Friday, 27 April 2012

The Canberra Times Cryptics

Starting this week, I will be explaining the clues from one Gemini or British Cryptic Crossword, as published in The Canberra Times, per week.

I won't hold myself down to doing a set day every week, cos life and work can be a little chaotic at times, and the last thing I need is yet another deadline on a set day every week, and this is meant to be fun after all  ;)  But I will do my best to pick apart at least one cryptic a week.

I will publish the post on a day or two after the crossword is published, to give everyone (including me!) time to have a go for themselves ...

A little about the Gemini Cryptic. While there are two cryptics in The Canberra Times, the English Cryptic, and the Gemini, I'm pretty sure that both puzzles are English. From my sneaky interweb researches, I think it's produced by Gemini Crosswords, a UK puzzle syndication business.

The British, and possibly the Gemini, Cryptics are also published in The Guardian newspaper. Their crosswords do tend towards what's called Libertarian, or non-Ximenean, clues. This obviously requires a bit of explanation.

Ximenes was a cryptic setter from way back, and one of the many things he did was to set up the standards of fair play in cryptic crosswords. In 1966 he wrote the seminal book Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword (which resides on my bookshelf!).

Basically, while a cryptic clue can deceive, of course, in the end it has to actually say what it means (in terms of the wordplay) and be fair to the solver. Clues that follow his standards are said to be Ximenean (and this is what I do my best to write). The Times cryptic is the bastion of a pure Ximenean cryptic crossword.

There is a new camp, though, where these rules are seen more as guidelines, boundaries are stretched, and rules are broken ... these are said to be non-Ximenean or Libertarian clues. Many cryptic crosswords tend to have a smattering of Libertarian clues in them, some more than others, so it's good to have some idea of what Libertarian devices look like.

For starters, the most commonly noticed thing is the way they indicate letters and abbreviations, and some forms of wordplay. Some are certainly clever and cute, and other are less fair, in my opinion. Here are just a few examples of Libertarian 'abbreviations' :

midday = A (the middle letter of day)
Gateshead = G (the head of Gates)
firstborn = B (the first letter of born)
infer = put something in the letters fer
finally = Y (final-ly, so the final letter of ly)
not = no T (delete T from another word)
exploits = PISTOL (an anagram indicated by ex- of the fodder -ploits)

I don't mind the first three of these examples, but do feel that indeed, finally, not, and exploits are pushing the limits of fairness to the solver.

Libertarian clues can also be more wordy than Ximenean clues, with more linking words and even 'padding' to make the clue's surface meaning read better. This sort of padding is frowned upon in Ximenean circles.

Some abbreviations are deemed to be Libertarian, such as note = A, B, C, D, E, F or G (as in the notes of the musical scale) ... while note = DO, DOH, RE, MI, FA, SO, SOH, LA, LAH, TI is Ximenean. I don't mind either, really.

However, the word many in a Libertarian clue can abbreviate any combination of Roman numerals that adds up to a big number, so CL (150), MMI (2,001), CM (900), MD (1,500), and a large number of other possibilities (which I do think is unfair to the solver, as there are too many possibilities).

Proper names may not have a capital letter, which may cause extra confusion when a famous person is being referred to. A clue may read as "put Word A into Word B", but in fact you have to put Word B into Word A. And so on ... so, in general, the rules are rather stretched and dodged at times.

So, it's good to keep an eye out for these Libertarian devices when solving cryptics. I will do my best to point them out in the crosswords that I analyse here, so you can start to get a handle on them too!

If you're interested in reading more about Ximenean and non-Ximenean clues, check out this link, and this one, and this one ...

Tomorrow I will post a clue-by-clue breakdown of Gemini Cryptic Crossword # 6235, as published in The Canberra Times on Friday 27 April 2012.

1 comment:

  1. That's very interesting, I didn't really know the use of those words like that. The Roman Numeral one is very vague I think.


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