Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Myrrh, Mice, Stars

Best wishes for Christmas and and the New Year! May your 2015 be filled with puzzles and conundrums (of the entertaining kind)!

Here's a great puzzle-y comic from one of my fave webcomics, Girls With Slingshots.

PS the title of this post is an anagram, did you figure it out?

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Crosswords online

Just in case the plethora of crossword magazines out there isn't enough for you — "More, more!" I hear you cry! — there are vast numbers of online crossword sites.  

The Guardian website has a huge collection of cryptic and quick crosswords, from over 30 setters. They have an archive crossword search function, so you can easily locate puzzles by your favourite setter, type, or publication date. You can also sign up for the crossword editor’s monthly update email, and participate in discussions about each crossword in comments below each crossword. You can either solve them online, or download print versions to do with pencil on paper.

The Puzzle Wizard series of magazines is produced by the excellent independent Australian puzzle writer and publisher, Greg Parker. His website includes a bunch of puzzles to solve online. There are six crossword themes you can choose from Straight Crosswords, Movies, AFL, Cricket, Music, and Television. There are also 100 free crosswords. They require a Java plug-in to work, which can be downloaded here, if you don't have it already.

If you really want to test your mettle, then The Times is the place to go. This is a subscription service, via their Crossword Club, and includes the famous (infamous?) Times Cryptic, as well as quick crosswords, codewords, sudoku, and bridge and chess problems.

The Mirror Online is a UK site, with a whole lot of free crosswords. The cryptic is of an easy level, and there are also quick and quiz crosswords to try.

Puzzlers’ Cave has free quick, cryptic and themed crosswords, which are British-style. The site also has free Sudoku puzzles. Puzzles are submitted by Puzzlers’ Cave members (ie amateur setters). Membership is free. You can also use the site’s Crossword Compilation software to create your own crosswords — the basic software is free to download, while the professional edition costs about £25 (Windows only).

If you like rude cryptics (and who doesn't?), then The Private Eye cryptic crossword is for you! This is a very UK-centric cryptic, with plenty of politicians' names etc, you have been warned. My goodness it's rude. This is the link everyone's going to click on, isn't it.

The Clue Detective Puzzle Agency is an Australian subscription site, with an annual membership fee. There is a huge collection of online puzzles, which can also be printed, or solved on iPads etc. They include trivia quizzes, codewords, regular crosswords, general knowledge crosswords, crosswords for kids, and cryptics (my Nixie ones, only place you can find 'em).

And if that's not enough for you — "More, more!" I hear you cry! — Crossword Puzzles has a good (although not exhaustive) collection of links to even more crossword sites and resources. 

Now, you can never complain about not having enough puzzles to solve! So there.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Silly definitions A-M

I don't quite know where the last seven weeks disappeared to, seem to have lost my blogging mojo for a bit there.

Anyway ... I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the very silly definitions from my friend Troy Simpson's book, The Funny Dictionary. These definitions have come from student essays, which Troy heroically trawled through. I did these few illustrations for the book.

A la carte: When you can have all the desserts that's on the trolley

Ampersand illustration
Ampersand: A special kind of sand used in electricity
Ave Domine: 'Lord, I am a bird.' [my favourite]

Barber: The opposite of heiress

Botulism: A close study of plants

Caterer: Someone who minds your cat

Circular Argument: Presiding at a board meeting

Coup de GrĂ¢ce: A lawn mower

Cynic: Someone who refuses to believe in fairy tales

Decimal: A fraction with a point

Democracy: Government by demons

Diabolic: Having diabetes

Banter illustration
Banter: a small rooster
Dogma: The mother of puppies

Dolt: Grown-up person

Emu: The name of the noise made by a cat

Equestrian: One who asks questions

Etymologist: A man who catches butterflies and stuffs them

Fetish: People who enjoy going to fetes

Fiction: Those books that are fixed on the shelves and are not to be moved; non-fiction are not fixed and may be moved at will

Filet Mignon: An opera by Puccini

Giraffe: The highest form of life

Grammar: An important part of languish

Grizzly: A bear that grizzles all day

H2O: H I J K L M N O (this is actually the basis of a famous cryptic clue, too!)

