Never knowingly undersolved.

General Discussion

Posted by Admin on December 26th, 2010


This page is for the discussion of general crossword related matters and other topics of interest.

423 Responses to “General Discussion”

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  1. 151
    Allan_C Says:

    Re bracoman @ 137. When the i started I was under the impression that its cryptics were re-used from past indy issues. But having recently started taking the i regularly I haven’t recognised any of them and there are very few if any indy crosswords that I’ve missed. So yes, I for one would appreciate being blogs for the i – it’s probably a question of finding bloggers.

  2. 152
    Allan_C Says:

    “….would appreciate being blogs….” should read “….would appreciate there being blogs….”
    And sorry, Gaufrid, I didn’t spot your reply. But if you do reconsider….

  3. 153
    Derek Lazenby Says:

    Just a thought, but that familiar gadget of “first lady” (or similar phrase) to clue EVE, shouldn’t it actually be “second lady”?

  4. 154
    Pelham Barton Says:

    Picking up a question from Duncan Shiell on the blog for Independent 7823. Duncan asked:

    However, it was clear what was required, so does purism in cluing matter if there is no doubt what the setter intends? It would be interesting to hear other peoples’ views.

    Taking this out of the context of anagram leads, here is a variation on an example I have used elsewhere:

    Manchester-based football team damaging to nerve (7)

    Checked letters E-E-T-N

    It is (I hope) obvious what the setter intends, but the clue is just plain wrong.

  5. 155
    duncanshiell Says:


    My point was simply that the setter, using ‘more liberal’ anagram indicators, intended the solver to realise that an anagram was involved. I was definitely not suggesting that solvers should turn a blind eye to factual errors, as is the case of your example using Manchester instead of Liverpool.

    My remark in Independent 7823 was not only stimulated by Radian’s use of ragtag, guide and misled, but also by Araucaria’s liberal cluing in today’s Guardian 25477.

    I have no issue with liberal cluing as against purist cluing. There is a place for both. It would be very boring if all the newspapers had one setter who stuck entirely to purist or liberal lines. The joy of the puzzles in the national dailies and weekend magazines is provided by the range of puzzles and clues that are presented. Long may it continue.

    You will note that I was chided in the comments on Guardian 25477 for suggesting that Araucaria was splendidly outrageous in his clues for 8 and 20 today.

  6. 156
    nmsindy Says:

    Re PB’s example at 154, I think that is just a (very amazing not-to-be-spotted!) mistake and not a crossword issue at such.

    Even if they were ever to make a move (like Wimbledon to Milton Keynes), that would seem just about the least likely destination…

  7. 157
    Pelham Barton Says:

    Thanks to Duncan and nms who have responded to 154. I should clarify that I was going beyond Duncan’s original question, and that my contrived example of a clue is not one that I have seen anywhere.

    I have seen the view expressed that any clue which allows the solver to deduce the setter’s intended answer is acceptable. I have no quarrel with anyone who enjoys crosswords which take such principles to extremes, but prefer not to solve such crosswords myself.

    The type of crosswords I prefer are those where the clues are both witty and stick close to purist principles. There are enough of these around to satisfy my appetite for crosswords. I make no claim that these are any better than other crosswords.

    In relation to the specific issue, I am satisfied with an anagram lead if:

    1. It conveys a meaning that relates to changing the order of letters.

    2. It is used in a way that fits with current English grammar.

    For an example of point 1, we have the word “perhaps” which I queried in Independent 7820. The setter Anax himself said that “it isn’t ideal, but it’s one of those indicators that has been a squatter in the anagram household for, it seems, a lifetime”.

    In relation to point 2, I find violation of grammar in all subsidiary indications as unsatisfying as a factual error. Again, I have no quarrel with those who feel differently.

  8. 158
    Alberich Says:

    In answer to Pelham’s question, here’s my take on liberal vs purist clueing, for what it’s worth. Apologies in advance for length.

    I tend not to think of clueing in terms of Ximenean/purist vs libertarian these days. I think that terms like “Ximenean” have actually taken on a slightly negative tone, much in the way that mentioning Health and Safety often elicits a groan. We often see things like “that was a nice clue but the Ximeneans will grumble” for instance, suggesting that there are two types of setter, those who prefer to have fun and those who are hidebound by some sort of strict arcane rules which stifle originality and inventiveness. Of course this is unfair and inaccurate – most of the time.

