This post is now closed. Please use the ‘General Discussion’ page instead.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 at 5:00 am and is filed under Archive.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
Both comments and pings are currently closed.
I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment. There are several sites that allow discussion about prize puzzles, including the giving of answers, but this is something that we must accept as a fact of life. I, like you and I am sure many others, do not like it but there is not much that we can do about it, other than to not succumb, ourselves, to the temptation to cheat. The link on this site, to which you refer, has now been removed.
I really don’t understand in what circumstances UK papers publish many crosswords of a setter posthumously.
I would guess that a newspaper has a panel of setters and its members submit puzzles with some glance at possible date of publication.
I can’t imagine newspapers having such a large supply of puzzles that so many of a setter are lying with them unused long after the demise of the person.
I understand that if crossword editors make any editorial changes in a cryptic crossword they usually get the approval of the setter. If this is true, does it mean that edited crosswords were lying unused over a long period?
Is there a dearth of setters in the UK that a newspaper should resort to using puzzles from someone who is no more?
To whom is payment made when a puzzle is published posthumously? Has the setter sepcified some charity to which the cheques may be sent?
Typically what is the time lag between the submission of a puzzle by someone and its seeing the light of day?
Finally, after a member has been empanelled, is any crossword submitted by the person rejected for some reason or the other?
I am not sure what you are saying or why you are saying it. I cannot see anything wrong in principle in publishing a puzzle after someone’s death. This happens for instance quite often in the field of chess. Some such puzzles have been published many times and are classics.
Following on this, it is a different matter if the posthumous crosswords in question seem to be of poor quality. This is partly of course a matter of taste. I have much enjoyed 15/2 and am pleased to be still learning and developing my ‘taste buds’, but I doubt if the elite group of ‘expert’ solvers and bloggers like yourself, or even the less experienced like yours truly, constitute a majority or even a large minority of those who get pleasure from the Guardian cryptic. I see the blog as a site of informed comment and sociable discussion rather than ‘the crossword police’. The Guardian cryptic does not belong to us, any more than the theatre belongs to the critics.
I imagine the Guardian crossword editor would have the answers to your organisational questions. I do not know, but I can well imagine that (partial) payments to compilers are made on publication and that (as with author’s royalties) there are individuals or institutions entitled to such payments after the original writer’s death.
Of course, it may also be that the editor himself is simply juggling a complex timetable.
I’m glad you raised this here, because it’s something that I think is well worth discussing.
We have today had the second posthumous Guardian puzzle [Rover] in two days; [yesterday's was Quantum]. It is now over two years since Eric Burge [Quantum] died and, in that time, we have had, as far as I can make out from the 15 ² archive, 15 posthumous puzzles. Rover died at the end of May this year and, since then, we have had three of his puzzles, which is roughly equivalent to the frequency of his puzzles during 2009.
Since puzzles are usually, apparently, compiled and submitted several weeks or months before publication, I think the circumstances I could imagine might be, in answer to your first sentence: one posthumous puzzle as a tribute to the late compiler; a puzzle that s/he had compiled for a particular forthcoming event; a repeat publication of a classic example of the compiler’s work, to mark, perhaps, an anniversary – and there may be others.
One of my objections to the random use of posthumous puzzles is that they are totally unheralded, which, on a number of occasions, has caused embarrassment to more recent commenters on this site, who were unaware of the situation and were more outspoken in their criticism than they might otherwise have been
Another is that, by and large, the puzzles in question [for example, yesterday's and today's] have been in no way ‘classic’ examples of the compiler’s art. I remember being an admirer of Quantum in previous years but the puzzles we have had in the last two years have done nothing to enhance his reputation for me. In the two and a half years since I joined this site, I have made no secret of the fact that Rover is not one of my favourites [though I know he has many supporters - we're all different] but I have always tried to be fair when blogging his puzzles, of which I seem to have done a fair [or unfair!] few. Ironically, I think, there were only four posthumous puzzles from one of my all-time top favourites, Bunthorne and two from the excellent and much-loved Taupi.
In reply to your question, I don’t know about any ‘dearth of setters’ but, from remarks made on this site, I gather there are several able compilers who would be more than willing to supply puzzles for the Guardian.
[I've just discovered that, during the [long] time I have been typing this, tupu has posted a comment. I have had no time to read it properly and so this was in no way intended as a reply to it.]