Hooligan: A polygon with seven sides

Argonaut illustration
Argonaut: A man who goes up in a spaceship
Himalayas: Very lofty and steep mountains, and about five times the length of Earlsfield Road

Ignorant: Not knowing what to say when your teacher asks you something silly

Import: A port very far inland

Indigo: Like vertigo, only deep blue

Jigsaws: What people in Japan ride in

Ladies: The plural possessive of gentlemen

Lent: A dull time that we deliberately make even duller

Lunatic: From luna meaning moon, and attic, meaning top story

Macaroons: A type of sprgety [sic!]

Mangoes: Wherever woman goes

Microbe: A robe that mics wear

Milky Way: The way you feed infants

Misery: Someone who travels to remote places to convert savages into Christians

Monotony: Having only one wife or husband

Mother-in-law: Part of marriage that cannot be escaped, like the bride

Multitude: What you get when you multiply


I'll post Part 2 soon!

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Care and Feeding of Indexers

We indexers are a hardy species. We are almost all self-employed, which means we're good at working alone, and are self-motivated and organised. We work long hours when an indexing job comes in, including nights and weekends, to meet publishers' and authors' deadlines. We love our work.

But despite this hardiness, we do need some care. We are still human. We can't work miracles. The following list addresses frequent grievances, and ways you can look after your indexers better.

1. We need you now!

Don't contact us for a quote, and then expect us to be available that week. Many of us have work booked in advance, for months. We need advance notice.

An exasperated indexer
An exasperated indexer (me). We're pretty low key
2. It's going to be late ...

When you give us a deadline for the delivery of a manuscript, we book it in to our work calendars. We often have many projects coming in, one after the other, and we schedule them accordingly.

When you run late with delivery, it puts our whole work schedule out, and it affects other indexes, and other things we are committed to, not to mention our stress levels.

We understand that schedules slip on book projects — we see it all the time, and many of us build a bit of 'slip time' into our schedules. So if your manuscript is running late, pleeeease let us know right away, so we can juggle our other projects (where possible). Don't tell us on the day we're expecting the manuscript to arrive. It makes us stabby.

3. ... and we still need the index by the original deadline

Delivering a manuscript late, but expecting us to deliver by the original deadline, cutting days or weeks off our schedule, is unrealistic and unreasonable.

When we say an index will take us X number of days, we mean X days of full on intensive work. As an example, when I have an index coming in, I stock up the freezer with meals the week before, because I know I won't have the time or energy to shop or cook while I'm indexing. I eat at my desk. My family fends for itself (a frightening sight).

We can't suddenly compress that time, and produce a professional index in less time. Indexing is very mentally taxing, and we can't do a good job if we have to index 14 hours straight, for days at a time. Brains start leaking out of ears, which makes a disgusting mess, just for starters.

If your manuscript is late, ask us if we need extra time to complete the index, and work to squeeze in some flexibility into your publishing schedule — for instance, a submission time of 9 am Monday is not functionally different from 5 pm Friday in terms of office hours, but gives us many more work hours.

4. Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

During the indexing process, we will undoubtably have questions for you. On things like name variations, how you want certain topics handled, whether something in the manuscript is a typo or not, and so on. Because we have to work fast, to meet your deadline, we also need to hear back from you quickly. If we have to chase emails, and resend questions, and bug you to get responses, it's just annoying for both parties, and wastes time.

And when we submit the final index to you for editing, and then the final files, please acknowledge receipt of the files. We don't like to assume that email is working, and that the files got through.

