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Independent and FT Crosswords for new solvers

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: 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: 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., 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 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.

17 Responses to “Independent and FT Crosswords for new solvers”

  1. Michod says:

    Maybe it would be a good idea in any case to have a front page that just has titles of the last half dozen blogs, rather than the latest one in full? I sometimes log in to check the Guardian blog without having done the Indy crossword yet, or vice versa. That would get round the problem Pete mentions for those tackling yesterday’s Indy online.

  2. Jon says:

    Regarding the lack of a print option on the Independent cryptic, a bit of deft use of the Print Scrn button, and a paste into Paint will allow you to print from there. It’s a bit fiddly – especially as you’ll have to do so more than once after scrolling to get all the clues – but better than nothing if you’re desperate to do this off-line…

  3. petebiddlecombe says:

    The ‘recent blogs’ page would be nice, but in the meantime, you could save links to ‘category views’ in your favourites. Example:

  4. Ian says:

    There is a pattern to the FT you haven’t noticed. Wednesday is usually themed, often a “special”. Most commonly but not always by Cinephile. Sometimes this goes beyond just a theme in answers, with something like the rubric “B has the same designation wherever it appears” with B appearing in many clues. It might be Beasts and every answer is an animal, or something similar.

    Also worth knowing that Saturday and Mondays are prize. Miserly prize but there you are.

  5. Allan says:

    Could someone please explain what a nina is? I’ve got a vague idea, and presume ‘nina’ is an acronym for something, but it would be nice to know what.

  6. neildubya says:

    It’s a word, or a number of words, or a phrase, hidden in the completed grid of a puzzle. For example, in a recent Indy puzzle the phrase DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO appeared in the unchecked letters of the 1st and 15th columns of the grid. “Nina” isn’t an acronym though – I can’t remember the exact story but I think the word comes from a compiler of US-style crosswords who included his daughter’s name (Nina) in the grid of one his puzzles.

    You can find some examples of recent Ninas in Indy and Guardian puzzles using this link:

  7. beermagnet says:

    For ages I too thought Nina was an acronym.
    The origin is from Al Hirschfeld who was an American cartoonist / caricaturist who hid his daughter’s name, Nina, in many of his cartoons:
    I would put the wikipedia URL link to Al Hirschfeld here but the system is now putting any of my comments with URLs into the spam bucket. (You must have special blog-owner powers Neil.)

  8. kurwamac says:

    I’m a bit late to this party, but I’d be interested in finding out if anyone knows who introduced this sense of ‘Nina’. I started a thread at an etymology board, and received precisely no comments.

    I suspect that most of the posters weren’t familiar with the use of the word to refer to the Hirschfeld drawings. I don’t know how widely the term is known on either side of the Atlantic; I’m familiar with it because I grew up in a household that took the NYT and my father was an artist who pointed it out to me. But that’s not typical.

    Input from other posters here wouldn’t represent a typical cross-section either, but might be interesting.

    As for the link:

  9. andrea says:

    where can i find solution to beelzebub 966,took it on holiday and missed the edition with the solution in!!

  10. neildubya says:

    Andrea – sorry, we don’t cover the Beelzebub puzzle anymore. If there are any answers that you’re stuck on then feel free to post the clues here, along with any letters you’ve got filled already and I’d be happy to try to help.

  11. David says:

    Kurwamac – I first came across this use on Derek Harrison’s Crossword Centre message board four or five years ago. I could be wrong, but I dimly remember the usage being fresh, and it may have been suggested during a discussion of Times Concise puzzles. Someone on the board should be able to help.

  12. Luciver says:

    in response to Jon in comment 2…..
    ‘a bit of deft use of the Print Scrn button, and a paste into Paint …’

    this is exactly what i have taken to doing every day, and keeping the puzzles to print off later when i have more time. Prt scr – paste into paint, cut round grid and ctrl+C, then UNDO or ctrl+Z to get back to clear screen, then ctrl+V. then you have to go back and scroll the clues and you can repeat the process, usually this process is done three times to get a neat version of the whole puzzle. then you have to mess about with print options or it comes out on 4 bits of paper. no ideas there – i let my boyfriend sort that bit out!!

    i am so happy to have found this website, since pressing reveal word and arrowing through the crossword whilst squinting hard so as not to see the answers was somewhat trying! indy, sort it out!!

  13. Colin H says:

    Pondering Araucaria’s use of “Cinephile”, it’s an anagram of “Chile Pine” – another name for the monkey-puzzle…

  14. petebiddlecombe says:

    Coming back to Ninas very late, my memory is that the xwd usage was coined by Roger Phillips (Nestor/Kea), almost cetainly in connection with the Times2 puzzles which have included many Ninas since John Grimshaw took responsibility for producing them in about 2003. Readers of Tony Sever’s blog about this puzzle have fun identifying Ninas in the puzzles that have them.

  15. David Bothwell says:

    As my wife and I like to do crosswords jointly we print them out and do them on paper over meals. We can do this with The Guardian and The Times (paying a subscription) and would like to do the same with Indie but it seems there is no facility for printing. Or is there?

    David Bothwell

  16. nmsindy says:

    I think the short answer is “No” but some technical whizz kids might be able to advise you how to do it.

    Reason (understandable): they’d like you to buy the paper.

  17. Tony Welsh says:

    The article refers to American cryptic puzzles but I have lived in US for 30 years without ever seeing one. Where can i find an American cryptic?

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