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Has no-one got anything to say? Blogs for the Indy recently had comments on the use of false capitals in clues – it’s generally allowable for setters to use an initial capital where it’s not needed, but not to use lower case where a capital is necessary.
Here’s another topic. How should the letter count of words with apostrophes be shown? “Objet d’art” (Indy 6971) was shown as (5,4) which is the way usually adopted. But if hyphenated words are indicated as such souldn’t apostrophes be indicated also – e.g (5,1’3) in this case? Or does that make things too easy? What do solvers and setters think?
This has been covered here quite recently, Allan. Very recently in fact, although perhaps at the moment … well, wood, trees etc.
To recap (so to speak), by convention apostrophes are not shown in clue letter-count brackets. On the other hand hyphenated words *are* indicated, presumably as the hyphenation can change the meaning or part of speech (as in working class vs working-class for example).
I think apostrophes would give more help than hyphens, but in advanced cryptics such as Beelzebub even hyphenated words are not indicated as such. I should reiterate here, as it often comes up in responses to Indy crosswords, that I use Collins to decide whether a word should be hyphenated, apart from in Beelzebub puzzles, where Chambers in the recommended dictionary.
Re false caps – I recently used “darling” in a misleading way in a clue, referring to Alastair Darling. It occurs to me that I can skirt the issue by making Darling the first word of the clue. Capping the word mid-clue just gives the game away – and looks odd too. But there’s no excuse for sloppy clueing – xword eds should stamp down on it!
Nmsindy: you may not have seen Smutchin’s brilliant clue – and he may well be too modest to come back to you on it – so I’ll stick my neck out and share it with you:
‘Private room to cater for needs of one’s darling’. [7,8]
Smutchin: Congratulations on your new site – it’s looking really good. I’ve finished most of your puzzles so far and enjoyed them tremendously but haven’t found time so far to comment on them in detail. I think this is an ideal spot for you to provide a link!
Apostrophes: Once upon a time (maybe until mid-1980s in the Guardian, for example) they were indicated. Once you’re used to the possibility, I don’t think leaving them out causes too much trouble. And if you try US-style puzzles where there are no enumerations at all, we’re arguably a bunch of wimps about this anyway. I think the barred-grid “4 words” approach would work quite well in daily puzzles.
Well, thanks all, you’re far too kind! I still think the clue is a bit dodgy, whatever you all say, but I’ll graciously accept the compliment. You can link to my site by clicking on my name at the top of this message.
Nmsindy – there was a specific recent example I had in mind of a clue where a cap letter tipped me off (can’t remember when/where, I’m afraid) but maybe it doesn’t always have to be so. It all depends on the wit of the setter, I suppose.
Peter – you may well be right. Talking of giving the game away, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve solved a clue simply from the letter count, without even bothering to decipher the wordplay.
This weeks Guardian Online Quiptic, number 483 by Hectence. As Quiptics aren’t blogged anywhere (I did offer, but it seems weekly blogs get little support) can I bring the following clue to general attention?
The crossword in general was fair, but not maybe as easy as a Quiptic is supposed to be, but this one I couldn’t accept in any crossword…
Produce information on drug (speed) (8) gave GENERATE!
RATE for speed, fine, but GENE for drug?
I don’t have the dictionaries I’m supposed to have, so please, can someone tell me that the famous technical incompetence of the dictionaries hasn’t sunk that low and that this is simply a poor clue.
I’ve got a question. Why on the Guardian website has the pdf file suddenly got so mush poorer quality pdfs, so that you can’t read the numbers? And when you print the Everyman, why does it take up just a quarter of the page?
Been thinking about posts 10 and 11. I’m not sure it is fair to compare US style and UK style usage of enumerations or not. The typical US grid (quick, not cryptic) tends to have whole areas of words of the same length or differing by just one, so when you’ve counted the lights for one word, you have the count for several, therefore it could get just a tad irritating to repeat the information. UK puzzles on the contrary have only occasional similarities of solution length in general.