4. You want what?

Ah, the brief. What you expect, and how much you're prepared to pay for it. These are often unrealistic.
Expecting a long detailed index for practically no money is just not going to happen. An index can take anywhere from 20 to 50 hours to write. Not joking. Sure, some books may be simpler, and their indexes can be produced quickly. But in general you're looking at at least a few thousand dollars for a professional index. 
Fast, Cheap, or Good
We are always happy to adjust what we produce to your budget — a simpler, less detailed index can be written more quickly, for instance. And some indexers will give discounts to self-publishers (something I do), or to non-profit organisations and so on. Be up front about what you can afford, and we'll work out how best to provide an index within your budget. But we are professionals, doing a very skilled task, and this attracts a professional rate of payment. 
This comes under points 1 and 2 and 3 above ... but no, we can't produce a good index for a 350 page book in 3 days. Would you like some Unicorn Pie with that?

5. How many pages?

There's only so much index we can squeeze onto a page, with tiny text and double columns. Not having a reasonable number of pages set aside for the index is a constant issue for us. 'Culling' is a frequent task when editing an index.

An index in a 'general audience' book needs to be around 4% of the book length. An academic book requires up to 10–15% of the book.

So a general audience book that is 300 pages long needs at least 12 pp set aside for the index. An academic book of the same length needs more like 30–45 pages for the index. The more in-depth or "detailed" you want the index to be, the more pages it needs, and more time it takes to write.

Expecting us to write a detailed index for a 300 page book in only 4 pages is not only a disservice to the book, author, and readers, but a huge headache for us. We will have to leave out all sorts of information in the index, out of necessity.

In the planning stages of the book, please please PLEASE (bold caps — doesn't get more pleady than that) reserve a decent number of pages for the index. As a rough guide, you need 4% for a general book (4 pages of index for 100 pages of text), and around 10% for an academic title (10 pages of index for 100 pages of text).

6. Ch-ch-ch-changes

Edited index
Changes to the manuscript while we're indexing it are a nightmare, especially significant text changes. Adding several paragraphs, or deleting a figure, can cause shifts to where page breaks fall, and fixing this entails tedious editing of hundreds of index entries. (Whole page additions or deletions aren't so bad, as our software can make shifts to page ranges easily.)

We need to work from set-in-stone final manuscripts. Otherwise we might be forced to kill you charge you for extra work.

When we submit the final draft index to you for comments, that is not the time we want to hear things like "Oh, we want to treat all names like this ... with no first names, just initials." That's something we'd really rather be hearing at the start of indexing. We needn't have typed in all those names, and double checked their spelling. Editing them all out at the end is a waste of time, not to mention annoying.

A sample of ebook index code
Code for an ebook index, from ASI DTTF
Please let us know your standard forms for names of people and institutions, and anything else of import, and the way you want things done, when we get the manuscript. There are many different standards in indexing, and lots of ways of approaching things. Don't assume we know what you're thinking.

7. Just no.

Please don't give us lists of 'words to include in the index' (unless we specifically ask for them). For some indexers, this gets you black listed quick smart. We are professionals. We know what we're doing. And we know how to pick up topics and terms in a text.

8. Ebook indexes, don't they just get generated automatically?

No. Interactive ebook indexes are created quite differently from paper-based indexes. There is different software involved, just for starters, not to mention a different indexing process. So if you are single-sourcing to print and ebook, please talk to your indexer at the start of layout! We're all over that shit.

So, if you deliver your manuscript on time, give us enough pages for the index, and enough time to write it without being in a panic, are clear in your expectations and communication, are prompt with feedback, and trust us to do a professional job, we will love you forever! And if you give us a credit on the imprint page, and send us a copy of the book once it's published, we'll even wash your dishes.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Born Bad — a wicked index

Cover of 'Born Bad' by James BoyceThe latest book I've indexed is Born Bad, by James Boyce (Black Inc. Publishing). This is a fascinating book, tracing the history and impact of the idea of original sin, from its origin from St Augustine in the late 4th century, to the modern day. I highly recommend it!

There were several points to make decisions about in this index (well, every index is a constant process of decision making, to be honest).

