Monday 16 July 2012

Why Hindi and cryptic crosswords do not mix

hindi-crosswords Have you seen or heard of a Hindi cryptic crossword? I have not.

The scarcity of cryptic crosswords in Hindi is not surprising. Most cryptic wordplay techniques as we know them in English are not easily plugged into Hindi. Let's look at why, and explore other types of wordplay that may work in Hindi.

The problem of precision

Cryptic wordplay essentially operates on:

  • the arrangement of letters in words
  • open ends in pronunciation
  • variety in word meanings

How well do these map to Hindi?

Short word lengths => reduced letter arrangement options

The Hindi character set has 48 symbols (13 vowels, 35 consonants) as opposed to 26 in English. This has a condensing effect - sounds that take 2 or 3 letters to express in English (cha-, tha-, etc.) require only a single character in Hindi (च, थ, etc.). Also, Hindi words are spelled not with letters but with syllables. Vowels get latched on to consonants, consonant clusters are written as conjuncts.

The outcome of it all is that it takes far fewer characters to write a word in Hindi than in English. An English word of length 6 letters typically uses 2-3 characters in Hindi. This limits the wordplay options available to the setter.

Written as pronounced

Since the Devanagari script is phonetics-based, the case of words with the same pronunciation and different spellings does not arise. This more or less rules out the homophone clue type.

Fewer words with grammatical variety

English has a rich vocabulary of words with multiple meanings. The most deceptive cryptic clues come from words that shift parts of speech.

Word meanings in Hindi are a lot more fixed. One has to strain to think of Hindi words with more than one meaning, plus it is harder to craft smooth clue surfaces for them. Hindi clue for पिया (drank/sweetheart), anyone?

Gender specificity of nouns => trickier surface reading

Every noun in Hindi has a gender; verbs and adjectives change form according to this gender. You live in an अच्छा घर (achha ghar – good house) but drive an अच्छी गाड़ी (achhi gaadi – good car). Synonyms of the same noun can have different genders: हवा (hawa – air) is feminine but पवन (pavan – air) is masculine.

To create a clue in which the surface as well as cryptic reading is grammatical, the Hindi crossword setter has an additional dimension to take care of – the gender agreement of verbs/adjectives with nouns. When the clue's definition is masculine, the setter is restricted to masculine forms only in the wordplay. The English crossword setter has no such constraints with common nouns.

Lack of standard cryptic abbreviations?

Cryptic abbreviations are a necessary tool for the setter to encode short segments of the answer. The Hindi crossword setter, as far as I can see, does not have access to a large enough pool of handy abbreviations. I'm possibly ignorant about this one but other than a few like musical notations and days of the week, I can't think of many crossword-friendly standard abbreviations in Hindi. Those commonly known ones are either translated from English or are not much use in a cryptic clue.

Randomly listing some English abbreviations and their Hindi equivalents:

  English Abbreviation Hindi Abbreviation
  AM प्रातः
  BA बी.ए.
  NO. क्रं.
  i.e. जो है कि
  e.g. जैसे कि
  U.P. (Uttar Pradesh)
M.P. (Madhya Pradesh)
उ. प्र.
म. प्र.

This isn't making it any easier for the Hindi cryptic setter, is it?

These clue types appear hard to work with in Hindi:

charades: Unless the word is a compound word, splitting a Hindi word doesn't easily give other meaningful words. No wonder that while playing dumb charades, the "break the word" option is followed frequently with a call to "switch language".

containers: Without support of abbreviations, content/container segments are tough to clue in Hindi.

anagrams: Hindi words aren't as amenable to anagramming as English. At best the anagram is a simple rearrangement of letters within the same word. Can you think of a Hindi word that leads to many anagrams / multi-word anagrams? [We can sort KRISHNA in a variety of ways - A SHRINK, HIS RANK, KHAN SIR, etc. Try कृष्ण?]

homophones: Hindi words are spoken exactly as they are written.

Other tricks like false capitalization do not translate either as Hindi has no upper/lower cases.

Different Beasts, Different Handling

If it doesn't work one way, try another. Here are some ideas to make cryptic crosswords in Hindi possible.

