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General Crossword Discussion

Posted by Admin on February 17th, 2009


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427 Responses to “General Crossword Discussion”

  1. Allan_C says:

    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?

  2. Paul B says:

    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).

  3. eimi says:

    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.

  4. smutchin says:

    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!

  5. Paul B says:

    Ole Xim doesn’t appear to mind too much about the position of the added cap. But if you can get the thing at the front end, oh boyoboyoboy.

  6. nmsindy says:

    Can’t say I’d agree that “Capping the word mid-clue … gives the game away” (Comment 4). The option, I’d say, could have the opposite effect as it increases the possibilities for misdirection.

  7. Eileen says:

    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!

  8. nmsindy says:

    I had not indeed seen the clue, Eileen, thanks, nor do I know the answer, but it seems on surface reading at first sight that there would not be much scope for using a capital there.

  9. manehi says:

    #4, #7 – Smutchin, it’s a lovely clue and I’d very much appreciate a link to your site. Can’t for the life of me think of a nice way to get Darling to the beginning of the sentence..

  10. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    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.

  11. smutchin says:

    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.

  12. Derek Lazenby says:

    Manehi, you just use Darling in place of a first name at the the start. If one was hoping to avoid a comma immediately afterwards then I’m not sure how that is done.

  13. Derek Lazenby says:

    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.

  14. neildubya says:

    Information is GEN and drug is E[cstasy]. The definition is just “produce”.

  15. Derek Lazenby says:

    Doh, thanks for that, just goes to show how useful blogs are. I keep making that mistake, E being a bit after my time. I know it, but never think it because I’ve not had to in any practical sense.

  16. Monica M says:


    What about using darling as an adjective … Darling child of mine … Darling buds of May.

  17. Will says:

    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?

  18. Will says:

    Sorry. This is what I mean: Why has the quality of the pdf files gone down so much?

  19. Derek Lazenby says:

    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?

  20. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    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.

    If my memory serves me right, that is.

  21. smutchin says:

    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!

  22. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    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).

  23. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    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.”

  24. Derek Lazenby says:

    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.

  25. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    I have a doubt over homophone clues and am raising it here in the hope that co-members will throw enlightenment.

    We all know that homophone clues exploit words sounding the same way.

    Thus we may have a clue for REIN/RAIN with a suitable homophone indicator.

    Here both rein and rain are words in their own right.

    Can a clue writer use the homophonic device for a non-existent word?

    I had better give an example. I am choosing a clue published in a UK puzzle today for illustrative purposes.

    Take “Vocalise regret for wounding remark in row (7)’ (FT by Moodim)

    A very good clue. Now, the parsing is rhu,barb, I think.

    “Vocalise regret” yields rhu, I think.

    Now the question: ‘rhu’, as far as I know, is a non-existent word. Is this valid? How do we eliminate, roo (a valid word), for example?

  26. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    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.

  27. Ali says:

    Roobarb can be a valid word though:

    So, playing Devil’s Advocate here, if the clue is changed to, say, “Vocalise regret for wounding remark in cartoon”, you’re in all sorts of bother!

  28. smutchin says:

    Whether it’s ROOBARB or RHUBARB should be resolved by the checking letters, surely? (Unless both the second and third letters are unchecked, which I’d guess is highly unlikely.)

  29. Allan_C says:

    Rhu is a Scottish place name (near Helensburgh on the shores of Gare Loch).

  30. mhl says:

    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.

  31. mhl says:

    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.)

  32. Derek Lazenby says:

    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.

    Does any one want me to pass the smelling salts?


  33. Derek Lazenby says:

    OMG! Another one. First, the story in English….

    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.

    Ye gods! Where do they get this stuff from?

  34. smutchin says:

    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.

  35. chatmeister says:

    “To avoid the wrath of the chatmeister, I’ll post this here rather than in today’s Guardian blog…”

    Thank you Smutchin.

  36. Eileen says:

    Smutchin: the short answer is ‘decidedly not!’

    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.

  37. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    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.

  38. Derek Lazenby says:

    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

  39. Fletch says:

    I don’t believe it’s much to do with breadth and depth of knowledge half the time. They paint themselves into corners with a tricky set of crossers, find obscure words that fit and look them up.

  40. Allan_C says:

    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.

  41. Derek Lazenby says:

    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?

  42. Fletch says:

    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!

  43. beermagnet says:

    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.

  44. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    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.

  45. Derek Lazenby says:

    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.

  46. smutchin says:

    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.

  47. Geoff says:

    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.

  48. Derek Lazenby says:

    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.

  49. smutchin says:

    Derek – you assume everyone shares your view of what constitutes entertainment. I should try it on people, should I? No thanks. You do enough trying it on for all of us.

  50. Derek Lazenby says:

    There ya go again. Reading what you want to read and not what is said.

  51. chatmeister says:

    Your comments are becoming aggressive and inflammatory. Please desist otherwise I will have to delete them.

  52. Derek Lazenby says:

    So some people say, others seem not worried. But it worries me that those who seem to be upset never report my words, they distort and misreport my words. Have you not seen the growing list of blatant misquotes that I have been obliged to correct? If there is anything been said in private that I am unaware of perhaps you should tell me.

    You are unwilling to comment on other people being openly insulting to everybody as per the last post of Friday then? That was acceptable was it?

  53. chatmeister says:

    To which ‘last post on Friday’ are you referring?

  54. Derek Lazenby says:

    Comment re todays Rufus. In the blog there was uncertainty about what to categorise 17d as. As it happened others pointed out an alternate view which was probably the correct one. However, it did raise the more general point as to what one should call a clue where there are two definitions but one is cryptic.

    Normally a cryptic definition clue is a part. Equally normally a double definition is two different straight definitions.

    When one definition of two is cryptic, what then is the correct label?

    Personally I stick with dd, but that is not because I’m happy with it, more I can’t think of anything better.

  55. Derek Lazenby says:

    Arachne 45.

    Presumably all on-line solvers are riff-raff and totally beyond the pale, if these words are to be accepted. I was hurt even if no-one else was.

  56. Monica M says:


    I don’t want to make your job more difficult … but … the “clever-solvers” seem to get forgiveness rather more quickly than the riff-raff.

    No one seems to want to debate issues … just put the questioner down …

    Does it pain some posters that the “riff-raff” like doing crosswords as well!!!

    PS No real complaint intended … just my observation.

  57. chatmeister says:

    Re comment #55. You have complained that you are regularly misquoted but now you give your own biased interpretation of what was originally said.

    There was no action taken on that comment because it came in at 5:22am and I have to sleep sometime.

    This debate is not proper to this post. Any continuation should be in Chitchat.

  58. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    Two def’s with one cryptic: I’d just say “Def and CD” or “two def’s, one cryptic”. That’s not one of the dozen or so recognised clue-type labels, but in real use it seems more common than one or two of them, such as a pure reversal (as opposed to) reversal plus something else.

  59. Derek Lazenby says:

    Yeah, that’s fair enough. Not much else you can do.

    I was working on a purely symbolic notation for blogging, taking what we have, but expanding it to try to avoid the use of explanations within a wordplay. It’s easier to hack it symbolically when there are oddities.

    This is what I’ve got so far, updated to include the d+cd or cd+d combinations noted above…

    # cryptic definition (on a keyboard this is
    called a hash sign, in encryption one
    uses a hash key)
    = double definition (because….
    first part = second part)
    #= dd where first definition is cryptic
    =# dd where second definition is cryptic
    ? homonym
    + concatenation
    * anagram
    < reversal
    () insertion
    [] deletion (deleted letters in lowercase)
    {} grouping of simpler components
    eg PALIN clued as two word plays
    {N(IL)AP}< ! meaning IL inserted in NAP
    ! all reversed, as opposed to
    N(LI)AP< ! meaning NAP reversed
    ! around LI not reversed
    ! comments, see many programming languages,
    only to occur after the whole wordplay,
    as used above

    As an example here’s what last weeks Quiptic would look like….

    5 ODDBALL =
    10 FUND = ! but “and it’s mine”
    ! seems a little vague
    ! for a Quiptic
    12 AFFAIR A+F[ollow]+FAIR
    ! fair as in fair wind
    16 VIEWS VIE(W)S
    17 SWAPS {S+PAWS}<
    27 LOCK [shy]LOCK

    8 LIES LOW = ! with a moveable space,
    ! lie slow
    ! presuming AU is author,
    ! but I thought they write
    ! prose
    21 SIDECAR SI[ck]+RACED<
    ! just as well the
    ! wordplay + crosschecking
    ! works, not all drinkers
    ! are into cocktails,
    ! teetotallers may also
    ! have had trouble
    25 SALVE #

    The example is easier to follow than the explanation I think! It seems to make a clear layout easy to produce.

    Any comments? Anyone fancy giving it a whirl?

  60. Derek Lazenby says:

    DAMN! I carefully formatted that in columns and the software reformatted it!!!

    So much for WSIWYG.

  61. Testy says:


    I like your notation. I think it would be great for compilers to use some sort of standard notation. The only problem is that using it in the blogs might put off newbies who don’t understand what it all means. Posting the key at the beginning of the blog might help but it would be lengthy and some people might still be put off.

  62. Derek Lazenby says:


    We already have a post in the how to section, which people may not see, because not everyone looks at how to sections.

    Some people do put a key in their headers. They are not always as per the how to section.

    I guess if my key were put in headers some of the verbiage could be dropped from the key and leave it to the actual solution examples to clarify the meanings. Most of it was there to simplify any discussion here.

    Thanks for the feedback.

  63. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    I don’t think there’s enough benefit in a fixed notation, nor that you can invent one to deal with all possible clues – how do you do triple (or more) defs, some possibly cryptic, for example? For the differences between the proposed (), [] and {}, there’s nothing about these symbols that relates to the meaning, unless the reader checks his “clue explanation reference card”. With the use of lower-case letters for deleted stuff and upper-case for the answer, I think the poissible meanings are usually clear without using different symbols. If ? for “homonym” means a “sounds like”, then putting the “sounded like” word in quotes, as already done quite often, seems to get the point across clearly – e.g. TAUT=”taught”.

    Both here and at the Times for the Times blog, bloggers are free to use any notation they like, and to decide for themselves when to rely on a “terse” explanation based entirely on notation and when to explain things in more detail. Although readers of both blogs sometimes ask for more information than the blogger supplied, I can’t recall them saying that they were confused by the different levels of detail between clues, or the notation differences between bloggers.

    My own preference at present is to use words rather than symbols (so “rev.” rather than “<“, and “2 def’s” rather than “DD”). But I rely on some symbols which seem clear, e.g. double quotes for homophones, or brackets in R(A)ISE (container) or R(a)ISE (deletion), where the answer and its order of letters help. I do rely on “CD” and * for anagrams, but these seem pretty well-established.

  64. stiofain_x says:

    no genius blog this month? Im dying to find out the ones i missed

  65. Derek Lazenby says:

    Thanks for the feedback Peter. This is just knocking ideas around, not trying to produce a straight-jacket.

    Testy suggested consistency between setters and bloggers might be useful, I have to say it is not often that consistency fails to help. But it’s not that important here, I’m just trying to help those who prefer a more symbolic notation and find the current symbols lacking.

    I’m not surprised you say you prefer words to symbols, some of us do, some of us don’t. The main advantage of symbols is conciseness. Some of the longer charade explanations in words can get difficult to follow.

    I didn’t invent the use of () and []. Plenty of people here use () for insertion, so that seems established already, I’m not sure I would have chosen that if left to my own devices. [] is less used, maybe because there are fewer deletion clues. But once others have set the insertion precedent, it becomes logical to use another style of bracket for deletions as that is then consistent with how insertions are handled.

    Basic schooling includes the rules of arithmetic. So we should all be familiar with the concept of using brackets for grouping, so I have no idea how you can say that doesn’t relate to the meaning when it is a meaning we have all learnt. It would have been nice to use (), but others have already pre-empted that and it is always best to avoid ambiguity by re-use. So, my hands were pretty tied, {} it had to be!

    The suggested use of ? is as you say totally wrong. I overlooked the fact that some use “” already. Take it as read that that change is made.

    I think that covers everything, do say if it doesn’t. But remember what I said at the start, I don’t want to tie you to anything, I’m just trying to help those who are already using symbols rather than words and sometimes find them lacking.

  66. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    I’ll buy “round brackets for grouping” as a widely-understood meaning. But my real point was about the allocation of three different meanings to three different kinds of bracket – that’s what I think is both unfamiliar and unnecessary. Take this clue from last week’s Times: Catch a female in nude, discarding outer clothing without embarrassment (9)

    This combines a charade (NAB,A,SHE), container (UD), and deletions (n and E from NUDE). I’d show it as
    and I assume you’d have:
    [n]U{NAB+A+SHE}D[e] or [n]U(NAB+A+SHE)D[e]

    I just can’t see that the different brackets add enough benefit for the bloggers and readers to learn and remember what [] and {} mean.

    To those “using symbols rather than words and sometimes find them lacking”, I’d just say “use symbols when you’re confident that they will be understood”. And where bloggers are worrying about how to notate answers, it’s the reader’s understanding they should be worrying about, not their own preference for symbols or words.

  67. Derek Lazenby says:

    Peter: Ahuh, I think I agree with the general sentiments there. As I said, others have already started using both () and [] and looking at the history of those shrines to symbolic working that we know as programming languages, that history shows that trying to get people to change can be a brick wall head banging exercise, which is why I went along with those ideas.

    The only point of using several styles of bracket is to avoid ambiguity. If it is felt that the possibilites of ambiguity are not great or even non-existant then sure, sticking to one style of brackets is fine.

    I see you use ‘,’ for concatenation where others use ‘+’. Again that is fine, there is nothing in the rules of defining symbols that says you can’t define alternatives. Someone recently indicated a high number of technical people seem to be doing cryptics. Most of these will have some passing familiarity with programming languages. Whilst those languages vary in many details using ‘+’ for concatenation has become a de facto standard. So I would guess that is the reason people have started using that in blogs. I have no problem with either style.

    Again, thanks for the feedback, discovering how others view this stuff is an invaluable insight.

  68. smutchin says:

    homonym = double definition
    homophone = sounds like

  69. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    If I may explain what Smutchin Said (#68):

    homonym: each of two or more words having the same spelling and pronunciation but different meanings and origin (COD) E.g., Pole – rod; Pole – Polish national. (This gives rise to double or multiple definition clues)

    homophone: each of two or more words having the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins or spelling (COD) E.g., new, knew (This gives rise to ‘sound alike’ clues)

  70. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    Could someone explain to me (with illustrations, if possible) the difference between an &Lit clue and a semi-&Lit clue? Is there a demi-&Lit clue?

  71. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    Cribbing from Don Manley’s book for the samples:

    &lit: The whole clue is the wordplay and the whole clue is the def. Example: “No fellow for mixing (4,4)” = LONE WOLF = (no fellow)*.

    Semi-&lit: Whole clue is def and wordplay in the usual way, but can also be read as an alternative def.
    Sample: Denomination spreading abroad “Christ doeth much” (9,6) = METHODIST CHURCH = (Christ doeth much)*. “Denomination” is the def., but you can read the whole clue as a def too. Crucially for the difference from an &lit, the wordplay is ‘spreading abroad “Christ doeth much”‘ – NOT the whole clue.

    demi-&lit: never heard of one. As demi- = “half” = semi-, it would be a very confusing term to choose if intended to mean anything different.

  72. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    Thanks, Peter.

  73. Monica M says:

    To repeat Rishi … thanks Peter.

    I often wonder at some of the techo terms as I’ve never read a book on solving (unfortunately not enough time … and the pre-bed sleeping material I prefer a novel).

    So I learn on the go hear. I’ve never been brave enough to ask some of the questions for fear of looking sillier than I am…;-)

  74. C.G. Rishikesh says:


    Semi-&lit: Whole clue is def and wordplay in the usual way, but can also be read as an alternative def.

    In the above should it be “… but part of the cluecan also be read as an alternative def.”?

  75. Peter Biddlecombe says:


    No it shouldn’t, but your confusion is partly my fault. Ironically in this discussion of clues that can be read two ways, I did much the same with “Whole clue is def and wordplay in the usual way”. It was supposed to mean that the clue consists of definition plus wordplay in the usual way (i.e. not like an &lit)”, but could have been read as “whole clue is both def and wordplay in the usual way for an &lit”. After clearing that up, the rest should make sense, touch wood.

