Posted by petebiddlecombe on January 26th, 2008
This post is a short guide to Independent and FT cryptic crosswords for those trying them out in their new free online forms. It’s particularly directed at any US-based solvers who haven’t seen these particular puzzles before. (It started out as a guide for the Indie ones, but then I remembered that the FT puzzles are currently available for free too. The information about FT puzzles is less detailed, as I’ve never been a regular FT solver myself.)
The online version of the Independent cryptic puzzle is at: http://www.independent.co.uk/extras/crosswords/cryptic/. This puzzle is today’s puzzle on weekdays, and the previous weekend’s Saturday cryptic puzzle on weekends. (Initially, weekday puzzles appeared the day after publication in the paper, but this changed on 15 Feb 2008.) The setter’s pseudonym is not shown online, and the online version can only be completed at your computer – there’s no print option. There are ‘Reveal Letter’ and ‘Reveal’ buttons which show the correct entry for the selected letter or answer in the grid.
The FT puzzles are at: http://www.ft.com/arts/crossword. Unlike the Indie ones, these are ‘print only’, and it’s often worth fiddling with your PDF printing options – some work better on landscape, and you may need to print only page 2 of pp 1-3. The web-page has about the last three weeks of FT puzzles, so you can get them in batches if you want.
We hope new solvers will use postings on fifteensquared to learn more about these puzzles, but there’s a small hurdle to get over. When you’re solving a puzzle from the past, you probably don’t want to see reports on later puzzles in the same paper that you might solve in future.
For the Saturday Independent puzzles, you need to take care NOT to see them when they’re reported about, on the following Friday. To find a report on a particular Indie puzzle, start off in a category where no answers will be seen, e.g. http://fifteensquared.net/category/admin/, and using the search box on the right of the page, search for something like ‘Independent 6789? (without quotes). For the FT, we only have enough people to report on a couple of puzzles a week at present – but a similar search like ‘FT 12,345′ should work – you will usually need the ‘thousands comma’ for these numbers.
How’s the Independent crossword different from other British puzzles?
This section contrasts the Independent puzzle with the Times crossword. The reason for making this comparison is that for US-based solvers, the Times puzzle, syndicated in the New York Post, is the UK daily paper puzzle they’re most likely to have seen.
- Setters are identified (in print at least) and have more individual styles. The Times xwd editor makes some changes to get a consistent approach, and you don’t know who wrote the original puzzle. The Indie xwd ed doesn’t make style-related changes.
- Living people can be used as answers in the Indie puzzle. It’s also more likely than the Times to contain references to modern culture.
- Themes: themed puzzles are rare in the Times. A typical week in the Indie will have a couple of puzzles with some kind of theme, or something to spot in the grid. The Virgilius puzzles printed on Tuesdays (online on Weds) are the most likely to have themes.
How’s the FT crossword different from other British puzzles?
The FT puzzle is written by setters who mostly work for other papers too. Quite a few of the Guardian setters cn be found here – Enigmatist as Io, Araucaria as Cinephile (a pseudonym to ponder), and Taupi as Satori are the ones I can think of. I believe there’s a deliberate policy to make the FT puzzle a bit easier on average than the Times/Indie/Guardian puzzles. Some FT puzzles have themes but I think this is much less common than at the Indie.
Who are these Setters and why do they have funny names?
See our Setters page at http://fifteensquared.net/setters/ for some information about them, including the days on which the most frequent ones appear. As some Indie setters have regular weekday slots, this is useful information for those solving the online version.
The use of pseudonyms goes right back to Torquemada, best candidate for “inventor of the cryptic crossword”, who named himself after a Spanish Inquisitor. Other setters imitated him, with inquisitorial or Spanish-sounding names (Torquemada, Ximenes, Azed (from a Senor de Deza), Salamanca) battling it out with demonic ones (Afrit, Mephisto, Beelzebub) as the dominant theme.
How do British and American cryptics differ?
If you’re used to solving American cryptics, there are some differences to get used to.
- Local culture, general knowledge. Place names, cricket and rugby. Cockney rhyming and other slang. And more. But you can pick up enough to cope! For some initial help see this page on my own website.
- Cryptic definitions. This kind of clue doesn’t get used in most US cryptics, but does get used a bit in difficult NYT and similar puzzles. It’s a definition with some kind of twist so that it can be read the wrong way, but if you read it the right way, it makes sense. Example: Mug presented at christening (4,4) for BABY FACE. These clues can be tough when you’re not used to them, but can also be lots of fun.
- “Superfluous” words: US cryptic clues tend to use as few words as possible. British ones may include words that aren’t absolutely essential but make sense when you understand the clue, and usually lead to a more convincing surface meaning.
- Difficulty of clues: because many British solvers do a cryptic puzzle every day, the setters keep searching for new indicator words, new words to write clues for, novel definitions, and so on. If they didn’t, some solvers would say they were getting bored. You’ll also probably see more clues mixing up clue types, triple (and more) definitions, and other stuff that many US puzzles wouldn’t use.