it a grammar school?

Chaturvasi said...

Readers might notice that each clue in this crossword ends with a full stop after the number within brackets. This was a style to which The Times crossword held for a long time - a fact that I mentioned somewhere quite recently (in Anax's DIY COW, I think).

Chaturvasi said...

Another thing that I noticed just now.

Where a clue uses a punctuation such as the interrogative mark, the mark is not close to the last word but rather after a space (as if it has a right of its own).

This is a style that I have noticed in books printed in the UK in the earlier decades. The exclamation mark will come after a space following the last word in the sentence. (A practice that Kishore still follows in his writing.) This is style that is more sensible, I would think.

I would be interested to know when the UK printers changed the practice and why.

Chaturvasi said...

Who's the youngest Nina?

anax said...

Chaturvasi’s second point about punctuation is very interesting – there has been a gradual change in the way some punctuation is used, perhaps influenced by the earlier days of mobile phone texting when trying to minimise the number of characters and spaces used, or perhaps even by the simple principle of using computer keyboards and wanting to limit the number of necessary keystrokes.

Typists used to follow the rule that after a full stop there should be a double space before beginning the next sentence, as you’ll see after this one. Over recent years that rule has largely fallen by the wayside, and in fact it’s become common to see the reverse happening. Instead of this space merely being reduced to a single space (as I’ve just done), many people now close the gap completely.Like this.

Out of interest, Word’s spellchecker doesn’t like that lack of space, but doesn’t highlight a problem with switching between a single and double space. A gap between the end of a sentence and a question/exclamation mark does get the green underline notification though.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to CV for remembering my quirky practice in your 916. I remember you asked me about it once and my reply was thatI like the aesthetics of it: it looks nice and uncluttered that way.

But look at my first post in this thread. I too seem to have 'evolved' !. OMG, I seem to have had a relapse in the previous sentence.

xwd_fiend said...

KISHORE: I can't remember whether it was a grammar school (and my copies of the puzzle and book aren't to hand right now).

To be completely clear: the puzzle itself is a print from the Times online archive and doesn't appear in the book - when the archive was available for free for a short period, I used the story about this puzzle in the book to find the puzzle itself.

Whether this is the oldest Nina (or an accurate indication of when Ninas started), I really have no idea. It's just the oldest one I know about.

xwd_fiend said...

On those full stops: For me, it's to do with the purpose of punctuation. It's there to help you see where one sentence ends and the next one begins. When sentences are clearly separated as a result of the layout of the text, there's no need to include full stops.

For example, the sentence above the box where I'm typing this quite rightly says "Leave your comment", with no punctuation. For an older example, look at newspaper headlines, which as far as I can recall have never included final full stops.