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Placing a small bet that connoisseur was C?N?O?S?E?R in each case, you may not be surprised to learn that no other word (in the CD-Rom version of Chembers at least) fits this pattern. But more significantly, if you change one of these checking letters to anything else you like, it’s still the only choice. So it’s a longer version of ERATO for E?A?O, and getting rid of it requires changes to at least two other answers. I didn’t check all the options with two letters free, but a few initial goes dragged up words like CENSORSHIPS, SINUOUSNESS and TENUOUSNESS – which don’t seem to cry out to be clued.
SO that’s one part of the “amazing coincidence” that’s less amazing than it seems. As Mike Laws often says elsewhere in such discussions, the most amazing coincidence would be … no coincidences at all.
Is there any reason why some papers still use a fixed set of grids? I can understand why it might have been the case in the days of hot metal but surely these days anything should be possible.
In particular, with the vast universe of available grids, why did the Guardian choose a group if grids with so many that involve a large number of answers that are less than 50 percent checked? Today’s is an example with 9 out of the 29 clues being more than 50 percent unched.
I can’t take any credit for the Indy’s policy as it was instigated by my predecessor, Brian Greer (Virgilius), but it certainly gives setters a lot more room for manoeuvre. This week’s puzzles by Virgilius and Morph would have been very hard to achieve without such flexibility.
I have only recently come across this website and find it extremely useful for checking my solutions to the Guardian cryptic crosswords that are published in the Brisbane Courier Mail. I am also amused by some of the comments by bloggers commenting on the clues and solutions, particularly those complaining about difficult clues for sometimes obscure words. Spare a thought for us solvers in other parts of the world, when the solution is some obscure village or person or event which may be well known in the UK but totally unknown in other parts of the globe.
A good case in point is Puck’s superb offering published here last Friday, May 8, but which appeared in the Guardian on April 1. Apart from the fact that the significance of the date was lost, I had never heard of the April Fools Day pranks which were featured. Nevertheless, with a little bit of help from Wikipedia,I was able to solve the puzzle completely before checking the solution with fifteensquared. I still had to use my head, though, because, in the list of fictional countries which I displayed “Sans Serriffe” was misspelt – one letter missing – which struck me as ironic for something connected with the Guradian.
For me, the fun with cryptic crosswords is the sense of achievement when you see the light and solve the final clue – and the tougher they are the better I like them.
Many thanks for a very useful and entertaining website.
Glad you enjoyed my April Fools Day puzzle, Crypticnut. Well done for solving it away from the significant day, and without having heard of the hoaxes. In regard to the spelling of San Serriffe, I was perturbed myself to see a wrong spelling of the name in the Grauniad itself just at the time I was setting the puzzle. I ended up having to contact someone at the paper to get the definitive answer as to the correct spelling, although I think I also found a photocopy of the original Guardian spoof somewhere on the internet (my own copy is in storage). As for Wikipedia, there are often mistakes on there, so I always cross-check their info with other sources.
This follows a post in yesterday’s FT thread pointing out a possible mistake in the enumeration of a clue.
If a setter uses any crossword software while setting a puzzle and opts for auto enumeration facility, the enumeration for any phrase that is not in the dB will be the total number of cells ih the particular slot. If the phrase is in the dB, it will be as per the length of individual words.
Thus, if SKILL SET were in the dB, the auto enu facility would have put in (5,3); if not, it would be (8).
It is always useful to manually check the enumerations after finishing a crossword using any software.
As for checking the crossword before sending it off , Don Manley somewhere on the Web gave some most useful tips – which I appreciated very much as I had learnt all that by experience over time and was putting them in practice.
Very nice to see another Brisbane-ite here. Monica & I will perhaps feel less alien now. Like Crypticnut (158) I also find obscure place names a pain, but thanks to Google & my ancient Pears Cyclopaedia I can usually get them. As Cnut notes, Bne Courier Mail publishes the Guardian crossword about 6 weeks in arrears, BUT thanks to the online crossword we can stay current. Of course this means doing not one but TWO crosswords a day but what a chore!
I know the weekly on-line Quiptic doesn’t normally interest our better solvers, but could someone do me a favour please and look at 1ac in this weeks puzzle?
