Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Nixie cryptics

I'm very happy to announce that I am now the regular cryptic setter for the Australian Clue Detective Puzzle Agency. They will be publishing one of my Nixie cryptic crosswords every fortnight, and I will be writing for their blog now and then. This is currently the only way to get my very latest cryptic crosswords on a regular basis.

Membership to The Clue Detective Puzzle Agency is by annual subscription. There is a special deal on at the moment, until the end of August, if you're interested in signing up. They have a range of other sorts of puzzles, including clueless crosswords.

Under The Sea II by Sir Joseph Noel Patton

Why am I writing under the cryptic setter name Nixie? Firstly, a nixie is a bit of a bad and naughty fairy, liable to trick humans (What?!) ... and is female (women cryptic setters are rare) ... and Nixie is also close to my family nickname. So it seems apt to me!

Hope to see you over there  :)

Thursday, 22 August 2013

How I solve a cryptic clue

One of the things I like about cryptics is how — although I write them — I still find cryptics by other setters challenging and enjoyable to solve. I don't do 'quick' crosswords any more, solving one is too much like the work I do in writing them ... another bloody definition? No thanks ...

But cryptics are still a fascinating challenge to me, and are still fun for me to solve. I don't classify myself as an expert solver, I can't solve The Times cryptic in record time or anything like that. I don't solve enough cryptics often enough to get the necessary daily practice in. But being a setter does give me a certain advantage!

So, I thought you might find it interesting to see the mental process I go through when solving clues by other setters.

Here are a few clues by a variety of setters, and my thoughts as I solve them ...

Wife given a kiss then getting yen for pasty (4)

Hmmm, what are possible abbreviations in this clue? Wife = W, kiss = X, yen = Y. I think pasty might be the definition, which leaves wife given a kiss then getting yen. The 'a' is probably just A, in the clear. W (wife) + A + X (kiss) + Y (yen) = WAXY! That works! Huzzah! 

Cold tart (6)

Only two words in this clue, so it's likely to be a double definition. What is a word that means both cold and tart? Hmmm. It might also be a cryptic definition of some sort. Cold can also = C. Tart = pie, pastry, flan, or acidic, sharp, sour etc, or a prostitute, or to dress up ... Maybe BITING? You can have biting cold, and a sharp tart taste is also said to be biting. So I'll pencil it in, and look for confirmation from crossing over letters from other answers in the grid. It might be BITTER, too, I'm not 100% sure yet.

She loved Narcissus it's recalled (4)

I'm looking up Narcissus in my dictionary, to check my Greek mythology. Ah, he was loved by ECHO ... and that makes sense, with it's recalled as the definition. This is a double definition clue.

Offensive characters recalled from Tess of the d'Urbervilles (4)

Well, I know I most likely don't need to know anything about this novel to solve the clue (as this level of specialised knowledge isn't usually required). So that means that the definition is probably offensive, or offensive characters, and that (characters?) recalled from Tess of the d'Urbervilles is probably the wordplay.

Recalled from makes me think this might be a hidden word clue, with the letters appearing in reverse in the letters of Tess of the d'Urvervilles.  So let's trawl backwards through the letters of the novel title, looking for 4 in a row that spell a word ... ah ha, there it is! Tess of thE D'URbervilles = EDUR, or RUDE when put around the right way. That works, with offensive as the definition. So this solution = RUDE.

With solving that one above, I now have a crossing over letter for the 1 Down clue:

Area below tar's not concrete (8)

The solution runs _ _ _ _ R _ _ _. Possible abbreviations in this clue? Area = A is the main one. The apostrophe S in tar's makes me think that this marks the split between definition and wordplay. Mind you, the S might be part of the answer, too. 

So area below tar is the same as not concrete. Hmmm. Area below tar  does sound like a cryptic wordplay, with below as a position indicator. A word for area (or an A) going below a synonym for tar? Tar has a couple of meanings, it might be the thick black stuff, or a sailor. How about synonyms for area? Region, zone, spot, domain, yard, part, realm ...

