Monday, 28 October 2013


My marketing and promotions department (me) told me that I should do a little plug for our CrypticGuide app. Plug plug plug ...

Splash screen of CrypticGuide

This is an app that took us over a year to develop — my husband had to do vast amounts of tricky iOS database programming, and I had to write the vast database of info!

So, what is it? It's a handy little cryptic dictionary — so you can enter a word from a cryptic clue, and if it's in our database, CrypticGuide can tell you that there's an abbreviation arising from that word, or maybe it's an anagram indicator, or has some funny cryptic meaning, or is a homophone.

Screen from CrypticGuide
So, in the example here (which shows the iPad version), if you type in the word 'about', you'll see that the word 'about', found in a cryptic clue, could lead to a few cryptic synonyms (circa, on, a fight), a range of abbreviations (A, C, CA, RE), and a bunch of cryptic indicators (anagram indicator, container indicator etc).

Unlike other cryptic dictionaries, we include brief explanations for why some words lead to certain abbreviations, as they're not always obvious! French art = ES isn't clear, until you know that French art refers to 'I am, thou art' translated to 'Je suis, tu es' — so 'art' (archaic form of are) is 'es' in French.

While CrypticGuide is not as comprehensive as a full cryptic dictionary like Bradford's, of course, we still have nearly 7,000 entries in the cryptic database, and hopefully can help you find a way into most cryptic clues.

If you know of entries that have been missed, you're very welcome to contact us with your suggestions, and we will update the database in new versions of the app.

CrypticGuide also has an anagram solver (handy for writing clues as well as solving them), and a wildcard solver, for finding all words that fit into a particular letter pattern, for those times when you're really stumped.

OK, shameless self-promotion all done, I hope that keeps the dicks over in marketing happy for a while ... as you were  ;)

Monday, 21 October 2013

Cryptic Clue Competition

It's clue writing competition time again! 
Griff is eagerly awaiting your entries!

Write a cryptic clue of your very own, using an anagram, for the answer word INTERCHANGE. Write your clue, and then post it in a comment below this post.

Don't be scared, you can do it. It's even fun (honest)! Your clue can be silly, weird, funny, serious, whatever you like. It needs to read well, like a mini phrase or sentence (not just a random assortment of words stuck together). Creativity and clue accuracy are what I will be looking for.

Here are some tips to help you get started. 

Remember that the basic anatomy of a cryptic clue is:

Wordplay + Definition = Answer


Definition + Wordplay = Answer

So — (a bit of wordplay) (definition) (rest of wordplay) is not allowed. The definition has to sit at the start or end of the clue, and not be interrupted by the wordplay.

In an anagram clue, the Wordplay = the fodder + the anagram indicator  (or indicator + fodder, or some fodder + indicator + rest of the fodder).

Your cryptic clue will need:

1) A definition for INTERCHANGE — this can be as simple, as oblique, or as silly as you like. The definition needs to be at the start or end of the clue (not stuck in the middle). There are several definitions for 'interchange', you can choose whichever one you like. 

2) An anagram (fodder) — this needs to be an exact anagram of the word INTERCHANGE — for example, 'hearing cent' or 'rang teen hi C'. There are heaps of possibilities, and it can run over 2 or 3 or even 4 words. YOu can use up to one abbreviation for one or two letters (so 'Charlie' or 'cold' could = C, in the 'rang teen hi C' example). This is called the anagram fodder.

3) An anagram indicator — this is a word that tells the reader to mix up the letters of the fodder. This can be a word like annoying, bust up, funny, or naughty. There are thousands of possibilities! Look for a word (or two or three) that matches well, and makes sense, with your fodder.

NB: The anagram indicator isn't allowed to do 'double duty' - so you must not use the definition for interchange as the anagram indicator. 

More help:

That's it! You've got a fortnight, so entries close at midnight Monday 4 November 2013, Australian Eastern Summer Time (+11 hours GMT).

NB: if you're going to post Anonymously, which is fine, please put your first name in your comment with your entry, otherwise we won't be able to distinguish all the anonymouses from each other!

I will choose my three favourite clues, and the three winners will be announced on Thursday 7 November 2013.

Prizes will be a copy for each winner of one of my Dummies books, your choice of which book you'd like. 

Griff and I are looking forward to seeing your entries!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Unexpected problems

Certain perils lurk when constructing puzzles, especially word searches.

Woolworth's 'find a word debacle' last week was rather spectacular, with the f-word appearing in a children's activity book. And let's face it, the offensive word in question is so glaringly obvious in the grid that I doubt the puzzle was proofread at all — and I found four other rude words in the grid, when I entered the grid into my software and scanned it (and no, I'm not going to tell you what they are! You rude thing). This has happened to others too, and no doubt will happen to others in the future.

Due to the nature of grids of letters, a great deal of words are accidentally created in the grid, after the chosen words have been placed. These cause a problem if they are duplicates of words from the puzzle's word list, or if they are offensive or inappropriate terms.

In even a small word search puzzle, there will typically be well over 100 3-letter words accidentally created (one of the reasons I try to avoid having 3-letter words in the word list, as they are often accidentally duplicated). In a 'standard' word search this isn't too much of a problem, but if it's a puzzle with a hidden message that is revealed in the left-over letters, such duplication errors can break the puzzle. The left-over letters don't spell a hidden message at all, just gobbledygook.