I solved the clue, but still don’t see the relevance of “one Swedish”. So if someone can check it out before Monday, but then, to be fair to other solvers, refrain from posting until Monday, I would be grateful.
One quick burst of Wikipedia later and I see what you mean.
Pity nobody was interested in me starting a Quiptic blog, that’s probably the sort of clue that would have been discussed as “is it too specialist for a Quiptic”. I have a bus pass and it is still “before my time” so unless I was a film buff, I’m not sure why I should know that. We all know who she was, but, IMHO (usually wrong according to some) that goes beyond general knowledge. I’d be tempted to argue the point for a normal crossword, let alone a Quiptic. But given that the clue was solveable without that phrase but with checked lights I might not have argued it that strongly (unless somebody else did, when I wouldn’t be able to resist having fun!).
I haven’t trawled back posts, so forgive me if this has been covered.
If solvers use on-line tools, for example Google, will setters start to take this into account, leading to a sort of measures and countermeasures arms race so that we’ll all be expected to have computers? Or will setters compose puzzles ignoring the possible use of on-line tools, considering that those who want a fair contest won’t use them? I hope this is what they do.
In passing, what is the view on artificial assistance in general? I’m pretty rotten at the only puzzle I tackle, the Guardian cryptic, but would rather fail to complete it than use any form of aid (but will check a word in a dictionary once I’ve finished or, more often, given up).
Presumably once you’ve used the cheat feature in the on-line version, morally you have to stop unless the result revealed provides no crossing letters to unsolved clues? Though I suppose this is the same as saying “it must be”, and filling in a word without having properly worked out the clue.
As far as I know the intention of setters for all daily paper puzzles is generally that you should be able to solve puzzles without reference books (especially if you’re an old hand), and certainly without anagram crackers, wildcard searches and the like. Possible exception for occasional puzzles with a strong literary or similar theme where the setter may not be terribly shocked if you look at the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations or use the Companion to Literature to (e.g.) remind yourself of the books someone wrote.
While you’re still “pretty rotten”, I’m sure that the vast majority of setters and solvers would like you to enjoy the puzzle in your own way, whatever it may be. Using aids is only cheating if you conceal it when reporting your solving prowess. While you’re learning, I see no harm at all in checking possible answers or wordplay elements in a desktop or online dictionary during solving, especially if that helps you to complete the puzzle and solve 30 clues instead of 20. When you start finishing regularly, switch back to a stricter regime, but if you want to do well, the initial task is to experience and solve as many clues as possible – not just the easy ones!
If you can always work out the wordplay to all of the clues, you’re a better solver than I am!
Due to comments in today’s Guardian thread, and for the benefit of public transport solvers in general, here’s what I know about “having one for the way home”.
OK, so let’s presume you don’t want another paper and can’t get a used one from a colleague who hates XWords…..
If you are a Guardian reader, you could visit their on-line site and scroll down the crosswords bit to the part you can’t normally see where you will find their archive which goes back ages. Provided you don’t have a photographic memory you print out a seriously old one by whichever setter you fancy and take it with you for the return journey.
If you have a laptop with a decent battery life, get a copy the free Across Lite crossword “player”. The NY Times has a latest version link. Then there are several sites that you can download cryptics from before you set off.
If you have a pocket PC or Windows MobilePhone, you can, for a small price, get a version of that same software adapted for the smaller environment. So again, it’s just a question of finding sites with that format puzzle who’s XWords you can at least tolerate and downloading whilst at home, or at a WiFi hotspot etc.
I know of no convention or rule directly specifying a maximum number of wordplay components. So at least in theory, you could have a “first letters of words” clue for a fifteen-letter answer, or a charade with fifteen elements.
There are conventions about clue-length which preclude some possibilities. In most of the published cryptics, clues of more than about 12 words are very rare for answers of 15 letters or less.
As for what annoys solvers: this depends on whether the clue is unfair, gives away the answer, or makes no surface sense. Those are the main sources of irritation (stands back for list of other irritations) and none of them is directly related to the number of wordplay components.
