The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Dec 20, 2008


When the likes of CPC awoke early in hostel just to grab the daily paper before anyone else to do the crossword, it occurred to me that there was some method in that madness. When I realised that the method involved cryptic crosswords, it occurred to me that madness was not far under the surface. Why would anyone want to twist their brains into such convoluted knots?

CPC did try to explain the rudiments of cryptic-crossword-solving to me. It did my head in, it did. Anagrams? Acrostics? Word-play? Scrabble? I was game for any of those. But "Puzzles accounting for angry things said (10)"? Who can figure that one out?

One day I came across a clue that went something like "Looking forward to well-lit streets (6, 9)". Naturally, I had no idea what it meant. The next day, entirely by accident, I saw the solution. It was "Bright prospects", and I was filled with glee. This was something that could totally turn me on.

Not that I got into the spirit of crosswords. One needed to dedicate a considerable portion of one's life training one's mind to recognise the types of clues. Immense concentration was indicated, aided by large doses of coffee, neither of which I liked in abundance. But years later, I came across a lovely little book titled Pretty Girl In Crimson Rose (8). It was a semi-autobiographical account of the author's life solving crosswords. The title itself was a superb clue. The answer was given somewhere in the body of the book, and it reminded me of all that I had missed in not having learnt to solve crosswords.

Then, more recently, I saw a BBC programme on crosswords. It aimed to popularise this intellectual game, tried to make it accessible to everyman. Two things militated against these no doubt stellar plans. One, few people watch BBC4, and of those, very likely a large percentage already do crosswords. Two, the youngest person shown attempting the bally things was in his fifties. How much more restricted could its appeal get?

But I learnt a few things from it, which should stand me in good stead should I ever begin to try out these infernal inventions. For instance, Presbyterians is an anagram of Britney Spears. Also, it turns out that there are different classes of clues, and the trained mind can recognise them by means of hint words that appear in the clue. More than general knowledge, what the successful cruciverbalist requires is a love for the English language.

What follows is a summary of the various types of clues one finds in a typical British crossword, and tips from the experts on how to tackle them.

Cryptic Clue

Don Manley is setter who was asked to concoct the puzzle that was to be solved during the course of the programme. He is to incorporate as many different types of clues as possible. Like all setters, he has a nickname - in fact, he has several nicknames, all of which are associated with 'Don', such as Giovanni, Duck, Pasquale, Quixote.

The thing to recognise about crossword clues is that either the first or the last word in a clue will provide the definition of the answer, in exactly the same tense, number and part of speech as the answer. There will always be a definition in the clue. Instead of something straightforward, said Don Manley, such as "River in Paris (5)", you could say "Parisian Flower", as in flow-er, something that flows. The Seine. The rest of the clue consists of messing about with the letters of the solution. The sentence comprising the clue is an interesting sentence that has - in its entirety - nothing at all to do with the working out of the clue. Or how about "Advice telling someone not to waste bread and be common-sensical (3,4,4)"? That would be Use your loaf.


Double Definition

Bolt together two definitions. "Puzzles accounting for angry things said (10)". Angry things said are cross words, which are also puzzles. This is an old joke, an inside joke for crossword enthusiasts. One definition accounts for another definition.

I didn't catch the name of the performer who, sitting at his piano, crooned:

"At breakfast each day in our house battles rage

For I pick up the Times and turn to the back page

Ignoring the eggs that she scrambled for me

Hunting for words of six letters that end Q blank V.

'Tea, darling?' she asks, and I reply, 'Doesn't fit.'

No wonder the woman's fed up with it.

Until Friday when our marriage blossomed anew

The reason is simple. I haven't a clue...

...I never attended when buttering toast

Ignored her requests when she asked for the post

How many letters today, she'd say,

I'd say 'Four-hyphen-five, and the second one's A...'