The other problem is accidentally created rude or offensive words ... in the sample above I designed the grid to force the two 4-letter words to appear, but the other term was accidentally created! So, it really does happen, and often.

A professional puzzle writer knows about such pitfalls, and has ways of checking their work to ensure such unacceptable words are not in their grids. I have a rather hair-raising 'rude word list', which all my word search grids are scanned against. When offensive words are found, I edit them out.

Unfortunately too many word search puzzles, especially those created by people who want a 'quick puzzle page' for kids, are created by free online word search generators. The user puts in a list of words they want to appear in the grid, and the computer creates the puzzle. The quality of such puzzles is poor : word placement is generally uninteresting (eg all words that start with M starting from the same area of the grid, or dull word placement without many diagonals or much overlapping), and they are prone to such 'accidental offensive word' creation, but they don't scan for them.

Proofreading such a grid is hard to do by hand, too, as a human has to have a long list of suspect words in front of them, and scan through the grid line by line looking for them, over and over. Beyond tedious. You really have to have professional software that can do proper scans of the grids, and pinpoint any problems. Just one example is Wordsearch Creator, which allows you to enter a 'banned words' list - and it's Donation Nag Ware, so not expensive! I go through the steps in 'How to Write a Word Search' Cheat Sheet, if you're creating one by hand.

In other words — if your puzzle is going to a huge public audience, don't rely on free online puzzle generators! And maybe even — gasp — get in a professional to do it properly.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Nixie Answers, Set 1

Here are the answers to the first set of Nixie cryptic clues:

1) Gulps down birds (8) = SWALLOWS. Double definition (gulps down + birds).

2) Worker has loud grievance (4) = BEEF. Charade of BEE (worker) + F (loud). A 'beef' is an informal word for 'complaint'.

3) Endless blaze leaves a tree (3) = FIR. A deletion clue; take FIRE (blaze) and remove its end (last letter) to get FIR, a type of tree.

4) Relation at the ABC? (6) = AUNTIE. Cryptic definition; Aunty ABC (and Aunty BBC) is the informal nickname for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

5) Mourn appropriately if making livery (7) = UNIFORM. Anagram of mourn if. The anagram indicator here here appropriately. Livery is a type of uniform.

6) Cable tram stuffed with unrestrained glee (8) = TELEGRAM (a cable). Container ... TRAM with an anagram (unrestrained) of GLEE.

7) Émigré Patrick went after former wife (5) = EXPAT. PAT (Patrick) goes after EX (former wife).

Congrats to Peter and Cliff, who nutted them out!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Nixie cryptic clues to solve, Set 1

I have decided to close my 'Twitface' accounts (Twitter and author's page on Facebook) in the interests of less stress, and more simplicity in my life. I will still be posting cryptic clues that you can solve here, and will be updating this blog more frequently too. I look forward to continuing conversations with my friends from those other social networks – welcome!

Here's the first batch. Let me know how you get on in the Comments, and I'm happy to provide hints if anyone needs them.

I will post answers in a few days  :)

1) Gulps down birds (8)

2) Worker has loud grievance (4)

3) Endless blaze leaves a tree (3)

4) Relation at the ABC? (6)

5) Mourn appropriately if making livery (7)

6) Cable tram stuffed with unrestrained glee (8)

7) Émigré Patrick went after former wife (5)


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Tips for Cryptic Solvers

Confused girl with a cryptic crossword

All too often it just seems impossible to find a way into a cryptic crossword. To help you make a start, and maybe even solve it all, here are my ...

 Top Ten Eleven Tips for Solvers

  • Use a pencil and eraser, rather than pen.
  • Read through all the clues before trying to solve any. You don't have to start with 1 Across!
  • Mark in any multiple words or hyphenated words on the grid, with a dividing line drawn onto the grid (see the photo below). These are the clues where the letter number is something like (3-4) or (2,4,3).
  • Crossword grid

  • See if you can spot some anagram clues. Most cryptics will have at least a couple, and possibly many more. Read my blog post on anagrams to learn how to spot them.
  • The longest words in the grid are often clued with anagrams, so check these clues carefully.
  • Look for possible 'hidden word' clues, while some cryptics have none, there's usually 1 or 2 of these in an average grid. Here's my blog post on how to find and solve hidden word clues.
  • Look for clues that seem to be plural — it may be worth penciling in an 'S' at the end of these words in the grid. Not all plurals end with S, it's true, but enough do that it's a reasonable guess.
  • Search for common abbreviations in clues. If you see the word south, for example, it probably is clueing the letter S. Saint almost always is clueing ST. And so on. You can find out more about abbreviations here.
  • Once you have a few words entered into the grid, that will make it easier to get the words that intersect with them, especially if you can get their initial letters.
  • If all else fails, look at the starting parts, and ending parts of clues in isolation — this is where the straight definition part of each clue resides, and you can just look for a synonym for that part of the clue, and work out the wordplay part later (after you'd got the answer just from the definition).
  • If you're really stuck on a clue, leave it overnight. Your brain will often figure it out for you while you're asleep. Nice brain!