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.)

NeptalĂ­ 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.

1 comment:

  1. Did you mention the Great Crossword Conspiracy of 1944?? With Overlord and Omaha etc in a British crossword??


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