Monday 22 December 2014

At the Indian Crossword League 2014 Finals

The second edition of IXL (Indian Crossword League) was bigger than its debut in 2013, in every sense – heavier participation, a more streamlined final round, a superior solving battle – and bigger surprises.

This year, the top 20 of the online rounds were invited to participate in the finals (instead of the top 10, as was in 2013), and the weekly round winners were given wildcard entries. The last bit proved to be a game changer – in the end, the top three slots went to the wild card entrants. Here's how it all unfolded.

Prelim Round

The prelim round this time did away with the asides of logical reasoning/GK/clue-writing; it gave us two crosswords (15x15 and 13x13) to be solved in an hour. The crosswords were THC-style and well-suited for the prelims I thought, of moderate difficulty and with a good mix of clue types.

Sanjay Vinoo was the first among us to hand in his answers at around the 30 min mark. After him, the all-correct submissions went in this order, spaced a few minutes from each other: Ramki Krishnan, Arvind Ramaswamy, Mohsin Ahmed and Kishore Rao. Abhay Phadnis was the final entrant into the top six, with one error (a misspelling of SATISFIED!).

[My bugbears geography and the deletion clue type joined hands in a clue for {-l}ESSEN, which I didn't get. That, combined with the befuddling B(EST*)RIDE, meant a deadlocked top-left quadrant in the 15x15 for a long time.]

I spoke to the top-ranked solvers of today about the clues they struggled with, and found a classic example of "What is food for one is poison for another". One solver had trouble with BASIL, another solved it cold. One said lift = ENNOBLE was tricky, another thought it was but obvious. The only consensus appears to be on two points:

(1) AHOM got answered based on wordplay alone (hidden reversed in 'Mohandas') and a guess that this must be an 'old kingdom'.
(2) Most solvers did not pause to parse what "Bibi" was doing in the CHANDELIER clue. They saw the crossings, they saw LIE – and dunked the answer in.

Pictures we clicked before the start of the game:

IXL 2014 Participants and Audience 
A mixed bunch - contestants, organisers and members of the audience. (L to R) Kishore, Rahmat, Sohrab (the youngest finalist, just out of school), Venkatesh, Shachii, Shuchi, Nagendra, Satyadeo, Padmasree, Jose, Bhargav, Chaturvasi (Rishi), Colonel Gopinath, Ramki, Arvind.

Sowmya Ramkumar Shuchismita Upadhyay 
First non-virtual meeting with Sowmya Ramkumar.

IXL 2014 Colonel Gopinath
The participants exchange pleasantries. The “Chief Arbiter" (ahem) strikes a pose.

IXL 2014 Finalists 
"The Early Birds" – 13 of 20 (?) Finalists Group Photo: IXL Finalists who traveled from other cities/countries reached the venue before most of the residents of Bangalore did. (L to R) Arvind, Vinayak, Kishore, Ramki, Jose, Sowmya, Prithwiraj, Anish, Venkatesh, Rahmat, Shachii, Sohrab, Abhay, Shuchi.

Close to noon, we walked in to the auditorium and took our seats. 

IXL 2014 Lahar Appaiah 
Lahar (apologies for the out-of-focus face) meets THC setter Gridman (Rishikesh).

On a Break

After the prelim round was a short break while the judges shortlisted the candidates for the on-stage round.

IXL 2014 Tea Break
Post-solving notes exchange?

Abhay Phadnis
Abhay Phadnis taking his wife over some of the clues of the prelims crossword.

IXL 2014 Tea Break 
Banter during the break. Ajeesh looks happy!

Final Round

The top six of the prelims went in for the final on-stage round: Sanjay Vinoo, Ramki Krishnan, Arvind Ramaswamy, Mohsin Ahmed, Kishore Rao and Abhay Phadnis. This round was much the same as last year's: interactive solving of a crossword displayed on screen, in which the clues were put to the contestants one-by-one in quiz style. This time, the infinite bounce format was used, and participants had to attempt two grids instead of one.

First clue of the on-stage final: Rough soundtrack (6), which Vinoo passed and Ramki cracked with ease.

We witnessed some top-notch solving in the final round. Applause-worthy were Ramki's ACCREDIT and COARSE, Mohsin's WIRELESS and GALLIUM (done without checkers, despite an error in the clue!), Kishore's EMIR, and the unsolved question passed to the audience - Prithwiraj's GESTURES. And then there was there that 'googly' clue, which nobody could answer [Hang outside stellar body (7)].