    Monica: “&lit.” is probably the worst technical term in cryptic crossword jargon – unlike “two definitions” or “container and contents”, almost no-one can guess correctly what it’s supposed to mean. (So someone sees clue A called an &lit, doesn’t fully understand why, sees that clue B has some similarity and calls that an &lit, only to be corrected.)

    What to do? &lit is in the literature and the jargon so it’s hard to change, but the jargon does change over time – “unclued lights” have become “unchecked letters”, and most of us seem happy to talk of wordplay rather than the “subsidiary indication” – if only because it suggests fun rather than the schoolroom. The best contender as a replacement for “&lit.” is probably “All-in-one”, used by Tim Moorey in his recent book about solving the Times puzzle. On the Times for the Times blog I tried “double whammy”, and one or two people there seem to like it, but I think I’d also have suggested “All-in-one” if I’d thought of it.

  76. Testy says:

    Sorry to muddy the waters but I had always thought of semi-&lits as being slightly failed attempts at &lits. Perhaps where some extra bits have been added to the clue just to get the whole surface to work as the literal definition too but without serving any other function; or where the surface merely alludes to the definition.

    The two examples given in 71 above seem to me to both qualify as &lits of two slightly different sorts as both have surfaces which also act as literal definitions (hence &lit).

    The LONE WOLF clue acts as wordplay and also taken as a whole acts as a literal definition. This is perhaps the purest form of &lit.

    The METHODIST CHURCH clue acts as a definition & wordplay and also taken as a whole acts as a literal definition.

  77. smutchin says:

    Rishi #9 – thanks, and yes, that’s exactly what I meant. To expand further, the point of my comment was that a couple of times recently I’ve seen people write “homonym” when I think they mean “homophone”. At least, according to what I was taught was the definition of these words, which is as Rishi describes…

    However, there appears to be some debate on the matter. Chambers, apparently, defines a homonym as “a word with the same sound and spelling as another, but with a different meaning”.

    Now I’m confused.

  78. smutchin says:

    #69 not #9

  79. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    Testy/76: I’m not honestly bothered myself whether “&lit” is taken as including both types, except insofar as consistency reduces confusion. I’m just saying how the terms are normally understood at present, which is: “&lit” = the strict kind, and doesn’t include “semi &lit”. Looking back to Ximenes in his 1966 book, he confirms that he chose the name &lit (though he doesn’t claim credit for inventing the technique), and discusses the two types, calling them both “&lit” and describing one as “perfect” and the other (our semi &lit) as an “offshoot type”. He also admits that the name has “from time to time caused misunderstanding”.

  80. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    Smutchin 77/78: homonym is indeed defined confusingly in some dictionaries. “homograph” more clearly means exactly one of the two contrasting ideas, but I’d suggest not using two “homo-something” words, as they’re likely to be confused by folk who don’t see the difference in meaning from their knowledge of word roots from dead languages.

  81. Mike says:

    By the way, why have broadsheets stopped signalling &lit. clues with an exclamation mark?

  82. smutchin says:

    For anyone who’s interested, I have a new puzzle online – XWD006.

    Number 7, which some of you will have seen already, is also now online. And there are annotated solutions to puzzles 1-5 on my blog. All accessible by clicking my name at the top of this post.

    Comments welcome! (On my blog rather than here, though.)

  83. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Well, Smutchin, that is Good News.
    We (that is Beth and me) will surely dive into it, in one of our favourite pubs in or around Cambridge.
    We liked your previous efforts very much, so we are looking forward to tackle your recent brainchild.

  84. Paul B says:


    I’ve only just been bothered to wade through all this stilted stuff, but pleased to see your comment about grids. I’ll send you copies of the lot if you like – if so advise me of a suitable e-destination.

  85. Paul B says:

    Sorry – forgot to say that where applicable the Indy setters can make their own grids.

  86. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    I typed out a genuine posting (a request to Paul B) and tried to send it.

    But it was not accepted and there came a message that I was posting messages too soon and that I must “slow down” (at age 66).


    I have lost my draft.

    Now, if there is any limit to the postings that a member may make in a given time-frame, shouldn’t we have been informed?

  87. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    For my crosswords, I use a stock of six originally created grids (the first of them with lights of 10 letters and fewer, the second with 11 and fewer and so on till the sixth with 15 and fewer).

    Having seen the complete set of the Times grids, I would like to see the set of Guardian grids as well.

    So if Paul B’s offer to Beermagnet is open to others as well, my email ID is cgrishi{at}hotmail{dot}com[.] TIA.

    Of course, I do remember some of the grids such as four +s, four Hs, two pairs of merged +s and so on as I have come to identify them.

  88. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    As for that rejected posting, I must have pressed the “Submit Comment” button with more pressure than necessary!

  89. beermagnet says:

    Paul B

    As it happens someone here saw my request and has already sent me the surprisingly small zip of 44 G grids that you originally sent him ! So job done.
    I turn, in true chain letter style, I have passed them on to Rishi.

  90. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    Unzipped – on the fly.

  91. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    81/Mike: As far as I know, British broadsheet cryptics have never consistently used an exclamation mark to indicate an &lit. The rule that they always should is enforced by most editors/setters of cryptic crosswords in the US – like a few other rules which don’t apply in the UK. Where their local set of rules is described as simply applying to “cryptic crosswords”, the mistaken implication is that it applies to cryptic crosswords in all countries.

  92. Paul B says:

    I’m glad you’ve sourced your grids, guys. I’ve been a bit tardy getting back to this thread I’m afraid.

  93. Testy says:

    Would someone be able to send me a copy of the Guardian Grids too?
    bramblebidder at hotmail dot co dot uk
    Thanks in advance.

  94. beermagnet says:

    Forwarded the G Grids again Testy

  95. Allan_C says:

    Well, all this talk of grids, clueing and so-on has tempted me to attempt compilation of a crossword. I don’t expect editors to be falling over themselves in a rush to sign me up but constructive criticism would be welcome. For a copy in PDF format send an e-mail with subject line “Exit CC1″ to enwsaith at aol dot com

  96. Derek Lazenby says:

    OK, boys and girls, pay attention. I am NOT talking here about the well known Crossword Compiler from Wordweb. That cost’s money. But…..

    Having received my copy of the Guardian Grids, I spent a merry time transposing the grids into the free Spoonbill Crossword Compiler skeletons format. So if any of you out there use the SB kit and want a zip of these grids in that format drop me line.

    Also, whilst I was doing that, it occured to me that I would make significantly faster progress if I generated, for the SB compiler, a set of 4 basic grids where the alternating pattern starts at 1,1 1,2 2,1 2,2. So I made those as well. They are equally available to any who may find them useful.

    d dot lazenby at ntlworld dot com

  97. kurwamac says:

    Beermagnet – if you’re not yet exhausted from too much e-mailing, could you bung me a copy at kurwamac[at] Ta.

  98. Husky says:

    And if it’s not too cheeky, could I have a copy please? lankinpark at googlemail dot com. Cheers.

  99. Monica M says:

    Look at all you wannabees … fantastic !!!!!

  100. beermagnet says:

    Grids off to K & H
    Anymore requests to save cluttering this more ask me direct at: ajr at cix dot co dot uk

  101. Derek Lazenby says:

    Nobody else apart from me and Rishi using the SB CC? Whatever. As well as grids for the SB CC I now also have those grids in Compiler Utility format. I’m working on repeating the exercise for Crossword Writer, but I’m not rushing as it’s a bit painful switching backwards and forwards between windows to verify the work as CW uses a large window that doesn’t resize and my screen is only laptop sized.

  102. smutchin says:

    I’ve just put a new crossword online if anyone’s interested: XWD008

  103. Harry Rogers says:

    I find generally all this site helpful. I am pleased to see that even the best solvers debate and argue about the clues. I must have been living on another planet because many times I have solved crosswords and walked away mumbling that the setter should stop trying to be so convoluted. A good clue is almost always the simplest and yet taxes the brain to solve. Many times the setter seems to be child like in trying to be too smart by half and ending up with a totally twisted clue that only the setter can understand. Just my opinion!

  104. smutchin says:

    Harry – “A good clue is almost always the simplest and yet taxes the brain to solve.” I don’t think you’ll find anyone here disagreeing with you on that. Convoluted clues are always less satisfying, unless they’re really, really clever.

    Just had a look at Cryptica and seen there’s another good showing from the fifteensquared faithful in the clue-writing comp this week. Good efforts all round and particularly well done Geoff – a thoroughly deserving gold winner.

  105. Sil van den Hoek says:

    And I fully agree.
    Some anagrams are good, but this one was above average.
    And, Smutchin, thank you for XWD008.
    One more to enjoy!!

  106. Steven says:

    How many different grid patterns is it possible to get from a 15 by 15 square?

  107. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    We know that in crossword clues sometimes a component is given gratis.

    Now is there a limit to the length of this component that is given for free?

    In a clue in today’s G crossword we have to do no work to get the five-letter POINT.

    Maybe if the surface reading of a clue is great, it does not matter even if a large part of the light is in the clue.

    What is the general opinion?

  108. Barnaby Page says:

    Steven – if you will permit an asymmetrical grid I suppose the hypothetical limit would be 2 to the power of 225, which I reckon to be about 50,391,989,330,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, give or take a zillion.

    Of course that would include huge numbers of practically unusable grids such as those only allowing one-letter words.

    I can’t quite work out the math for calculating the number of symmetrical grids, but it would be a much smaller number because the usual kind of symmetrical grid is effectively one smaller grid repeated four times (plus the central column and row in a 15×15 configuration). It might be 2 to the power of 49 (for the repeated 7×7 grid), plus 2 to the power of 15 (for the central column), plus 2 to the power of 14 (for the central row), but I’m not 100% sure of that.

    Still a very large number, in any case.

  109. Derek Lazenby says:

    And then you could further reduce it by sticking to UK cryptic style. But yeah, no idea about the math either, keep getting lost in too many possibilities.

  110. Barnaby Page says:

    Is there a mathematician in the house? I’m starting to think that the number of symmetrical grids should be (2^49)*(2^15)*(2^14), i.e. 2^78 – is that right? (My error in #108 was adding rather than multiplying.)

  111. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Well here’s one, but I must admit, this is a tough question.

    Dear Barnaby, you would indeed think that the number of possible grids would be 2^225, but there are some complications.

    For instance, if the first row has only black squares, then the grid is not a 15/15 grid any more, but a 15/14.
    The same can happen to the last row and the outer columns.
    When you rule out the grids with the first row completely black, you’ll get 2^210 possibilities.
    But then the second shouldn’t be completely black either ….
    There are also 2^210 grids with the last row completely black, but unfortunately there is an overlap with the first situation.
    And I haven’t even looked at the outer columns.

    I find this an intriguing problem, I will surely spend some time on it.

    If the grid must be symmetrical, you encounter the same problems.
    Although I think the problem may be easier to solve.
    A symmetrical grid is the result of a rotation about the square in the centre, either rotating the top left quarter or the left half of the grid.
    So you have only to look at variations in a part of the grid.
    That’s why I think it is probably easier)

    But as I mentioned before, these outer rows make it complicated.

    So, no solution yet, but I will give it a try!

  112. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Re #110, if you don’t bother about the outer rows, you will indeed have to multiply 2^49 by something, but not 2^15 and 2^14.
    You are considering a rotation of the top left quarter, so the 8th column and the 8th row are not independent.
    The first 7 squares of the 8th row (or column) will reappear.
    So you have to multiply by 2^7, and finally by 2, because the one in the centre of the grid can either be black or white.
    You will get 2^57.
    Another way to look at it is to divide the grid in pieces of 8 by 7 + the one in the middle.
    This will also give you 2^(7×8) x 2 (for the centre of the rotation) = 2^57.

    But then, a symmetrical grid can also be obtained by rotating the complete left half about the centre.

    Questions, questions ….

  113. Barnaby Page says:

    Thanks, Sil, in my fog of semi-understanding I had completely forgotten that there is rotational symmetry to the 8th column and row as well as to the four “mini-grids” in the corners.

    I see your point regarding the first line, although I suppose in principle one might have (say) a 15×15 grid in which only three squares were blank, to form two intersecting two-letter words, and still term it a “crossword”. I’m not sure why one would want to, other than to stretch the boundaries.

    Somewhere, I think, Ximenes laid down specifications for the number of unchecked letters and also perhaps for the relative number of black and white squares. If you could come up with the correct calculation taking these into account, that would be fascinating; I’m afraid it’s beyond me.

    Incidentally, according to a quick Google, 2^225 is greater than the number of atoms in the world. So even using all available materials, it would only be possible to print a tiny fraction of those grids…which may be a good thing for the sanity of all of us!

  114. Sil van den Hoek says:

    My God, I am (again) involved in a matter of no importance …

    When only three squares are blank (crossing), you will have a 3 by 3 crossword, and certainly not a 15 by 15.
    And if you still want to call it a 15 by 15, despite all these black squares on the outside, there is just as much reason to call it a 25 by 25 with even more black squares.

    Anyway, I never read anything about Ximenes or his rules.
    Maybe I will do one day.
    But having said that, I am a real Libertarian.

    I come from a country where crosswords (called Cryptograms) are regularly free-formed and non-symmetrical.
    For me the clues are the only important ingredients of a crossword, the grid is of no real importance.
    (I know, in Britain this is like swearing in a church)

    The crosswords I produced so far (for friends and relatives) were made with the free-form option of Crossword Compiler.
    I have a lot of ideas for clues, and I put them in a database.
    The free-form option gives me the opportunity to make optimal use of this database.
    If I would use a pre-defined grid I can only use 10% of the clues in the database, so I have to find additional words & clues.
    Some might say that this is the Great Thing of being a setter.
    I do not agree.
    First there is the clue, then there is the grid.
    Quality above quantity.

    There are times that I think I would cause a Revolution,if I would put my brainchilds on the Net (because of the grid).
    But my God, it is only my hobby, so why should I stick to rules?
    I just do it my way.

  115. Barnaby Page says:

    Sil, we are in agreement on the relative importance of grid and clues.

    But a three-blank printed 15×15 crossword would be a different beast from a three-blank printed 25×25 crossword; it would be trivial to gauge the “true dimensions”.

    (That is, assuming all squares are the same size! Now there’s an idea for a twist on grid design that I don’t think I’ve ever seen.)

    Or if you prefer, you could conceive of a six-blank crossword with two sets of three blanks in opposite corners, anchoring the 15×15 dimensions, as it were.

  116. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Re #115: Dear Barnaby, this is getter worse and worse now.
    I feel the need to summarize.

    If you allow ‘everything’ in a grid, including completely black rows or columns on the outside, one-letter words, isolated words, etc. , then the number of different 15×15 grids is not very hard to find, whether they have to be symmetrical or not (see # 108,111,112)

    If you think (like I do) that completely black rows or columns on one of the outside borders of the grid, bring down the measures of the grid, then finding the number of different 15×15 grids is not so easy any more, even when you still allow ‘everything else’ like one-letter words and isolated words.
    That is the first thing that I like to find out (just for fun).
    Both in a symmetrical and a non-symmetrical situation.

    In both 1 and 2 probably the vast majority of grids are of no use for a cryptic crossword.
    It would be a real challenge to find out how many grids there are which are ‘useful’.
    My starting point would then be situation 2 and symmetrical.
    So, for instance, a grid with 6 blanks in opposite corners (Re # 115) would be perfectly acceptable as a 15×15 grid, although no one would ever use it.
    A grid with 1 blank in two opposite corners would be a valid 15×15 grid when counting the number according to situation 2, but must be ruled out in this new situation 3, because we don’t want isolated one-letter words in the real world.

    Next step could be: how many ‘useful’ grids are really useful?
    Like: each word must be at least 3 or 4 letters, or: the number of words must be in between 25 and 30, or: we want a certain variety in word length.
    But then we are at the point where probably the real Mathematician should stand up.
    And I can assure you, that’s not me ….

  117. Steven says:

    Sil and Barnaby:

    Fantastic stuff guys.

    I appreciate the enthusiasm and must confess that my interest in posing the question was to see if it could be answered, not because I wanted to know how many combinations there are.

    I’m no mathematician but even I could see it was a tricky one.

    May I pick up on point 4 of comment 116 and suggest, the grid be symmetrical. Useful. Have a lowest letter count of three per word. No row or columns that are totally black. Contain no more than thirty words.