Making the most of Hindi-friendly clue types

The short length of Hindi words is of great advantage with clue types that function on a letter-by-letter basis. 

acrostics: Certain letters dominate the start and end of words in a regular Hindi sentence, like ka / ha / ra / ma . If the answer contains such letters, the acrostic clue type offers many options to the cryptic setter.

hidden words: Words can be smoothly concealed in natural Hindi phrases.

deletions, letter picking, letter shifting, letter exchange, substitutions: Many new Hindi words get generated by the twist of a single consonant or vowel. Anything to do with single letter movement is easy for the setter.

cryptic definitions: Couplets with end rhymes sit very well with Hindi. Riddle-like clues in couplet form might be excellent as cryptic definitions in a crossword.

Script normalization

Hindi follows the abugida writing system of treating a consonant-vowel sequence (syllable) as one unit. If each syllable is counted as a single cell entry, checking and connectivity in a crossword grid become hard to achieve.

Crossword grid makers have found a way out of this problem with "unicode normalization" – i.e. separating the vowel from the consonant for the grid fill. The same workaround could be extended to the clues – treating the consonants and vowels as separate units for wordplay. 

Dialect-based wordplay

This might cause a few ruffled feathers but wordplay on regional dialects is an interesting area waiting to be explored.

Bilingual wordplay

If the game is extended to allow literal Hindi-English translations, very innovative clues are possible.

Here's a bilingual clue by Vinod Raman for the word TAU:

Devi Lal: "Chautala shayad chala gaya" (3)

How brilliant is that surface! We just have to be willing to weld Hindi content with English cryptic grammar: shayad (perhaps) as anagram indicator and gaya (gone away) as deletion indicator.

Your thoughts?

Update (24-Oct-2013): A year after this post was written, Kishore and I created an 11x11 Hindi cryptic: Shuddh Desi Cryptic Crossword – in Hindi.

Solve These

Hindi cryptic clues for you to solve. Enjoy and write your own.

भारत और पाकिस्तान के बीच उत्साह (3)

गुज़र गया? प्रेतात्मा! (2)

आख़िरकार फौलादी, लगभग पूरी पकड़ के साथ वर्ग पहेली हल करते हैं (3)

Related Posts:

If you wish to keep track of further articles on Crossword Unclued, you can subscribe to it in a reader via RSS Feed. You can also subscribe by email and have articles delivered to your inbox, or follow me on twitter to get notified of new links.


Anonymous said...

Nice study. At first pass could get only one

Bhooooot as in spirit and past...

Chaturvasi said...

Tamil newspapers and magazines for years have been having quick crosswords.

Speaking about cryptic crosswords in Indian languages -

This form of wordgame in Tamil were unknown to me until during a visit to the U.S. some ten years ago, I came across a California-based Tamil magazine called 'Thendral'. That publication featured a cryptic crossword in Tamil by a setter known as Vanchinathan. While even quick crosswords in Tamil use only free-form grid, his cryptic crossword used grids with symmetric disposition of blocks.
The clues used devices such as hidden, deletion (head off, tail off), charade, anagram, container-content, as far as I remember.
His puzzles were marked by a certain professionalism that one missed even in the quick crosswords in reputed Tamil publications from Chennai.

After him S. Parthasarathy with his wife has been setting cryptic crosswords in Tamil and uploading them. ( )

I must add that some clues even in quick crosswords in Tamil might have had an occasional cryptic element but I think it was Vanchinathan who produced full-fledged cryptic crosswords with professional touch.

If anyone knows of earlier examples and cites them I will stand corrected.

raju umamaheswar said...

Hi Schuchi;

I marvel at your pioneering spirit !!

I'll activate my grey cells on your proposals. However, it is rather coincidental that the latest issue of the Indian Readers Digest(July 2012) has featured an article on the stupendous efforts put in by Arvind Kumar, who had sacrificed his career as a journalist to create a Hindi equivalent of a Thesaurus. A labour of love, I should say.Did you read this article and hence got inspired?
He has created the online

It takes all kinds to make one feel like a pygmy in creativity !

Anonymous said...

A trilingual:

Clue in English, two defs in Hindi and Kannada (not necessarily in the same order)for the same word having meaning in both languages. Extra hint: It's also a swear word in Hindi...

Loan for brother in law (4 when written in Hindi unicode style, 2 when written in Kannada)

Shuchi said...

@Kishore: Your extra hint gave it away! I have learnt a new Kannada word thanks to you.

No correct answers for 1 and 3, I should be giving out hints too.