Container and Contents Clue

"Cunning, getting round the market quickly (7)Cunning is sly, and market is mart, so you get smartly, by embedding one word inside the other: containers and contents. If you do something smartly, you do it quickly. The presence of the suggestive clue round indicates that this is a container and contents clue.

"Innovator - individual needing external support (7)" Individual is one, an external support is a pier, and hence we get pioneer, meaning innovator.

Charade Clue

The answer consists of individual words concatenated.

"Sharp weapon wounded girl (7)" You could charade this as cut a lass, ending up with cutlass.

"Commotion created by enthusiast taking someone in taxi (7)" An enthusiast is a fan, someone in a taxi is a fare, so we get fanfare, meaning commotion.

"Two girls, one on each knee (7)" The girls could be Pat and Ella, concatenating to patella, which is the knee cap.

Abbreviations Clue

Tips to the wise. Roman numerals appear, V (5), L (50), ... Foreign words, e.g. "The French" means le or la or les.

"Story that is beginning with short line (3)" The Latin id est or  i.e. means that is, and short line implies that you need an abbreviation for line, which - in citations in technical literature - appears as the letter l. This abbreviation begins the word (clued by the presence of the word beginning in the clue) so you get lie, which is what a story is.

"Expert starts to give us real understanding (4)" The starts suggests an abbreviation; for example, the first letters of each of the following words, i.e. 'g' 'u' 'r' 'u'. So you get guru, meaning expert.

"At last, restricting new spies in terms of resources." Here's a inside tip. Spies in crosswords is almost always CIA. At last would be finally, and so CIA inside finally, gives you financially, which means in terms of resources.

"Actress appearing with F. Sinatra in 1954 - significant time (1-3)" Here's something even more devious, requiring both general knowledge and rapid identification of the suggestion F. The actress was Doris Day, but the initial F. suggests that Doris should be initialed D., and you get D-Day, which was, as we all know, a significant time.

"Put off when tackling Times? He wouldn't be! (6)" Among those who know, Times is a common hint for the letter X.  Put off would be deter. The word tackle suggests getting around, and so you've got De-x-ter. Colin Dexter, an avid solver of crosswords, appeared on the programme: obsession with crosswords is a quality he infused his creation Inspector Morse with.

"Take in bachelor? This may do. (3)" This clue appeared in one of the Morse novels. Another common abbreviation in Times crosswords was R, for recipe, meaning something taken. So Take would translate to  R; bachelor would be BA, and R is in BA, so one gets BRA, which would certainly take in anyone, let alone a bachelor.

Homophone Clue

Homophones are words which are spelt differently yet sound the same. Typical examples are fare and fair. Homophones are signalled by the occurrence of such phrases as 'being heard' or 'in the auditorium' or 'we hear' or 'by the sound of it' in the body of the clue.

"Regret sneer being heard? Nonsense! (7)".  Regret is rue, and sneer is barb, so you get rue-barb, or rhubarb, which sounds just like it, and which is supposedly a word used for a background hubbub by actors, and hence could mean nonsense. Often, considerable laxity is allowed in the definitions, and naturally quite a bit of lateral thinking is then required of the solver.

Sometimes, though, the setter might throw in a googly, and play with the hint itself. In "Line given audibly (3)", the solver might expect that audibly implied a homophone. Instead, here it misleads completely: it's a theatrical clue, and the answer is cue, which is what an actor is (audibly) given should he stumble over a line.

Anagram Clue

"The Loire is fantastic - I can offer you accommodation (8)" Anagram of the Loire, would be hotelier, who can offer you a place to stay, of course. I'm not sure how one is to guess that an anagram is involved in this. Sometimes the clue does offer a hint.

"Fatty is a dope" - that's so cruel (7)". Is a dope anagrams to adipose, meaning fatty. We know this because to be cruel suggests to mangle someone, and that's (totally reaching here)  a tip that there could be an anagram in this.

"Those who have to put papers to bed can become so tired (7)" Editors put papers to bed, and editors anagrams to so tired. There's your answer - editors. Again, how do we know that there's an anagram involved? If Don Manley explained it, I missed it.

