Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Books' Launch

On Saturday 25th August we all gathered at Paperchain Bookstore in Manuka to celebrate the launch of Solving Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies and Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies!

My second technical editor, Deborah Green came from interstate for the event, and stayed with us overnight. We all got dolled up — the crossword corset had its first outing — and headed for Manuka, with a car full of nommy goodies!

This was a really exciting day for me, as — although I have written 5 books now — these are the first ones I've had a proper book launch for.

The place was packed — 50 or 60 people came along, many of whom were long-lost friends, as well as many new friends and family. Indexers and BookCrossers were well represented!

My high school English teacher (now principal of Narrabundah College) Kerrie Grundy gave the introductory speech. I won't mention how long ago it was that she taught me!

I then gave my 15 minute talk. No-one dozed off, so I think I'm ahead there!

And then we cut the cake, and chat, food and drink flowed freely!

I spent the rest of the launch behind the front counter, signing books ... so I didn't get to chat with everyone or mingle as much as I'd have liked, but that was par for the course. Deborah did a sterling job of managing the food table.

Paperchain and Wiley are very impressed that we sold 60 books at the launch - 35 of Solving Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies, and 25 of Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies!

It was a really wonderful event, it was great to see so many friends and family, some of whom had driven from afar, and to launch these two little books into the world with such fun and love! Thank you Troy for the Olympic teatowel and autographed copy of his bookPenny and Alex, and Margaret for the gorgeous flowers, Kirsty for the champagne, and Kate and Tilly for luscious yarn gifts (and a leaf, don't forget the leaf!).

Thank you everyone!

Photos by Barry Newell, Rodger Sutherland, and Ralph Sutherland - thank you guys!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Spotted in the wild

This week I've spotted my books in several book shops - very exciting! It never gets old  :)

At Kinokuniya in Sydney ...

At Paperchain in Canberra (excuse the blurry iPod Touch photo), where they are already selling well ...

And I signed the sole copy at Dymocks Tuggeranong, so it got a special sticker!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Gemini 6343

Here's my break down of the clues from the Gemini Cryptic Crossword from The Canberra Times, Monday 13 August 2012. I solved this one on the train up to Sydney (the only civilised way to travel!),  on a very foggy wintery morning:

As usual, definitions are underlined (except in double definition and cryptic definition clues).


1. Tries to correct extreme spin (11) = EXPERIMENTS
An anagram (indicated by correct)  of extreme spin

9. Reversion to type puts Mavis at variance (7) = ATAVISM
An anagram (variance) of Mavis at.  Atavism is a less common word (I had to look it up). Its dictionary definition is: "reversion to something ancient or ancestral"

10. Issue foreign coins (5) = SCION
An anagram (foreign) of coins. A scion is a descendant from a notable family, so issue here has the meaning of "children".

11. Touch with an oral greeting (4) = KISS
A double definition clue. Billiard balls can kiss, meaning to lightly touch. And I'm sure you know the other meaning!

12. Honest deal? (8) = STRAIGHT
A cryptic definition (indicated by the question mark). If you're honest, you're straight. And a straight is a continuous sequence of cards in poker, so you could be dealt those cards ...

14. Changing planes in Italy (6) = NAPLES
Another anagram! It's indicated by changing, and planes is the anagram fodder. In Italy is a rather oblique or imprecise clue for Naples ... there are a lot of things in Italy, after all! In this case, the definition part of the clue really only gives you a pointer.

16. Closely connected with German revolutionary (6) = MITRED
A charade clue; one bit comes after the other. With German = MIT (the German word for with) + RED (revolutionary).

The definition part of this clue is not well-written. The dictionary definitions I found for mitred all refer to an angled join or seam at a corner. OK, such seams are closely connected, but so are tons of other things. It's not a fair definition in my book.

18. Reliable mathematical term (8) = CONSTANT
Double definition. If you're constant, you're reliable. And a constant is a mathematical parameter that doesn't change its value.

19. Turning knocks into a pole (4) = SPAR
A reversal clue. Knocks = RAPS. Turning is the reversal indicator. Run RAPS backwards, and you get SPAR!