Firstly were a bunch of medieval names, how are these treated? And the names of saints and popes?

With names such as Friedrich the Wise, I used direct order for the entry (ie written as is, 'Friedrich the Wise'), not inverted (Wise, Friedrich the), as 'Wise' isn't a surname. The same goes for names such as Julian of Norwich ... 'Norwich' isn't a surname, so he appears in the index under J for Julian.

With popes and saints, the way I treated these names (as there were a lot of them mentioned) was under their 'holy' names, with a gloss after the name. For example, Pope John XXII becomes John XXII (pope), in the index. And St. Francis of Assisi is indexed as Francis of Assisi (saint).

There is a lot of discussion in the book about the spiritual nature of babies, whether they are born sinful, or good. My favourite index entry, which highlights the absurdity of assuming that babies are evil, is vipers: less hateful than babies, 123  (I always try to include at least one or two cheeky entries in my indexes, if I can get away with it!)

(This points to a quote from Jonathan Edwards, the influential American Congregationalist cleric)

With entries from evil, sex and sexual desire, 'eaves children', and runaway nuns, to social media, guilt, free market and de Botton, Alain, I think many people will enjoy reading this book, and learning how the idea that we were 'born bad' has influenced the development of Western civilisation over the millennia. It makes me wonder what society would be like today if Western Christianity had decided, way back in the 5th century, that we were all born good?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Gemini 7043

Time for another Gemini analysis. This is for the Gemini cryptic #7043, which was published in The Canberra Times on 15 July 2014.

A usual, the definition part of the clue is underlined, except for double definition and cryptic definition clues.


Scrambled eggs
Photo By Great British Chefs Team via

1. Eggs it's nice to scramble (7) = INCITES
The definition is a nice confusion here — it's a verb, as in egging on someone, not a noun! Anagram indicated by scramble of it's nice. Ignore that apostrophe.

4. It's mean to the players (5) = MEZZO
Cryptic definition. MEZZO is a musical term meaning 'middle'. Mean is an average, or the middle. So MEZZO is a term that means 'middle' to musicians (players).

7. A stake in a buoyant economy (4) = ANTE
Hidden word clue, indicated by in. You can see it in buoyant economy.

8. On the edge and somewhat alarming (8) = MARGINAL
Anagram, indicated by somewhat, of alarming.

10. He draws actors into trouble (10) = CARTOONIST
Anagram clue. Actors into is the anagram fodder, trouble is the anagram indicator. The definition is pretty broad – a lot of other people draw too!

12. Mafia activity produces terrible row (6) = RACKET
Double definition. The two definitions are Mafia activity and terrible row (as in noise).

13. Reason to stop flying (6) = GROUND
Cryptic definition — the ground is definitely a good reason to stop flying!

15. Agree on a definition of 24 hours and finish work (4,2,1,3) = CALL IT A DAY
Double definition. The definitions are separated by and.

18. A collection of letters (8) = ALPHABET
Cryptic(ish) definition.

19. A mother for one who was motherless (4) = ADAM
Biblical cryptic definition. Refers to Eve being created from Adam's rib.

20. Not an irreversible belief (5) = TENET
Palindromic cryptic definition. Nice double negative in there —not an irreversible means that it is reversible! Could be &lit, I think ... as a TENET is a main principle, so I think it would be fair to say it's not an irreversible belief, as the definition. Reading the clue again literally provides the definition, in addition to reading it as wordplay.

21. Review on thug's weapon (7) = SHOTGUN
Anagram of on thug's, indicated by review.


1. Is a short account for a patriarch (5) = ISAAC
Charade clue. Is a= IS A (in the clear!) + AC (short account). You need a little Biblical knowledge to get this one.

Photo By Dina Eric via
2. Producer of thick spray that reduces visibility (8) = CATARACT
Double definition — a cataract is a waterfall (which produces water spray), and an eye condition that reduces visibility.