Hang on, concrete has 8 letters (the number indicated for the answer), and not might be an anagram indicator, and R is in both my crossword grid (from RUDE), and in concrete. Let's try that out ... hmm ... ergh, no, I'm not finding any nice easy anagrams from the letters of concrete. OK, well, at least that means I know not concrete is probably the definition. Liquid, maybe? Or something more esoteric?

If tar = sailor, it might mean jack, rating, sailor, salt, or the abbreviations AB (able-bodied seaman), OS (ordinary seaman), or RN (Royal Navy). RN isn't the start of any word, and I don't think the synonyms will really work either, so I'll play around with AB and OS for the moment, with AB being the most likely pair of letters to start a word (rather than OS). 

So that would give me AB_ _ R _ _ _.  Let's add in that S from tar's, just in case it's part of the answer. ABS _ R _ _ _ . That's looking like a feasible English word, from those letter patterns. I think I might be on the right track. The alternative would be OSS _ R _ _ _,  which is less likely to be a word, I think.

So now I need a 5 letter word, with R as the second letter, that means area. I have a quick look at my thesaurus for some ideas ... 5 letter synonym include realm, patch, tract, sweep ... hang on, tract, that has R as the second letter! Let's try that out: ABS+TRACT! Woo hoo! ABSTRACT is definitely another way of saying not concrete.

I hope that seeing the process I go through helps you improve your solving skills too. As you can see, I still use reference works like a thesaurus and dictionary now and then, and have false starts.

 Now to finish this crossword ...

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The First Crossword

This year marks the centenary of the crossword! It was invented by Arthur Wynne, a British journalist working in New York at the time, on the New York World. Part of his job was to put together a page of puzzles for the Sunday edition of the paper.

On 21 December 1913, he put in a new puzzle of his own invention — a Word-Cross Puzzle. A few weeks later a typesetter at the paper made a mistake, and set 'Cross Word Puzzle' instead of its original name, and then another mistake led to the hyphen being dropped — giving us Crossword.

I will go into the further history of the crossword in later posts, but for now, I thought you'd like to see what this first crossword puzzle looked like!

Later on Wynne added more black squares to separate words, and changed the numbering and the shape. But this diamond design was the very first one! Have a go at solving it, if you like  :)
Answers are below (select them to view them). I've given links to more information on the hard words!

6-7 MERE
10-11 DOVE
14-15 MORE
18-19 HARD
22-23 LION
28-29 EVADE
30-31 ARE
8-9 FARM
12-13 RAIL
16-17 DRAW
20-21 TIED
24-25 SAND
10-18 DOH> definition of answer
6-22 MORAL
2-11 SERE > definition of answerE
19-28 DOVE
23-30 NEVA
1-32 RULE
33-34 NARD > definition of answer
N-8 NEIF > definition of answer
24-31 SIDE
3-12 SPAR
20-29 TANE, possibly T'ANE > discussion about the answer
9-25 MIRED
13-21 LAD

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Gemini 6700

This is the Gemini Cryptic from The Canberra Times of 6 August 2013. A quick reminder that this cryptic is from the UK (and isn't Australian).

I'm trying a new thing here — I'll put the answer in white text within square brackets, and you can reveal it by selecting it. Give it a try --> [Peek-a-boo!]. This way you can have a good try of solving the clue without seeing the answer.

So that you can have a chance at solving them, I won't underline the answer, and the 'description' after each clue is more of a set of hints, not a complete reveal. Hopefully this will be more fun for you!

So, on with the clues! After yet another dose of CutePuppy™ from Griff.


1) It's eaten with cream (7) = [CRACKER]
Cryptic definition. A UK-centric clue, so dig out your list of British foods, and think of water biscuits.

5) Balance between September and October (50) = [LIBRA]
A zodiac clue! Cryptic definition.