    I say most of the time because I don’t think it helps when a small minority of pedants dig up classic clues from the past and find obscure technical reasons why they aren’t very good after all. For example the clue “Bust down reason?” for BRAINWASH is regarded by many to be one of the finest of its type, but in a message board discussion a while ago someone pointed out that the clue doesn’t work because “bust” when read as a verb doesn’t have an object, and there was some support for this. The point is correct, technically, but is it important enough to invalidate the clue? The many people who either didn’t notice the “fault” or were happy to overlook it would say no, and I agree.

    A few pedants aside, though, I think that most of us setters would agree that clues either work or they don’t work, in other words they are fair or they are not fair. The Times gets it just right here, in that some of the clues may be “un-Ximenean” (nounal anagram indicators, “deputy leader” to indicate D) but you never feel cheated. The same can be said for most setters from other dailies too.

    I see an unfair clue as one which leaves the solver thinking “the clue says X, but if I assume that what the setter really means is Y, then it is solvable.” Really bad examples are fortunately rare and usually involve sloppy/inaccurate word order, vague first /last letter indications or unhelpful definitions. I’m sure I’ve written a few myself! Such clues certainly aren’t Ximenean but they aren’t libertarian either, they are just unfair.

    Obviously there have to be some rules to follow when writing clues, but they should be followed because they relate to fairness and accuracy, and not followed just for the sake of following them. If a rule can be broken with no harm done, it obviously isn’t a very good one.

    I will be interested to see what others say, assuming anyone managed to get this far without falling asleep. Finally, I agree with NMSIndy that the football clue Pelham quotes is a mistake plain and simple, one I could easily have made myself, given my scant knowledge of the game!

  9. 159
    Pelham Barton Says:

    Alberich @158: Many thanks for your contribution. I do not remember seeing the clue for BRAINWASH before, but I read it as a perfectly constructed “& lit”.

  10. 160
    Alberich Says:

    You’re welcome – I see from rereading your post at 154 that you were actually quoting the purist/libertarian question from Duncan, so you may not actually have wanted to invite my long screed! I’m glad it was of some interest anyway.

  11. 161
    Pelham Barton Says:

    Alberich @160: Your response was very much the sort of thing I am interested to read. I failed to make clear at 154 that I was giving thoughts prompted by Duncan’s question rather than a direct answer to him.

  12. 162
    Alberich Says:

    That’s good – I hope others will have something to say too.

  13. 163
    Allan_C Says:

    Alberich @158 says, “Obviously there have to be some rules to follow when writing clues, but they should be followed because they relate to fairness and accuracy, and not followed just for the sake of following them. If a rule can be broken with no harm done, it obviously isn’t a very good one.”

    Which puts me in mind of the dictum that rules are made for the guidance of the wise and the obedience of fools.

  14. 164
    Pelham Barton Says:

    From today’s Independent, I was asked to explain the interpretation of Chomsky’s “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously” as a crossword clue. This came up when I was a regular contributor to the Guardian crossword comments pages, and I concocted the word EPIRENEGADELESS as an anagram (“furiously”) of “green ideas sleep” and pretended to be shocked that Chambers did not include it. For the definition (“Colourless”), epirenegadeless obviously(!) means “being without an epirenegade”, where an epirenegade holds the authority over an ordinary renegade equivalent to that of a colour sergeant over an ordinary soldier. Fortunately, it does not matter whether UK or US spelling of “colo(u)rless” is used.

  15. 165
    sidey Says:

    Having just suffered a major catastrophe, or actually being rather forgetful, I have lost the address of the program that allows solving the Indy, Solver possibly, together with the url to use to get it to work with archived puzzles. Would someone mind posting a link and the url please?

  16. 166
    Gaufrid Says:

    Hi sidey
    I think you want:


  17. 167
    sidey Says:

    Indeed Gaufrid, exactly what was needed, thank you.

  18. 168
    Pelham Barton Says:

    I have just bought the new Chambers and see that it includes a “Wordgame Companion” with seven and a half pages of anagram indicators. Among the ones I have questioned recently, it allows “another” and “perhaps”. Of course, we must now apply the principle that if Chambers allows it, we cannot reasonably complain if setters use it.

  19. 169
    Dave Ellison Says:

    Just testing

  20. 170
    Dave Ellison Says:

    I recall a discussion some time ago on leaving aside a Xword when stuck and then the answers popping out when you return to it later (a length of time known as the incubation period). I had a quick search for this discussion but couldn’t find it just now. Some of the questions asked were: had any investigation been done on this and how long should one lay the crossword aside.