Having the enumeration expicitly stated surely can’t be much of a give away as most people would count the lights in the grid anyway. That seems to me to be the same as reading a number, just slower.
The Americans seem to follow our lead on showing enumerations for cryptics, if the puzzles I’ve seen on the web are any guide. So there seems to be no difference there.
Now, the one issue I don’t know about, because I’ve never felt inclined to try a US quick grid, is whether or not phrases or hyphenated words are allowed in US quick crosswords. Anybody know?
US quick grids may not have enumerations but they sometimes indicate (hyphenated) for words that are hyphenated and also (two words),(three words,) etc. for phrasal solutions with two words, three words, etc.
Derek, totally agree with you about counting the lights vs reading a number, but I was thinking more about long phrases with multiple words – if you already have a few checking letters, just reading the numbers (ie not the clue) can provide the solution.
I wouldn’t mind if the convention of “advanced” cryptics such as Azed were adopted, where you are told the number of words but not the number of letters in each word. I expect there would be uproar if any maverick crossword editor tried to introduce it in any of the main dailies though!
Enumerations in non-cryptic US puzzles: My epxerience is not that extensive, but in New York Times puzzles, for which I have several books, there is no indication of the number of words, nor of hyphenation. And multi-word answers are most certainly allowed, though “partial” clues like “Room to swing ____” = ACAT are often restricted to short answers (up to five letters I think).
Sorry. I was probably thinking of acrostics where phrasal entries are indicated. As for the non-cryptic crosswords, here’s what “Crossword Puzzles for Dummies” by Michelle Arnot (IDG Books Worldwide, 1998) says (p. 33):
No paranthetical note or tag identifies multiple-word entries. For example, for ATA you find a clue like “One __ time” without a tag like “2 wds.”
I don’t think I’ve had that effect too many times, just getting it from the enumeration, maybe very occassionally. But then, as I’ve said before, my lightening fast brainpower lies in the heart of complex real time software, not recalling words and phrases. So I tend to represent a middle of the road solver between the experts and and the many many people I have met over the years who admit to being regulars but “hardly ever finish”. They are the majority, and the editors are right, they would suffer if the enumeration style changed. I would suffer too but not as much. All the rest of us can do is to ask you to regard the occasional “doh, I didn’t get all my fun on that one” as being a price worth paying for the benefit of the many.
Your only sure way of eliminating “roo” as a sounds-like for “rue” is the fact that roobarb is not a word, and rhubarb is. My guess is that if you get the “barb” part, the right version of “rue” should follow. So I wouldn’t say the clue was unfair.
Will: yes, I agree it’s rather annoying. In the past the “blocky numbers” problem in the Guardian PDFs has always disappeared after a couple of days, but it might be worth you emailing to point it out if it persists. For the Everyman PDFs I try to get just the crossword + clues in the window and then print “Current View” in Acrobat Reader. It’s a bit fiddly, but works OK, and the normal print version is usable even if the typesetting is less attractive.
The discussion of the “Henry” in the Guardian thread the other day made me think of my other favourite unit name: the darcy, a non-SI unit of permeability. I wondered if anyone could remember having seen a clue that uses this and references Pride and Prejudice? (I’ve tried constructing several along these lines, but nothing good enough to be worth repeating here.)
The Gordius in the Grauniad today sparke another round of awful words comments. Guys and gals, ya ain’t seen nothing. My wife works for a publisher. A technical publisher. I see you’ve spotted where this is going. She has recently seen, responsibilize and re-essentialise. Also at work, I once saw simplicate.
When I went to see the consultant last he advised me that if the rate of healing of my broken leg slowed down then they may have to call me in for a third minor op, this time to remove a few of the screws holding in position the two foot nail which now resides inside my right tibia. This would apparently encourage a higher rate of healing. (Watch this space for news in a couple of weeks when I see him again, well the other chat blog actually).