3. Yields a chessman on board (6) = SPAWNS
Container clue. A chessman = PAWN is put on (inside) of SS (on board a ship).

4. One who is just sitting on a bench (10) = MAGISTRATE
Cryptic definition. Just means fair / objective here, and the bench refers to the law court.

5. Something final to any buffoon (4) = ZANY
Charade clue. Something final= Z (the final letter of the alphabet) + any(in the clear). A buffoon is a noun, and modern usage of ZANY is as an adjective. But there is a historical definition of zany meaning a zany person. So it's an unusual definition.

6. Did favours when compelled? (7) = OBLIGED
Double definition, with very similar definitions, so I think this is a poor clue. These two definitions come under the same headword and have the same etymology.

9. Very different from divorces in Warsaw? (5,5) = POLES APART
Double definition, with a coined meaning from divorces in Warsaw.

11. An animal looking for his master (5,3) = GUIDE DOG
Clever cryptic definition! Actual meaning is an animal seeing for his master.

12. Run into some of the defence (7) = RAMPART
Charade clue. Run into = RAM + some of = PART

14. Is inactive in retirement? (6) = SLEEPS
Cryptic definition. Retiring for the night, not retiring from work.

16. Potential enemy country (5) = YEMEN
Anagram of enemy, indicated by potential.

17. Twisted point to a witticism (4) = SPUN
A charade clue. Point = S (south) + a witticism = PUN.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Guardian interview

Screen shot of The Guardian Crossword Blog

I'm very excited to announce my interview with Alan Connor, from The Guardian's Crossword blog. You may recall that I indexed Alan's book, Two Girls, One on Each Knee, last year

Alan raised the idea of interviewing me about my CrypticGuide app when I was writing his index — and it has finally come to fruition.

CrypticGuide is an app that my husband and I developed over a year — it is a 'slender' cryptic dictionary, with around 7,000 cryptic definitions, abbreviations, indicator words, and homophones. It also includes an anagram solver and wildcard search.

It is very much a work in progress, with new cryptic definitions being added to the app over time. If you come across any cryptic terms in your puzzle solving, which aren't in the app, please let me know, so we can include them in future releases!

CrypticGuide is available on the App Store. It works on iPhones, iPods, and iPads. Unfortunately, at the moment it is only available for iOS, as an Android version involves rewriting the entire app, from massive database up ... possibly a task for later on, once my pet code monkey husband has retired from his day job?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Code talkers

Navaho code talkers

On 4th June this year, Chester Nez (93) died. He was the last of the Navaho code talkers.

In all the reading I've done on cryptography, codes, and ciphers, the story of the American Indian code talkers is my favourite.

Before we delve into their fascinating story, I need to be explain the difference between a code and a cipher.


A code is a mapping of a word, a short phrase, or even a whole sentence, to a single collection of symbols (words, numbers, or other symbols). They are almost impossible to break through analysis. However, unless it's a very brief code (which can be memorised), a code requires a codebook. There is simply no way to remember all of the substitutions accurately (unless you have a photographic memory!). The existence of this codebook is a security hazard, though. If the enemy gets a copy, you've had it.

Some examples of codes are:

@! = the contract has been signed
pancake = come at once, bring syrup
169 = the plan is proceeding as set
whittle = all is lost, flee!


A cipher operates on individual symbols. It is an algorithm, and once the algorithm has been set, there is no need for a codebook, which is definitely a plus. But they are more prone to being cracked.

The simplest ciphers are substitution ciphers. A=1, B=2, C=3, or even A=?, B=%, C=@. This sort of cipher is easy to crack using letter frequency analysis — the knowledge that in English, E is the most common letter, THE and AND and the most common 3-letter words, and so on. These ciphers are the base of most cryptogram puzzles.

More complex ciphers have been developed, naturally, with all sorts of horrendously complicated tricks and turns. There is a whole cryptography field, after all. But in essence, a cipher is potentially crackable.