  21. 171
    Dave Ellison Says:

    I see New Scientist had an article on this recently which included a reference to a scientific study in the Psychological Bulletin. The NS says: “Studies back up our everyday experience that a period of incubation can lead you to the eventual “aha” moment. Don’t switch off entirely, though. For verbal problems, a break from the clue seems to be more fruitful if you occupy yourself with another task, such as drawing a picture or reading”, and the PB gives enormous details around this area, though not specifically to Xwords. The incubation periods are often very short (1 minute or two) which surprised me. And success is better if you spend longer on preparation time (thinking about the problem in the first place)

  22. 172
    Dave Ellison Says:

    Sorry about this piecemeal comment: my links won’t work for some reason. They are fine in the preview, but the whole message is not accepted. Here they are (hopefully):

    New Scientist:

    Psychological Bulletin:

  23. 173
    Derek Lazenby Says:

    Dave, that ties in with my previous life of software developer. Intractable problems would solve themselves, sometimes as soon as driving away from work, sometimes after a night’s sleep. The key was just doing something else and trusting your subconcious to do the job. Concious thinking was never productive in such cases.

  24. 174
    Dave Ellison Says:

    My previous life was also heavily into software, and laterally teaching Enterprise Java. Even so, I can never remember how to do a link properly, so this time I decided to prepare my message in Word (where creating a link is reasonably straightforward) and then hopefully copy and paste to here. It didn’t work, of course, so the piecemeal approach was really debugging the problem. Still don’t know what was wrong, though.

  25. 175
    Erebus Says:

    Does anyone else think that the AZED 1st prize winning clue to ROBUST, namely “Tough as old boots from crate in cobblers” (bus in rot), should have an apostrophe in cobblers for it to read correctly in the plain reading? That would then render the cryptic indication unsound, wouldn’t it?

  26. 176
    Dave Ellison Says:

    I think you are probably right. But perhaps it should be ‘COBBLERS, as I don’t see ROT (for TOMMY-ROT) as a synonym for COBBLERS, either!

  27. 177
    Erebus Says:

    Chambers includes definitions of both COBBLERS and ROT as NONSENSE (informal), and Chambers Crossword Dictionary has ROT and COBBLERS as synonyms of RUBBISH, so I don’t see a problem with that.

    On the question of putting a Xword aside when you think you can’t do anymore, I invariably find that leaving it overnight works wonders. I wish the same were true for clue writing; I invariably get an ‘idee fixe’ and leave it too late to work out an alternative!

  28. 178
    sidey Says:

    I am not going to look at today’s Graun blog due to the surfeit of tour-de-forces that will sully it.

    If I mistakenly happen on it I will hunt down every user and nail their eyeballs to a block of lard. Them fry them.

  29. 179
    Sil van den Hoek Says:

    [redirected from Guardian 25,573 Orlando]

    When, about a year ago, RCWhiting started posting comments, I was – just like you, Davy – very annoyed about the way he dismissed crosswords. And if I were a setter, well …..
    But to be fair to RCW, at a later stage he made clear what solving crosswords means to him. While his view on cryptics is not mine, I have accepted that we are all different and that RCW is just like everyone else entitled to give his opinion on a crossword purely based on what he thinks a cryptic should be all about. RCW only likes crosswords that are extremely challenging, crosswords that are not just a fill-in exercises but real brainteasers. As he is a 50+ years solver and I am not, I can see where he is coming from. Personally, I find it a pity that after so many years RCW does not really appreciate good and stylish clue-writing but that is how it is and I accept that, as others should, in my opinion.
    What I do not like in RCW’s posts – and at that point I am completely with you, Davy – is the extra remark in which he makes clear that it isn’t worth paying the price for a daily newspaper if the crossword is ‘too easy’. But, having said that, after initially being irritated by it, I have now accepted that it is RCW’s way to say that a crossword isn’t up to his standards.
    The Orlandos and Rufuses of this world will most certainly not make that much of an issue of it either. Perhaps, Davy, you should not take offence by RCW’s bylines anymore. Eventually, that’s what I did a few months ago.
    And again, despite everything that is not you or me, he makes genuinely interesting contributions to this site based on his perceptions of a crossword.
    A long time ago, Paul B said that my legs are so long that I can stretch them in order to touch the ground on both sides of the wall (or something similar).
    Well, I am certainly not a person who likes compromises that much (blame it on my late father), but I also think that life’s too short for spending too much energy on things that cannot be changed.

  30. 180
    Davy Says:


    You are, of course, entirely right in your summation of the RCW situation. Life is indeed too short and I must try as the old song goes to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
    I do tend to get upset by comments which I don’t consider fair and most of them are by the same person who is certainly infuriating. However, there is no point in constantly going over the same ground to no effect whatsoever so I’ve decided to put him in a metaphorical box where he can no longer annoy me. He’s in the box now and I can’t hear a word he’s saying. From now on, I will not rise to the bait.