8) They filled up a form at the same time (13) = [SCHOOLFELLOWS]
Another cryptic definition, and another rather British term, think of students.

9) He is finally snookered in return (5) = [DEREK]
In return in this case indicates a hidden and reversed word. The definition he is very broad!

10) Article reviewing performance of music (7) = [RECITAL]
Anagram clue, performance of music is the definition. Reviewing is the anagram indicator.

11) &&&&&& (Food for thought here) (6) = [VIANDS]
A very clever clue! Think of Roman numerals, and what the &&&&&& are literally ... food is the definition.

15) Perplex with a minus sign? (7) = [NONPLUS]
Another cryptic definition. Perplex is the definition. What's the opposite of a plus sign?

17) Outstanding features of space (5) = [CAPES]
This is an anagram clue, features of is the indicator. I'm really not sure about the definition, though, rather oblique. Definition harks to geographical features.

19) Answer the medium hopes to get at a seance (8,5) = [SPIRITED REPLY]
Yet another cryptic definition clue! There's a lot in this one! The printed crossword has a word missing (the 'at' highlighted above). Think of ghostly voices and spirits.

20) A street in New York that's unpleasant (5) = [NASTY]
Nice little container clue, with two abbreviations. Unpleasant is the definition.

21) Justify being wrongly severed (7) = [DESERVE]
Another anagram, wrongly is the indicator.


1) Examined closely and put into a box (5) = [CASED]
A double definition clue.

2) A pointedly obdurate comparison (2,4,2,5) = [AS HARD AS NAILS]
Another cryptic definition clue. Both the 2-letter words are AS.

3) Thumped in an attempt to gain an admission? (7) = [KNOCKED]
Double definition clue.

4) Former arrangement to change for the better (6) = [REFORM]
Anagram clue. Change for the better is the definition.

5) Flower I telephone back about (5) = [LILAC]
Reversal and container clue. CALL some to telephone them ...

6) Absorbing news sheet sought before the ink is dry (8,5) = [BLOTTING PAPER]
Charade clue, kinda. The two words start with B and P.

7) Sailors love to skylark, it's clear (7) = [ABSOLVE]
Charade clue, with an abbreviation + a little anagram. Clear is a verb, not an adjective!

11) Meat stewed in ovens (7) = [VENISON]
Anagram, indicated by stewed.

13) Registers the best performances (7) = [RECORDS]
Double definition; put a 'mental comma' after registers to see the two definitions.

14) Dances arranged to scale (6) = [ASCEND]
Another anagram clue, indicated by arranged.

16) Ordinary people have a bet about it (5) = [LAITY]
Another word for bet is LAY (as in 'She laid money on it'). Ordinary people is the definition.

18) Pen has the French way of writing (5) = [STYLE]
A charade clue; a pen = STY (not a writing implement).

How did you go?

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

A knitting puzzle competition!

Catherine Eagleson from the Clue Detective Puzzle Agency has set up a blog competition which involves knitting my 1 Across Beanie on Knitty, and submitting your photo for judging.

The best / silliest photos will win. There are a range of prizes, including a signed copy of Solving Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies, and subscriptions to her puzzle service.

Check out the details here!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Revenge by Index

An index can be many things. Usually it's a helpful guide to the contents of a book, a friendly way in to the information. A helping hand...

BUT ...

There lurks a darker side ... the index as revenge!

D├ętente by Index: On Earl Sprague’s Invitation to a Subheading

This article by Matt Seidel is one of the most hilarious things I've read in a long long time! It is fictional, but so utterly wonderful ... Matt clearly knows a little about indexing, as he's come up with a very convincing and vengeful index! 

It's not often that indexes are a source of comedy, or even mentioned in cartoons (although this is a notable recent exception!). This article is making indexers around the world laugh immoderately and possibly pee a little too — thank you Matt! (His other articles are very funny too, check out his website!)