  118. Testy says:

    I think that the answer will be many thousands and so, for any useful realistic purposes, it is as good as infinite.

  119. Allan_C says:

    Re 108-118:

  120. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Re 119:
    Well, Allan, I can perfectly understand that.
    Although some people might say: Mmmmmmmmmmmm, or Aaaaaaaaaaah.
    In #114 I said that I am (again) involved in a matter of no importance.
    In a way it is, in another way it is not.

    Because the problem in itself can be a challenging thing.
    A puzzle.
    To me, as a maths teacher who deals with these kind of problems (on a lower level) in everyday life, it is.

    Besides that, I believe that it is mathematics that gives us the algorithms which lead to further understanding and development of e.g. finding useful grids.
    We all take things for granted nowadays.
    Mobile phones, I-pods, etc. etc.
    But before computers can do their job (and one of their jobs could be finding grids), there is the human brain to put them on the right track.
    Maybe (and probably) it has all been done before, but I find it challenging to think about questions like in #108.
    If others do not, that’s fine by me.
    And I can, as I said before, perfectly understand that.

  121. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    #120: A neat, well-reasoned-out, well-written response to a casually tossed off message (#119).

  122. Monica M says:

    Here here!!!

    Well said Rishi.

  123. Barnaby Page says:

    On a non-mathematical note, I wonder what’s happened to Paul (he of The Guardian and He hasn’t updated the puzzle comp in ages…surely crossword setters aren’t allowed holidays?!

  124. Anax says:

    Way, way back to #71 and Pete’s mention of &Lit “flavours”…

    For me it’s not quite spot on and the METHODIST CHURCH example is a clue which I would describe as demi-&Lit.

    &Lit – What Tim Moorey calls an “all-in-one” clue, the wordplay alone offers a reasonable definition of the answer; no formal definition is given.
    Semi-&Lit – The wordplay isn’t quite enough to work on its own (usually for grammatical reasons) so the setter adds sort of identifier outside the wordplay element, which could be as vague as “this”, “who”, “where” etc.
    Demi-&Lit – The clue contains a formal, stand-alone definition, for which the wordplay happens to tie in very nicely.

  125. Anax says:

    Barnaby: re Cryptica

    I don’t think there’s anything untoward. The website is updated by the agency which designed it and on occasion they may be a bit slow in responding to update instructions.

    However, there is a major revamp in progress so, equally, it could be that no changes are being incorporated until the new version is launched.

  126. smutchin says:

    Don’t know if the comments have goaded Paul into action or if it’s just coincidence, but there’s a new set of clue winners up on Cryptica. Well done, Sil!

  127. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Re #126: Thank you, Smutchin.
    On the other hand, it looks like most regulars didn’t submit their clues this time (because of the problems with the website?). So, maybe, there was not much to choose from.
    Having said that, of course, I really enjoyed it: 3 submitted, 3 mentioned. But especially, since 05/04/09 was my Birthday.
    What a lovely present!!

    Sorry, Chatmeister, this entry is completely off topic, I know, as are # 125 & 126, but for me the only way to reply to the previous one.

  128. Derek Lazenby says:

    Just for a laugh, and to amuse (annoy?) those who are devoted to inter-clue references, I’ve bunged a puzzle on my site (click my name). It is not supposed to be any good as a crossword, just a bit of fun. It’s in Across Lite format (download sites all over the web!).

  129. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    In a thread elsewhere there has been a demand for a blog on the Everyman crossword.

    While awaiting this website’s reaction to that request, I would like to mention that I have a blog on the same puzzle ( except that it is not on the latest crossword.

    That is because the crossword that appears in the magazine setion of the local paper is Everyman after a time-lag of some weeks (the puz on April 12 was 3256 whereas on the original Guardian site the puz on that day was 3263). The Guardian making its crossword free has opened the doors for countless solvers.

    If the blog on Everyman is started here, well and good. (As some others too have volunteered, each week of the month one can handle it: I would be glad to blog one week). Otherwise, I can switch on to the latest puzzle in my own blog, but as it is a prize puzzle I would like to be told when it is safe to reveal the answers.

  130. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    129/Rishi: The requirement for Everyman entries is that entries are “postmarked no later than Saturday”, so it’s safe to blog on the Sunday a week after publication. Everyman has been blogged here in the past, but the perception was that a tiny anount of comments meant that very few readers were interested. (See the Everyman category at top left)

    My guess is that if you could find one or two people to share the work, those in charge here would let you revive the Everyman blog.

  131. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    Thanks very much, Peter.

    After I opened the PDF version and read the deadline for entries to the prize crossword, I decided that Sunday a week after publication would be fine.

    If the blog is allowed to be started here with myself and one or two other volunteers, it’s fine. It would be nice because there is already a good readership. And readers outside the UK would appreciate explanations for British cultural references.

    I do not agree with the perception that a tiny amount of comments meant that very few readers were interested: looked at it that way, the FT crossword has always had less than 10 comments.

  132. Steven says:


    A blog for Everyman is a good thing.

    Go for it!

  133. Andrew K says:

    I hope someone will blog Everyman this weekend. There was one clue last week I got an answer for, but I don’t understand the clue

  134. gav says:

    Which clue was it Andrew? – obviously it would be wrong to post the answer – even tho’ you have it already – but it might be the same one that I didn’t get either. You could maybe just post the clue number?

  135. Andrew K says:

    I think it was 24 down Children on the radi0 etc. etc.

    Pretty sure I got the right answer, but didn’t see the connection.

    Hopefully the blog will elucidate all on Saturday!

  136. Andrew K says:

    Yep! Needed for beginners like me

  137. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    I plan to start my own blog for the Everyman crossword on April 19.

    I have written out the blog for No. 3263 (crossword for April 12)but it is on embargo now.

    I shall put in a note here after I launch the blog on Sunday.

  138. gav says:

    Andrew – same one as me.

    I get the answer from what I assume is the definition.

    But the rest of the wordplay – no bloomin’ idea apart from the first letter?

  139. Andrew K says:

    Yes. I agree. I’m looking forward to being enlightened!

  140. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    My blog will certainly explain that.

  141. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    My blog is separate from 15sqd and each Sunday it will be on the crossword for which the deadline for entries has expired.
    I shall make my blog public on Apr 19th morning.

  142. C G Rishikesh says:

    The blog on the Everyman crossword is on this site itself. See under category Everyman.

  143. mhl says:

    In case anyone is interested, I put up an early attempt at setting a complete 15×15 puzzle here:

    … comments and suggestions would be very welcome – I’ll post my own criticisms with the answers later this week :)

  144. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    Comment has been made elsewhere about two crosswords in today’s offerings having the same anagram fodder ‘Nero’s cousin’ for CONNOISSEUR.

    I think if this had happened some decades ago before electronic aids were available, surprise might have been in order.

    But now with anagram generators, it’s quite possible for setters to enter CONNOISSEUR and get several results: among them “cousin Nero’s” or “Nero’s cousin” are good candidates for nice clueing.

    I think anagram clues, even for long phrases, have become quite sophisticated today compared to clues of this type in the Sixties or even Seventies. I always thought this was because of a wider choice of anagrams available to setters thanks to computer help.

    One of the earliest books, The Nuttall Dictionary of Anagrams: A Pocket Aid for All Word Puzzles by A. R. Ball (date of publication not recorded anywhere) must have been prepared before the advent of PCs. This little book contains anagrams only for words probably of 10 letters and less. And ASTRONOMER is not among them. This might be because the book suggests only whole-word anagrams.

    A later book, The Crossword Anagram Dictionary, compiled and devised by R. J. Edwards (Stanley Paul) and other similar books such as Anagram Finder (Oxford) are useful only for solvers, but with online apps even they might be just adorning the shelves.

  145. Agentzero says:

    Thanks, Rishi. Still, an impressive chain of coincidences had to happen for this to occur:

    1. The setters chose the same word
    2. The setters chose the same strategy for cluing the word (an anagram)
    3. The setters choose the same anagram fodder (this, you are saying, is made more likely by the anagram software)
    4. The puzzles, although in all likelihood prepared at different times, are published on the same day.

  146. Colin Blackburn says:

    I don’t think points 2 and 3 are that coincidental. CONNOISSEUR is not a great word for breaking into a charade or container clue. There are some possibilities but looking for an anagram would seem to be a high probability. Given that an anagram is being sought, COUSIN is a very clear part of one and so NERO’S is pretty much the only use for the leftover letters.

  147. Derek Lazenby says:

    At the risk of lowering the tone (yeah, I know, it had to be me!), one could try something along the lines of “Being knowledgable makes cousin snore”

  148. Colin Blackburn says:

    Thanks, Derek. And I missed the Norse cousin! At the risk of slipping into a Monty Python sketch…and so NERO’S is pretty much one of a small handful of uses for the leftover letters. Now back to snoring!

  149. Gaufrid says:

    You missed out “The setters used the same anagram indicator”.

    I don’t think that #1 is a particular coincidence. There are many instances where the same word appears in different puzzles in the course of a few days or weeks. I put this down to the automatic grid-filling software that I am sure most setters use, for part of the grid at least.

    If the same program is being used it will have the same vocabulary and I doubt that word selection is entirely random, though perhaps someone who has used this type of software could correct me if I’m wrong.

  150. Richard Bailey says:

    And the same anagram (Nero’s cousin) was in the Telegraph the day before

  151. petebiddlecombe says:

    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.

  152. C. G. Rishikesh says:

    Finish the crossword and you begin to be a smart one (5)

    An excellent clue that a group of us solved today.

    This is from a Daily Mail crossword that is reproduced in an Indian newspaper after an unknown timelag.

    While one member gave one anno, another gave a completely different interpretation for the same answer. Of course, only one is exact; I don’t know if the setter noticed the embedding.

    Am I talking in riddles? Now, don’t you want to begin to be a smart one?

  153. Testy says:

    But does “finish the crossword” mean the same as “the finish of crossword” and does “you begin” really mean the same as “the beginning of you”?

  154. smutchin says:

    My latest cruciverbal effort is online if anyone’s interested…

  155. Testy says:

    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.

  156. eimi says:

    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.

  157. Mick H says:

    Impossible in fact. I quite agree, Testy. Just set out some basic guidelines on unching etc and let the setter make the grid.

  158. Crypticnut says:

    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.

  159. Puck says:

    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.

  160. C. G. Rishikesh says:

    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.

  161. Bella says:

    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!

  162. Derek Lazenby says:

    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.

    Thanks in advance.

  163. Gaufrid says:

    If I understand your question, and the clue, correctly check out Greta Garbo.

  164. Derek Lazenby says:

    Thanks for that.

    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!).

  165. PBE says:

    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.

  166. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    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!

  167. Derek Lazenby says:

    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.

  168. C. G. Rishikesh says:

    Is there any convention that a word or a phrase (say, that is 15-letter long) may not be broken up more than so many times for wordplay.

    In other words, are solvers annoyed when they have to deal with too many components?

  169. Peter Biddlecombe says:

    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.

  170. Hughie says:

    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!

  171. sidey says:

    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

  172. Andrew Kitching says:

    Does anyone blog the Spectator prize puzzles?

  173. Andrew Kitching says:

    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!

  174. petebiddlecombe says:


    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.

  175. Anax says:


    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.

  176. Andrew Kitching says:

    ALERT! Problem with Everyman site- you get the pdF version of next week’s puzzle, and the answer to tady’s puzzle!

  177. The trafites says:

    We will be doing the blog next week on this, and as I haven’t looked at the PDF version, we will only look at the paper so will still produce a blog here (unless the paper is wrong too, of course).

  178. Andrew Kitching says:

    No AZED blog this week?

  179. Gaufrid says:

    Thanks for the reminder, I hadn’t noticed it was missing. I am trying to contact the scheduled blogger but if he is unavailable I will prepare a post myself.

  180. The trafites says:

    We would like to do it…

  181. Gaufrid says:

    Thanks The trafites. I already have a post prepared if I don’t hear back from the scheduled blogger by tomorrow morning.

  182. The trafites says:

    Hunky dory. For future if you get AWOL’ed (such a word?) on AZED, PI we can do it.

  183. Anax says:


    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?

  184. mhl says:

    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  :)

    (Apologies if that’s well known to everyone.)

  185. Jo Martin says:

    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

  186. Gaufrid says:

    I think the answer you seek can be found here (4/19dn):

  187. cholecyst says:

    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!

    Simon Bennett


  188. Tim Morris says:

    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 …

  189. Monica M says:


    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.

    But that’s usually enough solving for me.

  190. Tea Oh says:


    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.)

    Or any publication that is a good starting point?

    Thanks very much.

  191. The trafites says:

    Tea Oh, I was in North American three years running on work trips, first year in a week in USA/Canada then Canada for the final two years.

    Everyday I tried to do the NY Times xword, and to an Englishman I didn’t have a clue to some of the clues at all, and never completed any puzzle.


  192. Andrew Kitching says:

    Tea Oh

    try the ‘everyman puzzle’ on the Guardian site- a good starter puzzle. Tim Moorey’s book ‘ How to master The Times crossword’ is a fantastic intro to British cryptic clue types

  193. Alanej says:

    Why do you not cover the grandaddy of em all, viz The Times?

  194. Gaufrid says:

    Because it’s covered elsewhere, see:

  195. PaulG says:

    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!

  196. Jane and Stuart says:

    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?

  197. nmsindy says:

    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.

  198. PaulG says:

    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?)

  199. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Re #196:
    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.

  200. Andrew K says:

    Last week’s AZED (October 4th).

    Just a comment on last week’s AZED, the clue to CRAIG was different in the paper and internet versions.

    I only spotted it aftre doing my ‘rough’ version on an internet printout, and then filling in the newspaper grid for my competition entry.

  201. The trafites says:

    PaulG, #195 – if you do the Private Eye crossword, and use the ‘acrosslite’ software, you can usually get the puzzle in this format a day or two before it is published here


  202. Radler says:

    I’m sure there must be a number of closet setters among the bloggers and passive readers, so why not introduce a (say, weekly) Fifteensquared crossword onto the site? Maybe it wouldn’t be practical, or perhaps considered an unwanted diversion from the site’s purpose. But in my view it could increase our respect for the professional setters (who make it look so effortless) and would give them a chance to get their own back on us via the blog. (And who knows, maybe there’s some real talent waiting to be discovered.)
    I apologise if this idea has been put forward and dismissed previously. But if not… What do other people think?

  203. mhl says:

    Readers of fifteensquared might enjoy this “Wordle” visualization of the most frequently clued words in the Guardian crossword since 1995:

    (Click on the “All Sizes” button just above the image to get a larger version.)

  204. The trafites says:

    mhl, #203. There is a great site here guardian crossword trivia that I stumbled on.

    Good stuff!


  205. The trafites says:

    Heh, I just realised it is YOUR site ~ excellent stuff, Mark :)


  206. Jake says:

    This may-be a very silly question, but could someone explain what a ‘nina’ is and what it stands for please?

  207. mhl says:

    The trafites #205: thanks, Nick! With some help from Gaufrid the graphs should work properly with Internet Explorer now, although they’re faster in Firefox.

    Jake #206: some previous explanations of the origin of the term “Nina”, which refers to a hidden message in the grid, can be found here:

  208. dialrib says:

    I have been having a go at the Times Crossword Championship 2009
    puzzles and would be grateful for help with the following from the trickier Grand Final puzzles:

    Paradise, first off, inhabited by a certain female with pride? (7) L_O_E_S – I guess this is LIONESS as she is a female with pride, but the rest?

    Chauffeur to be flash, possessing one? (4) __M_ – LIMO?

    Pitch area, not so short, encircled by track (5,4) S___S _A_K – the 3rd letter is the first from the previous clue, so possibly SALES RACK (= sales pitch area)?

    Enlightement gratefully received.

  209. Gaufrid says:

    You will find blogs on all the Championship puzzles here:

    You will need to scroll back a couple of pages to find those that cover the Grand Final.

  210. diarib says:

    Thanks, Gaufrid.

  211. Median says:

    Cryptic crosswords are supposed to improve our mental abilities, right? Well maybe not all mental abilities. In today’s Guardian education supplement, Mark Abrahams, editor of ‘Annals of Improbable Research’, draws attention to an academic journal article entitled “Eye-witnesses should not do cryptic crosswords prior to identity parades.” The Guardian article is here:
    and the original paper is here:

    Cardiff University students were shown photographs of people and then asked to do other activities interspersed with trying to recognise the faces they had seen. Apparently they fared worse at the recognition task when doing cryptic crosswords rather than reading, sudoku or literal crosswords. Why? The author of the original paper speculates that:

    “in doing a cryptic crossword, one typically has to suppress the immediately obvious meaning of a word within the clue in favour of less obvious and more cryptic meanings. The suppression of the obvious features of the face … or the obvious literal meaning of a word may provide the device by which face-recognition performance is affected.”