Diagram of the SIGABA machine
SIGABA machine
The machine ciphers of the World War II were particularly difficult to crack, but with luck and the incredible skill of code breakers, it did happen. The German Enigma machines were just one type of many. The complex British Typex and American SIGABA cipher machines remained unbroken throughout the war.

Code talkers

Transmitting secure military messages during wartime, without the other side listening in, was (and still is) a major concern.

Native American languages were impenetrable to outsiders, as they had no Asian or European connections. This feature was turned into a 'codebook-free' code by the military. The invisible codebook resided in the Native Americans' native tongues. Code talking was pioneered by a handful of Cherokee and Choctaw Indians during WWI.

Many Indian tribes were recruited during both world wars — six tribal groups in WWI and 13 in WWII. The Navahos in WWII were by far the biggest group, with around 420 code talkers. The Navaho were preferred partially because no German students had infiltrated their culture after WWI, under the guise of studying their culture (as they had done with many other Indian tribes) – and therefore no outsiders had knowledge of their language.

The code talkers needed to memorise quite a lot of code words, but they would only need to memorise that A = Ant, Battleship = Whale, September = Half, and so on — because the hardest part, translating each of the code words into their native tongue, was second nature for them!

1942 letter about code talkers
Before trusting American military secrets to the Navaho code talkers, they were trialled through Navy Intelligence, to see if the top American code breakers could decipher any of the messages. They reported that the Navaho language was 'a weird succession of gutteral, nasal, tongue-twisting sounds ... we couldn't even transcribe it, much less crack it.' (The Code Book, Singh, pg 196) 

An alphabet was developed, from A for Ant in Navaho (WOL-LA-CHEE), to Z for Zinc (BESH-DO-TLIZ). There were up to three variations for the commonly used letters too — so Oil, Onion and Owl all encoded the letter O. This was instituted to stop the Japanese from being able to use frequency analysis if they realised some words were being spelt out. By cycling through variations on these common letters, any frequency analysis would be foiled.

Plenty of the words had direct translation into Navaho — so the English word 'dawn' was translated directly into the Navaho word for 'dawn' (HA-YELI-KAHN).  

However, many terms didn't have equivalences in Navaho. To save time in spelling each word out,  memorable phrases in Navaho were used instead:
Cemetery = among devils (JISH-CHA)
Tank destroyer = tortoise killer (CHAY-DA-GAHI-NAIL-TSAIDI)
Subordinate = helping each other (AL-KHI-NAL-DZL)
Farm = fox arm (MAI-BE-HE-AHGAN)
Dispatch = dog is patch (LA-CHAI-EN-SEIS-BE-JAY)

There were special names for all the various military craft and personnel.
Dive Bomber = Chicken Hawk (GINI)
Battleship = Whale (LO-TSO)
Colonel = Silver Eagle (ATSAH-BESH-LE-GAI)

And countries:
Japan = Slant Eye BEH-NA-ALI-TSOSIE
Australia = Rolled Hat (after the hats worn by our Diggers) (CHA-YES-DESI)

While their radio messages were intercepted by the enemy, they were never deciphered. A great rarity! "Lieutenant General Seizo Arisue, the Japanese chief of intelligence, admitted that, although they had broken the American Air Force code, they had failed to make any impact on the Navaho code." (The Code Book, Singh, pg 201)

You can see the full list of the code talker's dictionary here — information the Japanese and Germans would have literally killed for once upon a time! And this video is just one of many that tells more of their story:

There is a great discussion about Navaho code talkers in The Code Book by Simon Singh, if you want to discover more, and learn more about cryptography in general. There are also several books dedicated to the subject, including Chester Nez's personal account.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Nixie Clues #4 - Answers

And now for the big reveal — answers, with explanations, for the latest set of clues. The definitions are underlined.

1. Shame about poison for humans (4,7) = HOMO SAPIENS. Anagram (indicated by about) of SHAME + POISON.

2. Row of bushes missing first side (4) = EDGE. This is a deletion clue. Row of bushes = HEDGE. Missing first = remove the first letter (H). Which leaves you EDGE.