I am slowly getting to grips with the basics of cryptic crosswords. I was wondering if there is a preferred route to approach them in terms of the relative styles and difficulties between newspapers. The ones I am attempting so far are:
Local paper: There is no setter given but the sequence is currently up to 17,041 although there was a large gap recently when it jumped from 16,799 to 17,000 from one day to the next! The format is that there are two sets of clues (quick and cryptic) and an identical grid for each. The quick clues don’t lead to the same answers as the cryptic clues though. I can usually make good headway with this barring some obscure and sometimes quite old fashioned words –I wonder sometimes if this is the same sequence that has been going round in the local paper for decades! As there is no setter given, I can’t really determine different styles, although anagrams seem very common.
Guardian Daily: These are the ones that I am mainly attempting and mainly on weekdays with varying levels of success. I have read that the Guardian varies a lot in style and difficulty though, so I’m not sure whether I might be frustrating myself unduly at times. The main reason I do them is that I can use the online facility during my lunch break and then gradually cheat on the answers if I need to and work out how they are arrived at (in conjunction with the very useful blogs here).
Guardian Everyman: I have a book of these but have only managed a couple so far and one or two more recent online versions. I have read that the clue formations here are supposed to be fairer in some way but I’m not sure why – I don’t particularly find them any easier than the dailies.
Telegraph: I have bought a book of these, mainly as it is lightweight and will fit in my hand luggage during an up coming holiday. I have heard that these are supposed to be at the easier end of the broadsheet dailies but I have not attempted any yet.
Independent, FT and Times: I have not attempted any of these.
I just wondered what more experience puzzlers thought and how they went about improving. I guess with most things, it comes down to practise ultimately!
I’m sure many people print solved or partly solved crosswords for later checking. A rather nice free program Doro PDF Writer enables you to ‘print’ a PDF file instead of a piece of paper. When installed you will see it as another printer in the print dialogue. Download available here http://www.softpedia.com/get/Office-tools/PDF/Doro-PDF-Writer.shtml
Hughie Just noticed your comment. I am doing an Everyman a day from the 100 Everyman book, plus the puzzle on Sunday. Getting quicker, and I have also started doing AZED with the help of an experienced solver. I go for the anagrams and hidden words first, and that gets me started. For a beginner ( 7 months), sandwich and charade clues are the most difficult I think. You have to have in your head a huge database of synonyms, plus crossword language.
I have now started looking at The Times, together with Pete’s blog, but it is a huge step up from Everyman, and rather dispiriting at the moment.
Ambition: a complete AZED without any hints, and a times daily at some stage!
The Telegraph and FT are supposed to be the easy ones of the ‘big 5′. Guardian, Indie and Times are pretty much level in average difficulty. Sample them all on websites or in books and swap if one appeals much more than the Guardian, but if you do a puzzle every day and get help from the blog after your attempt, you’ll make progress regardless of which puzzle you pick.
Another thing you’re likely to find is that you’ll get onto the wavelengths of some setters more than others, and that has as much to do with style as difficulty. I regard Bannsider as the most innovative (and often very tricky) setter around, but after solving many of his puzzles I recognise the style – incidentally, in this regard I’m describing his Times puzzles – in an instant and, while his puzzles are never easy, I can get into them quickly.
Rufus supposedly offers some of the easiest cryptics around, but if I have a significant gap between solving his puzzles I can really struggle to get back onto his wavelength.
If you find that one or two setters seem to “fit in” with your approach to solving, stick with them – look out for their crosswords and use them to increase your knowledge of wordplay techniques (far easier to take lessons from teachers you understand!). Then, as your confidence grows, you can start to branch out into puzzles by different setters.
This question has come about because of a clue for WEASEL which appeared in my Independent 7088 puzzle. The wordplay exploited W(ith) + EASEL = W(ith) + STAND but I chose to play safe and added “apparently” after the cryptic device “withstand”.
Looking back on it, I’m starting to question the logic. An example of elision such as “indeed” to represent a wordplay element inside DEED is obviously wrong, since it’s a fundamental error of grammar. But if the wordplay simply mirrors the way in which components are strung together in an answer, is that also wrong? In the WEASEL answer, W and EASEL are not separated – so why should W and STAND be separated in the clue?
Really, this is a question about what solvers deem as fair. Any thoughts?
Anax: Although I’m not sure how I would rigorously argue the case for it, I thought the WEASEL clue was fair and a fun one to solve! (In case people missed it, the complete clue was: “Withstand, apparently, one who’s treacherous (6)”.)