    At the other end of the spectrum, I really admire tupu whose comments are always thoughtful and constructive.

    Thanks for your sound advice.

  31. 181
    RCWhiting Says:

    Sil @ 179
    If I want stylishness (ie smooth surfaces) I read a quality novel,if I want a laugh I turn to Eddie Izzard (singe in last week’s Azed!) or Spike Milligan.
    What I want here is a puzzle,it is what it is called. If it doesn’t puzzle me it has failed.
    After a long struggle with a clue,when the solution finally comes I mentally give a bow to the compiler with a “well done chum, you had me there”.
    That’s my admiration for setters. It’s what they are intended to do – puzzle me.

  32. 182
    Davy Says:


    I know you will read this so firstly let me apologise if you found any of my comments rude. I never intended to offend but I get rattled too easily and it must stop. You will be pleased to know that you can now say whatever you like and I won’t say a dicky bird. As a famous singer used to articulate “It’s Over”.

    We seem to have more in common as Spike Milligna (the well-known spelling mistake), is one of my heroes. Did you know that the first thing he used to do every day was feed the birds from his balcony and they used to feed out of his hand. Isn’t that wonderful !. It’s such a shame that his wonderful Q series has never been repeated. David Lodge was a Cockleshell Hero you know !.

    So it’s time to move on. What are we going to do now ?. What are we going to do now ?.

    All hail, Sil the mediator.

  33. 183
    Tallboss Says:

    As someone just starting out , would someone be kind enough to tell me the easier – harder setters of the Indy and Guardian, then I could keep an eye out for the easier ones, and not be too downhearted when not doing very well with the harder ones!

    Thank you

  34. 184
    Rorschach Says:


    I work as a cryptic crossword setter for a student newspaper and am currently working on an Alphabet Jigsaw which is going into one of next term’s issues. It’s the first Alphabet Jigsaw I’ve done so I’m keen to see if it’s do-able and wondered if anyone here would be kind enough to give it a go?

    If yes, please email me at: jrm94 (at) cam (dot) ac (dot) uk

    Thanks for your time

  35. 185
    Gaufrid Says:

    Hi Tallboss @183
    Sorry you’ve not had a reply before now. I was hoping that one or two other people would offer their opinions but yours is not an easy question to answer since a puzzle some people find easy others find hard and also the degree of difficulty of puzzles from the same setter can vary from one to another.

    In my experience, puzzles in the FT are generally easier than those in the Guardian and Indy. Monday puzzles tend to be the easiest of the week in all the papers.

    As a beginner, it is possibly better to concentrate initially on setters who have accurate clues and who don’t take many, if any, liberties. Some that come to mind are Don Manley (Bradman/Pasquale/Quixote), Michael Curl (Cincinnus/Orlando), Roger Squires (Dante/Rufus) and David Crossland (Dac).

    For a bit more fun there’s Arachne/Anarche, Mudd/Paul/Punk and Cinephile/Araucaria.

    Definitely at the harder end of the spectrum come John Henderson (Io/Enigmatist/Nimrod), Dean Mayer (Loroso/Anax), Monk and Bannsider.

    For Indy setters you can find more information here:

  36. 186
    Stef Savanah Says:

    Cryptic solvers – I need your help. I want to collect all the ‘double-barrel’ clues ever constructed. Here’s my own example:
    Reconstruct: foster natural landscape (6)
    Reconstruct: foster natural landscape (9)
    In other words, the exact same clue but two legitimate different solutions. I only know of one other example so far but I keep getting told it’s an old device(!)
    Please send me your examples or post them here:

    Sorry for the intrusion and thanks in advance for your help!


  37. 187
    Tallboss Says:

    Thanks Gaufrid, very helpful

  38. 188
    Tallboss Says:


    I sent before I finished writing!!

    I didn’t realise that the FT is considered easier than the Guardian/Indy, I expectd it to be harder, and the fact tht they make it free on the website makes everything great!

    Thanks again, though if anyone else would like to comment, I’d be very interested

  39. 189
    Thomas99 Says:

    I’ve been wondering if the site managers would consider a possible new convention for the blogs. Some bloggers give the clues as well as the answers and personally I always appreciate this, but I can see that they are left to do their blog own style. But would it be possible to encourage them always to give the clues for the Independent puzzles, since unlike the Guardian and FT ones they disappear from the newspaper’s site each day and are hard (impossible?) for most of us to retrieve afterwards. Today, for instance, I noticed a comment on Anax’s puzzle from yesterday which I think misrepresents a clue, but I can’t be sure and can’t respond because I can no longer see it! What do people think?

