Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Gemini 7043

Time for another Gemini analysis. This is for the Gemini cryptic #7043, which was published in The Canberra Times on 15 July 2014.

A usual, the definition part of the clue is underlined, except for double definition and cryptic definition clues.


Scrambled eggs
Photo By Great British Chefs Team via

1. Eggs it's nice to scramble (7) = INCITES
The definition is a nice confusion here — it's a verb, as in egging on someone, not a noun! Anagram indicated by scramble of it's nice. Ignore that apostrophe.

4. It's mean to the players (5) = MEZZO
Cryptic definition. MEZZO is a musical term meaning 'middle'. Mean is an average, or the middle. So MEZZO is a term that means 'middle' to musicians (players).

7. A stake in a buoyant economy (4) = ANTE
Hidden word clue, indicated by in. You can see it in buoyant economy.

8. On the edge and somewhat alarming (8) = MARGINAL
Anagram, indicated by somewhat, of alarming.

10. He draws actors into trouble (10) = CARTOONIST
Anagram clue. Actors into is the anagram fodder, trouble is the anagram indicator. The definition is pretty broad – a lot of other people draw too!

12. Mafia activity produces terrible row (6) = RACKET
Double definition. The two definitions are Mafia activity and terrible row (as in noise).

13. Reason to stop flying (6) = GROUND
Cryptic definition — the ground is definitely a good reason to stop flying!

15. Agree on a definition of 24 hours and finish work (4,2,1,3) = CALL IT A DAY
Double definition. The definitions are separated by and.

18. A collection of letters (8) = ALPHABET
Cryptic(ish) definition.

19. A mother for one who was motherless (4) = ADAM
Biblical cryptic definition. Refers to Eve being created from Adam's rib.

20. Not an irreversible belief (5) = TENET
Palindromic cryptic definition. Nice double negative in there —not an irreversible means that it is reversible! Could be &lit, I think ... as a TENET is a main principle, so I think it would be fair to say it's not an irreversible belief, as the definition. Reading the clue again literally provides the definition, in addition to reading it as wordplay.

21. Review on thug's weapon (7) = SHOTGUN
Anagram of on thug's, indicated by review.


1. Is a short account for a patriarch (5) = ISAAC
Charade clue. Is a= IS A (in the clear!) + AC (short account). You need a little Biblical knowledge to get this one.

Photo By Dina Eric via
2. Producer of thick spray that reduces visibility (8) = CATARACT
Double definition — a cataract is a waterfall (which produces water spray), and an eye condition that reduces visibility.

3. Yields a chessman on board (6) = SPAWNS
Container clue. A chessman = PAWN is put on (inside) of SS (on board a ship).

4. One who is just sitting on a bench (10) = MAGISTRATE
Cryptic definition. Just means fair / objective here, and the bench refers to the law court.

5. Something final to any buffoon (4) = ZANY
Charade clue. Something final= Z (the final letter of the alphabet) + any(in the clear). A buffoon is a noun, and modern usage of ZANY is as an adjective. But there is a historical definition of zany meaning a zany person. So it's an unusual definition.

6. Did favours when compelled? (7) = OBLIGED
Double definition, with very similar definitions, so I think this is a poor clue. These two definitions come under the same headword and have the same etymology.

9. Very different from divorces in Warsaw? (5,5) = POLES APART
Double definition, with a coined meaning from divorces in Warsaw.

11. An animal looking for his master (5,3) = GUIDE DOG
Clever cryptic definition! Actual meaning is an animal seeing for his master.

12. Run into some of the defence (7) = RAMPART
Charade clue. Run into = RAM + some of = PART

14. Is inactive in retirement? (6) = SLEEPS
Cryptic definition. Retiring for the night, not retiring from work.

16. Potential enemy country (5) = YEMEN
Anagram of enemy, indicated by potential.

17. Twisted point to a witticism (4) = SPUN
A charade clue. Point = S (south) + a witticism = PUN.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Guardian interview

Screen shot of The Guardian Crossword Blog

I'm very excited to announce my interview with Alan Connor, from The Guardian's Crossword blog. You may recall that I indexed Alan's book, Two Girls, One on Each Knee, last year

Alan raised the idea of interviewing me about my CrypticGuide app when I was writing his index — and it has finally come to fruition.

CrypticGuide is an app that my husband and I developed over a year — it is a 'slender' cryptic dictionary, with around 7,000 cryptic definitions, abbreviations, indicator words, and homophones. It also includes an anagram solver and wildcard search.

It is very much a work in progress, with new cryptic definitions being added to the app over time. If you come across any cryptic terms in your puzzle solving, which aren't in the app, please let me know, so we can include them in future releases!