I just received my copy of the letter he sent to my own doctor. The same concept was explained thus….
I have explained to him that he may require his nail dynamising if he is not progressing towards union.
To avoid the wrath of the chatmeister, I’ll post this here rather than in today’s Guardian blog…
Am I the only one who is irritated by the number of complaints made in blog comments about the supposed “obscurity” of names/places/historical events referenced in clues?
Don’t get me wrong – I say this as one who is frequently foxed by clues due to my own lack of knowledge, often while others readily grasp the answer. But it only goes to show how knowledge of the world varies immensely from one person to the next – not just in extent but in what areas are covered. If I fail to solve one clue that others find easy, I will find some clues easy that others consider hard.
And this is why I get irritated at the complaints – no individual can arbitrarily decide that what counts as “general” knowledge, and by extension what is considered “fair game” for crossword setters, should be defined by the parameters of their own knowledge.
This kind of comment has dominated the site for the last two-three months and has become, for me, increasingly tedious. I think it was, to some extent, responsible for complaints about ‘extraneity’.
To illustrate your point: I did know [from Latin!] that ‘pilose’ meant ‘hairy’ and could cope with the OS part, too, but didn’t associate PI with Private Investigator and so still couldn’t parse it fully!
I’ve said on a number of occasions that it’s a poor day when you don’t learn something new – and I’m constantly amazed by the breadth and depth of the ‘general knowledge’ of the setters.
I’m irritated when the comments don’t seem to take account of factors like other aspects of the clue which may make it perfectly solvable without knowing the snippet in question, or the often wide range of types of knowledge used in the puzzle – what you lose on the classical mythology you may gain on the soap operas. Another irritation is the claim that you need to “know the plot” of some novel, when the knowledge needed is nearly always in the cover blurb.
I wouldn’t be happy for setters to simply rely on their own knowledge as a guide – some of them know too much, and should be guided by their test solvers or editors.
I agree entirely that one man’s general knowledge isn’t another’s. I’ve said that very thing several times already. But at the same time it cannot always be said that one man’s knowledge comes under the heading general, otherwise one would have to say that nothing was ever obscure, which is clearly false.
How can one ever differentiate between the two unless you say “well it seems obscure to me” then wait for someone to explain it? If one doesn’t say that, then how will the much valued learning that has been mentioned take place? Silence will result in one remaining convinced something is obscure and nothing will be learnt.
And how exactly does one highlight the genuinely obscure other than by saying that one finds something obscure and wait to see if others agree?
Then there is the problem of people wanting to jump to wrong conclusions about what is said for whatever ulterior motive they may have. There are people out there who interpret almost anything they don’t agree with as an allegation of something or other, obscurity is one such, regardless of what is actually said.
For example, one day I noted that something might be obscure in other parts of the globe. I was immediately jumped upon by a load miseries who spectacularly didn’t correctly read what I had said. And even when I severally pointed this out, those people were so hell bent on destructive comment, that they refused to listen and kept on and on and on about that which I never said. There was actually no need for any comment about a simple and self evident truth. 50% of that thread was totally unnecessary.
On that occasion I did not make any judgement on whether something was actually obscure. I did not suggest that the clue in question was unfair. I did not suggest that such clues should be banned in future. I merely noted a self evident truth, that local UK knowledge, whilst known by some abroard, was likely to unknown by most abroard. And yet everybody and their uncle presumed I had said all of those other things that I had never said, and, with very few exceptions, made absolutely no comment on what I actually said. Why? Does anybody know?
So, I agree with all the sentiments you good people have expressed above. In general. But please excuse me if I am somewhat reluctant to give them carte blanche agreement. As I noted above, the only way to learn is by getting people to teach, and they won’t do that if they don’t know it is required. They won’t know what to teach until some poor sod sticks their head above the parapet and identifies something as needing teaching.