    Or maybe not. Or maybe the study says more about about Cardiff students (and lecturers) than it does about cryptic crosswords. Anyway, you have been warned. If you’re an eye-witness to a crime and are interested in nailing the villain, put your passion for cryptics on hold when you go the police line-up. And keep your tongue in your cheek.

  212. Derek Lazenby says:

    Todays Brendan (Guardian 11/11/09) was rightly praised as an outstanding puzzle. That was obvious from the blog. It raises and old issue, but stay with me, I want this to be a positive suggestion not any sort of put down.


    The majority of posters here are those with the self confidence to post. This usually implies they are of a high, and in some cases expert, standard.

    This gives a skewed impression to setters and editors of what constitutes a good crossword for their whole readership.

    The majority of cryptic fans just aren’t good enough for this level of puzzle, but their voice is rarely heard. Why? Because they don’t want to go up against expert posters who might eat them for breakfast (I would hope most would be more gentle than that, but you can understand the fear).

    So this leads to a dichotomy, to keep the good guys happy, you need a constant supply of Araucaria et al. To keep the mainly silent majority happy you need a constant supply of Rufus et al.

    It sounds impossible, but…..


    The Guardian and other papers have puzzle pages. So why not leave the “hard one” where it is in pride of place where we can all have a go and try to improve our skills, but also, juggle the puzzles page around to include space for something like the weekly on-line Quiptic, but on a daily basis. This is a place the experts can avoid, but the rest of us, who are less talented, can get a daily fix of a Cryptic we stand a chance of getting somewhere with.


    Over to you Mr. Editors.

    Anyone else think this is a good idea? Anyone want to gainsay?

    Surely this would keep everyone happy and keep “too hard” style posts out of the blogs.

  213. nmsindy says:

    This (212 by Derek) is a very interesting post. I think that, in cryptic crosswords perhaps more than most other activities, practice is very important and takes years. It certainly did in my case.

    With blogs etc around now, there are more explanations available than ever before. Crosswords are pitched at various levels of experience, and take full account of the amount of time people have available to devote to solve them – sometimes not very much. Crossword editors are fully aware of this, I’d say.

    For someone stepping into the waters of the cryptics for the first time, I’d suggest reading a book like Don Manley’s Chambers Crossword Manual or the other excellent guides, then starting with the easier puzzles – I’d suggest Daily Telegraph and Everyman in the Observer (on Sundays). Go to the blogs on these for explanations if stuck.

    It comes with the territory that some can like to point to mistakes etc, I’ll have to admit. Just ignore that and remember that, in my opinion anyway, the only purpose of puzzles is to provide entertainment in what is a leisure activity. Though like any such activity, it has its rules and this is where reading a book or two can be useful.

    If you want just one hint to keep always in mind, it is that most clues have (a) a definition of the answer, and (b) another way of getting to it by manipulating its letters, lying side by side and not overlapping.

  214. Derek Lazenby says:

    Interesting but you miss some of the points.

    Not every solver reads blogs or would even have access to blogs. I know many people who still have no internet access and many who don’t even have a oomputer.

    Not everyone wants to read books on the subject. Not everyone has the time. not everyone has the inclination.

    Not everyone has talent and no amount of practice can bring out talent that is not there in the first place.

    Take sports for example, they are stratified. The best can take on the best in competitions so designed, and so on right down to the bloke who just wants a friendly jog round the track.

    The problem with daily crosswords is that there is only one. This means that only one strata is being catered for on that day. Some days the experts are decrying it as too easy, other days the middle of the road guys are decrying it as to hard, and the crossword equivalent of the jogger round the track never says anything.

    It would take a whole range of crosswords to keep everyone happy, and if you read what I said carefully enough, I already said there is nothing to stop people moving up from one level to the next, if they want to. Many don’t want to. Talented people always forget, that there are others who have no talent or ambition but like to dabble.

    Clearly no paper has the space to provide the stratification provided in the sports world. But having two levels should be feasible and would keep more people happier more of the time. Keeping people happy is more important than anything else. Remember what I just said, not everyone is capable of reaching the top, nor do many want to.

    There are two reasons for not wanting to reach the top. Only occasionally is it sloth, usually it is simply the recognition of ones limitations. Those at the top of the tree should stop being blind to the existence of such people.

  215. Stephen Grant says:

    Hey there

    Unrelated to the current discussion, but I was hoping for some feedback!

    I’ve started compiling a weekly crytpic crossword – about at Guardian easy level – and it’s available here

    I’m a standup comedian so each week it’ll have a few clues with a loose comedy theme, but nothing people from outside of comedy wouldn’t be able to work out.

    Your feedback – both negative and positive – gladly received.

    Thank you!


  216. mhl says:

    I did a blog post about the crosswords that have attracted the most comments on Fifteensquared, and it was suggested to me that I should put a link here, in case it’s of interest:

    Interestingly, I don’t remember any of these being mentioned by Hugh Stephenson in his monthly newsletter, where he often comments on clues which have generated a lot of complaints.

  217. Radler says:

    Having read fifteen squared daily for many months (and very occasionally contributed to the discussions), I began think about setting puzzles. Then just a few weeks ago I read an article by Anax, which provided the impetus to have a go. You can see my puzzle on Alberich’s site
    I hope some of you will have a look at it, and I’d be particularly interested and grateful to hear your views.

  218. Eileen says:

    Answers to clues on today’s Araucaria blog:

    1. While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground

    2, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester

    [Radler, I tried to get your crossword but there seemed to be an error. :-( ]

  219. Radler says:

    Link now corrected (I hope)
    Thanks for pointing that out Eileen

  220. Eileen says:

    Very many thanks for the puzzle, Radler. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  221. Andrew says:

    Anyone happen to have a solution to Listener Crossword 2995: Helix by Piccadilly? Thanks, Andrew

  222. Jimbo says:

    As someone relatively new to all this, can I ask what a “nina” is?

    Ta muchly.

  223. nmsindy says:

    It’s a hidden message in the grid which is not in itself necessary to solve the puzzle (though it could help if you spot it!) eg something that you can read around the perimeter of the grid.

    Example today in Phi’s puzzle in the Indy with theme G&S (Gilbert&Sullivan) where the leftmost column of unchecked letters were all Gs and the rightmost all Ss.

  224. Emrys says:

    As an inexpert solver, I often leave a crossword, stuck, to return to it later. Sometimes, I can then immediately solve clues that had previously baffled me. Do others have this experience?

    I have two theories about how this can happen. First, I wonder whether my brain has been busy making associations in the background while I’ve been away, solving without me realising. Second, I wonder whether my original trouble was that I fixated on some misleading feature of the clue that misdirected my thoughts, and only after I had forgotten that, in the intervening time, could I think of the right answer.

    Does anyone have any idea whether either of these theories is true? Does anyone have any other theory? Does anyone know of any experiment I might do to test these ideas?

    This could be more than mere diversion, because the ability to think up innovative solutions to baffling challenges is valuable to all, and it would help to know how to develop it.

  225. Radler says:

    Hi Emrys

    I often find the same. I’m sure it’s for both the reasons you suggest, as well as a further one… a tired mind benefits from a rest.
    As you say, problem solving is a very valuable ability, but I can’t suggest how to hone it except by practice and perhaps by recognising when you’re ready for a break.

  226. Emrys says:

    Thanks, Radler, I’m glad I’m not alone. But I wonder whether there is any difference in my (or anyone’s) ability to make a breakthrough when I’m stumped if I
    * take a break and do something that doesn’t require much thought (like walk the dog)
    * take a break and deliberately empty my head by meditating
    * do some completely unrelated work that needs hard thought
    * do some very similar (but different) work that needs hard thought
    * just keep on sitting there and slogging away
    or * relax in the sun by the pool (assuming sun and pool are available!)

    I’d really like to know if anyone has researched this.

  227. Dave Ellison says:

    The blogs furnish the explanations, but they are not necessarily the way one arrives at the answer.

    In this Paul I got 0 (zero) answers first time through (took 6 minutes)

    Second time I got 4 more: first, 11a; I could see it was an anagram: for these I write the letters down randomly in a line: IDOLENILSE, and mentally tried combinations of three letters, and almost had to give up, when suddenly OIL sprung out, and as I was crossing these out, I spotted linseed.

    I then tried 5 and 6d without success. On 7d I tried the CLOO route, but it didn’t feel right. I then, because ENVELOPED kind of suggested this, looked for (forward) hidden answers using the very useful I of LINSEEDOIL and failed; then tried this backwards, and it was quite hard to spot. I then had DE NIRO, and considered myself very lucky to have the key word, but also disappointed because I could only muster GODFATHER and MEET THE FOKKERS from my memory. As I was on a train to Edinburgh for the day, with no chance of getting on line, I thought this was probably as far as I could get. I quite like this type of interlinked crossword, but I always hope for one which I know something about – De Niro did not fit into this category for me. I relooked at all the other 7s but could get none!

    8a was next; I could see INCAMERA as an anagram, and new this probably couldn’t be correct, but couldn’t check in a dictionary; so I pencilled in the crossing letters. This is sometimes a useful way to give hints for the down connected clues, but, alas, not on this occasion. I had the feeling I had seen this clue before but couldn’t remember the solution.

    3d was next. I could see I was to put L in a fish with the last letter removed, but which fish – there must be several, and none came to mind. I looked at 12a, thought of ON possibly for attached, and the TON as the ending for a town and thus PRESTON – one letter too many! I now had _E_L_N (with a doubtful E) and thought of MULLET (no good), then MARLIN. This would put paid to my E, but I couldn’t see the sea MARIN_. MARINE seemed likely but wasn’t sea for me.

    1d was next. WOMEN’S CLOTHING suggested BLOUSE (the INCLINED TO DRINK suggested the word might end OUS), so I wrote BLOUS, and then suddenly BIBILOUS was the answer. Well, not quite – I wasn’t happy this was the way to spell it, and I couldn’t quite see the SHORT TRAMP. A dictionary would be useful later. This had disastrous consequences as I had trouble getting 24a 10a later.

    19 minutes so far. After twice through, I leave the crossword for several hours, and come back to it hoping, as usually happens, for further answers. This indeed happened. For example, 12a BOLTON and 19d STAUNCH were immediate and 15a ASEXUAL, from A KIND OF REPRODUCTION, when I then could see the rest of this clue. 13d T_X_ suggested TAXI, and then TAXI DRIVER. This was the only 7 I got without the use of Wikipedia.
    16d, which I couldn’t get at this stage, did give some help with 25a: it looked as though 16d should end in ING, giving a useful N, and with GI for soldier, 25a followed.

    At home I looked up the other 7s (I don’t regard this as cheating as I am not too familiar with De Niro’s works), except I couldn’t get 24a 10a I had S_A__I_T at this stage, the I from my wrong spelling of BIBULOUS, which I had forgotten to check. I really ought to have got 24a from 7d, but overlooked this.

    50 minutes in all, but failed to get 4d (thought it was VARNISH).

    So my hints: Leave for several hours after you get stuck. Use likely endings of words suggested by the

  228. Dave Ellison says:

    Hi, Emrys

    I find the same. To your list of experiments I would add: How long should one wait before trying again? Too short and your brain hasn’t had time to do whatever it does. Too long, and you have forgotten anyway.

  229. Simon G says:

    As a relatively new visitor to this site I’d be interested in hearing people’s views on the online versions of the Guardian’s and Indepedent’s crosswords…

    Personally, I think the Grauniad is much the better of the two – it’s very easy to navigate and the check button is a useful facility (as a last resort of course…). I find the Indie quite awkward to use, changing direction requires two keystrokes, highlighted clues are not always correctly shown etc.

    It would also be interesting to know how many people solve online as opposed to on paper. As an expat, online is my only option…

  230. David Travis says:

    I’m new to cryptics, currently working my way through a book of Everyman crosswords and also trying out the odd Guardian crossword (Rufus preferably — I find Paul impossible). I find myself returning to this site often for help with clues and to understand how certain clues are put together. Many thanks for maintaining such a great resource.

    I enjoy looking over the crossword solutions on this site, but as a beginner, one feature I’d find helpful is a difficulty rating of the crossword. I’m eager to find new crosswords I can have a stab at, and since many of the crosswords are available online, it would help if you flagged up some ‘easy’ or ‘beginner’ crosswords for people like me. I notice that you sometimes say how long it took to solve the crossword, so maybe allow people to search for crosswords with the shortest solving time?

    Other than the Observer’s ‘Everyman’ and the Guardian’s ‘Rufus’, which other crosswords would people recommend for beginners?

  231. nmsindy says:

    I’d recommend Quixote’s puzzle in the Independent on Sunday.

  232. Derek Lazenby says:

    Also try the on-line Quiptic, weekly on the Guardian web site. It is supposed to be easier, but sometimes a slightly harder one slips through the editorial net.

  233. Derek Lazenby says:

    Umm, Simon G? Change of direction? I find the Indie I can change direction just by clicking on the intersecting light, but it is the Grauniad that requires two clicks, move away one light to change direction, then back to where I started. So did you say that wrongly or is there some other way of doing it?

  234. Radler says:

    Derek – The two behave slightly differently when you click on a checked square.
    Guardian – selects the across light except when the square you click on is the first square of the down light (as long as it is not also the first square of the across light).
    Independent – selects according to the previously highlighted light – across if that was across, or down if it was down.
    Both seem reasonable approaches and I like the way the Independent also shows the intersecting clue. However, the Independent handling of solutions that go over more than one light is poor.

  235. NealH says:

    On the comparison of the Guardian and Indy software:

    a) I like the Check option on the Guardian which the Indy doesn’t seem to have. It’s less extreme than revealing the answer. However, it would be quite nice to have an option which just tells you whether the answer is right or wrong rather than leaving letters which happen to match between the incorrect word and the true answer.

    b) What I most like about the Indy is that it tells you if you’ve successfully completed the puzzle, which the Guardian doesn’t ever seem to do (or maybe I’ve just never completed a Guardian properly). The Indy also has a reveal letter option which is occasionally useful if you’re completely stuck and need some extra assistance. The Guardian doesn’t seem to have that, although you could simulate it by entering letters and pressing check until one of them remains on the screen.

    Incidentally, the Guardian site is supposed to have been re-designed but looks exactly the same as it ever did. Can anyone tell me if anything has changed ?

  236. Pandean says:

    The Guardian site has yet to be relaunched, so there are no changes so far apart from the warning message that any saved solutions may be lost when the relaunch does occur, presumably in the not too distant future. I’m looking forward to seeing the new design and features when it does finally happen.

  237. Simon G says:

    Derek – I think the confusion comes because my preference is to use cursor keys rather than the mouse to navigate around the crossword. No real logic to that, just can’t be bothered with having to move my right hand from the keyboard!

    NealH – I do agree that it’s nice that the Indy tells you you’ve successfully completed the puzzle. What would also be nice on the Grauniad’s site would be to have a ‘check puzzle’ button, in addition to the ‘check’ and the oh so tempting ‘cheat’ buttons. I can appreciate some people would prefer to have incorrect answers completely erased but those of us with a tad less ability do find this feature useful!

  238. Emrys says:

    I prefer the Independent site, because it shows both down and across clue for a square. I’d like to try a completely different approach, however. When I look at a clue I’m really only interested in that one answer, and any letters I have filled in, and one or two clues. So I don’t really see the need to display the rest of the crosword at all, or the rest of the clues. That would make it practical to do the crossword on an iPhone tiny screen. And _that_ would be interesting on the train!

  239. mhl says:

    I thought it might be worth mentioning that there is a film out at the moment called “All About Steve” which stars Sandra Bullock as a crossword setter:

    Sadly, I gather that she’s not playing a retired Church of England clergyman, so I think I’ll be giving it a miss on the grounds of lack of verisimilitude ;) (Also the reviews have been dreadful.)

  240. Emrys says:

    iPhone crossword app!

    Following my earlier comment on different online crossword methods, I looked and found crosswords, which is a single program with a single interface which provides multiple daily crosswords, including those of the Guardian and Independent. I broke the rule of a lifetime and actually paid £5 for the iPhone app. It works! I rather like it.