Reversal Clue

Here the clue tells you that the word you are looking for is to be read in reverse, along the lines of dear and read, or step and pets.

"Animal in grass rolling over (4)" Clearly, the rolling over bit tells you that there's a reversal involved, and what is it that's being rolled? Grass, which is reed, and hence deer, which is an animal.


Hidden Clue

Here, the letters of the answer are in the clue itself.

"Member of an ancient people in epic tale (4)". The word in suggests a hidden clue in 'epic tale', and indeed, you find it - pict.

The & Lit. clue

Here, the definition of the answer is available in the clue, and the entire clue needs anagramming or checking for something hidden, to find the answer, and the sentence can be read in two different ways.

"Part of it 'it an iceberg (7)" We know what 'it an iceberg, don't we? The Titanic! That's the literal part of & lit.  But check out the bold bits of the clue: Part of it 'it an iceberg - you see Titanic there as well, as a hidden clue.

"Some in Commons term Mrs T one abusively (7)" The in phrase suggests a hidden clue, and we find it in Commons term, i.e. monster. But "Mrs T one" is an anagram of monster as well, which is what many people in the opposition called Mrs Thatcher. So there you go: you have two ways of identifying the solution. These are some of the cleverest clues in crosswords, and the top setters strive to have one or two of these in every edition.

"We'll get excited with ring seat (10)". This is from one of the Inspector Morse books; Morse, we know, was a great Wagnerian. The get excited bit suggests a bit of jumbling, anagramming - but of what? Of We and Ring Seat, from which we get Wagnerites, who, of course, get excited not just with a ring seat, but with a seat at the Ring of the Nibelung, Wagner's great opus. Double meanings and subtleties abound.

And here's a final tip: the tricky clues are usually the ones across, where the setter has put in some thought; the down clues tend to be words that are fillers. So attempting to do the down clues first often works, if you want to solve the crossword quickly.

Any crossword solvers out there? What are your favourite clues? Let 'em rip.


Veena said...

Cool. Your BBC 4 posts makes one wish for a TV!

I have this theory that its the same 2 chaps who set crosswords for the Guardian, Observer, and the Telegraph. Was there any mention of that in this programme? Personally, I prefer the Telegraph mostly because its the simplest of the lot but the Guardian does have a special charm.

Oh, this "puzzles accounting for angry things said" reminds me of a better clue that (I think) Falstaff put up at some point long ago "Bird amid backed-up waste causes puzzlement".

OT: Bill's comment this morning as he saw me reading the Joke book: "I am convinced that the London library system exists for the sole purpose of supplying books to the High Elf"

cpcspirit said...

Hey Saint, Iam famous now - thanks to you :-)


cpcspirit said...

I still remember two golden oldies

1) Truss neatly to be safe (6,4,4,5)
Clue -: & lit

2) G.E.G.S (9,4)
Clue -: Twisted anagram :-)


Fëanor said...

What ho, CPC. I got the second one - scrambled eggs, is it? Heh.

Veena: Surely the Westminster system exists to feed Bill's movie mania as well? :-)

I think Don Manley sets the Monday puzzle in the Telegraph, but he also has contributions to several other papers. Araucaria has 6 cryptic ones in the Guardian and FT. Azed appears in the Observer. The universe of setters is not arbitrarily large, and several of them appeared in the programme.

So what does Falstaff's clue mean? I see there's probably a reversal (back-up) and 'amid' suggests a container/contents. Does it solve to a word meaning puzzlement?

Veena said...

Feanor: Nope, the only mania I would associate with Bill is hypersomnia.

Same answer as your clue. Crow + dross.

labsji said...

You are famous
@saint, you need paper and pen to arrange the letters in circle and strike them off as the regulars(Shankara Subbi, Kadi Balaji, CPC) would do the 'Jumble':
Fasten Your Seat Belts

He Ha!

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