22. Quick way to take the air between flights (5) = STAIR
A charade clue, with a word in the clear. A quick way is also a short name for a way, or street. So we get ST. It takes AIR, giving us ST+AIR. You'll be familiar with flights of stairs. The word between doesn't really have a good purpose here, and is a bit misleading (I wouldn't have used it, if it was my clue).

23. A light case (7) = LANTERN
A cryptic definition. A case for light, get it?

24. Suits oneself? (4,7) = GETS DRESSED
Another cryptic definition clue. In this case, suits refers to a suit that you wear, or the act of putting on a suit, not that something is convenient.


2. They show bones of unknown number of fish (1-4) = X-RAYS
A charade clue, with an abbreviation. An unknown number usually refers to the letters X or Y (used in algebra a lot). In this instance, it's X. Fish = RAYS. And X-RAYS definitely do show bones!

3. Ancient Mariner's story upset an Arab prince (4) = EMIR
You need to know a little about literature to get this clue. The Ancient Mariner's story is the famous Rime of the Ancient Mariner poem by Coleridge.

4. Resident is at home with his wife (6) = INMATE
Another charade clue. If you're at home, you're IN. His wife = MATE. So we have IN+MATE, who is also a resident, although this meaning is archaic. (The more common meaning for INMATE is of a person living in an institution such as a prison or hospital.)

5. Note a hundred still in a trance (8) = ECSTATIC
A charade clue. Note = E (as in a musical note) + a hundred = C (Roman numerals) + STATIC (still). I'm not thrilled with in a trance as the definition for ECSTATIC. It is the rarer definition of "involving an experience of mystic self-transcendence".

6. How happy gunslingers might be? (7) = TRIGGER
Cryptic definition. They have guns, and they're TRIGGER happy — look out!

7. Pedestrian injured? (7,4) = WALKING CASE
Another cryptic definition (that question mark is often a good pointer to these clues). I must admit I had WALKING DEAD in here originally (well, the pedestrian was very badly injured!). I'm not familiar with the term WALKING CASE, but gather it is synonymous with 'convalescent'. Anyway, a pedestrian is clearly someone who is WALKING. And if they were injured, they could be a WALKING CASE.

8. It will be presented by a group at one (6,5) = UNITED FRONT
Cryptic definition again. The trick here is that at one doesn't mean a time, and isn't an abbreviation for I (1), but is part of a group at one — a united team. And what they present is a UNITED FRONT.

13. Reprimands for rules etc. being broken (8) = LECTURES
An anagram clue, indicated by being broken. Rules etc is the anagram fodder.

15. It gives accommodation inside a speed boat (7) = PINNACE
Another word I didn't know! A PINNACE is a small boat. This is a container clue. It gives accommodation = INN. Put it inside another word for speed (PACE).

17. Aggressive branch of the animal kingdom (6) = ANTLER
Yet another cryptic definition clue (they are a little overfond of these clues in the Gemini series). An ANTLER can be said to be a branch, on an animal. And it's often used aggressively.

20. Not all the pianist plays (5) = PIECE
Double definition clue. A PIECE is not all of something. And a PIECE of music is what a pianist could play.

21. We bear it (4) = ONUS
Oh, rather clever this one. Could be an &lit clue, what do you think? We bear, or carry, it, so it is ON US. Plus ONUS is something that it our duty or responsibility that we have to bear.

How did you get on?

Monday, 6 August 2012

Creating Crossword Cookies

Well, Crossword Biscuit. But I couldn't resist the alliteration  :)

Here is my method of how to make crossword biscuits. It's adapted from the decoration technique outlined on the Cake or Death? website.

You will need:
  • plain smooth biscuits / cookies
  • fondant icing (comes in a box, usually)
  • icing sugar
  • a little sugar syrup or sieved, warm jam
  • black paste food colouring
  • black edible ink pen

  • a rolling pin
  • pastry brush
  • a small knife
  • a very clean ruler, or a chef's knife
  • a thin paint brush
  • a tiny dish
  • a crossword grid design from a newspaper or online

How to do the crossword decoration

Dust the bench with icing sugar, and roll out a little of the fondant thinly.

Coat the biscuit with a swipe of warmed, sieved jam, or the sugar syrup. This helps the fondant icing to stick to the biscuit.

Carefully lift the piece of fondant icing, and press it onto the biscuit. Trim around the edges with the little knife. 

Repeat for the rest of the biscuits.