  241. stiofain says:

    Any chance of a new thread on the Guardians new online layout?

  242. Gaufrid says:



  243. Dave Ellison says:

    David Travis @230. The following gives my guide to the difficulty of the various setters (other solvers will certainly have other views). I kept records for a whole year 20/Feb/2003 – 20/Feb/2004. Some four or five of them no longer set crosswords.

    This table shows the name of the setter, followed by the number of crosswords set in the year, the average of all the times I spent on each crossword and the percentage of that setter’s crosswords I completed. (there were some others I didn’t count because of low numbers set: Audreus: 4, Auster:3, Biggles:1, Chaucer:1, Egoist:1, Fidelio:1, Gemini:2, Imogen:1, Kookaburra:1). One measure of difficulty is clearly the percentage I completed. I have a dire record with Enigmatist. A second measure could be the time I spent on each one, but that would indicate Araucaria was hardest, which I do not feel is the case.

    (sorry about the layout – I don’t know how to do tables neatly)

    Name Number Set AverageTotal Time % Completed
    Enigmatist 9 42:25 0.00
    Gordius 23 32:07 8.70
    Orlando 11 33:26 9.09
    Pasquale 10 38:58 10.00
    Rover 9 29:36 11.11
    Bunthorne 19 39:00 16.67
    Paul 37 39:09 16.67
    Taupi 11 39:54 18.18
    Shed 24 35:23 20.83
    Chifonie 9 35:12 22.22
    Crispa 11 32:21 27.27
    Quantum 8 28:55 37.50
    Araucaria 41 44:02 41.03
    Logodaed. 7 26:55 42.86
    Rufus 38 24:54 44.74
    Brummie 5 34:57 50.00
    Janus 11 23:22 63.64

    Another measure is the number of clues completed by my 3rd attempt at the crossword (I generally have three goes: a swift once through, a second till I can do no more, and then breaks of a few hours for the third go). Enigmatist remains the hardest, but there are several changes.

    Enigmatist 12.11
    Paul 15.88
    Taupi 16.00
    Pasquale 16.33
    Bunthorne 17.18
    Rover 17.50
    Gordius 17.70
    Chifonie 18.44
    Brummie 18.75
    Orlando 19.33
    Shed 19.85
    Araucaria 20.21
    Quantum 23.00
    Rufus 23.10
    Logo 23.60

  244. snichs says:

    I am new to this site, and very pleased to have found it. A question …..under categories I see the list for crosswords includes the Everyman which I am very pleased about as I can sometimes even finish this one! The Guardian – a few at the most but I will perserve. At the risk of mentioning something perhaps unmentionable I tentatively ask why the Daily Telegraph is not included in this list?

  245. Gaufrid says:

    Hi snichs
    Welcome to 15². To answer your question, blogs of the DT can be found at Big Dave’s site:

  246. SusyT says:

    Have tried to access Guardian website today (crossword and newspaper) but Int Explorer 8 is telling me (big red warning)to avoid as it contains malicious threats to security of my computer. Is anybody else getting thhis message?

  247. Gaufrid says:

    I have just tried accessing the site (also using IE8) and have had no warning message. Norton Internet Security also reported that the site is safe.

  248. Jim Morrison says:

    Hi friends.
    This FREE page might help you solve crosswords or construct them:

  249. Quarriers says:

    Downoad Scotland’s BIGGEST Prize crossword today and win a holiday to New York! Download at and help charity Quarriers in doing so.

  250. Michael Briscoe says:

    Good morning all. Does anyone know why the Guardian Prize Cross is still “not yet available” at 07:57 ((06;57 GMT)? I have withdrawl symptoms!

  251. Ian says:

    still not working at 8.57 (7.57 GMT)

  252. Michael Briscoe says:

    I sent an email to [email protected] on Saturday morning asking what had happened. No reply yet (06:30 Monday)

  253. Dave Ellison says:

    Any one any idea why Paul’s Cryptica site seems to have stopped mid January?

  254. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Re #253.

    Dave, I think Mr Halpern is just a very busy man, who at one point had so many ideas which he then wanted to convert into something substantial, being Cryptica.
    Only to find out that maintaining a site adequately takes time.
    And that it is not really his ultimate priority.

    Unfortunately, hardly anything is working on that site (any more).
    The Daily Clue has already diappeared ages ago, and it looks like the Clue Competition is the next victim, though I hope not.

    I am still sending in 3 clues a week, hoping that something will happen – but Paul’s now 10 weeks behind.
    Since the start of this competition I’ve had some email contact, mainly to support his ideas, offering new possibilities and advising him – if he can’t judge the entries every week – to turn it into a, say, monthly competition (under certain conditions), although I am not sure if that would take away the workload.
    Most of the time he sent a short and friendly reply, without any major content.

    Things I tried to tell him were, for example:

    – these delays take away the fun for the contestants, because you never know when there’s something going to happen – there’s hardly anything to look out for

    – topical clues are publicised long after the sell-by date

    – when the clues are published, they are so many in one go, that it isn’t really inviting to look through the whole list [very good clues, or clues that I was really proudish of (like “Well, of course”) are likely to drown in the big pool].

    Given the fact that Paul liked a lot of my clues, it comes as no surprise that I would be very sad when Cryptica im- or explodes.
    In the two years that I am doing British cryptics it has helped me a lot to get better [in the language, and in crossword techniques]. Yes, I really learned a lot [and I still do].

    People who send in clues, surely must make much effort to do so.
    When clues are not mentioned, it can be disappointing – although it is part of the game.
    I asked Mr Halpern what he did with all the entries.
    Putting them in a database?
    Using them to compile multi-setter Cryptica crosswords, thát would be an idea.
    Alas, no answer to this question which for me is rather fundamental.
    I even think the un-used clues should get a mention somewhere on the site as well, to be found under some special button.
    People spend so much energy on them and want them to been by others [just to entertain] – you can’t throw them all away.

    About a year ago, I said that perhaps it would be a nice idea to let visitors of the site compile a crossword together (in stages, e.g. 3 or 4 words a week, I had an idea for that),
    Paul replied that he had other things in mind, and indeed, he revamped the site – but …

    I am thinking of contacting Paul again.
    If nothing happens, I will just stop sending in clues and try to find another platform for this newly discovered hobby of mine.
    Maybe, an email helps – it did about a year ago.

  255. JohnR says:

    Sil –

    I sympathise! I imagine a lot of people miss Paul’s website.

    Do you have any more thoughts on collaborative compiling? Intriguing idea…

  256. Dave Ellison says:

    Thanks, Sil, for your reply.

    I recently twice sent in some clues, but they disappeared into thin cyberspace.

    Seems the site is a POINPOIPOP!


  257. Sil van den Hoek says:

    :) …. I remember thát one!!

  258. IanN14 says:

    …as I was saying, Eileen,
    Does that mean you’ve finished it and sent it off?
    I just couldn’t get it finished until yesterday afternoon, and even then I’m not too sure about a couple.
    As I’m sure I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I find Araucaria perhaps the most difficult setter, because some of his ideas are so vague.

    Oh, and thanks for your congrats on today’s Morph blog. (Now there’s a setter with whom I seem to be on the same wavelength…).

  259. Eileen says:

    Hi Ian

    Sorry for the delay, Ian. I’ve been out.

    “Does that mean you’ve finished it and sent it off?”

    To the first part, yes, I think so – but I don’t send puzzles off any more. [I’ve only ever finished one Genius before and for this one I needed help from another 15² brain for the last little bit you mentioned on the Guardian site!]

  260. IanN14 says:

    Yes, Eileen,
    I’m still not sure either (as is normal for an Araucaria).
    I don’t send puzzles off normally, either (unless I can think of something half-way decent for an Azed Prize special clue) but I like to test myself on the Genius, and it has become a bit of a “thing” for me to try to be first, especially now they’ve started publishing it shortly after midnight, and that it just takes a click to submit.
    Anyway, seems I’ve failed this month.
    Here’s to June…

  261. Eileen says:

    Hi Ian

    With that puzzle, I reckon you could still be first! :-)

  262. IanN14 says:

    I’d rather win the £100 prize…

  263. Eileen says:

    I think you deserve a special prize by now!

  264. IanN14 says:

    Aww, thanks Eileen.
    See you around…

  265. Janis says:

    Can anyone help? Since the Guardian changed the crossword pages, the Genius isn’t available in print version. My ancient lap top can’t cope with the blind version (it freezes)Has anyone found a way round this?

  266. Gaufrid says:

    Hi Janis
    There is a print version of the Genius. Access the Genius puzzle and scroll down to the bottom of the page. There you should see a ‘Print version’ button.

  267. mhl says:

    Oh, goodness – we haven’t looked at the Genius yet, but if it took IanN14 days instead of his typical hour or so, I’m pretty scared… :/

  268. Janis says:

    Hi Gaufrid

    Unfortunately, its accessing the Genius puzzle page that causes my computer to freeze. Oh, well I’ll have to find an internet cafe and print it from there. Though as mhl says, if it took Ian 14 days to solve, I might give this month’s a miss….

  269. Eileen says:

    mhl and Janis

    Don’t be put off – it’s well worth doing!

  270. mhl says:

    Eileen: I don’t have much option – I realise that I’m supposed to doing the blog post for this one :) In fact we managed to get it completed today, although with three or four where I don’t understand the wordplay, so there might be a couple of errors.

  271. IanN14 says:

    Oh, good luck with that, mhl.
    I have to say, it was a very enjoyable puzzle, despite my lack of knowledge on the theme. (Wikipedia is, usually, a wonderful thing).
    As Eileen says, well worth the effort.
    I just found a few (well, one, mainly) clues a step too far for me to work out satisfactorily (which I can’t help being irritated about). I’m still not sure I’m right.
    I bet they’re the same clues as you, so I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with…

  272. Eileen says:

    Well, the theme was right up my street but that bottom right hand corner took some puzzling out. I’m with you, Ian, in eagerly awaiting the blog!

  273. liz says:

    The bottom right corner has got me foxed! I can’t get one of the clues and I strongly suspect that one or possibly two others may be wrong. So I’m another one waiting for the blog!

  274. Allan_C says:

    Any Indy dead tree version solvers out there? Do you find the latest layout, down the right-hand half of the page instead of across the bottom, impossible to handle conveniently? Why can’t they leave a perfectly good format alone instead of changing it to an absolute mess?

  275. eimi says:

    Hi Allan

    A good question. I suppose the answer is that they think crosswords are a minority interest, but ‘public demand’ managed to get the crossword back to the inside back page, so if enough people feel strongly enough about the new format to complain, perhaps they’ll relent.

  276. Richard says:

    I’ve just finished compiling a fundraising quiz consisting of 71 names of famous women defined by cryptic clues. 70 of the clues are my own, but I want to include the ‘Actress from Germany (3,4)’ clue as it is so good, but am conscious that somebody has done it in the Guardian crossword before and don’t like the idea of stealing somebody else’s work.
    Please could somebody advise me whether there is an established etiquette to be followed in such cases?



  277. Jan says:

    My first post on the chat boards. :)

    Sorry, Richard, it is not in reply to yours. It is, rather, a favourite tale of mine.

    I was wondering how long some memories are. I first met the Guardian crosswords in the 60s when a friend occasionally bought the paper. At 11pm one evening the friend and I rang the Guardian in desperation. We pleaded for something, anything, which would get us started on that day’s crossword. Every clue started with 22, 15 (I may have got the numbers wrong, but you get the idea), even clues 22 and 15. We had so little experience of solving that we were blinded by the numbers.

    I am sure that it must have been an Araucaria puzzle. Does anybody else remember it? Landor poet filled in 22 and 15.

    I was also defeated by Araucaria’s, crossword 20,000, and have now given up on filling the SE corner of this month’s Genius. :(

  278. Richard says:

    Jan @277

    No need to apologise!

  279. Eileen says:

    Hi Richard

    I’ve written several of these puzzles, too – great fun!

    I’ve found the clue you mention – 2nd March, Orlando. I understand your concern but I don’t think you need be too fastidious. The clue is, indeed, very good, but it’s also very simple: any anagram generator would have come up with Germany if you’d entered the actress’s name. We’re always commenting how similar clues come up from different compilers, aren’t we? I can’t see any setter complaining – especially if it’s for charity. [You could always include an acknowledgment, if you’re worried – best of luck with it! :-)]

  280. Richard says:

    Thanks, Eileen.

  281. tupu says:

    :) I think the Grauniad theatre critic may be a potential setter or at least ‘lost consonants’ contributor. Headline about ‘powered milk’ in the 1950s this morning!

  282. tupu says:

    Re Rover. This seems a better place than the Rover site to make the following comments.
    On May 11, I expressed surprise at the unremitting harshness of some criticisms of
    that day’s Rover puzzle. Now after his death someone has made a similar but more general point about some of his critics. It has been said that comments made while he was alive should not be criticised when he is dead and that it is ‘underhand’ to do this. Having made my own original comments on the day of the puzzle, I feel this last point is unjust.
    Unfortunately there is too often a space between ‘alive’ and ‘dead’, and when I saw the announcement I confess I was saddened at the thought that someone might have been in that limbo when subjected to what I considered unnecessarily harsh judgment. I have suggested that the virtual world of blog ids perhaps tempts one to go OTT in praise or criticism. Perhaps it is salutary to be reminded that setters, like us all, are real people under our pseudonyms, and that one can, rightly, express pretty robust criticism without recourse to hyperbole.

  283. Bill Taylor says:

    I see your point, tupu, but I can’t agree with it. Any one of the crossword setters — some, no doubt, more so than others but, really, any of them — could be in that limbo between “alive” and “dead.” But we don’t know that. All we know is what we see; the puzzle in front of us. We have no way to judge what state Rover might have been in when he compiled his last two crosswords, both of which took a good deal of stick on Fifteensquared.

    From what I understand, though, they may have been done some time ago and stockpiled. I gathered that from the Feb. 25 blog in which the late Quantum came in for criticism.

    Andrew had posted: “Newcomers might be interested to know that Quantum (aka Eric Burge) died nearly two years ago. Every time one of his puzzles shows up we wonder how many more the Guardian has in stock.”

    My response was: “It would seem that the Guardian, for reasons best known to itself, is working its way through a backlog of Quantum rejects. If they were weren’t good enough the first time, they shouldn’t be good enough now. And, with no disrespect intended to the memory of Eric Burge, this one wasn’t.”

    Pasquale weighed in with: “I am sorry that you think the crossword editor is working through a pile of rejects by my old friend. I myself have over a year’s worth of material lodged at The Guardian, and Eric obviously had a big pile of material as well. Quantum’s puzzles may not be to your particular taste, but he had a distinguished setting record and I feel that you should show a little more respect.”

    Sidey replied, in part: “Are you saying Quantum deserves respect because he was your friend or because he is dead? Some of the clues in this puzzle were not up to scratch. We are allowed to say so no matter who the setter.”

    Pasquale: “By all means criticise the puzzle but there’s no need to suggest that this was in any way a reject in a pile of old dross. I do criticise my fellow-setters from time to time, but in a constructive way, I hope — and I always like to show the utmost respect to all my colleagues, even if I do not always see eye to eye with them. Enough said.”

    I don’t think I was out of line with my comment or disrespectful to the setter. But I did not respect the crossword and I said so, quite plainly. It seemed like a sub-standard effort and I said so. I had no idea at the time that Quantum was dead but that would not have changed my response in any way. I didn’t know the man and had no opinion about him. But his puzzles were put into the public arena and were fair game for comment. As were Rover’s. I had no feelings for him one way or the other.

    Nor do I think my comment about Quantum or any of the comments about Rover were particularly OTT. For one thing, Gaufrid would jump all over that, I’m sure! Strong, even harsh, opinions were expressed in a reasonably temperate way, I felt. But not about the man.

    Yes, setters are real people. I like to think that they can take robust criticism and even hyperbole in their stride, whether it’s made under a pseudonym or otherwise. I can’t speak for any of them, of course, but in my own case I relish good criticism and a well-turned phrase, however much it may be against me. But perhaps my newspaper background has inured me to obloquy. One grows quite used to having an editor look at one’s sweated-over and usually quite well-crafted efforts with: “What’s this s***?”