3. Citrus Mole misbehaving in post office (6) = POMELO. An anagram, indicated by misbehaving. The fodder is MOLE + PO (for post office). 

4. American city’s sample of  tomahawks (5) = OMAHA. A hidden word clue, indicated by sample of. It's in clear view, inside tomahawks.

5. Khan plays test in Uzbek capital (8) = TASHKENT. An anagram (indicated by plays) of KHAN + TEST.

6. Adhesive from grated tapes (5) = PASTE. An anagram (grated) of TAPES.

How did you get on?

Friday, 27 June 2014

Nixie Clues #4

Cold foggy morning
Image courtesy of dan |
I've finally got a new set of (easy) cryptic clues for you to solve. Just the thing for a chilly winter's day. So get a cup of hot <insert favourite hot beverage name here>, and a pen, and let me know how you get on!

  1. Shame about poison for humans (4,7)
  2. Row of bushes missing first side (4)
  3. Citrus Mole misbehaving in post office (6)
  4. American city’s sample of  tomahawks (5)
  5. Khan plays test in Uzbek capital (8)
  6. Adhesive from grated tapes (5)
I will post the answers, with explanations, on Monday morning. Please don't give away the answers in your comments, just say 'I got it!' or similar — thanks :)

Monday, 23 June 2014

The dawn of jigsaw puzzles

Jigsaw puzzle pieces
I don't know about you — but there's only so many words I can take. I wrote Word Searches For Dummies on a challenging deadline. (Actually — let's face it, all my Dummies books were written on 'challenging deadlines'. Hmmm.) My brain was getting a bit melty from all the words ... but jigsaws saved me. I kept a jigsaw next to my computer, and took regular short breaks to work on it.

It got me out of my chair, away from the screen, and thinking of something other than word searches. A bit of visual fun and thinking, rather than endless wordy stuff. I got through at least three large jigsaws while writing the book, including an almost impossible one of  Escher's Relativity drawing.

Nowadays there are squillions (it is so a word) of jigsaws. They may have a few simple pieces or multi-thousand pieces. 3D shaped puzzles. Jigsaws without straight edge pieces. Jigsaws with 'extra pieces'. Double sided jigsaws. Online jigsaws. All white jigsaws! How did we get to this alarming point?
First jigsaw puzzle, of the British Empire. 1766
The first jigsaw puzzle, by John Spilsbury 1766
British Library
People have, naturally, been playing around with images for thousands of years, and mosaic art could possibly be seen as a type of early jigsaw.

But the first true jigsaw, where a picture is cut up with the intention of being put back together, is credited to engraver and map maker John Spilsbury. He started with his 'dissected map' of the British Empire around 1766. He quickly moved on to include maps of other regions. The maps were glued to wood, and pieces were cut around the shapes of the countries. These dissections were used as a teaching aid for the children from wealthy families. You can find out more about the first jigsaw on the British Library website.

Sadly John died young, so his idea passed on to others to develop. The popularity of dissections grew in the 1800s. They were mostly maps, cut along country borders, with an educational focus. After 1820, the subject of dissections also moved on to religious and moral teaching for children. And around this time some more daring types started to make non-educational (gasp) puzzles, with scenes from fairy takes and nursery rhymes. For fun (gasp again).

In 1880 the treadle saw invented, and the puzzles then came to be known as jigsaws, rather than dissections. Which was admittedly a pretty uninspiring name ...

Initially all jigsaws were wooden, but eventually cardboard was used, by the late 1800s. Cardboard was a popular material once die cutters were developed (like large, complicated and excessively sharp cookie cutters). With the move to cardboard, jigsaws became more affordable to all and sundry,  the 'target age' was expanded to include everyone, not just kids, and their popularity exploded:

New York Times headline from May 1908 warns:

NEW PUZZLE MENACES THE CITY'S SANITY; Young and Old, Rich and Poor, All Hard at Work Fitting Cut-Up Pictures Together. SOLITAIRE IS FORGOTTEN Two Clergymen, a Supreme Court Justice, and a Noted Financier Among the Latest Converts to the Craze.