    I also like to have more detailed blogs, including the clues, for the “advanced cryptics” (Azed etc.) but that’s another matter.

  40. 190
    Pierre Says:

    Hi Thomas

    It’s an interesting point you make; not sure I have the answer to it, but I blog the Quiptic, the Everyman, and the Monday Indy crosswords. For a while now, I’ve been adding the clues to my blogs, because I think it helps – as you say – if people don’t have the puzzle in front of them when they come to the blog to catch up, or if they are coming back to the blog the next day.

    The problem is that with the Everyman and the Quiptic, as a blogger you can cut and paste the clues and then just write your blog around them; you can’t do that with the Indy, so while I’m happy to copy type the clues, I understand that not all the other Indy bloggers have the enthusiasm to do that. And as you say, the Indy puzzle disappears from cyberspace the day after it’s been published.

    So I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to your question, since all the bloggers freely give of their time to try to explain all this cruciverbal stuff, and if it were to become obligatory to include the clues, then there might be fewer people willing to blog. Anyway, other bloggers may have different views.

  41. 191
    Sylvia Says:

    Problems seem to be mounting with the Guardian crossword site, the latest being Friday’s puzzle printed instead of Saturday’s prize. For some time the list of monthly puzzles has included an extra day of Sunday (when of course no Guardian is issued) which then throws the list of following puzzles out of date. I wrote in about this long ago but it is still not fixed.

  42. 192
    JollySwagman Says:

    Am I alone in thinking that, whilst it’s great to have setters dropping in to answer comments about their own puzzles, it’s an unhealthy thing to have people who are themselves regular setters commenting on the work of others.

    The things I worry about take two forms. One is what appears to be a conspiracy by ximenean setters to criticise the work of non-ximeneans according to ximenean criteria and in doing so to push the line that ximeneanism should be the orthodox and only acceptable style.

    The other is the opposite extreme where some setters’ work spawns a love-in from a bunch of other setters – which has a bit of a cliquey ring to it.

  43. 193
    rrc Says:

    Recently Ive bought a copy of the i (ie the 20p) and I was wondering if there is blog on that crossword. The reason is that the rate of difficulty various considerably, some days I can complete without any real problem, other days its a stuggle to get started

  44. 194
    Gaufrid Says:

    Hi rrc
    I have considered the possibility of including the i in the 15² portfolio on several occasions but came to the conclusion that it probably wasn’t practical.

    When the i first appeared, the puzzle was a recycled Indy one and the crossword editor indicated to me that it wouldn’t be long before he was re-using puzzles that we have already blogged and it seemed a bit pointless to spend time preparing a repeat.

    Then for a short period earlier this year the i and the Indy had the same puzzle each day so there was no need for a separate blog. We are now back to recycling with the same proviso as above.

    The main problem I foresee is being able to get an adequate team together. The i puzzle is not available on-line so team members would have to be people who buy the paper.I’m not sure that I could find five or six who do so and who are also willing/able to give up the time needed to prepare and post a blog each week.

  45. 195
    JollySwagman Says:

    @Gaufrid #194. Many expats may be able to see that paper through The general (but not immutable) rule there seems to be that a paper is displayed if it is not available in hardcopy in your own area.

    I have access through my local library – that seems to be an increasingly commonplace thing.

  46. 196
    Mr A Writinghawk Says:

    Hi rrc,

    Your suggestion coincided with an offer of mine to be part of a blogging team for the i, but for the reasons Gaufrid mentions he declined the offer for 15^2. So just for fun I’ve set up a WordPress blog here:

    where I will blog the i crossword when I get round to it. I’ll try to do it at least on Fridays – who knows how long I’ll keep it up …

  47. 197
    Mr A Writinghawk Says:

    Today’s i is up at

    I’m blogging Fridays but if anyone would like to take on other days, please let me know! I did happen to do another one this week.

    Gaufrid, would you be up for adding a link on the links page?

  48. 198
    andrew wilson Says:

    Is it time to consider a fifteensquared entry for the “i” daily crossword ??

  49. 199
    andrew wilson Says:

    SORRY, delete that last entry…. yes I know I should read all the above before starting, sorry again

  50. 200
    Mr A Writinghawk Says:

    An update on the i: at least at present, it seems that it’s recycling old Independent crosswords (from within the memory of 15^2) for Monday-Thursday, with new ones on Friday and Saturday.

    I’m still blogging the Friday crosswords over at, while another regular has now taken on the task of digging up the original blog for recycled crosswords and linking to them. So all weekdays from the i will now normally be covered. (Saturdays still up for grabs if anyone cares to take them on!)

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