Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Chatting with Russell

On Friday 18 May, I was interview by Russell Woolf on his Drive program, on 720 ABC Radio Perth. It was the first time I've been interviewed about my work, so was rather exciting (and only a bit nerve-wracking!).

I have just got a copy of the interview, and you can listen to it too via my website. It's only about 8 minutes long. I hope you enjoy it!

I've had a lovely holiday at Jervis Bay with my husband; we even found heaps of fossils at the beach, which was very exciting! These are just a couple of examples.

This week I've started a copyediting job for a federal government department, just for one month; so if I'm a little absent over June, this is why. I will do my best to keep up with the cryptic crossword lessons as time permits.

Friday, 25 May 2012

1 Across

I'm on holidays at the moment, hence the hiatus ... But as I sit here knitting by the fire at the delightful Huskisson B&B, I've remembered my 1 Across Beanie. It is a crossword beanie pattern I designed, which is published on the free online knitting magazine, Knitty.

So, if it's heading into winter where you live, as it is here in Australia, and you're a knitter, you might like to give it a whirl! There are a couple of design variations, and you can choose an American style crossword grid, or a British style grid.

My gorgeous daughter Jen is the model ... And yes, she's wearing a wig ;)

  2012 10:50 AM
1 Across on Knitty.com
1 Across on Ravelry
The Ravelry page has a smaller size variation, as the original design is rather large.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Secret Messages?

There's an interesting story going around at the moment, about a Venezuelan crossword setter who has been accused of hiding an assassination plot again President Chavez's brother Adan, within the text of one of his crosswords.

Here's the grid with the supposed hidden messages. There are seven words highlighted in the grid ... who has highlighted these, and who decided these particular words were suspect, isn't revealed.

Photograph: Sky News
(As an aside, it's interesting to see how the grid has been designed, it's got almost 100% checked (overlapping) letters, like an American crossword, but the grid isn't symmetrical, and there are 2-letter words. The word positions are indicated with coordinates rather than clue numbers in the grid, as we use. The clues are also much more wordy, and they're called Horizontals and Verticals, rather than Across and Down.)

Neptalí Segovia is the hapless setter, who was 'brought to the authorities' attention' by a 'helpful' TV presenter, who felt there were just too many 'assassiny' words in this crossword for it not to be a plot!

Poor Segovia was interviewed by intelligence agents, and is obviously keen to clear the whole thing up.

So, what's going on here? Hiding a bunch of possibly nefarious words in a crossword is hardly a convenient or precise way to instigate any sort of strike action – not like the infamous example where Portugal's song airing in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest was the secret signal to the rebels to begin the Carnation Revolution coup. And you'd think that if you were actually going to instigate such a plot, with a crossword (really, guys?), you'd use code words to communicate with your co-conspirators, say "Puce" and "Rutabaga", rather than "Adan" and "Kill"!

Now, it's clear that putting together such a highly overlapped (checked) grid is a tough feat, and no word is there by accident, especially not the longer words. Segovia did choose to put them in there.

However, it is just ridiculous to conclude that this logically leads to any plot! Firstly, the people who are looking at the crossword and looking for a plot are doing just that — looking for intent, where I doubt there is any. People do this sort of skewed assessment of texts all the time, think of the ridiculous Bible Code, as just one example. If you look closely enough, you can interpret any text in any sort of skewed and biassed way. You can even find a ton of assassination plots in the text of Moby Dick! That recipe you saw in the Lifestyle Section of the newspaper for Apple Cake with Walnuts? Oh my - the words BEAT and CHOP are in there!

Now, I don't speak Spanish, so I don't know the details of what the words in the grid mean, or the nuances of the clues. But I think it highly unlikely that there is anything serious at play here, other than the crossword being a reflection of what's on Segovia's mind at the moment ...

I know that when I write my crosswords, words that are relevant to my life at the moment are often words I choose to include, either subconsciously or consciously. So, if I'm about to go on holidays, I'm more likely to include words like RELAX, BEACH, CRUISE, or SUN. If I'm feeling worried or annoyed about something, I'm more likely to put words like ANXIETY, VEXED, IRE, or PEEVE into the grid. But that's all they are — a reflection of what's currently going on in my life, and not a hidden message!

I think it's probably fair to say that there is a lot of local anxiety, uncertainty, and anger about the political situation in Venezuela at the moment, and it's hardly surprising that some of this has been reflected in Segovia's grid. Or that some TV presenter chose to over-react to the imagined threat (well ... that is a bit of a surprise, actually ... how much trouble do you want to create for people, after all? Quite a lot, it seems ...)

You can read some more reports about it here, here, and here. I love the Guardian's Crossword Blog take on it too, a very witty response by Alan Connor.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Another Cover!

Here's the full cover for Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies! The book went to print yesterday, huzzah! If you click on the image above, you can see it at a better size ...

This book is a companion volume to Solving Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies, which is the in-depth how-to guide. This book has a little basic info on cryptics, but is mainly a collection of 56 new cryptic crosswords, for you to have a go at. There are 25 Easy cryptics, 18 Medium ones, and 13 Hard crosswords.