The Down clues were easier with the checkers from the Across clues in place.

IXL 2014 Final Grid
Clue 6d: Take back with reference to demand (7) _E_L_I_

At the end of the on-stage round, Kishore, Arvind and Ramki were tied with the same score for the top position. The prelim round performance was considered as the tie-breaker, which led to this order of the top three:

1. Ramki Krishnan (the winner)
2. Arvind Ramaswamy
3. Kishore Rao

Ramki Krishnan wins IXL 2014
The winner's name is announced.

Top 6 IXL 2014
IXL 2014 Top Six with the organisers

IXL 2014 Group Ic 
At the end, a day well spent.

[Update (23-Dec-2014)] 

Q&A with the IXL 2014 Champion Ramki Krishnan

In between phone calls and congratulatory messages, Ramki sportingly made time for a quick Q&A with CU after his win.

Q. How did you start on your crossword journey?
I started solving crosswords in my teens, was inducted into it by my father and aunt - both were avid crossword buffs. I used to solve Indian Express, TOI, ET, and the occasional THC, quite regularly till college, but it became rather sporadic once I started my career. In 2012-13, the interest was rekindled thanks to THC, the Facebook Crossword groups and also your blog :-)

Q. Which crosswords do you solve now?
I now attempt the Hindu crossword daily, and the Guardian as well.

Q. Your favourite setters?
In the Guardian, Rufus and Arachne (no surprises :)), and in the Hindu I don't have a particular favourite, I like them all! I also have learnt from some of the fantastic setters and solvers on the Facebook groups of CCS and 1ACross, many of whom also participated in the IXL - Sowmya, Prasenjit, Aravind, Sanket, Ajeesh, Mohsin, SSv Avtaar to name just a few.

Q. In the IXL prelims, did you struggle with any clues?
I struggled a bit with BASIL (the word was also used as Tulsi in another clue!), AHOM (was a guess in the end), BESTRIDE. The crossing letters created by the easier clues helped. For some, it was a case of solve first and figure out the annotation later!

Q. Why didn't you score higher in the online IXL rounds?
On most of the Sundays, I had some other commitments and could not start on time (in fact I solved Round 1 from inside a bus!) Also made silly mistakes in a couple of rounds (DALMA!)

Ramki's response on the experience of playing at the IXL as a 'wild card entrant' and winning the contest [video]:

[RSS/email subscribers – if you cannot see the embedded video, please visit the blog: IXL 2014 Finals]

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Kishore said...

That was quick, SU! And well written. Kudos to Ramki, Arvind and all the other participants and organisers, including the CA (Chief Arbiter) with the Ahom/Ahem

Deepak Gopinath said...

Great reporting as usual Shuchi

Chaturvasi said...

Prompt, well-written piece on IXL.
Nice pics, too.
Congratulations to Ramki from a Chennaian.

Ramki Krishnan said...

Thanks, Kishore and Chaturvasi sir. Nice writeup, Shuchi!


Lakshmi Vaidyanathan said...

Hi Shuchi,
Thanks for a very quick & nice report . Felt as if I am watching the finals live :)

maddy said...

Great reporting citizen journalist. Three cheers to the organisers for the amazing effort which has given us enthusiasts great memories to cherish for a long time.

For me,personally, the highlight was being able to finally meet and interact with fellow participants without the inanimate computer/mobile screens in between. It was truly humbling to watch geniuses at work (play?)

N.B - Thanks Kishore for the Orchid(a.k.a the "dark"building) hunt. For a change, even getting lost ended up being fun

Kishore said...

Sorry for leading you up the 'garden path' on the hunt for the elusive dark Orchid. It must have been maddening, Maddy. But it was fun, given the company we had, as Majrooh said - Hum aur tum aur ye samaa, kya nashaa nashaa sa hai ..

D.Srinivasan said...

An excellent report Shuchi. Thanks

SandhyaP said...

Thanks for sharing Shuchi! We were disappointed when there was no live streaming.You have made it up for that. :)

Sowmya said...

Shuchi, great coverage of the event and very prompt too:) Lovely pics too. The adrenalin post event is still pumping in:) Kudos to the final six and all the organisers who made it such fun for all of us..

Vinayak said...

Excellent report Shuchi. It was a real pleasure meeting you, Colonel ( Chief Arbiter!), CV Sir, Kishore, Mohsin and all the other finalists.

Mukundala Balasubramanyam said...

Excellent coverage of the event! Nice pics too. Thank you, Suchi. :)