Monday, 21 November 2011

The Griff has Landed

Griff joined our family yesterday! He's a long-haired chihuahua, and about 10 weeks old. Miss Petal isn't sure about this new development, but hopefully they will eventually be good friends.

I wonder if she's thinking "If I don't look at it, it doesn't exist..."

He rather likes playing with balls, and does an expert 'commando roll' too!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

What Makes a Cryptic Clue?

So — how do you define a cryptic crossword clue?

Well, they have two parts, typically. Every cryptic clue contains :

1) The base clue / definition. This is like a regular crossword clue. Yup. It may not be obvious (in fact, it almost definitely won't be), but the straight definition of the answer is really in there, in plain view. The base clue is usually at the start or end of a clue (but not in the middle).

2) Word play of some sort. This is where the fun (or aggravating) bit comes in! The word play is basically coded instructions on how to create the answer word, maybe using anagrams, or adding and subtracting letters, or a whole host of other tricks.

The thing I really like about cryptic clues is that they're sort of 'self-checking' — so when you think you've got the answer, the 'base clue' part of the clue should suddenly make sense, and you'll get that 'Ahh haaaaa!' moment. So the clue should 'confirm' itself.

Here's a couple of examples (not written by me) :

Top off tumbler for young lady (4)


This clue 'reads' as: If you take the top off a word that means tumbler, you'll find another word that means young lady.

The answer is LASS ... another word for young lady. Another word for a tumbler is a GLASS. If you take the top off it (the first letter), you get LASS.

And another one:

Herb's terribly arrogant (8)


This clue 'reads' as: If the letters of the word arrogant are muddled up (ie seen terribly), they make a word for a herb. Can you see it? Yes, the answer is TARRAGON (an anagram of arrogant). Which is a herb.

Now, of course, learning to 'read' the clues is the biggest challenge. In the above clue, you might be misled into thinking that herb's is the word to turn into an anagram, to make a word that means arrogant ... and that might have been the case, the clue could certainly work that way.

But the letter number indicator is your saviour here - that (8) means that the answer is 8 letters long, and therefore the letters you're muddling up to make the anagram must be 8 letters long too. Herb's is only 5 ... while arrogant is 8 — bingo!

Next time we'll start on the first of the cryptic clue types: double definitions!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

What are Cryptic Crosswords?

In wandering through the world of crosswords you may have come across puzzles called cryptic crosswords. And they certainly are just that — completely cryptic and incomprehensible! Instead of a regular 'synonym' clue that you'd find in any self-respecting normal crossword  (such as: Nocturnal mammal (6) - the answer to which is BADGER), you are presented with totally ridiculous clues like Dogs going up in big rocket (5) or Writer's enclosure (3)!

Cryptic crosswords are a variation on 'regular' crosswords, where each clue is a mini wordplay puzzle. Once you've 'cracked the code' on how to read them, they are wonderful fun to solve, and a great mental workout. They're my favourite puzzle to solve, and to write (so much more interesting than just writing definition/synonym clues!).

Crosswords were invented by Arthur Wynne in 1913 — a Brit living in America. His invention rapidly grew in popularity, and leap across the oceans to the UK. In Britain, various literary types started playing around with how the clues were written, and over time, the cryptic crossword was born. As a result of this lineage, they tend to be more popular in Commonwealth countries, and are not widely known in the United States.

I'm going to write a series of blog posts here, with examples for you to try out, on the different sorts of cryptic clues, so you can have a way in to these perplexing enigmas.

Oh? And the answer to those two cryptic clues above?

Dogs going up in big rocket (5) = CORGI
The letters of CORGI are actually right there for all to see, backwards ('going up') in the clue. I've highlighted them in red.


Writer's enclosure (3) = PEN
This is a double definition clue, a writer is a PEN (a pen writes, so it's a writer, I know, it's a bit of a stretch ...), and an enclosure can also be called a PEN.

Clear as mud, hey?