…….from an earlier comment on the Guardian Paul blog from tupu which I’m answering here as it’s a bit off topic there:
‘Metaphor’….. is an association through similarity or opposition (opposite meanings imply each other). ‘Metonymy’ is a more arbitrary association through custom and contingency.
Association and substitution of mind for brain is thus metaphoric in this sense.
A typical metonymic assocition ….. would be that between throne or crown and monarchy where one is again substitutable for the other. The association of Oliver and Stone and other well know names seems to me to be of this type. I await ‘another day’ to hear why you don’t approve – perhaps because it is not as generaly known as other examples?
The two forms lie at the heart of every level of language from phonology to discourse and also of symbolism and ‘magic’. A sorcerer who sticks pins in a doll is using a metaphoric connection and Medea burning Jason’s clothing is using a metonymic one.
Hi tupu – I thought ‘another place’ would do as well as ‘another day’. I’ve posted your comment as context for anyone else who might be interested – I hope you don’t mind.
You are right of course, ‘Oliver’ and ‘Stone’ have no metaphorical connection. But neither can I find any metonymic connection. For that we need two different but related things: ‘Westminster’ for the government; ‘Rome’ for the Catholic Church. And it only works one way: we can’t say ‘the government’ to mean ‘Westminster’ or ‘drink’ to mean ‘the bottle’. The lesser has to represent the greater. ‘Oliver’ and ‘Stone’ don’t have this sort of relationship.
But that isn’t why I object to clueing one name with another. There are many celebrated Olivers – Twist, Goldsmith, etc. So at least there should be a ‘maybe’ or some other signal that we are not being given something definitive. Even then, and I admit this is purely a matter of personal inclination, I feel that this device is over-familiar. I commented recently on this when ‘Parton’ was used to clue ‘Dolly’ or vice versa. First names only are for people you know, and to be used, generally, in the company of people who also know the person referred to. The practice of referring to ‘celebrities’ by their first names I find simply distasteful.
Many thanks for taking the trouble to explain your view on this. I have no objection to the shift here and welcome the discussion. I found your comment too late to reply last night.
My own position is that the key quality of metonymy is intelligible ‘contingent’ connection. The fore- and surnames of well known personages are an example though not as lasting or exclusive as some others. This does not worry me too much provided that there is intelligibility.
Of course, the clue in question was a light-hearted offering to Sil in the context of another argument and it pleased me at the time but there we are. I would have no objection to adding a question mark to it in the light of your comment. My main argument was that concerning different sorts of link between question and answer, which I compared, in perhaps too delphic terms, to riddles and myths.
I realise your main point is different. I understand it but, again, worry less about it.
The use of first names more generally in our society is however very interesting to me. There are all sorts of uncertainties and variations.
The phenomenon you dislike is part of a wider one where people are asserting to others a familiarity they might hesitate to assert to the named persons themselves (a sort of name- dropping) though the ‘celebrity world’ to some extent fosters such unreal familiarity which I myself do not particularly like.
I found a well known politician’s references not long ago to ‘Condie’ (Condoleezza Rice) pretty sickening.
I am conscious as I write that you appear to use your own forename in the blog and as such ‘invite’ others to do the same. If so, this is clearly a more consciously friendly gesture than I had appreciated – so thank you for that too. Although I do not use my own first name here, I am generally quite easy about it and encourage most young people to use it. I find this rarely if ever leads to disrespect. I draw the line, however, at my own children and grandchildren – it provides the latter with a boundary they occasionally cross for fun since they know I’m not really hurt if they do. I remember once jokily calling my own father by his first name and feeling deeply guilty about doing so – of cause family custom varies on this.
I fear at this stage that my comment is getting too off topic even for ‘general crossword chat’. Many thanks once again.
hi tupu – your central paragraph sums it up nicely. That sort of name-dropping, as you rightly call it, is sickening, and I find it equally so in a clue.
Your comments about the use of forenames in general are interesting. My use of my forename in this blog feels quite natural to me: I am, however distantly, in the company of my fellow commenters. When I was a teacher I preferred students to call me by my surname, rather than ‘Sir’. My feeling is that I am a person with a name, so please use it. Indeed I find obligatory formality as off-putting as spurious familiarity. Both seem, in their opposite ways, to want to avoid any possibility of relating to a real person. But as you say we are getting off-topic.
