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Tips For Solving Alphabetical Jigsaw Crosswords

Posted by Admin on November 26th, 2011


The following is a copy of a blog written by PeeDee for an Araucaria puzzle that appeared in the Guardian on 19/11/2011. It contains useful tips for those who have not met this type of puzzle before (scroll down to below the main body of the blog if you don’t want to read the clues, answers etc.).

Guardian Prize Puzzle 25,484 by Araucaria
Posted by PeeDee on November 26th, 2011

To me this is absolutely classic Araucaria – an alphabetical jigsaw with great clues cutting a swathe through general knowlegde, and taking some Araucarian liberties in the process. Not an easy solve but a very satisfying one. A real pleasure to solve and blog, thank you Araucaria.

A nice feature of this puzzle (that passed me by completely) is that the clues are in rhyming couplets. Thanks to bridgesong for pointing this out.

For those new to alphabetical jigsaw puzzles they can be quite daunting so I have included some tips on how to get started at the end of this section.

Completed Grid

Beast of a word restored in little wight (8)
AARDWOLF A WORD* (anagram=restored) inside ALF, Alfred Wight author of the “James Herriot” books (little=shortened form) – definition is ‘beast’
Implore bull’s neighbour to be neophyte (8)
BEGINNER BEG (implore) INNER (next to the bull on a dart board)
With twist ’n’ ivy cling so there’s no doubt (12)
CONVINCINGLY CON (with) and (N IVY CLING)* anagram=twist
Figure from As You Like It to pull out? (5)
DIGIT DIG(“as you like it sir?” =”dig it?”, slang, sounds a bit passe now…), also to dig something out is to pull it out – definition is ‘figure’ meaning numeral. Two constructions for the price of one in this clue.Alternatively, “pull your digit out” is “pull your finger out”, thanks to pangapilot and PeterJohnN for this.
Give rail the axe: his will do more than please (10)
EXHILARATE (RAIL THE AXE)* – definition is ‘do more than please’. ‘Give’ can be interpreted as ‘the solution will give…’ but I can’t really see how ‘his’ fits in, neither as a surface reading nor as an element of the construction.
The distant round, a card game, Portuguese (4)
FARO FAR (the distant) O (something round) – two definitions: ‘a card game’ and ‘from a place in Portugal’ (Faro being used as an adjective)
Banner that streams, round Northern stream proceed (8)
GONFALON Northern FAL (River Fal in Cornwall, a stream) inside GO ON (proceed) – a banner with streamers
Brief moment housework failed, it made gut bleed (8)
HOOKWORM anagram of MO (brief moment) HO (house) and WORK (failed=anagram) – something that will cause your gut to bleed. Bordering on an indirect anagram, but the letters are there in the clue, the words are just shortened.
A trendy attitude for which is “say” (8)
INSTANCE IN (trendy) STANCE (attitude) – ‘for which’ is to be read as ‘put for before the preceding’ to get ‘for instance’=’say’
A bone to break that’s broken: I obey! (2,4)
JA WOHL JAW (a bone) HOL* ( break=holiday, anagram=broken) – definition is ‘I obey!’. This is clearly an indirect anagram and Araucaria is overstepping the mark here in my opinion.
Bird on a string, an aeroplane that was (4)
KITE Double definition – type of bird and WWII slang for aeroplane (that was = dated)
See pale mean article, a bird of Oz (5)
LOWAN: LO (see) WAN (pale), or LOW (mean) and AN (indefinite article) – an Australian bird. Yet another BOGOF offer from Araucaria.
New human food, or one with courtly role (4,2,6)
MAID OF HONOUR (HUMAN FOOD OR I)* (I=one, Roman numeral) anagram indicator is ‘new’
A port in France where Pole is leading Pole (6)
NANTES North (pole) ANTE ( is leading=comes before) South (pole)
A thing of gold I hope they will sustain (8)
OBJECTOR OBJECT (a thing) OR (of gold) – the writer hopes that the person objecting will change their mind and become a sustainer instead. ‘They’ is used in the sense of ‘he/she’ rather than indicating a plural. C.f. the classic line from US courtroom dramas “objection your Honour!” to which the reply from the judge is either “sustained” or “overruled”, though this is confusing as in this sense the judge is actually sustaining the objection.
Dad’s craze in granny: one such wed Fonteyn (10)
PANAMANIAN PA (dad) has MANIA inside NAN (granny) – ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn married a Panamanian diplomat
With sand and such a lot of drink is heard (6)
QUARTZ sounds like “quarts”, a lot of drink – ‘sand and such’ is rock composed predominantly of quartz
Nimbus appears on Spooner’s noisy bird (4,5)
RAIN CLOUD Spoonerism of “loud crane”, nosiy bird – nimbus is a rain bearing cloud. Experience from previous blogs suggests some may argue that this is not a Spoonerism as it should only be the corresponding letters/sounds being swapped, so “loud crane” would give “crowd lane”, not “rain cloud”. Personally, my view is that Spoonerism is not a formal linguistic term with a precise definition, so if Araucaria chooses to define a Spoonerism as an amusing swap of any parts of the words, then a Spoonerism it is.
Alternatively this could be a Spoonerism of “crane loud”, though this does not really make sense and is “bird noisy” rather than “noisy bird”. Also, the more obvious Spoonerism of this would be “lane crowd” anyway.
Candid as rifle shot that hits the mark (8,4,3,8)
STRAIGHT FROM THE SHOULDER Definition and (sort of) cryptic definition. Rifles are fired from the shoulder (as opposed to a pistol, say).
A ten-point slope, praise God! when getting dark (8)
TENEBRAE TEN E (point of the compass) BRAE (slope, hillside) – church service during which the candles are gradually extinguished
Employed as Yankee journalist has been (4)
USED US ED (editor, Yankee journalist) – definition is ‘employed’
A poet keeping watch around the queen (6)
VIRGIL VIGIL (keeping watch) around R (regina, queen) – Roman poet
From “Sherwood in the twilight” (Noyes) wild arum came (4-5)
WAKE ROBIN: Definition and cryptic definition – the woodland plant wild arum and Alfred Noyes poem Sherwood that begins “Sherwood in the twilight, is Robin Hood awake?”
Statue in myth: kiss love that has no name (6)
XOANON X (a kiss) with O (love, tennis score) ANON (anonymous, has no name) – a primitive mythical statue, said to have fallen from heaven
Swiftly (though navigable) flows the stream (4)
YARE double definition – quick, brisk but manageable and the River Yare in Norfolk.This is very nearly a perfect &lit, since the Yare is a navigable river, though I doubt it flows swiftly since most of Norfolk is pancake flat. Thanks to tupu.
Missaid, the Darling dog finds the harem (6)
ZENANA ZE (‘the’ mispronounced, in heavy French accent?) and NANA, the name of the Darling family’s dog in Peter Pan – a room(s) in the house for secluding women.