CrypticGuide is available on the App Store. It works on iPhones, iPods, and iPads. Unfortunately, at the moment it is only available for iOS, as an Android version involves rewriting the entire app, from massive database up ... possibly a task for later on, once my pet code monkey husband has retired from his day job?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Code talkers

Navaho code talkers

On 4th June this year, Chester Nez (93) died. He was the last of the Navaho code talkers.

In all the reading I've done on cryptography, codes, and ciphers, the story of the American Indian code talkers is my favourite.

Before we delve into their fascinating story, I need to be explain the difference between a code and a cipher.


A code is a mapping of a word, a short phrase, or even a whole sentence, to a single collection of symbols (words, numbers, or other symbols). They are almost impossible to break through analysis. However, unless it's a very brief code (which can be memorised), a code requires a codebook. There is simply no way to remember all of the substitutions accurately (unless you have a photographic memory!). The existence of this codebook is a security hazard, though. If the enemy gets a copy, you've had it.

Some examples of codes are:

@! = the contract has been signed
pancake = come at once, bring syrup
169 = the plan is proceeding as set
whittle = all is lost, flee!


A cipher operates on individual symbols. It is an algorithm, and once the algorithm has been set, there is no need for a codebook, which is definitely a plus. But they are more prone to being cracked.

The simplest ciphers are substitution ciphers. A=1, B=2, C=3, or even A=?, B=%, C=@. This sort of cipher is easy to crack using letter frequency analysis — the knowledge that in English, E is the most common letter, THE and AND and the most common 3-letter words, and so on. These ciphers are the base of most cryptogram puzzles.

More complex ciphers have been developed, naturally, with all sorts of horrendously complicated tricks and turns. There is a whole cryptography field, after all. But in essence, a cipher is potentially crackable.

Diagram of the SIGABA machine
SIGABA machine
The machine ciphers of the World War II were particularly difficult to crack, but with luck and the incredible skill of code breakers, it did happen. The German Enigma machines were just one type of many. The complex British Typex and American SIGABA cipher machines remained unbroken throughout the war.

Code talkers

Transmitting secure military messages during wartime, without the other side listening in, was (and still is) a major concern.

Native American languages were impenetrable to outsiders, as they had no Asian or European connections. This feature was turned into a 'codebook-free' code by the military. The invisible codebook resided in the Native Americans' native tongues. Code talking was pioneered by a handful of Cherokee and Choctaw Indians during WWI.

Many Indian tribes were recruited during both world wars — six tribal groups in WWI and 13 in WWII. The Navahos in WWII were by far the biggest group, with around 420 code talkers. The Navaho were preferred partially because no German students had infiltrated their culture after WWI, under the guise of studying their culture (as they had done with many other Indian tribes) – and therefore no outsiders had knowledge of their language.

The code talkers needed to memorise quite a lot of code words, but they would only need to memorise that A = Ant, Battleship = Whale, September = Half, and so on — because the hardest part, translating each of the code words into their native tongue, was second nature for them!

1942 letter about code talkers
Before trusting American military secrets to the Navaho code talkers, they were trialled through Navy Intelligence, to see if the top American code breakers could decipher any of the messages. They reported that the Navaho language was 'a weird succession of gutteral, nasal, tongue-twisting sounds ... we couldn't even transcribe it, much less crack it.' (The Code Book, Singh, pg 196) 

An alphabet was developed, from A for Ant in Navaho (WOL-LA-CHEE), to Z for Zinc (BESH-DO-TLIZ). There were up to three variations for the commonly used letters too — so Oil, Onion and Owl all encoded the letter O. This was instituted to stop the Japanese from being able to use frequency analysis if they realised some words were being spelt out. By cycling through variations on these common letters, any frequency analysis would be foiled.

Plenty of the words had direct translation into Navaho — so the English word 'dawn' was translated directly into the Navaho word for 'dawn' (HA-YELI-KAHN).  

However, many terms didn't have equivalences in Navaho. To save time in spelling each word out,  memorable phrases in Navaho were used instead:
Cemetery = among devils (JISH-CHA)
Tank destroyer = tortoise killer (CHAY-DA-GAHI-NAIL-TSAIDI)
Subordinate = helping each other (AL-KHI-NAL-DZL)
Farm = fox arm (MAI-BE-HE-AHGAN)
Dispatch = dog is patch (LA-CHAI-EN-SEIS-BE-JAY)

There were special names for all the various military craft and personnel.
Dive Bomber = Chicken Hawk (GINI)
Battleship = Whale (LO-TSO)
Colonel = Silver Eagle (ATSAH-BESH-LE-GAI)

And countries:
Japan = Slant Eye BEH-NA-ALI-TSOSIE
Australia = Rolled Hat (after the hats worn by our Diggers) (CHA-YES-DESI)