Not related to that at all, but someone alerted me to this animation about the art of the crossword inker :)
I’m not sure if I am in the right forum – but I am hoping someone will be able to explain the answer to the following crossword clue. I sent two Indie x-words to my Uncle and Aunt in Canada (they tend to download the Telegraph on a daily basis so I thought a change would be appropriate). They managed to finish both crosswords but couldn’t work out why the answer to the following clue was “Have a hidden agenda” (assuming they have got that right?). The clue was “Here six horizontal couples may be seen to hold back congress”. Can anyone help to explain it to me – so that I, in turn, can explain it to them. Thanks
Re yesterday’s debate about spelling of foreign words and their correct plurals(21a. FETTUCINI ), a letter in today’s Guardian neatly sums up the entire issue – and proposes a way forward:-
“Why only use the Latin plurals of neuter nouns ending in -um (Letters, 26 August)? What about digital camerae and bankers’ boni? And why limit it to nominative, vocative and accusative plurals? Why not other cases such as “I was in the museo”, “the owner of the stadii” or “The Carnival of the Animalium”? And why are only Latin nouns are picked on? Why not pizze, fjorder and orang-orang-utan? Nouns from isolating languages like Chinese should not change in the plural, as in “two sampan” or “a bowl of lychee”. Words derived from Arabic that begin with al, which means the, should lose the prefix when referring to an indefinite item, as in “a cove”.
I think not. Knowledge of foreign grammar should not be a prerequisite for speaking or writing correct English. Perhaps we need a citizenship test for foreign words. If they want to come over here and join our language, we expect them to play by our rules!
Just a post to note that the Fairfax service, which had provided free on-line crosswords to the websites of both the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age (Melbourne) has suspended their service. I don’t know if these papers will provide any on-line crosswords anymore, which may mark a major lifestyle change for me …
As another Aussie, I just got straight to the Gaurdian these days for an online fix. I still do the Courier Mail on the train but have a start on the online version at lunch and try and finish on the ride home.
I’m in the US and have been doing the American style crosswords for a bit, but am curious about cryptics. I tried FT’s Weekend, and could not figure out a thing. Does an escalating level of difficulty thing exist in UK papers? (E.g. NYTimes is easiest on Monday and gets progressively harder until Sat.)
If you live in Australia, as I do, and want to access the puzzle online in the (Aussie) morning, rather than waiting till about 6am BST when it appears, there is a way in which is available from about 2am BST. Check the number of the previous day’s puzzle, add 1 and enter the number in the archive box. Bingo! Nice grauniad touch, to archive something before it’s appeared!
We used to find we didn’t have time to do every crossword. We are Guardian readers, and over time we have settled on solving only Araucaria and Paul, who we really love. They’re always challenging (to us) and very funny (to us).
But now that our solving times are improving, we need more!. Which setters should we turn to next, do you think? And why?
I don’t normally have time to tackle the Guardian, but would recommend Brendan who is Virgilius in the Indy, as far as I know, and produces a classic pretty much every fortnight in his slot on that paper.
Jane & Stuart
Try Enigmatist – he’s similar in many ways to Araucaria & Paul. Also, Biggles, though he doesn’t appear often. Well, I should say ‘they’, as Biggles is a joint effort by Araucaria, Paul & Enigmatist, I think. (All their real names are John. WE Johns, geddit?)
Gosh, stunned I am.
“We need more” – after Araucaria & Paul?
Indeed, Enigmatist, is an option but he’s not “more” in a sense that it’s “more” ,
just “more” of the same (high quality, that is).
Try Shed, Puck, Orlando or Pasquale.
Or download every now and then puzzles from the FT site:
Cinephile (= Araucaria), Mudd (= Paul), Bradman (= Pasquale) or Cincinnus (= Orlando).
They are slightly easier, I admit, but similar in style to their alter egos.
And keep a close look at FT’s Alberich.
Rare appearances by this setter, but extremely high quality.
And if this is not enough, try crosswords of the late Bunthorpe (easily accessible through the Guardian website’s search option).
To be honest, I haven’t tried them yet – but everyone around me says these crosswords are the most challenging ever written.