Hi Martin H
Thanks once again. I do hope my feeble attempt at a joky clue didn’t ‘sicken’ you – or anyone else for that matter! Rest assured I was not trying to imply any personal familiarity with Mr Stone!
For what it’s worth, I was a university teacher myself and most students tended and still tend to call me by my first name. In my experience this has engendered trust rather than any disrespect, and the only ‘falseness’ is I hope forgivable – a feeling it sometimes allows me that I am younger in heart than my birth certificate suggests!
Have you ever been asked how you got into cryptic puzzling?
Are you sitting comfortably?
In the late 60s/early 70s I found myself commuting between two jobs, one in Nottingham, the other in London. During the last days of railway carriages with compartments and Poached Finnan Haddock & Oeufs Florentine for breakfast.
The first call for breakfast was just before Loughborough and a fellow traveller–a dapper chap in camel coat and bowler–was in the habit of leaving his folded Daily Telegraph down the side of the seat whilst he went off for breakfast (and thereby travelled 1st Class for the rest of the journey).
I travelled with him in one of the few “No Smoking” compartments several times and he never returned for his paper, having, as I thought, completed the crossword in the first ten minutes of the journey. I started to get the D. Telegraph myself, but was utterly bewildered by the puzzle and began to think of my fellow traveller as something of a genius. That is, until I took a peek at his puzzle………..
He had inserted the words of “Three Blind Mice” in the blank squares. And he had done so accompanied by a sporadic and bemused nodding of the head, signing off the last “clue” with a flourish of his fountain pen!
I practiced whistling the tune to give him a rendition of it on a future journey, but, alas, I never saw him again.
‘Gregory’ was my first idea, coming naturally to me as my older brother’s name, but on second thoughts, I think the subject should be ‘Glynn’, to free up the ‘e’ and the ‘r’s', of which there are fewer.
I was out for my run last Saturday and your discussion on indirection popped into my head. I suddenly thought of this as “the way to go”, and added the “definition” part a few minutes later.
“I get the impression you have failed to take some of that on board” – probably. I am sorry but I had only skimmed what you said. Indirection struck me because the only context I remember meeting it was in assembly language and related matters.
I have often found that running produces some useful thoughts (more oxygen to the old brian?), but unfortunately, a bit like Churchill after stuff he wrote down in the night, they usually evenesce into oblivion by the time I return.
Valiant efforts, so far, but I think you’re on a loser here, pitting yourself against such a master of anagrams. I don’t think Rufus was issuing a challenge – simply being self-deprecating. I’d be astonished if anyone came up with a better clue than his.
I thought it might be possible as a charade, then I went back and looked at the actual letters and gave up shortly after llanfair! Well, right after to be precise. Not being one to give up straight away though, but without going to the try try again extreme, I looked at the phonetic version. Then I gave up permanently.
Excuse me interrupting your conversation. I hope this is the correct place to ask this; if not, perhaps one of you would point me in the right direction.
I’ve been learning to solve crosswords over the past eight years, and would love to try my hand at compiling them. Can any of you offer me advice on how to get started? I composed a number of clues a while ago but am a bit stuck on how to get going on fitting words into a grid; I always seem to hit an impasse at some point. Is there a knack to this?
Anyway, any help, advice or links to a place where I can find these would be most gratefully received.
Also, once I’ve started compiling puzzles, should I just start firing them off to the crossword editors of the various newspapers, or is there a better way?
I’d suggest you look at a few other setters’ sites, such as Peter Biddlecombe’s site or Anax’s site to name but two for some hints, such as recommendations about ratios of checked-to-unchecked letters, editorial policies used in some publications (some of which has a limited selection of fixed grids) and so on, and possibly hints on compiling a selection of crosswords to submit to an editor for comments.
There are many programs like Crossword Compiler and Puzzlex now that can help you take care of the symmetry that is usually desired, though when I first tried my hand in about 1993, I think, I used 15×15 grids on paper which I’d printed from Word or Mac Draw and modified in pencil, with occasional erasing, given that some words gave real problems finding decent words at 90-degrees through the checking letters. You’ll soon get to know which letters are best put in unchecked lights and which letters make it easy to come up with checking entries. Those with the lowest Scrabble scores are probably best to improve your statistical chances of filling the grid, but occasional use of the harder crossing letters will stop your grids being too samey and can be good if you simultaneously see two good words or legitimate phrases that can cross with, say a J, Q or Z at the intersection. (In fact Scrabble tiles can be useful for grid-filling in their own right).