Clue 1 contains a hidden word. I've taken the liberty of dropping the vowel at the end.

Clue 2 is a double definition.

Clue 3 is meant to be a semi-&lit.

The word lengths are in units by the way, no normalization. किशोर counted as 3 letters.

Shuchi said...

CV Sir: Interesting to know about crosswords in Tamil. I wish I could read the text.

Does Tamil too join consonants and vowels into one unit? If so, it must be very tough to create a symmetric grid with sufficient checking.

@raju: Thanks. Didn't know about the Hindi thesaurus.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to your newly acquired Kannada skills, you can now ask an English uncle for a Hindi brother in law if he knows Kannada..

Shuchi said...

Got it :) Will hold on to the answer for a while.

Anonymous said...

On second thoughts, an updated version:

I purposely gave the extra hint or else it would probably be a bit unfair. BTW, thanks for making a specimen of me

That brings me to:
No satellite: one example (3 without normalisation)

Again a hint: The clue is sometimes referring to Hindi and sometimes to English, not necessarily alternating

Anonymous said...

In memory of one of the first lines I spoke to you:

हमेशा प्रधानमंत्री थे (3)

Anonymous said...

I had thought of prefacing the previous post with:

In memory of one the first questions I popped to you...
but thought better of it ;-)

Here's a tiny bilingual:

I (2)

Answer in English or Marathi (normalised), both meaning having the same meaning

Shuchi said...

@Kishore: Haha the अटल question!

Anonymous said...

विदेशी शक्कर (2)

आधा लक्कढबग्गा आवा.ज देता है (3)
Enu slightly tricky in this one. Plus, I could not find the z on the keyboard hence .+J used.

Anonymous said...

सुना है, अंग्रे.जी नर बतख के साथ पानी मे रहता है

A little मोर complicated one this time

Anonymous said...

To be more fair, kindly replace previous clue with:
सुना है, अंग्रे.जी नर बतख के साथ कभि पानी मे कभि थल पर रहता है

Anonymous said...

अंग्रे.जी रिशतेदार का सर काटके फैंक दो, वह यह हिन्दी रिशतेदार मे बदल जाती है (3)
Enu still tricky...

Shuchi said...

On the contrary, गऊ जैसा सीधा clue :)

Haven't got आधा लक्कढबग्गा आवा.ज देता है (3) yet - is it a homophone?

Anonymous said...

Not a homophone, the first word says it all.

Some more midnight thoughts jotted on bedside scribbling pad:

दक्शिण भारतीय पकवान जिसका उपयोग समान वस्तुओ की तुलना के लिए किया जाता है (3)
स्वर्ण शयन (2)
एक क्रष्ण भक्त को, स्वामी, रावण ने अपहरण किया है (2)

Anonymous said...

प्रियतमा ने जल का सेवन किया (2)
पवन वहाँ चलती है (2) Disputable anagram...
सुना है, एक जैसे ची.ज मे एक और मारने की ची.ज है (3) ;-)

Enu of half letters a bit debatable...

Anonymous said...

Drawing on the classical:

राम की बदली के बाद देहांत ?

अजी हमसे रूठकर कहाँ जाईगा,
आग- राख के शहर मे चले आईगा (3) Def in middle

मै शाय़ऱ तो नहि, मगर ए हसीन,
यही काफी है मुझे, कि आप मेरे चुटकुलो पर तो --- (2)

Anonymous said...

And a final one in appreciation for raising the subject:

सुधाँशु, चिंता मत कऱो आप(2)

This one is a person specific clue..

I also observe that not only are words clued in are pretty small in length, enumeration of half letters causes a dilemma, take them as half or one, and also if there are two half letters in the same word like the aforesaid lakkaDbagga, do they count as one...

Anonymous said...

Could not resist one more. Sorry, for hogging space:

छुपा रुसतम् है, क्योकी शोर बहुत मचाता है संकलक (3)

Shuchi said...

Hi Kishore,

You should start setting full Hindi grids now!

Collating your clues with answers where known:

Loan for brother in law (4 when written in Hindi unicode style, 2 when written in Kannada) साला dd

No satellite: one example (3 without normalisation) नमूना न + मून + a

हमेशा प्रधानमंत्री थे (3) अटल dd

I (2) ??

