Tuesday 3 April 2012

What does cold-solving mean?

cold-solving "The perils of cold-solving a cryptic definition clue!"
"We hope the paper sticks to grids that do not need so much cold-solving."

Common expressions in any crossword forum. If the term 'cold-solving' has perplexed you before, read on to understand what it means.

To 'cold-solve' a clue is to derive its answer without help from crossing answers in the grid. When you start with the first entry into the crossword grid, or when you run an eye over all the clues deducing the answers mentally, you are cold-solving.

"How many clues in this crossword did you solve cold?" can be a way to estimate the puzzle's difficulty. It can also be a marker of the solver's skill.

In theory, it should be possible for every clue in a standard cryptic crossword to get cold-solved since a good cryptic clue is expected have an unambiguous answer. The same does not hold for a quick crossword clue – a quick clue might lead to more than one answer and checking plays an important role in determining which one fits into the grid.

Some hard cryptic puzzles such as the Listener and Azed introduce additional complexity like deliberate misprints in answers, no word lengths, etc. Cold-solving acquires greater significance in such puzzles, as the point at which a solver can start to make entries in the grid depends on a subset of clues that have been cold-solved.

[We'll take a closer look at one such type of crossword in the next post.]

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Anonymous said...

Fully agree with you that sometimes the quick crossies can actually be tougher to cold solve as usually there are no two paths to the answer.

A small variant of the cold solve which I sometimes use on some forums is not ice cold as can be, but moderately cold. Let me explain. Sometimes when 1a is solved, one may be able to take advantage of the knowledge of the first letters of a few down clues, though still solving grid-less. Similarly for any other across clue on the top line. Or any clue number which has an across clue and a down clue and one of them has been solved. Not all crossings, but at least the first letter comes to one's assistance in a semi-cold solving.

Shuchi said...

Hi Kishore,

That's also the reason why quick crossword grids have more checking than cryptic grids.

Spot on about the value of getting the first letter. The impact of solving 1A cold is not merely psychological.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. 1a is the key that opens up the labyrinth. The cold solving equation changes when the first across is placed in the second row...

Anonymous said...

I guessed at the meaning before. Thanks for confirming my guess.

MD said...

Excellent illustration. How do you get ones to match your blog perfectly?

raju umamaheswar said...


To add to Kishore's comments, can we call your asking us to solve clues without any accompanying grid and with only a few alphabets in the words , the ' chillest' solving? You always tease me with those incorrigible ones. Oh, how I hate those of yours in each of your columns, when they become so elusive and wispy like the floating fluffs of clouds !!

Anonymous said...


As you rightly pointed, Shuchi, like Kelvinator, is the coolest one !

anax said...

Great article as ever Shuchi! The only thing I’d disagree with is that “In theory, it should be possible for every clue … to get cold-solved”. Setters do of course keep in mind that every clue should have an unambiguous answer, but we try (if the puzzle is intended to be a decent challenge) to use some clues whose answers reveal themselves slowly with the help of checking letters. The aim is the delicious penny drop moment (we’ve seen this referred to in blogs as the PDM) that comes when a clue that looks intractable suddenly seems obvious when we get help with a few letters. Remember, cross-checking letters are clues in themselves.

Anonymous said...

Further to Anax's observation that every clue may not be cold solveable, rarely one comes across two words that are of the same length and mean the same. For eg: ARREST, DETAIN. In such a case, where a double definition clue is set, cold solving would indeed be perilous and crossing letters become necessary.

Shuchi said...

@Anonymous: You're welcome!

@MD: Thank you :) In this one I did a bit of image processing to go with the blog post.

@raju: But those letters are the equivalent of checking letters in a grid! Plus there is a big hint of what to look for - a post on reverse anagrams will have reverse anagram clues. Warm enough, right?

@anax, Kishore: Oh yes, a crossword wouldn't be as much fun if we could actually cold-solve every clue. If that were the ideal, the grid would be redundant. I meant to stress on 'in theory': since every cryptic clue is expected to have a unique answer, it is not theoretically impossible to derive its answer without any crossing letters - even though it is not probable or desirable. Solve too many clues cold and the crossword feels disappointingly easy. A gradation in clue difficulty and the help from checking letters add greatly to the entertainment value of the crossword.

Not a fan of double-definition or cryptic definition clues in which more than one answer fits and the grid decides which to use. What's the general view on this?

Anonymous said...

Not sure of the general view. Let us see if we can get the colonel's view...

Col_Gopinath said...

DD's are tolerable as far as I am concerned but I for one do not like CD's more so when there are too many of them in a grid

Chesterley (f.k.a. Kryptonologist) said...

@Shuchi: I'm not a fan of multiple-fit DDs or CDs, either. If I wanted those, I'd solve a quick.

Something that bugged me in a book I did a few months ago was the author's propensity to have multiple double definitions and/or homophones crossing each other in one corner of the grid. It made those crosswords really frustrating. One good thing about it – it taught me something to avoid in my own setting.

raju umamaheswar said...

On DDs and CDs, I'm reminded of an old RMDC Prize crosswords with dubious and devious distinctions of pretensions of a puzzle, that used to appear in Bombay. Cryptic crosswords are the Holy Grail and need to remain sanctified.

How do you like to answer:

He stared blankly at the ?ALL.

Wall, Hall, Mall,