You will sometimes need to change your mind with a number of interconnected words, often in a corner, and occasionally, you might feel that certain words lend themselves to pleasing cryptic treatment, so you’ll choose them. Sometimes, I’ve even seen grids with only one vowel (all I’s, I think).
There are software programs to help automate grid filling, some of which can take lists of desired words to be included, if I recall correctly, and will choose other words elsewhere in the grid. Some people will comment that a grid looks to have been auto-filled, so I guess these programs have certain predictable attributes. Various programs and websites (like oneacross.com) can take word patterns such as A?T?Q???Y and suggest possible solutions, which can give you semi-automated grid filling. Sometimes the suggestions are all too obscure, so a reworking of crossing clues may be preferable.
So, I’d suggest you may indeed start with some themed answers or other cleverly linked answers, but perhaps no more than 10 (a few more if short words, a few fewer if long words).
For most freedom, ideally, don’t enter the darks & lights up front but work them through and use the symmetry to fill in the rest.
Don’t be too prescriptive about where your desired answers will appear on the grid at first, but put a couple in early and work from there, aiming to make space for the others nearby. Fill in other words that don’t make life too difficult, and bear in mind that anything really obscure (or rare spellings) will probably need very clear wordplay and plenty of checking letters to make the puzzle a fair challenge.
Other than a few special clues you might have come up with to start with, I’d suggest you write the clues after the grid is filled so that you can fill the grid with words that will fit. You should be able to come up with some sort of clue for virtually any word, but it’s quite possible that your best clues will be for words you might use to start the grid.
I started solving British crosswords about 2+ years ago.
From that moment on [and helped by my Dutch cryptic background - despite having neglected it for years and years] I rediscovered compiling clues, even though mostly in the “stand-alone” category (like for Paul’s website).
Then I bought Crossword Compiler [in fact, basically to make a database to give my Dutch ideas the place they deserve], but then I thought: why not try to make a fifteensquared crossword, now that I have the technical tools for it.
As you probably know, I had my first real crossword published just a couple of months ago on the Alberich site.
I am only an amateur [with a very low output (for very reasons including the obvious one: not being from the UK)], but I have a clear strategy to compile crosswords in a way that it suits me.
I am more than willing to share my thoughts about that with you.
Just send me an email at [email protected] and I will come back to you [not tomorrow, but soon].
Otter: If you’re serious about compiling, be warned that it’s a pretty hard road. Crossword editors of broadsheet papers apparently receive quite frequent submissions from would-be setters, and have to turn down the vast majority, telling the best that they’ll remember them when some spare space is available – and it rarely is available because they’ll often have someone who joined their team a while back and has turned out to be good enough to have their ration of puzzles increased if someone else leaves. If you read about the best setters or talk to them, you will often find that they wrote dozens or even hundreds of puzzles before getting onto a broadsheet newspaper team.
Given a bit of techie nous, you can fairly easily set up a blog or other website where you can make your puzzles available for comment. You can also find various people on the internet who may be happy to review a puzzle or two and comment on it privately – that’s probably better than the possibility of public negative comment.
Remember when reading the blogs that their advice is mostly for solvers. Setting is a related but different skill, and there are points you might not have noticed from solving experience. It would be very sensible to read Don Manley’s book before you write puzzles for other people to solve. It’s also worth solving a range of puzzles and reading the comment about them, so that you can see what people like and don’t like.
The computer-based tools are useful, but you should regard computer-filled grids or parts of grids as the product of a stupid machine – to get a good variety of clue types and avoid dull words, you need to be firmly in charge of the grid-filling process. And filling a grid is just the start – it’s the clue-writing that should take the vast majority of the time you spend working on a puzzle. To that end, it’s probably best not to worry about themes – 28 out of 30 good clues is much more impressive than a themed puzzle with 15 out of 30.
Don’t be surprised if it takes you a double-digit number of hours to write a puzzle with clues that you’re really happy with – you need to be self-critical.
I have written a fair number of clues in the past. I agree that this is the key to a good crossword, and the more clues I write, the more I will improve.