Press a grid design into the top of the icing, with the back of the chef's knife, or a very clean ruler edge. Just press lightly, you just need faint indent marks. You should be able to just eye-ball it to get a square grid (that's all I've done). Close-enough is good enough  :)

Leave the biscuits to dry for a good long while — at least 4-5 hours, but a day is better.

When the icing is firm, put some of the black food colouring paste into the tiny dish, and moisten it with a few drops of water. Mix well with the brush. Use the brush to mark the lines of the grid (or use the pen). Steady your hand by leaning your elbow on the bench, and holding your painting-hand wrist with the other hand.

Following a crossword grid, colour in the black squares with the brush and food colouring 'paint'. 

If you go over the lines, you can rescue the design by using a clean damp brush to wipe away the excess paint, and then a clean damp cloth to wipe the surface of the icing. Be careful not too add anything very wet, or the icing will dissolve and the ink will only spread further!

Leave to dry for a good few hours!

When everything is really dry, write the grid numbers into the appropriate squares, using the edible ink pen (fine tip). You can write words into the grid if you like, too (a special greeting for someone, perhaps?!).

Ta dah! You're ready to impress your friends and influence people!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Lesson 7: Double Definitions

Double definitions are cute little cryptic clues. They break the usual Definition + Wordplay = Answer cryptic equation. With these clues (as you may have already surmised) the equation is Definition + Definition = Answer.

English is a language with masses of redundancy. There are multiple ways of saying most things, and many words have multiple meanings. So with this sort of cryptic clue, the clue simply presents two definitions of the same word, one after the other. Indicator words are not usually used (if they are, they are words like and, or, but, gives, provides, or though, or some punctuation such as a comma, dash, or apostrophe S).

Here's an example:

Baby cow's leg part (4) = CALF
As you can no doubt see, CALF is the name of both a baby cow, and a leg part. 

While they seem ridiculously simple in essence, these clues can be very difficult to spot 'in the wild' amongst a bunch of cryptic clues with a crossword. You are all keyed up to looking for indicator words, anagrams, containers, reversals, homophones, and the whole catastrophe. This simple device can quickly trip you up.

Say you come across Wretched fluffy feathers (4); it would be perfectly reasonable to think that wretched is an anagram indicator, only there's nothing there that's four letters long to be the anagram fodder, argh ...

The trick with any clue that you suspect might be a double definition is to mentally insert a comma or break between the words in a clue, to see if two definitions suddenly fall out.

Wretched fluffy / feathers? Nope ... unless Fluffy is your naughty cat!
Wretched / fluffy feathers ... Aaah, there we go. A four letter word for fluffy feathers  is DOWN. And if you're feeling wretched, or depressed, you're also DOWN!

Double definition clues can be very short, even just two words. So if you spot a very short clue, check it for double definitioness!

Another thing to look out for is that the pronunciation of the answer may be slightly different (think of WINDY, as in a winding road, and WINDY, as in blustery weather). Or one meaning may be a noun, and another may be a verb (or adjective, or whatever). One of the definitions can also be archaic or a rare usage (you have been warned!).

Here are some double definition clues to try:

1. Abandons fronds (6)
2. Hawthorn blossom's month (3)
3. Abandon the wasteland (6)
4. Loud noise from a tennis bat (6)
5. Glide over ice, Ray (5)

Griff is the noble guardian of the explanations and answers ... And isn't he just looking extra noble today?


1. Abandons fronds (6)
This one is (hopefully) easy, as there's only two words, and only one place to put that 'mental comma'. 

2. Hawthorn blossom's month (3)
This double definition clue uses a less-known definition for one part (hawthorn blossom). The other definition is a name of a month of the year.

3. Abandon the wasteland (6)
In this clue, the two answers for the two definition are pronounced differently (but must, of course, be spelled the same way). The break goes after abandon.

4. Loud noise from a tennis bat (6)
This is a more wordy double definition clue. Loud, noise from a tennis bat? No ... Loud noise from a tennis, bat? Nope. How about Loud noise (from is an indicator/linking word here), a tennis bat. There you go.

5. Glide over ice, Ray (5)
Bit of a trick here, the comma is actually in the right place for you already! Ray isn't Raymond, as I have blatantly tried to trick you into thinking, but a type of marine creature ...


2. MAY