विदेशी शक्कर (2) चीनी dd

आधा लक्कढबग्गा आवा.ज देता है (3)

सुना है, अंग्रे.जी नर बतख के साथ कभि पानी मे कभि थल पर रहता है (3) मेंडक [man + duck]

दक्शिण भारतीय पकवान जिसका उपयोग समान वस्तुओ की तुलना के लिए किया जाता है (3) उपमा dd

एक क्रष्ण भक्त को, स्वामी, रावण ने अपहरण किया है (2) मीरा dd

प्रियतमा ने जल का सेवन किया (2) पिया dd [But there is a superfluous connector ने in the clue!]

पवन वहाँ चलती है (2) हवा*?

सुना है, एक जैसे ची.ज मे एक और मारने की ची.ज है (3) ??

राम की बदली के बाद देहांत ? (2) मरा <-

अजी हमसे रूठकर कहाँ जाईगा,
आग- राख के शहर मे चले आईगा (3) आगरा ??

मै शाय़ऱ तो नहि, मगर ए हसीन,
यही काफी है मुझे, कि आप मेरे चुटकुलो पर तो --- (2) हंसी

The last two are obvious :)

सुधाँशु, चिंता मत कऱो आप(2) <- Thank you!

छुपा रुसतम् है, क्योकी शोर बहुत मचाता है संकलक (3) <- Nice surface and indicator.

I would count half-letters as half add them up if there are more than one.

Shuchi said...

I use Google Transliterate for typing in Hindi. It's good with Hindi spellings, also takes care of the ज़ (za) problem.

Anonymous said...

Kudos for getting most of them, inspite of innate obscurity.

Clearing up my mess:

I (2) ??

English answer: Me
Marathi answer: मी , which means ‘me’ as in the English answer

आधा लक्कढबग्गा आवा.ज देता है (3)

बग्गा which is half of लक्कढबग्गा, and is a nearly hemispherical musical instrument and which along with the thinner Tabla is usually called Tabla

सुना है, एक जैसे ची.ज मे एक और मारने की ची.ज है (3) ;-)

The emoticon was a hint. The anno is a bit convoluted, when explained in English:
सुना है,= homophone indicator
एक जैसे ची.ज= अंक say, like one=numeral
Which with the homophone makes it अंख, a meaningless intermediate product
मे= contained indicator
एक= 1
Which makes it आंख, which is मारने की ची.ज है
As exemplified by the emoticon

A full grid would be difficult given the short words involved, which would make crossings quite complex

Anonymous said...

This one seems to have been missed out in your anthology

स्वर्ण शयन (2)

सोना dd as in शयनान painted on a railway sleeper coach

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Google Transliterate tip. This is the first time I was typing in Hindi and hence picked the first one I came across. And not having written in Hindi for nearly 35 years (except one condolence letter to a relative a couple of months back), I am sure I made a few grammatical/typographic mistakes.

Anonymous said...

I also have to take responsibility for a foog:

I understand that the Tabla's companion is a dagga, and not a bagga.

Anonymous said...

I had used:

Hari Balakrishnan said...

@chaturvasi: Yes you are correct about Vanchinathan being the pioneer in setting cryptic puzzles in Tamil and Parthasarathy ( being the next most popular setter. I have a free online tool that helps with setting and solving Tamil crossword puzzles that is being used by Parthasarathy and a few other setters. It is available at If any of you want to build crosswords in Hindi or any other regional language, I will be happy to work with you - puthir.mayam at gmail.

ToneMasterTone said...

Although it's not Hindi, here's a cryptic I made in Spanish:

I couldn't find any in Spanish in the classic Anglophone style, so I figured I might as well make one.

Groucho said...

Saw this post three years late. :-)

But thought of a clue for your query: Hindi clue for पिया (drank/sweetheart)

How about शराबी पति (2)

Shuchi said...

@Groucho: देर आए दुरुस्त आए!

The surface is really good but aren't we assuming too much by equating पिया with शराबी (or even sweetheart with पति!) Connotations aside, पिया is a verb form, शराबी a noun or adjective.

Something like शराब को गटका पति? would be more precise grammatically. (In Hindi clueing, there is the added consideration of handling सकर्मक verb past tense forms correctly e.g. we might want a more natural surface in शराब को गटक गया पति? but it is [वह] शराब को गटक गया vs [उसने] पिया. Not interchangeable.)

Tried the latest Hindi puzzle? Hindi Crossword 4: Solve and Win Prizes.