I was all set to do my weekly analysis of The Canberra Times Gemini Cryptic last weekend, using the Saturday paper. But then I noticed that the paper runs a competition about the Saturday crossword (you can tell I'm not a regular reader!), and I'm sure they would not have been impressed if I'd done a 'full reveal' on all the clues, before the closing date for the competition, LOL! So I decided on discretion over valour, and let it slide.

In some rather exciting news, I am going to be interviewed on ABC Radio in Perth this Friday afternoon! I'll be on Russell Woolf's Drive show, at around 4.10 pm Perth time (6.10 pm Eastern Standard Time). If you go to the Drive webpage, you can Listen Live (use the 720 ABC Perth link in the right hand side bar).

Friday, 11 May 2012

Lesson 4: Charades

The next clue device we're going to cover is the charade clue. What on earth?!, you ask, and with good cause! Well, you know the parlour game of charades (not that we actually play them any more!)? People guess the name of a book, or a movie, or whatever, and you act out the name in pieces, possibly syllable by syllable, or word by word? Well, these cryptic clues are sort of the same, in that you string together the components of the clue, one after the other, in order.

So, for example, the word WHEEL could be clued as W + HEEL. That's a charade, one bit after the other, in order. A few more examples: SLIGHT = S + LIGHT, MANDRAKE = MAN + DRAKE, and GOSLING = GO + SLING.

This is a very common cryptic device, and you will come across charade clues in every cryptic crossword. s you can see, it's quite common to need to clue a single letter (such as the W in W+HEEL), so abbreviations are widely used in charade clues. Charades can also be used in conjunction with other devices (like anagrams or reversals).

These clues don't need indicator words, it's just assumed that as one part follows the next, you don't need any further instructions. Occasionally a linking word could be used, such as with, and, before, next to, on, over, takes, or with.

So, what does an actual charade clue look like? I'll write you one for the SLIGHT example above.

Petite soprano gets a lamp (6)

Petite is the definition. Soprano leads to the abbreviation S, and it gets, or is added to, another word for a lamp (LIGHT). That wasn't too bad, was it?

Here's another example:

Little river's carbon stink (5)

Carbon leads to the abbreviation C (remember your periodic table!). Add on a synonym for stink (REEK) = C + REEK, which is another word for little river! As you can see, this clue doesn't have any indicator words, or linking words, it's just one piece after the other, and a definition.

The apostrophe s on river isn't showing possession (something belonging to the river), but in fact is a contraction of is, in effect saying: another word for river is carbon + stink. This usage is very common in cryptics!

Now it's your turn to have a go. Here are 5 charade clues to practise on:

1. Daughter gets liquor tap (4)

2. Mass is point one after seven (6)

3.  Composer's cut off at home

4. Strong dislike to a variation (8)

5. South-easten remedy is stable (6)

If you want to get some hints and explanation, scroll past Petal, very dashing in her top hat ... and the answers are at the end of this post.


1. Daughter gets liquor tap (4)
Daughter often leads to the abbreviation D (as used in family trees and suchlike). So D gets liquor ... we know the answer is 4 letters long, so we're looking for a 3 letter name of some sort of liquor. How about RUM? Tap is the definition, and is defining a verb, not a noun.

2. Mass is point one after seven (6)
Mass is the definition in this clue. That means that point one after seven is the wordplay. Is is a linking word. Point is often used to mean the compass points, so N, S, E or W are our options here. One after seven is a rather wordy way of defining a number, EIGHT, wouldn't you say? I'm sure you can figure it out from here!

3.  Composer's cut off at home (6)
Composer is the definition. To cut off is to CHOP, and if you're at home, you're IN ...

4. Strong dislike to a variation (8)
The definition of this clue is at the start again, it's strong dislike. The wordplay is a report. To is a linking word, just joining the two parts of the clue. Now, in a little cryptic twist, the word a is simply that, in clear view: A. So we have A + a synonym for variation (VERSION).

5. South-easten remedy is stable (6)
South-eastern leads us to the abbreviation SE, from the compass direction. Another word for remedy is CURE. And stable is the definition. How did you get on?



Monday, 7 May 2012

Cover #1

I'm allowed to show you the cover of Solving Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies!

I'm very pleased with this cover, as they've included a photo of mine! I laid out one of the crosswords from the book in Illustrator, and made it look like it's from a newspaper. Then I printed it out, filled in some of the answers, and set up the shot. I removed the Staedtler branding from the pencil in Photoshop ...

This book is the 'how to' book on cryptics — there is a whole chapter, with a mini 'tutorial crossword', for each clue device. There are 16 full crosswords to solve (mostly easy ones), info on the history of cryptics, and cryptics around the world, a bunch of reference lists, and lots of hints to help you on your way. It's 200 pages long, and will retail for $19.95 in Australia. It will be available in other countries (New Zealand, UK, USA/Canada etc) too. The Wiley listing is up too, so you can read more about it here.