    Cheers, Bill

  284. tupu says:

    Hi Bill

    Thanks for your long reasoned response. We’ll have to agree to differ I’m afraid. I have just been back over the comments and your own were relatively mild. More generally my impression (now as then) is of a crowd of critics egging each other on and almost trying to compete with each other to get ‘the knife in’. It’s that possibility that I suggested (in mitigation) might be fostered by the virtual world of blogging.
    I was not suggesting by the way that the puzzle was written when the setter was seriously unwell – it was the idea of his reading such comments in that state that I have reacted to today.
    I believe there can be a sensible middle ground between being over-kind and being over-nasty – and indeed your own comments on that puzzle, while clearly critical, sit very firmly there.

  285. Bill Taylor says:

    As you say, tupu, we must agree to differ. But I’ve enjoyed talking this through. I haven’t been coming to Fifteensquared for all that long, but I do like it here!

  286. tupu says:

    Bill thanks. I am new too (newer than you I suspect). I very much enjoy the blog, especially if frustratedly realising how much one can miss and still get the answers.
    There is old idea of Piaget – he writes of young kids talking past each other in a ‘collective monologue’. I enjoy getting (and giving) a response to something said.

  287. Paul B says:

    So what exactly is it you don’t like, Tupu? Saying not-quite-nasty-but-at-the-very-least-potentially-un-nice things about someone’s work (even though the criticism is quite clearly of that work and not its author), but only where that person may be unwell, or can be shown at some later date to have been unwell? Even terminally so? I am confused, even though Honest Bill seems to be making a lot of sense.

    I’ve been having a go at Rover’s clues (and Quantum’s, and Janus’s, and … well, quite a few others really) in a semi-evil way for years, and I’ve yet to feel the pangs of guilt. That’s because I was talking about the clues – I never actually got to know any of their authors, and perhaps that’s a shame. In other news, the clues and puzzles I write are nowhere near the whole story of what I’m about (at least I bloody well hope so), and I suppose I should try really hard to remember that next time my stuff comes under the cosh – even if I’ve got the flu.

  288. eimi says:

    Everyone takes criticism to heart, I think, especially creative types. There’s no way of knowing the mental or physical state of the creator of the work people choose to criticise, so people must, of course, comment on the crossword rather than the setter. I think constructive criticism has a place, but can see little point in posts along the lines of “I didn’t enjoy this” unless it can be backed up with reasons why.

    And I certainly think there’s something to be said for posting under your own name, or at least a pseudonym if you’re a setter.

  289. Bill Taylor says:

    I don’t quite follow your last sentence, especially as you’re posting here as “eimi.”

  290. eimi says:

    Post under your own name or at least under your pseudonym, if you’re a setter. Sorry, I don’t know how to make that any clearer.

  291. Bill Taylor says:


  292. tupu says:

    Hi Paul B.

    I had thought it was pretty clear what I don’t like, and I’m surprised you say you are confused though your first paragraph confuses me. Bill understands, but simply disagrees. Your point about criticising the clues or the work and not the setter/author may provide some comfort but it ultimately just won’t hold. Moreover several of the comments in question were either directly or by clear implication aimed at the setter. Also I am surprised that some people should claim the right to dish out criticism, however rough, but react quite strongly if it is directed towards (NB) their words. But if you genuinely don’t understand, let me say it again. On May 11 I simply noted that I was surprised at the unremitting harshness of some of the comments. I said that I did not much like the puzzle but felt the harshness was excessive. I was sorry then and am sorrier now that about these comments.

    I am sure that you and I are much more than your comments on this blog and would not dream of suggesting otherwise. But the notion that an author/setter is not involved in her/his efforts to please, interest or puzzle is sophistry.

    Elmi @288 Your first sentence seems indubtable to me.

  293. tupu says:

    Hi eimi. Please excuse misspelling.

  294. Paul B says:

    FYI not my notion (please reread 2nd para @ 287), but why, even after your potentially laudable comment reposted @ 292 (about a puzzle you ‘did not much like’), have you taken it upon yourself to be the deceased’s apologist? Perhaps like other posters, I’m sure don’t care very much at all whether or not you’re ‘sorry’ about our comments. Advance apologies for any beer-induced invective, but it seems to me that it is not really your place to judge.

  295. Tokyo Colin says:

    I wandered in here looking for something more sustaining than the responses to the blog of the day, but also half hoping there would be some commentary on the criticism of Rover’s most recent puzzle in the light of his unfortunate demise. I found more than I anticipated.

    Firstly, thank you to Tupu for providing a recognised name and source to the practice of “collective monologue”. I have usually referred to this as “alternating monologues” but can now upgrade to the new term. I find this aspect of the blog responses to be very unsatisfying, with several respondents making the same or similar point without acknowledging the previous posts. But perhaps that is the purpose after all – for many people to provide their opinions on the puzzle, rather than to engage in a dialogue about it.

    I do not want to reignite the debate above between tupu and Paul B if is has faded away, and most cetainly do not want to take a corner in the ring (how does a sporting metaphor turn into an oxymoron so easily?) But I would like to add some personal reactions and a comment to the discussion above.

    I was perturbed by the announcement that Rover had died, as with anyone one has any relationship with. Awareness of mortality is a powerful force. But the fact that his most recent crossword had taken such a beating gave the moment of sadness greater depth and cause for contemplation. An early thought was a frisson of pleasure that I, almost alone, had defended the crossword as enjoyable in parts and well worth the price of purchase, (i.e. zero.) But this was a purely selfish thought and I wondered if I had indeed hated it, would I have hesitated to “put the boot in”? And anyway, who would know or care?

    I have read Bill and Tupu’s positions and responses and can see that they do indeed agree to differ and I respect both viewpoints. I am more inclined to tupu’s way of thikning because very few of us, I daresay none of us, are able to separate criticism of the deed from that of the person. As a manager of managers I am frequently advising my staff on the recommended procedure for providing negative feedback – “criticise the action, not the individual.” But very few if any of the recipients ever really recognise and appreciate the distinction.

    So now to put that into practise – Paul B, I am sure you are a very fine person and a great deal more than what little you have shown of yourself here, but I think your post @294 was excessively belligerent and designed to provoke. I urge you to reconsider the tone of your comments to tupu and reiterate your presaged apology. tupu’s comments were thoughtful and respectful and unworthy of such an accusation.

  296. tupu says:

    Hi T. Colin
    Thanks for your considered comment. It’s good to know one’s not alone – it was beginning to feel a bit chilly! I suspect there’s no more to be usefully said. See you in puzzleland.

  297. Paul B says:

    Well Colin, I did warn about beer-induced invective. And 294 was provocative, as you rightly point out. But I do think that some of us appear to be experiencing a whole lot of anxiety bound up with the fact that someone has died, and that as a result, those affected feel that any negative comments about that person’s work (which, to be quite clear, has been battered on many an occasion here and elsewhere) somehow take on another, extra meaning. So, to avoid putting the foot down too hard on the pedal once again myself, perhaps I should merely repeat that I think Bill Taylor has summed up the situation regarding our more frank contributions rather well.

    If it helps, I’m not really the religious type, and so I find that ‘speak ill of the dead’ thing just a tad hypocritical. If we weren’t respectful enough for Tupu so be it, but as a filthy atheist I for one shan’t lose any sleep.

    FYI ‘practise’ is the verb, not the noun.

  298. Tokyo Colin says:

    Thank you Paul B for the tempered response. I am happy to let the matter rest.

    And thank you for your grammatical advice. You may have missed the fact that I used the correct form ‘practice’ in my second para and so plead that my later error was a typo, akin to ‘thikning’ in my penultimate para. I first wrote “to practise what I …” but then revised it, incompletely as it turned out.

  299. tupu says:

    Paul B

    FIY I do not know how religion comes into it and this is no place to raise it. But I have been an atheist by conviction all my thinking life and before that by convention.

    One last thing. As far as I can see, you yourself did not participate in the May 11 blog, and do not appear to have read it carefully – if your comments about clues as opposed to setters is really meant. And again FIY, it was disrespect for the living that I found excessive and unfortunate in this case.

    I have now had enough of this argument and leave you in your happy state of guiltless peace. To slightly misuse Dylan and leave you on a more friendly note ‘I wish that there was something I could do or say to make you change your mind… But don’t think twice it’s all right’. From what you say, I’m sure you won’t! :}

  300. Jim says:

    Howdy folks,

    I have a crossword question. I’ve never really understood the effect of ellipses on a crossword clue. The first three clues in the Guardian yesterday have them and I’d like to know what is really going on here – I don’t want the answer to those clues by the way, it is just what has put the question to the forefront of my mind.

    As an example then:
    Clue 1: “Clue …”
    Clue 2: “… Another Clue”

    Does each clue still have to stand on it’s own? Or does it mean you need to work out one before you can work out the other? Or do you read the entire clue as one whole clue? At a bit of a loss here, so I’d be very grateful for any sort of help – especially as I’m finding Saturday’s crossword hard enough, without this problem I have :) !


  301. tupu says:

    PaulB :) FYI Apologies for FIY from a guilt-ridden old blogger (sic) whose senior mis-typing moments stretch ever longer.

    Jim :) Thank goodness for a change of subject!! I’ll leave it to others more expert to try, and it will no doubt arise next Saturday. Usage seems to vary, and I also wondered a bit, but there was definitely more connection here than is sometimes the case, and the answer is quite nice when you get it.

  302. Colin Blackburn says:

    Jim @300. Ellipses serve a couple of purposes.
    One is merely surface reading. Each clue stands on its own but to achieve a good surface reading they are run together with ellipses.
    The other is where the answer to the first clue in the series is implicitly used in the second. So there you usually need to solve the first in order to solve the second. In this case they may be something in the wording of the second clue to suggest this connection.

  303. FumbleFingers says:

    Jim @300
    I think I agree with Colin, though I have a nagging feeling there may be valid uses of ellipses that don’t fall within either of his definitions. I just can’t quite summon the resources to identify one. But I’ll make a point of checking here in future to see if anyone else can.

    Without wishing to give anything away, I’ll just say the first three clues in latest Prize puzzle #25029 exemplify Colin’s two purposes in the order he used.

  304. sidey says:

    Re ellipses.

    It also depends on the setter. Naming no names but some are scrupulously exact and some seem to chuck them in with gay abandon. All part of the fun really.

  305. Jim says:

    Howdy, back again,

    Thanks for the comments on ellipses. I get the general gist now. I got Araucaria’s three via another clue, won’t say any more other than I see what you mean FumbleFingers @303. They do incorporate both purposes.

    I must admit I’m not sure I like the use of ellipses in clues, but that may be because I always seem to find them more than a little perplexing :)

    Thanks again.

  306. FumbleFingers says:

    Jim @305

    I do feel a bit chagrined to see you’re not sure you like ellipses – I’m 100% with sidey that it’s all part of the fun. Maybe this (sparkling, imho) example will coax you over to our side…

    ps – I also couldn’t crack Araucaria’s three until I had a sense of the theme from elsewhere in the puzzle, and I doubt very much that we’re a club of two in that respect!

  307. tupu says:

    I wonder if anyone might be willing to take the trouble to tell me (as a competent but in this context ‘untutored’ solver) where the crossword-grammatical concepts of surfaces etc. (with which several bloggers are clearly familiar) are set out for consideration? Also does anyone know of any discussion of a relation between Chomsky’s surface structure/deep structure distinction and the structure of cryptic clues, especially those involving misdirections? I began pondering about this after joining these blogs a little over a month ago, and particularly after making a point the other day about 5 computer readings (in the spirit of Chomsky) in the mid 1960s of the sentence ‘time flies likes an arrow’. There might also be another area of convergence in relation to linguistic pragmatics which stresses the fundamental ambiguity of non-contextualised statements.

  308. mhl says:

    tupu: The first book that comes to my mind is Don Manley’s frequently-recommended “Chambers Crossword Manual“, which has a lot of discussion of the grammar of clues. It’s accessible to people who are just learning to solve crosswords but has a lot of depth, with discussion of advanced cryptics, setting and editing. Jonathan Crowther’s “A-Z of Crosswords” sets out in the introduction his rules for crossword grammar that are applied in the Azed and the Azed clue competition, so while that has a very particular focus on that Ximinean style, I think it’s really interesting to read such a clear discussion of what he would allow or not allow. (The rest of the book, with short biographies of many crosswords setters and example puzzles is excellent as well.)

    The classic book on crossword grammar, of course, is “Ximines on the Art of the Crossword” – I think it’s a great read, but perhaps not so accessible as the two above, partly because lots of the clues he uses as examples are very difficult (for me, anyway)…

    Computer parsing of crossword clues is a really interesting subject – what appeals to me about it is that, as you suggest, the ambiguities that normally bedevil natural language processing are exactly what you want to have in a good clue :) I don’t know of a good reference about that, though. I had a friend who put in a PhD proposal on the subject, but it didn’t get funded :(

  309. tupu says:

    Many thanks for taking the trouble to reply so fully.

    I will get hold of the first two books you mention for a start and see if I can get a sharper idea of the main concepts than my present sense of what they mean from their usage.

    The more general questions are interesting, as you say. Apart from some theoretical and practical issues in computer translation (which I do not know too much about at the technical level), they connect too with the nature of humour and perhaps less obviously with the understanding of symbolism.
    Many poeple have tried to develop tools for the rigorous decoding of symbols, but others have questioned the validity of that enterprise and have stressed the fundamental ambiguities involved. As you probably know, it is also arguable that many symbols work as social unifiers exactly because they are emotional and vague. They may deceptively allow people to talk past each other – and it can be easier to ‘sign up’ to a flag for instance than to a long list of carefully worded small print.

    Beyond this there is, I suppose, the more general issue of the relation between computers and ‘mind’ (as a biological rather than a spiritual system). Here chess is another interesting and potentially enlightening mental pastime. I hear occasionally – without hoping to fully understand – that ‘neural network’ analysis is ‘the way forward’ here in this broader context.
    Many thanks once again.

  310. Bill Taylor says:

    To my non-analytical mind — I’ve never mastered anything beyond the basic moves of chess; I’m a Fool’s Mate waiting to happen — the thought of crossword “manuals” is somewhat inimical. I prefer to approach the English language, and crosswords, instinctively. I like to think of the best compilers doing it that way, too, in the manner of a brilliant jazz pianist or trumpeter who can’t read music.

    But that’s just me. I’ve never been able to learn anything in a formal setting. I love the idea of a PhD in crossword-solving, though. I’m surprised it wasn’t funded. There have been doctoral theses written on far weirder subjects.

  311. tupu says:

    Hi Bill. Nice to find you back here on a less troubling topic. Like you, I don’t at all want to ‘learn to solve’ since I have been operating as a solver pretty succesfully on the lines you describe. However, I’ve been interested to read some of the more ‘sophisticated’ blogs with their regular references to a ‘standard’ set of terms like surfaces, charades etc. and wondered where that ‘grammar’ came from and how rigorous it is.
    Language is of course something of a mystery and often enough a beautiful one. It also demonstrates extremely well the fundamental role of rules in human nature. It has odd underlying structures shown e.g. by the fact that we unconsciously know how to choose between ‘s’, ‘z’ and ‘ez’ when making English plurals. Also the fact that there are thousands of complex. mutually unintelligble languages a number of which almost any baby can easily learn at one time is interesting to me, as too is the role of clarity and ambiguity in linguistic and other communication.
    I think all this complements rather than clashes with your own interest in creativity. After all, an illiterate child’s ability to make new complex sentences which are grammatically correct and may never have been heard before is extraordianrily creative, despite the underlying rules and structures there.
    Re chess, a lot of the best chess is played instinctively, and human mental processes seem, especially in the complex so-called ‘middle game’, to be seriously different than those of ‘number crunching’ computers. It is a very creative game where special types of imagination rather than calculating ability mark off the higher class players. I have never reached those levels myself but know enough to be sure they genuinely exist.
    :) Apologies if (a) you know all this already and/or (b) it is of no interest to you.