Look at it this way. In November I broke my leg. In early December I came home and just for something to do I took up what had always been for me an unequal struggle that I was totally rusty at having not done it in years, to whit cryptic crosswords. Before, I had struggled to finish even the easiest of cryptics. So, being rusty I stood no chance. That was as recently as the start of December. Now, in mid-February, I expect to complete certain setters every time, and have recently managed to complete setters I would never have thought I could have. How did that happen? How have I made that progress? By saying what I didn’t know and being told the answer. I’ve even been seen recently to be defending setters when some of the long time residents here were crying foul! That’s how much has changed. Would it have changed with silence on my part? No, it would not. The input of others was needed and is still needed.
It would also seem, in the time I’ve been here, others have started speaking up about what they don’t know. Is that really a bad thing? Does anybody want to admit to wanting to keep the hoi poloi down by with-holding learning?
BTW, thank you for the education, you are doing splendidly.
I’ve probably said everything twice or three times, sorry, but it’s already past bedtime and I’m tired and don’t feel like streamlining at this hour. Just take it that nothing is black and white, even though it’s tempting to think so.
Also remember that a lively debate is more fun than the repression of a polite conversation! LOL
Fletch, I think you could have started another thread here. Where do setters get their ideas from? Does one come across a word, be it obscure or common, suddenly have a great idea for a clue and build the puzzle around it? Or maybe just think of words and phrases, fill up the grid and then devise the clues? And where do they start? I remember reading once that compiling a crossword is like tiling a floor – you should start in the middle and work outwards.
Sigh. And on it goes the deliberate misrepresentation of my words.
I see I am now quoted as saying “that every grid that starts with the first black square proper at 1,1 is ‘as dangerous’”
A simple check of my words will show this is a complete misquote. I actually said there was a danger of too much black. I did NOT say that all grids of that type have too much black. Nor did I actuall say ‘as dangerous’, the phrase doesn’t even mean anything when applied to crosswords. What a totally riduculous phrase for it’s writer to have invented.
It is alleged that I what I said “is to ignore the infinite subtleties….” which is also to completely misrepresent what I said by omitting any reference to my words “I know we need variety”. I deliberately put those words in to cover “the infite subtelties”.
I have to ask, can such an obvious misreading really be down to an inability to understand simple English or is there some underlying agenda here?
I’m all for stirring the waters and having a lively debate, but can’t we be sensible about it and not resort to cheap tricks like this?
BTW. Where do I find the information as to what grids are used by the Guardian?
I’m not picking on Gordius in particular, there are many other culprits, but it happens to be a recent example: to lumber yourself with sakieh as it’s just about the only word that’ll fit the crossers …. sorry, but a setter worth his salt would rewrite a corner to avoid that sort of thing.
It’s not just confined to The Guardian either, you see it in The Indy too, especially when there’s a theme or Nina being accommodated. In fact it’s often the first indication that there’s ‘something else going on’, the setter gets left with a collection of awkward crossers in one or two places so one or two unnecessarily obscure answers appear that can give the game away early on.
Derek, I didn’t understand what your comment was referring to, it seemed to come out of nowhere, but I now see it’s a continuation of a discussion started on the Arachne blog. This is where it gets confusing!
Paging Paul B:
In the Quardian 24634 Arachne comments you refer to Guardian Grids by number.
I infer there are a number of “set grids” to which the Guardian compilers must adhere.
Can you tell us where we might see these if we can?
It seems a bit restrictive.
I have seen some “interesting” grid designs in the Indy of late which look like they are designed by the compiler with the theme in mind. For instance there was one with big black Hs (aitches) marching down the diagonal – I think that one had all Hs in the perimeter as a Nina.
For my part as a solver I’m always put off by those grids that effectively cut the grid into 4 quadrants with just a single connection between each.
AFAIK the Indy is the only broadsheet puzzle for which the setters are allowed to use custom grids. All the others have fixed sets, some very good (Times), some including some utter stinkers, like the one with 6/8/10-letter answers where only the 10s link the four corners.