How to get started on alphabeticals jigsaws (for beginners, old hands skip straight to the comments)

The key to filling an alphabetic grid is getting the first few words in correctly. We start by trying to place a single letter in the grid by looking for a place in the grid where two words start with the same letter: in this case we find the top middle square begins both an across solution and a down solution, which means both entries must start with the same letter. A quick glance through the clues shows that only the ‘S’ clue can provide enough words of the correct length to go here, so we can write the letter ‘S’ into the grid.

Now we must solve the S clue to have any real chance of progressing. If you can solve it straight off then great, but what if you need a bit more of a help from some crossing letters? How do we progress?

We can start by grouping the solutions by their letter count as so:

12: C M 10: P E 8: A B G H I O T 6: J N Q V X Z 5: D L 4: F U Y K

We don’t know whether the S solution is entered across the grid then down, or down the grid then across, the 8,4,3,8 letter count will fit both ways. Start by looking at the three letter word, the two possible positions mean that it either starts or ends with A,B,G,H,I,O or T. From these letters make a guess the three letter word is either THE or AND. The only way this fits is if we go down then across, otherwise the E or D of THE/AND would begin an 8 letter word, and we can see from our list above this is not possible.

Next, we see there not many 5 or 9 letter words, and the across solution cross two of these, so there are only two possibilities for these letters. Similarly we can narrow down two more choices where the solution crosses 8 letter words, though with more options.

Hence we can guess/deduce the solution is of the form:

S _ _ _ _ _ * _ / _ _ _ _ / THE or AND / S _*_ L-D _ E-P _ where *=A,B,G,H,I,O or T

This is not a perfect start, but a hell of a lot better than nothing. Playing with the possible combinations for the final word we guess at ‘shoulder’, and then the rest of the clue falls into place.

Once this is written in the grid we now have places for more words as the first letters are now defined. Note that we can also immediately write D and P into the grid, as there is now only one remaining place for them to go. We now have definite places for eight solutions in the grid (S O L E H T D and P) and we are on our way…

3 Responses to “Tips For Solving Alphabetical Jigsaw Crosswords”

  1. Stella Heath says:

    Well done Gaufrid for responding so promptly to what was looking like a general request.

  2. Pasquale says:

    These tips are very good, but could make the task look more daunting than it is. Looking for an across/down first-letter intersection is a good starting point obviously. Then it’s a matter of proceding logically through the possibilities, linking lengths with possible staring letters. A case where a student’s applied intelligence and understanding plus experience will trump any teacher’s careful instructions!

  3. stumped says:

    I got started by solving most of the 4 & 6 letter words and quickly filled the NW corner. Solution for S came about halfway through. First time I’ve encountered an Alphabetical. Very satisfying.

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