  312. Bill Taylor says:

    Interesting the way instinct acts within us. I have no instincts whatsoever for chess but I could always do English standing on my head (so to speak). English language and literature were the only two O-levels I passed in school. I would never get through the door of a newspaper as a cleaner now, let alone be taken on as a journalist. But I’ve had, in all modesty, a good career and a close friend, who only got one O-level, became one of the Daily Telegraph’s top foreign correspondents.
    As for crosswords, I struggled for a while with the daily cryptic on the regional paper I was on in north-east England but then the principles suddenly clicked into place and I was off to the races. The Guardian cryptics seem to represent my natural level of competence. I’m certainly not Genius level. But until I found Fifteensquared, I’d never come across such terms as “charade” and “surface” in the context of crosswords. And I still never ever think in those terms. It always makes me smile when people post nitpicking objections about whether a clue is legitimate or not. To my way of thinking, if I can solve it, it’s a fair clue and if it makes me smile (or, sometimes, swear), it’s a good clue. If it does all that and keeps me struggling, as Araucaria sometimes does, for a couple of hours, it’s a great clue!
    My wife (though she could no more do a cryptic crossword than fly around the room) loves study, research and theory for their own sake. Not me. Which is why my only written qualification in the world is my driver’s licence….

  313. tupu says:

    Bill. Thanks for that. I suppose it’s what happens at the ‘click’, and how it’s possible, that is the puzzle. Nice to natter as before.

  314. mhl says:

    Adept solvers that I know have very different ways of describing how they come to an answer, I’ve found – two friends of mine agree that they essentially always solve clues by thinking of a synonym of words at the beginning or end of the clue and they seeing if they can make the subsidiary match, whereas I often solve clues by starting from the smaller building blocks and building up a word.

    An interesting thing to read on this subject, in case you haven’t seen it before, is Mark Goodliffe’s description of approximately what he was thinking while solving three puzzles in 17m 43s to win the Times crossword championship in 2008:

  315. Bill Taylor says:

    Thanks for that, mhl — amazing! I love his intuitive thinking and, obviously, he has no time to nitpick the construction of clues. It’s jazz on paper!

  316. tupu says:

    Thanks too from me mhl. Have downloaded, had a quick look and will return later.

  317. FumbleFingers says:

    By way of sticking my oar in on this “quite interesting” thread…
    I know Wikepedia has an article referencing various parsings of “time flies like an arrow”, but it’s really a bit of an urban myth. Computers don’t meaningfully parse natural language even now, much less back in ’63. Think of the intellectual and computing resources available to, say, Google today. Then check out their best efforts with “Translate this page”.

    Other than that I’d just say that I like “surface readings” to be as valid as possible – both grammatically and semantically (although obviously much semantic content is deliberately irrelevant to the actual answer). I think most compilers acknowledge and attempt to adhere to this position most of the time, and not infrequently I’ve discovered through the blogs here that what I thought was a weak clue was actually too subtle (or sometimes, just too contrived) for me to grasp without help!

  318. tupu says:

    Hi fumblefingers.
    I’m not sure what you are referring to here by Urban Myth. The main 60s text is by Anthony Oettinger on ‘The Uses of Computers in Science’. It was published in a special issue of Scientific American in 1966 (Vol 215 No 3 p 161-72) on computers. It is also in a later bound volume of papers from Scientific American. I understand that Oettinger worked with Susumo Kuno on this and other language problems and it seems to be their results, offering several different computer readings of the line, that are quoted by Steven Pinker in the Language Instinct (p.209), though he mentions neither of them. Google books under ‘fruit flies like a banana’ gives several texts where Oettinger’s paper is included or quoted. It is also cited in Barnes in the journal Man, New Series, Vol.6, No.4 p.537-52.

    Barnes’s paper contains a nice verse from a letter to SA apparently written by one Edison B. Schroeder. ‘Now, thin fruit flies like thunderstorms And thin farm boys like farm girls narrow; And tax firm men like fat tax forms – But time flies like an arrow. When tax forms tax all firm men’s souls, while farm girls slim their boyfriends’ flanks; That’s when the murd’rous thunder rolls – and thins the fruit flies ranks. Like tossed bananas in the skies, The thin fruit flies like common yarrow; Then’s the time to time the time flies – Like the time flies like an arrow.’

    Here there may be ‘myth’ as the old maps use
    to say about elephants etc. I understand that when an attempt was made to contact Schroeder at his IBM (?) workplace they replied that there was no-one of that name there?! :) Did a computer write the poem?!

  319. tupu says:

    ps The very fact that a computer was able to make, but unable to choose between five different possible parsings, of the sentence was a main part of my original point about fundamental ambiguity and of course partly explains why automatic translation is so difficult as you rightly note.

  320. FumbleFingers says:

    By “urban myth” I meant that the various parsings of “Time flies…” weren’t exactly generated by “the computer” as we’d commonly understand it today.

    It’s quite possible Susumu Kuno never wrote a program to parse anything at all. He obviously never constructed a database of all valid english words defining all their relevant grammatical & semantic attributes – even today, I doubt anything remotely close to that yet exists.

    I suppose Kuno might have defined the relevant attributes for the particular words in that sentence and written a routine to list all “valid” parsings thereof, but to my mind that’s really a bit of a party trick. It would only work with the specific “test” input it was programmed for. In reality Sumo was simply demonstrating the impossibility of getting a computer to parse natural language at the time. Since then we’ve spent nearly 50 years intensively analysing the problem – but even with vastly more powerful hardware and software, we’re still a long way from having anything that could even generate all the “valid” parsings for any utterance, let alone choose the “right” one.

    Added to which I’d say parsing cryptic clues is probably a lot more complex than an average utterance, so I don’t think we’re going to see this anytime soon. I’m more worried that somebody will start using a crude program to generate them – they’ll be poor quality, obviously, but might not an unscrupulous editor use them because they’d be cheaper?

    I have to put my faith in Hugh Stephenson…

  321. tupu says:

    Hi Fumblefingers
    Many thanks for taking the trouble to explain your point. I suspect I know less than you do about the detailed technical problems of language translation by machines and am not in a position to comment about the detailed history of Kunu’s work.
    My original point and later comments are, if I properly understand you, not in conflict with what you say. I raised the issue originally re Gordius 14d (8 June) simply to suggest caution about trying to determine a single correct ‘cryptic grammar’ of the clue.
    My later comments also note the significance of ambiguity as an apparently fundamental element of non-contextualised language and also the use of symbols where (and elsewhere) it seems also to be possibly functional. My comments re chess where computers play as well as any, and better than the large majority of humans, make clear that the decision making processes involved seem rather different in the two cases.
    You don’t seem very ‘gruntled’ about computer incursions into this area. Perhaps in ignorance, I don’t feel quite as threatened as you appear to do in this regard, just as I worry less than some do about how close Nim Chimsky or other chimps get to using human language. In both cases ‘experiments’ seem to bring out interesting similarities and differences.
    Many thanks once again.

  322. tupu says:

    Sorry. For Kunu sc. Kuno

  323. Jim says:

    Re: Ellipses and FumbleFingers@306 – thanks for that link, mayhap I will come around to appreciating them more in time :)


  324. Paul B says:

    Cryptic grammar = very simple, in that it’s the only grammar in the clue: in most cases the surface is entirely arbitrary, and thus irrelevant. Sure, compilers strive Manleyfully to get something that works at surface level, but the only grammar that absolutely needs to be right (and often isn’t in daily puzzles) is the one at deep SI.

  325. liz says:

    Sil — Thanks v much for the link to your first puzzle. Fantastically enjoyable! You caught me out twice — at 15ac and 23ac but they were clearly gettable and only 23ac I hadn’t heard of.

    As the preamble said, lots of clever devices and wonderful surfaces — 3dn and 5dn in particular. 1dn was my favourite, closely followed by 1ac.

    I hope there are many more!

  326. Sil van den Hoek says:

    On the night that Holland qualified for the next round of the World Cup [to be honest, I feel ashamed, because they were one of the poorest sides so far – it looks like the team is just one big midfield], on thát day I would like to refer to another day: 30th January 2010.
    The day that mhl said “to add to what anax said [whatever he said …, I forgot], you should know that you have fans who are looking forward to a complete crossword from you, based on the amazing quality of those clues [referring to Cryptica]”.

    Well, I’m not thinking in terms of having fans, but – indeed – trying to compile a complete 15^2 crossword in my second language was for me the next step in Crosswordland after submitting so many clues to Paul’s now defunct Cryptica site [of which the last 30 or so have been binned since it stopped – which I still find unacceptable (probably/hopefully just like many other regulars of that site)].

    I know that setting a crossword is not a great feat – since 2007 I live in a country where millions and millions of crosswords are available in bookshops – but for me personally , producing a real 15^2 crossword (in English) was a milestone. The next step after Cryptica.

    Alberich gave me a platform for my first ever effort (and a lot of feedback!)
    [first ever?, well, to be honest, it’s my second crossword after a topical one at work]
    And there it is, on:

    Clues are not always very concise, I know.
    But I wanted surfaces to be as smooth as possible – I like to be a storyteller.
    [at the same time, I agree with Paul B in #324 – I must say that he’s one of those setters who’s able to find the right balance between construction and surface, which is just what it is all about].

    Anyway, “to cut a long story short” (remember Spandau Ballet?), be welcome to give it a go. But, please, no spoilers on this site.
    Any remarks, positive or negative [no problem, I am very open-minded, and never too old to learn], are much appreciated on [email protected] .

    And please, take a look at other puzzles on Alberich’ site.
    Many great crosswords from Mr A [well, he’s Mr S] himself, but also very fine sidesteps from anax, and of course, several beginners like me.

    PS, liz (#325), thank you so much for these kind words.

  327. mhl says:

    Sil, great stuff – very enjoyable (and quite tough, I thought!) There are a couple I can’t quite parse, but I’ll email you to avoid spoilers!

  328. El Stano says:

    Greetings All!
    Can someone please explain “&lit” used by bloggers here?
    Many thanks,

  329. Gaufrid says:

    Hi Stan
    I answered this question when you first asked it three days ago. See comment #55 in the relevant post:

  330. Derek Lazenby says:

    It means that as well as the usual cryptic bits and pieces, possibly including a definition part, the whole of the clue (surface) provides and additional (&) LITeral definition. These are relatively rare and usually appreciated as they are not easy for the setter to produce.

  331. El Stano says:

    Hi Gaufrid,
    Thanks for the info.
    I didn’t realise you’d replied because I’m in a forum which emails me when a thread I’m interested in gets a reply. One shouldn’t make assumptions!
    Thanks again,

  332. Rishi says:


    Most Indian newspapers reproduce crosswords from the UK. The Guardian, Independent, FT, Everyman crosswords appear in one newspaper or the other. All these are some weeks behind. The Times crossword published here is some eight years behind. Rufus’s 13x syndicated is published in a couple of newspapers.

    The Times of India used to carry the crossword from the Daily Mail: for some inexplicable reason, it shifted it to the Economic Times, which repeats the same puzzles every couple of years!

    A Madras newspaper has been carrying an originally compiled puzzle since the Seventies. Some Bombay papers – expecially the eveningers – carry local crosswords. However, these are of varying quality – some perhaps good, some definitely execrable.

    A Madras eveninger – now defunct – used to carry the puzzle from a UK eveninger. That was the one on which I as a college student started my crossword journey. Way back in mid-1960s.

  333. mike04 says:

    Hello Rishi

    Many thanks for the interesting information you sent.
    I didn’t know that so many UK crosswords were on the go in India. I started my crossword journey in Malaysia back in 1976. Crosswords originating in The Guardian were far too difficult for a novice – but I didn’t realise that at the time.

    I was in India for a few months in early 1977 where I had more success with the crosswords in the newspapers I mentioned. I’ve wondered ever since about the
    origins of these crosswords.

    I’m going into the British Newspaper Library next week. They have serial holdings
    of The Times of India, but only 1978-1980 (unfortunately) for the Indian Express.
    I’m hoping to read some of the old newspapers and to try a few of the crosswords again with (I hope) a little more experience.
    Some retired people do some very strange things I hear you say!

    It was kind of you to reply so fully. Thanks again. All the best.

  334. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Hi rishi [and mike04],

    what an interesting information, indeed.
    When I read this I wondered if the setters get extra paid because of their crosswords being published in other parts of the world.
    I think that would be fair.
    And what happens in India might well happen elsewhere.
    Just a thought.

  335. mike04 says:

    Hi Sil

    I suspect that our setter friends will not benefit from the internatioal syndication of
    UK crosswords. I’d be interested to know how they are paid.
    I suppose it must depend on the number of crosswords published, but I would agree with you that some form of bonus structure should apply when their work is distributed around the world!

  336. dickdastardly says:

    Anyone done the New Statesman? It can be very good, especially the themed ones by Otterden (A-Z jigsaw ones, themed by authors etc).

    I think Otterden may be a Guardian setter – does anyone know?

  337. FumbleFingers says:


    I think you’ll find that compilers are paid once only by the commissioning newspaper, who thereby acquire copyright. I rather doubt they’d have any legal right to further payment when, for example, the Guardian publishes a book of old puzzles. Apart from anything else, that would be quite an administrative overhead for relatively small amounts.

    From the paper’s point of view, one thing they wouldn’t want is to find that their compilers are selling the same puzzle to multiple publishers – which I’ve no doubt would eventually result in people like Hugh Stephenson getting an avalanche of hate-mail from “Disgusted, of Tonbridge Wells”.

  338. Derek Lazenby says:

    The trouble with parsing natural languages is that they don’t obey the strict rules that computer languages use so normal parsing techniques for the latter become nightmare-ish to even try to use on anything other than a very restricted version of the natural language. The altenative is copletely different and requires the use of artificial intelligence rather than something recognisable as a parser.

    On a completely different tack, is it allowable to make, for example, one definition in a double definition to itself be the solution to some word play. Something like (and please forgive the lack of composing talent)….

    God twice is swearing briefly at distant cousin. (6)

    Er, new post then, just in case anyone is masochistic enough to try solving it!

  339. Derek Lazenby says:

    Which gives

    Pan Pan+is+cus[s] as one def, and distant cousin as the other, hence Bonobo.

    So, is that sort of thing allowed?

  340. Rishi says:

    This follows a query by Sil on the question of ‘A on B’ in an across clue.

    On another forum I wrote:

    The following clue is from an Everyman of seven or eight weeks ago:

    5a Training on first of April, leader of Dambusters took off (4)A PE D

    The question is: what is the convention on the use of “on” in Across clues of word-sum type?

    Here we attach PE to A to get APE. Why can’t we take it as PEA?

    If it were a Down clue we would derive PEA on the analogy that in the slot it is

    What logic, if any, obtains in the convention that it is APE in the Across clue?
    Quote ends

    Anax replied:

    Quote begins
    A very good subject to raise, Rishi.

    “On” has been a source of confusion for solvers and setters alike, and it caught me out once when setting a puzzle for The Times in which “on” was used as a link word to indicate component A next to B. I was politely informed that it could only be used to indicate component B following component A.

    I can’t say I was entirely happy with the reasoning but I do understand the need to give “on” a precise meaning as a wordplay indicator. In fairness to the solver it should mean one or the other but not both (compare this with “about” – an anagrind, reversal indicator, container indicator; plus of course it could be C, CA or RE). What we’ve ended up with is “on” serving as a shorthand version of “tagged onto the end of” – yes, like I said I think the interpretation is somewhat loose, and potentially confusing because in a down clue it plays the opposite role.

    However, it’s better that in an across clue it can only mean one thing (apart from RE, of course, which is another interpretation I’m uneasy with but must confess to having used).

    For the actual meaning of “on” there are many interpretations, and the one which might encourage you to think it could mean A in front of B is to take a place name example such as Henley on Thames – in this sense it simply means “next to” and it doesn’t narrow that down to left or right, top or bottom; it’s simply “adjacent”.

    At some point crossword editors have collectively agreed the role “on” now takes, and all we can do is accept.
    Quote ends

  341. mhl says:

    Derek (#339): I’m afraid I think that an indirect definition like that would universally be regarded as unfair on the solver! I certainly can’t remember having seen an equivalent.

    Rishi: Interesting comments – it’s perhaps worth mentioning that, as Peter Biddlecombe pointed out in his response, this is more relevant to the setter than the solver, who won’t be much troubled by trying both ways round. (I certainly consider it possible that “on” can work either way in both across and down clues, but this may be due to learning crosswords by doing the Guardian, which is much less strictly edited than the Times, for instance.)

  342. mike04 says:


    I have a question about crosswords which appeared in the ‘Bangkok Post’ in Thailand,
    way back in the 1970s. On Sundays, London Express Service supplied THE SKELETON.

    On weekdays and Saturdays, the TWO-IN-ONE CROSSWORD and JUMBO CROSSWORD both had EASY PUZZLE clues and CRYPTIC PUZZLE clues (which I enjoyed).
    I’m trying to find out where these puzzles originated. Does anyone know or remember?