I have only set one crossword ever. About 6 weeks ago. It lead me to writing bits of utility programs to enhance existing free programs. However, we were talking grids. In doing that, I was constrained from just picking words that fitted regardless of obscurity as the target magazine expected a specialist interest theme. So, yes I did a bit of backtracking, and yes I used my own grid design.
Now. How difficult was it? Well even though I was messing around with unfamiliar Crossword software, which took a bit of time, it still took less than half a day.
So? How much time are setters really saving, if they are as talented as they would have us believe? Enough to justify putting in obscurities just because they fit?
I shall not say, I’ll only get jumped on if I do, but I think you get the drift folks.
Derek (#38) – “Crying foul” is the irritating bit. By all means ask a polite question and you’ll generally get a polite answer, even if the question has been asked more than once before. But that’s not what you do – and I’m sure you know it.
Fletch (#39)/Allan (#40) – I can only speak for my own very limited experience, but…
I use Crossword Compiler, which comes with a limited number of set grids built in, or you can design your own grid. So far, I’ve only used the set grids. They are listed in order of a) number of words, then b) total letter count. Each grid also comes with a summary of the number of words by length. So, for example, you could choose a 28-word, 148-letter grid with 10×2 [two ten-letter words], 8×10, 7×4, 6×10, 4×2.
I tend to start with certain words or phrases that I specifically want to include, choose a grid that will accommodate them and then use Crossword Compiler’s autofill option to fill in around them.
A lazy way of doing it? Perhaps, except I make a point of not automatically accepting what the software offers to fill in if I don’t like its suggestions. I will generally only accept words that I am at least vaguely familiar with. I might use an occasional “obscure” word for the sake of convenience, but only if I like the word and consider it fair for solvers (necessarily applying my own idiosyncratic standards of fairness). In most cases, I’m more likely to change the words around it to make a less difficult word fit.
I’m guessing that the Gordius example is one where the setter had various words that just had to go in, and “sakieh” was the only word he could find that would fit around them. In the context of that puzzle, I didn’t think it was such a bad choice of word – but then I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe that finishing the crossword is necessarily the be-all and end-all of doing the crossword.
Don Manley also includes a short section on designing the grid in his Chambers Crossword Manual, in which he runs through the process of doing a grid for the Indy. Worth reading if you’re really interested in how the pros do it.
I’m right behind Smutchin on this – if ever I have a quibble about a crossword, it always concerns the way in which words are clued, and NOT the “obscurity” or otherwise of the solutions themselves. Most of us, and this must include the professional compilers, have a fairly good idea of the relative familiarity the general public will have with any particular word we might put into a crossword. My own rule of thumb would be that the less common the word, the simpler the clue for it should be. But ultimately the constituency of the Guardian crossword is people who not only already have a fairly wide general knowledge, but are interested in extending that knowledge further.
And when it comes to filling grids with suitable words, I am a mere dilettante when it comes to crossword compilation, but even I know that it is very easy to paint yourself into a corner when filling a puzzle, because certain words and their clues become so dear to your heart that you are reluctant to have to recast a whole quadrant. This is why we end up with otherwise mainstream crosswords containing words like ‘chthonic’ or ‘kgotla’. That is an explanation (but not an excuse) for the behaviour of the professional setter – but I am relaxed about occasional lapses. I would be very disappointed if the Guardian dumbed itself down.
smutchin, you are cryptic crossword solver. You understand the concept of not being fooled by surface readings. You should try it on people. We are not talking about the starving millions here, we are talking about a form of entertainment. Colouring things up is more entertaining than not.
If you really want to understand why that should be, think about the phrase I used, the repression of polite conversation. Did you even come close to understanding that? There are some terribly serious things underlying where that phrase comes from, in both personal history and in terms of general history. It’s best not to say here, but I’ve left my contact details on here several times. If you really want to know that’s fine by me.