While their radio messages were intercepted by the enemy, they were never deciphered. A great rarity! "Lieutenant General Seizo Arisue, the Japanese chief of intelligence, admitted that, although they had broken the American Air Force code, they had failed to make any impact on the Navaho code." (The Code Book, Singh, pg 201)

You can see the full list of the code talker's dictionary here — information the Japanese and Germans would have literally killed for once upon a time! And this video is just one of many that tells more of their story:

There is a great discussion about Navaho code talkers in The Code Book by Simon Singh, if you want to discover more, and learn more about cryptography in general. There are also several books dedicated to the subject, including Chester Nez's personal account.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

25 Worst Spelling Words

Oh, English. Why you so crazy?

handwriting corrected with red inkWell, largely because a lot of English isn't English. It's been nicked from pretty much any other language. There are no standard spelling rules. And some words come from people's names (eponyms) — for example, diesel is from Rudolf Diesel, who invented the diesel engine. What chance have we got?

For a lot of these hard words, French is the language of origin. French spelling, with a lot of letters that aren't pronounced, and profligate vowels, really trips us up badly.

I'm lucky in that I am a very 'visual' speller ... I spell easily, and can tell by looking at a word if it's misspelt. But the following words trip me up, almost always. And I'm sure I'm not alone!

Without further ado, here are my all time most hated least favourite words, that trip me up frequently. American spelling is in brackets.

Nastiest Spelling Words

  1. acquiesce
  2. aneurysm (aneurism)
  3. auxiliary
  4. bureaucracy
  5. likelihood
  6. chauvinism
  7. coercion
  8. dachshund
  9. desiccate
  10. diarrhoea (diarrhea)
  11. fluorescent
  12. fuchsia
  13. haemorrhage (hemorrhage)
  14. hors d'oeuvre
  15. idiosyncrasy
  16. jeopardise (jeopardize)
  17. likelihood
  18. masseuse
  19. minuscule
  20. paraphernalia
  21. plagiarise (plagiarize)
  22. prerogative
  23. reminiscent
  24. silhouette
  25. variegated
So anything I have to write about minuscule dachshunds with variegated fluorescent fuchsia hors d'oeuvres is just a nightmare, I tell you!

Spelling tips

If you want to learn these nastiest of spelling words, so you can impress your friends and family — and tear less hair out — then these tips may help.
  • Try to memorise them. Write the word down, repeatedly. Say it over and over in your head. Spell it out loud. Try for one word every day or two
  • Come up with a memorably silly or weird sentence as a mnemonic (another hard word!). As a teenager I remembered to spell unfortunately as 'un-for-tuna-tely', imagining a tuna fish watching TV (I bet it would love Jeremy Wade's shows). And I still use this mnemonic today.
  • Try pronouncing the word as written, which reminds you of its spelling — so dachshund could become 'da-ch-sh-und'. 
If you'd like even more tricky spelling words to practice, check out my article over on English Language Skills!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Nixie Clues #4 - Answers

And now for the big reveal — answers, with explanations, for the latest set of clues. The definitions are underlined.

1. Shame about poison for humans (4,7) = HOMO SAPIENS. Anagram (indicated by about) of SHAME + POISON.

2. Row of bushes missing first side (4) = EDGE. This is a deletion clue. Row of bushes = HEDGE. Missing first = remove the first letter (H). Which leaves you EDGE.

3. Citrus Mole misbehaving in post office (6) = POMELO. An anagram, indicated by misbehaving. The fodder is MOLE + PO (for post office). 

4. American city’s sample of  tomahawks (5) = OMAHA. A hidden word clue, indicated by sample of. It's in clear view, inside tomahawks.

5. Khan plays test in Uzbek capital (8) = TASHKENT. An anagram (indicated by plays) of KHAN + TEST.

6. Adhesive from grated tapes (5) = PASTE. An anagram (grated) of TAPES.

How did you get on?

Friday, 27 June 2014

Nixie Clues #4

Cold foggy morning
Image courtesy of dan |
I've finally got a new set of (easy) cryptic clues for you to solve. Just the thing for a chilly winter's day. So get a cup of hot <insert favourite hot beverage name here>, and a pen, and let me know how you get on!

  1. Shame about poison for humans (4,7)
  2. Row of bushes missing first side (4)
  3. Citrus Mole misbehaving in post office (6)
  4. American city’s sample of  tomahawks (5)
  5. Khan plays test in Uzbek capital (8)
  6. Adhesive from grated tapes (5)
I will post the answers, with explanations, on Monday morning. Please don't give away the answers in your comments, just say 'I got it!' or similar — thanks :)