  343. Derek Lazenby says:

    re @338, 339 & 341

    Been thinking about that. I’m sure I’ve seen something like a word to be anagramed refered to indirectly, even as part of a charade, but sadly I can’t remember where. If that’s ok, then why not an indirect definition? It introduces no greater degree of indirectness. Or is my memory at fault?

  344. Derek Lazenby says:

    Naturally, after making one post I stumble across something elsewhere that would have been relevant.

    This is from Peter Biddlecombe’s YAGCC site…

    Example: Tea shop (5).
    Answer: GRASS – a slang synonym for both words – tea (=marijuana) and shop (=betray to the police). (Shamelessly pinched from Azed)

    The first definition is clearly indirect, you have to go from tea to grass via marijuana.

    That leaves the question, is extending that from single word definitions to longer definitions so very different?

  345. mhl says:

    Derek: it’s not indirect – “tea” and “grass” are direct synonyms. (e.g. in “Gee, Officer Krupke” you could have “my grandma pushes grass” instead of “my grandma pushes tea”, except, of course, that that then it wouldn’t rhyme with “my Ma’s an S.O.B.”…)

    There have been examples in the Grauniad of homophones in the definition, and rarely indirect anagrams, but that’s generally regarded as unfair.

    (Of course, sometimes part of the anagram fodder is indicated indirectly, but only with common indicators for one or two letters.)

  346. Derek Lazenby says:

    No they ain’t. In their natural senses they are not. Because they both descend as slang terms from a common root, calling them synonyms is like saying we are the same as chimps because we descend from a common ancestor. If they were direct synonyms, I could offer you a cup of grass, ask if it is grass time, have a cream grass, have grass with milk and sugar, all of which are plainly nonsense. Genuine synonyms do not produce nonsense.

  347. tupu says:

    mhl @341 and related comments
    Re your helpful remark to Rishi. As a solver, I find that some bloggers do seem to write more from a setter’s point of view. The ‘aped’ example is easy to solve. A key element in the process must surely be the ‘definition’ (and whether the end result is a word!). ‘Aped’ makes accessible sense by both these criteria whereas ‘pead’ doesn’t.

    Re ‘panpaniscus’. An ingenious and interesting clue and answer. But I suspect most people would find it impossible without a lot of hunting. I am not opposed to ‘indirect defintions’ as such but, but given the human capacity for idiosyncratic symbolic connection, setters ought perhaps to try to be sure that they are not in a private world of their own. It is well known that it is extremely easy to set an impossible examination! But the solution to this problem may lie as much in intuitive reflexivity as rigid rules. There is surely a place for accessible ‘poetry’ in crosswords as well as rule-bound rigour.

  348. Sylvia says:

    I’m appalled to discover a site on line (not 15 Squared or its contributors) which gives answers to current prize puzzles before closing dates. Contributors even brag about how many times they have won prizes! Such sites should be banned. What is the point of submitting entries you have slogged over for hours when a cheat using this system can easily beat you? I am dismayed that a link to this site has just been included on 15 Squared (Guardian replies) and hope it can be removed.

  349. tupu says:

    Hi Sylvia
    Although I do not enter such competitions (the chances of winning are extremely low) I agree it is not desirable to publish answers to prize puzzles (or parts of them) before due date. Nor is it desirable to advertise such a site in 15/2 in the course of off-topic discussion of a prize puzzle. I find it hard to see how the site can be banned, however.

  350. tupu says:

    I came to the site just now for a different reason. I was reminded the other day (by a section on word games in David Crystal’s book on The English Language)that crosswords are a relatively modern invention.

    At the same time it struck me that a key part of them – the cryptic definition – is a quite ancient and probably universal feature of human cultures everywhere.

    I am thinking here of riddles. Interestingly too, many of them are found in quite unrelated cultures and seem to testify to independent invention of the same ideas. One example is, if I remember rightly, “My house has no door” to which the answer is ‘Egg’.

    It crossed my mind that there are various collections of such folk riddles, and that it might be interesting to try to set a crossword made up of them. Of course not all by any means are readily intelligible even in translation outside a particular cultural setting, but the wide distribution of some of them suggests that this might not be an impossible obstacle.

    I wonder if this idea catches the imagination of other visitors to this site.

  351. Gaufrid says:

    Hi Sylvia
    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.

  352. tupu says:

    Hi Gaufrid

    Wise words! I had not realised that the site’s main focus is on prize cryptics. As I say, this seems unfair and I support 15/2’s policy and your action on the matter.

  353. tupu says:

    Hi all

    I hope my comment re riddles @350 will not get lost in the heat and in the turnover to a new page.

  354. Sylvia says:

    Hi Gaufrid and Tupu,

    Thank you so much for your response to the problem. I am delighted with the outcome!

  355. Rishi says:

    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?

  356. tupu says:

    Hi Rishi

    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.

  357. Eileen says:

    Hi Rishi

    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.]

  358. Martin H says:

    …….from an earlier comment on the Guardian Paul blog from tupu which I’m answering here as it’s a bit off topic there:

    Hi Martin

    ‘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.

  359. tupu says:

    Hi Martin H

    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.

  360. Martin H says:

    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.

  361. tupu says:

    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!

  362. Martin H says:

    Hello again tupu

    ‘Rest assured I was not trying to imply any personal familiarity with Mr Stone!’

    Of course I do realise that,

    All the best


  363. tupu says:

    Hi Martin H

    Thanks for the reassurance. I imagine you have not enjoyed that feature of Paul’s rather lively offering today.

    Best wishes as ever.

  364. Martin H says:

    Hi tupu – Paul’s ‘Arnie’ was definitely tongue-in-cheek, almost as if he was satirising the whole name-dropping thing. That’s fine by me. Lois Lane? Oh well, at least she’s not real.

  365. tupu says:

    Hi Martin
    That’s right – I’d forgotten that about LL and just remembered the name! :) To tell the truth, I’m not completely sure which if any of them are real, but I suppose some of them must be.

  366. Carrots says:

    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.

  367. Dave Ellison says:

    A clue dedicated to Derek Lazenby wrt his recent postings at 344:

    “I have it second hand it’s the way to go” (11)

  368. Derek Lazenby says:

    Dave, I said I thought they were valid. I also said I thought they were more appropriate to expert solvers. I have also frequently said I’m the class dummy.

    I think brain surgery is valid, that is not the same as saying I have any ambitions in that direction.

    I get the impression you have failed to take some of that on board :D

    But please don’t let your efforts be in vain. Give it a day or so and then enlighten us all.

  369. Stella says:

    In an attempt at taking up the glove Rufus laid down on Monday, I’ve come up with the following beginning:

    Gregory Googled ‘goblin’ and saw ‘lyllipwt’. Golly …!

    Any takers?

  370. Stella says:

    ‘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.

  371. Dave Ellison says:

    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.

  372. Dave Ellison says:

    #371 Apologies, I had put “Derek at #368″, but it had disappeared somehow

  373. Eileen says:

    Hi Stella

    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. :-)

  374. Derek Lazenby says:

    OMG, somebody else dragged up on assembler! Never found any assembler programmers who could agree on anything! Ah! Much becomes clear! LOL. (Macro-11 and predecessors)

  375. Dave Ellison says:

    Ferranti Argus 400? (assembler called APRIL?) was my first – 1967/8 I think.

  376. Stella says:

    Hi Eileen,

    I think you’re right. I was trying to use as many of the awkward letters as possible, thinking it might make it easier to finish the clue, but as you see, I soon got stuck :lol:

  377. Eileen says:

    I admire you for trying, anyway, Stella! :-)

  378. Derek Lazenby says:

    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.

  379. otter says:

    Hi all,

    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?

    Many thanks to you all.

  380. Stella says:

    Hi Derek,


    My great grandfather was Welsh, and my grandmother used to watch the Welsh programme, so the sounds are vaguely familiar, but I’d never try to make an anagram of them!

    Did you know that Llanfair is Our Lady’s? (As in churches, parishes)

  381. Derek Lazenby says:

    Now you mention it I vaguely remember seeing somewhere, but don’t quote me!

  382. Dynamic says:

    Hi Otter@379:

    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 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.

  383. otter says:

    Many thanks, Dynamic, for your reply. It’s extremely generous of you to give such a detailed reply. I’ll look at those sites and consider your other advice, and hopefully will get going!

    With best wishes.

  384. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Hi otter,
    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].

  385. otter says:

    Sil: again, many thanks. I very much appreciate your comments and offer of assistance. I shall look into this and may well be in touch at some point.

  386. petebiddlecombe says:

    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.

  387. otter says:

    Peter, many thanks for your response.

    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.

  388. petebiddlecombe says:

    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.

  389. Derek Lazenby says:

    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!

  390. Stella says:

    Hi otter et al.

    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.

    The first is pdf, the second is online:

  391. Stella says:

    Gaufrid informed me this link was not accessible. I’ve now gone back to the page and made it public. I hope it works.

  392. Gaufrid says:

    Hi Stella
    Yes, the link now works.

  393. eldee says:

    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”.

  394. Brendan says:

    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?

  395. Stella says:

    Hi Brendan,

    I used Crossword Compiler to generate a grid when preparing my experiment (see @390)

    It generates various grid types, or you can design your own. The Demo version is free, and lasts 10 days.

  396. Derek Lazenby says:

    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! :)

    and scroll to the bottom of the page.

    The author is in Oz.

  397. Testy says:

    Does anyone know what’s happened to Virgilius in the Indy? He hasn’t appeared for a few months now.

  398. eimi says:

    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.

  399. mhl says:

    This event might be of interest to fifteensquared people:

    (Apologies if this is a duplicate mention – due to being horribly busy with work I haven’t been following the comment threads as closely as usual.)

  400. mhl says:

    Ah, yes – catching up I see that Eileen mentioned it last week and there’s a prominent link on the Guardian crosswords page :)

  401. Bryan Edmonds says:

    Does anyone know what has happened to the crosswordsolver program,which allowed me to solve or print off the Indy puzzle? I got the original link from here.
    All I get now is an error message telling me to check my internet connection.I now have to go to the Independent website to view the daily puzzle(complete with annoying adverts!)
    Are others having this problem?

  402. Gaufrid says:

    Hi Bryan
    We all have the same problem. See the comments at another forum for a possible cause and an interim solution:

  403. Bryan Edmonds says:

    Thanks Gaufrid – I’ve had IP related issues with my connection and wondered if it was something to do with that.
    I’ve tried Big Dave’s solution and it doesn’t seem to work for me.

  404. Gaufrid says:

    Hi Bryan
    I tried it this morning and it worked. I copied the URL from Big Dave’s comment and pasted it into Crosswordsolver (using Ctrl+V as the right mouse button doesn’t work in this program). I then changed the date within the URL to 281110, clicked on ‘open’ and today’s on-line Quixote appeared.

  405. Bryan Edmonds says:

    Thanks again Gaufrid.
    It now works fine – I guess I didn’t type the URL correctly.Didn’t think to try the Ctrl+V option.

    You’ve made my weekend – I’ve been suffering withdrawal symptons as we have had no papers here in Guernsey since Friday.(2 sleet showers and the Island comes to a standstill!)
    Don’t suppose you know how I can get a copy of Saturday’s Inquisitor?

  406. Gaufrid says:

    “Don’t suppose you know how I can get a copy of Saturday’s Inquisitor?”

    Yes, check your mailbox ;-)

  407. Bryan Edmonds says:

    You are a star!
    I thought someone at Fifteensquared might be able to help me and you have certainly come up trumps!
    This site never ceases to amaze me,everyone is always friendly and helpful – a real treat to come across these days.

  408. Paul Drury says:

    Can anyone recommend some good software for creating and printing crossword puzzles? I’m looking for something which will generate empty grids of various sizes and format the clues in a neat printable layout.

    Thanks in advance…

  409. Derek Lazenby says:

    I use the free Spoonbill Software Crossword Compiler, not to be confused with Crossword Compiler as used by some newspapers and not free. The latter is a more comprehensive beast obviously, but the former preforms well enough for me and it’s dead easy to use. It includes the standard Guardian templates (my fault, I translated them for the author because he was tremendously supportive about fixing some bugs, there are none left as far as I am aware (I used to be a hot software tester/designer))(and I’m one of the site’s nit pickers!).

  410. Paul Drury says:

    Thanks Derek, I’ll give Spoonbill a go.

  411. mhl says:

    Paul Drury: Anax wrote a in-depth review of two of the most commonly used packages on Shuchi’s Crossword Unclued site:

    … which may be of some interest.

  412. mhl says:

    Did anyone here go to the Guardian’s “Secrets of the Setters” event? If so, would you like to tell those of us who couldn’t go what it was like? :)

  413. Carrots says:

    For those planning to attend K`s Dads “do” on 29th January, and who wish to make an early start (and rapid conclusion if Rightback is around!) on the prize dish of the day, you might want to consider dropping in to the Brunswick just for “elevenses”. This is within straggering distance of the Waterfall and the walk will do us good.

  414. Sylvia says:

    I’m puzzled how people use Google for crossword help? I just use the OED and/or Bradford’s Crossword Key or Solver’s Dictionary when desperate but don’t know how to use internet help – and think it may feel more like cheating, anyway.

  415. Dynamic says:

    mhl @412:
    The one glimpse I’ve come across is on Twitter, found via a retweet from John Halpern @crypticpaul

    Another chap, real name Paul, goes by the ID @bitoclass!/bitoclass
    (broken link – copy and paste URL instead)

    His tweets towards the end of 30 Nov include a number about the event, many of which used the #setters hash-tag. Some interesting stuff but clearly only a taste of the event.

  416. PeeDee says:

    Sylvia – I use Google (and Wikipedia) in place of an old-fashioned encylopaedia. As to whether it is cheating or not, Hugh Stephenson, the crossword editor of the Guardian puts it like this…

  417. Sylvia says:

    Thanks, PeeDee. I had previously seen the article. I presume that to get a googled answer you just type in the clue? If this works no doubt it is quicker than my reference aids!

  418. PeeDee says:

    Google is like a card index in a library, will only ‘find’ the answer if someone has previously included both question and answer on a website page somewhere (such as this one). It takes a while for new web pages to be catalogued by Google, usually days or weeks.

    As the likelihood is that a Google search will only redirect you back here anyway, if you want to know an answer its quicker to just come here first!

  419. Gaufrid says:

    “It takes a while for new web pages to be catalogued by Google, usually days or weeks.”

    You would be surprised at how quickly Google updates itself for sites such as 15². I cannot now remember what my search term was a few weeks ago but the first hit returned by Google was a 15² post that had been published less than an hour earlier.

  420. PeeDee says:

    What you say is true, some sites do get indexed more quickly than others. I suppose what I’m really trying to say to Sylvia is that Googling a clue soon after it appears will probably just bring her back to 15² again anyway.

  421. Derek Lazenby says:

    I hardly ever use general engines for crosswords. I have crap recall of synonyms etc, so I use sundry word list generators to compensate, mainly the Chambers Word Wizard. If I need more general info then being creative with Wikipedia searches is all I usually need. I use that for the simple reason that if you use a general search engine, then most of the time a Wikipedia entry is high on the list of matches. So why bother? Just go straight to Wikipedia.

  422. Dave Ellison says:

    Sylvia: I sometimes use the “Google type to search the web” box to complete clues from a couple of initial letters. For example, if I had j_k_f__, I would try typing jak, then jik etc in the box which then suggests some alternatives, until I found a solution.

  423. Tony Welsh says:

    Have solved today’s FT (13576, FLIMSY) but do not see a posting for it. When will posting appear?

  424. Gaufrid says:

    Hi Tony
    About 2 minutes after your comment was added! Please bear in mind that two of the FT bloggers (Agentzero and smiffy) live in the States so unless they are able to solve the puzzle and write a blog before they go to bed it will be mid-afternoon before a post appears.

  425. Tony Welsh says:

    Hi, Gaufrid.

    Was not really complaining. I’m just not used to solving the puzzle before the solution is posted! I live in US too, and do the crossword on the physically delivered paper after having perused the news. But I am retired, which helps!

  426. Robert Clarida says:

    An odd request — as a birthday gift for one of my colleagues here in the US, I am trying to obtain an autograph from Guardian setter Rufus. All suggestions welcome. Happy holidays!

  427. Scarpia says:

    Hi Robert,
    You could try contacting the Guardian crosswordv editor at [email protected]