Where I have hit a bit of a brick wall is in fitting words into a grid. When I have tried, I seem to end up at an impasse in which I cannot fit the last few words in because of the interconnecting letters that I have. I’d be grateful for hints and tips on this one technical aspect to get me started. From the comments I’ve received from you, Sil and Dynamic, I think I’ll go back to blank grids on paper (I’ll start with Guardian grids because that’s what I’m familiar with) and a pencil and just try again, and hope that it gets easier over time. The comment about Scrabble ‘scoring’ for letters sounds useful.
Armed with all your various comments, I’ll start trying again and see if I get along better this time. I just thought there must be some easier way than how I was trying to do it, and hopefully with the tips I’ve received I’ll get better.
Once I’ve got adept at actually compiling completed crosswords, the other hints about publishing and acceptance etc will also be most useful.
Thank you all. And please do post additional tips, anyone – I’m very keen to learn.
On filling a grid: I see no shame in using tools like “crossword completer” books or the pattern-matching parts of electronic dictionaries to help you with the last few words in the grid. But you do have to be careful with the words you choose at the beginning of the grid fill. It’s surprisingly easy to set up corners which are either impossible to fill or force you into trying to find an original clue for a word like OKAPI.
otter, I suppose the other thing to mention is initial grid selection. If you have a list of words, maybe for a theme, look at the word lengths, then look at what is available in various grids. For example, if you have 3 8-letter words, pick a grid with say 6 slots for 8 letter words, then you have more possibilities of being able to fit in your required words. That in turn means you have more chance of completeing the grid just by shuffling a few words around rather than restarting from scratch.
I never bought it, but I evaluated it a while back, hence my memory may be faulty, but I think Crossword Compiler, as mentioned in @384, gives grid summaries to save you having to count all the available word lengths. Of the available similar tools I finally settled for the freeware program of the same name from Spoonbill Software, which sadly doesn’t have that facility. I made the choice because the latter is sufficent for the more basic needs of an occasional compiler. I’d buy the former if I ever intended to set crosswords regularly. Of the available products, I think those two are the best in their categories (commercial and freeware). Pen and paper just doesn’t rate compared to using tools like those. Whilst both tools will auto-fill a grid, neither forces you to, so as Peter rightly requires, you maintain full control.
I once had a list, I had one long word, it was at the bottom of the list, I chose a pretty grid from the Guardian approved set, put the words in from the list, and when I got to the long word I only then realised there was no slot of that length anywhere in the grid! Moral, do the counting first!
All this comment comes in very handy for me, since I got so obsessed with the impossibility of emulating Rufus’s excellent clue for a certain Welsh railway station, I have eventually compiled a crossword around its English tranlation.
It can be found at either of these two sites, and I would much appreciate any feedback.
I stumbled on this site some months ago and enjoy visiting it. I don’t contribute to the daily blogs because the puzzle I tackle over breakfast each day in The Canberra Times (where it is headed “ENGLISH CRYPTIC CROSSWORD”) doesn’t appear there until about a fortnight after the Guardian prints it.
What stimulated this message (which may or may not belong in this basket) was Rightback’s “interesting question” about Hebrew plurals in his blog on 2D GOYIM in Shed’s 25107. A possibly relevant curiosity is SILB, the modern Hebrew word for a car headlight. This is a back-formation from the (imagined) plural SILBIM, which is itself as close as a typical Hebrew speaker can reasonably get to “sealed-beam”.
Our local regional newspaper has launched a crossword, however they have included an incorrect grid. I can answer most of the entries without a grid but a few are ambiguous without checking letters. Anyone know of a gizmo which generates alternative grids which I can try and slot the answers into?
Brendan, Stella, it isn’t as comprehensive, but it’s still pretty good, I use the Spoonbill Software product which, confusingly, is also called Crossword Compiler. It is totally freeware. Send the author a request and he will give you a link to Dropbox, fromm whence the installer can be downloaded.
It also includes the Guardian grids as skeletons, you may want to guess who translated them into that format for the author!
Unfortunately, Brian has retired from the Indy, at least for the time being. Not surprisingly, he’s very much in demand, but in trying to juggle crosswords, his academic work and his home life, he has found it necessary to give up his regular Indy berth, as The Independent offers by far the lowest fees. I hope we might see him back occasionally.