Gemini 6242

This is my explanations for the clues for the Gemini Cryptic Crossword from The Canberra Times, on Friday 4 May 2012. Definitions are underlined (apart from in &lit, double and cryptic definition clues).


1. Strip a firearm? = RIFLE
A double definition clue, the two definitions are strip and a firearm.

4. One hears it being broken = SILENCE
Cryptic definition ... if you break the silence, it involves making noise!

8. Give vent to a song = AIR
Another double definition clue, give vent to is the first definition, a song is the second.

9. They supervise — prophets? = OVERSEERS
Cryptic definition, seers being prophets ...

10. French arrogance = HAUTEUR
The origin of this word that we use for arrogance is French, from their word for "height". Don't know that this is really a cryptic clue, maybe cryptic definition?

11. Pious — nothing short of goodly = GODLY
Nothing (abbrv = O) short of (deletion) from goodly

13. He's not truly American = SHAMUS
Charade clue: not truly (SHAM) + American (US). He is used as a definition for any male name, so isn't really a vast help here!

15. A number relaxed and stopped = CEASED
Charade: A number = C (Roman numeral for 100) + relaxed (EASED). Defining a number as any Roman numeral is a Libertarian device.

18. Some of these books back being overweight = OBESE
Reversed (back) hidden word (some of): these books reversed is skoob eseht. Some of them = sko[OB ESE]ht. Being is a linking word.

19. Refined male fish? = GENTEEL
Charade: male (GENT) + fish (EEL)

21. I'd returned with an account causing amusement = DIVERSION
I'd returned = DI (reverse I'd, and ignore the punctuation) + an account = VERSION. Causing is a linking word.

23. Favourite mood? Hardly = PET
Double / cryptic definition. A favourite is a PET, but a mood can also be a PET (a fit of sulking) ... the hardly gives the sense that being in a pet isn't a favourite mood, in general!

24. Idle chatter has teeth on edge = RATCHET
Anagram clue: idle is the anagram indicator, chatter is the fodder (the word to jumble up). The definition is is rather oblique, but it is fair enough to say that a RATCHET has teeth on its edge!

25. Hack to pieces wandering herds = SHRED
Another anagram (wandering). Herds is the fodder.


1. Comes to cheer as arranged = REACHES
Anagram (arranged) of cheers as.

2. Lucky at coming into a lot of money = FORTUNATE
Double definition, with a bit of 'language abuse' - lucky is the first definition, but coming into a lot of money, or a fortune, has been coined by the setter to be "fortunate" ... these sorts of invented words are occasionally found in cryptics!

3. Make a run to clinch the match = ELOPE
Cryptic definition; you're running off here to get married (a match), not playing sports, which is what the surface reading gives the sense of!

4. Make a mistake and throw out the drink = SHERRY
Container clue. Make a mistake = ERR, and throw = SHY (fling or throw at a target). I don't agree with the setter's use of out here, the indicator should really give more of a sense of the letters of SHY being put around the ERR (so this clue is more Libertarian).

5. Turn up the gas in a way making an Italian dish = LASAGNE
This clue looks very familiar to me, as I wrote one that's quite similar in Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies! It's a container clue, with a reversal. Reverse (turn up) gas = SAG. Put them in a way (LANE).

6. Born of woman = NEE
Cryptic definition. Born or originally called = NÉE, and it's used by a woman, when giving her maiden name.

7. Literary work? Yes as it turns out = ESSAY
Anagram (it turns out) of yes as.

12. Not a good state of mind for decorating? = DISTEMPER
Double definition, with language abuse ... a bad (ie not a good) state of mind could be said to be a "dis-temper". Distemper is also a kind of paint or glue used on walls or theatrical scene painting.

14. Find made by a hunter = UNEARTH
Anagram (made by) of a hunter. I don't feel the anagram indicator is well chosen here, though. The definition find is both a noun and a verb ... in the clue's surface reading it sounds like a noun, but it is actually defining the verb, meaning "to discover", or UNEARTH.

16. Indeed a cancelled service should be = DELETED
This is an &lit clue ... in this sort of clue, the whole clue is the wordplay, but then you read the whole clue again literally to get the definition. So, a cancelled service should indeed be DELETED, and this is the definition. The wordplay is a container clue, and runs as:  Indeed = in deed, so put some other letters inside DEED (this is a Libertarian device). Cancelled service = LET, which is a tennis definition (from when the ball clips the top of the net and falls within bounds).

17. Possibly it goes to a selfish type = EGOIST
Anagram (possibly) of it goes. A selfish type is the definition.

18. A class given instruction = ORDER
Double definition, a class being an ORDER in animal taxonomy, and given instruction being a verb definition for ORDER.

20. One may be dressed up to them — by numbers? = NINES
Cryptic definition. "Dressed up to the nines" is the phrase being referenced here!

22. He may earn money with his pet treatment = VET
Cryptic definition, a vet earns money from treating pets!

That's all, folks! How did you get on?