A lady writing to The Australiasian, from London in 1909 wrote "I do not fancy that the "Jigsaw" will have a lengthy life. Doubtless, it will soon be banished to the limbo of departed games, as "diabolo" was banished."1

Even royalty got in on the act. The Queensland paper, The Warwick Examiner and Times (July 1910) reported that "The late King Edward was bitten by the craze, and was admitted to be one of the speediest puzzle solvers in England, having beaten all records by producing a complicated picture in the space of five minutes. At every house-party to which he went, the hostess made a point of having a good supply of Jig-Saws for his especial benefit."2

The Golden Age of jigsaws was during the 1920s and 1930s. They were especially popular during the Depression, proving to be an inexpensive entertainment for families, that could be done by many people, pulled apart once completed, passed around, reused and shared.

In the mid-1930s manufacturers started to include a picture of the finished puzzle on the cover of the box. Jigsaw 'loaning libraries' were set up, and jigsaw parties, with prizes for the fasting solving times, were popular.

Over time, the designs of what we now think of as the 'classic' jigsaw pieces were developed. There are many sorts of puzzle shapes, though, from colour line cutting (cutting along the edges of a shape, like with the dissected maps, cutting along the edges of countries) to special figure pieces (which can be shaped like animals, people, letters, numbers, and so on). This article goes into detail about the cutting techniques on old jigsaws.

And nowadays there are so many new designs and ways of doing jigsaws ... but that's a story for another time! But it's clear that the Lady who wrote from London in 1909, predicting a short life for these enjoyable puzzles, was way off!

If you are really into jigsaws, I can recommend reading the book The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together a History, by Anne D. Williams.


1 A LADY'S LETTER FROM LONDON. (1909, May 15). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 47. Retrieved June 20, 2014, from

2 "JIG-SAW" PUZZLES. (1910, July 2). Warwick Examiner and Times (Qld. : 1867 - 1919), p. 2. Retrieved June 20, 2014, from

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Gemini Cryptic 7014

Here is my analysis of the Gemini Cryptic Crossword from Monday 16 June edition of The Canberra Times. The definition is underlined (except in cryptic definition and double definition clues).

Cryptic crosswordACROSS

1. Philanthropists throwing coins in the water? (4-7) WELL-WISHERS
Cryptic definition.

9. A support this returned is appropriate (7) = APROPOS
A charade clue with a reversal — A + PROP (support) + OS (this returned = SO reversed).

10. A moss-strewn island of Greece (5) = SAMOS
Anagram (strewn) of a moss.

11. Misfortunes we keep well away from (4) = ILLS
Cryptic definition. We keep well by staying away from ills!

12. Agreeable countryman about fifty (8) = PLEASANT
Container clue — PEASANT (countryman) gets put about (or around) L (fifty, in Roman numerals).

14. Take some back to quarters (6) = ENTRAP
Reversal and charade. Some (PART) goes back to become TRAP. And it also goes on the back of quarters = EN (east and north).

16. Very much the opposite (6) = LITTLE
Cryptic definition. The opposite of very much.

18. Agree to fight the case (8) = MATCHBOX
Charade. Agree can be a verb meaning MATCH, and fight = BOX (also as a verb).

19. Prune spruce (4) = TRIM
Double definition. They're not really completely different meanings of the word, though.

22. Find answer to love's torment (5) = SOLVE
Anagram of loves, indicated by torment.

23. Little Sarah always gets in a few (7) = SEVERAL
Container. A little or short version of Sarah = SAL (although I don't know of any Sarahs who use Sal as a nickname — I've always thought Sal as a short version of Sally. Anyway. I'm sure they exist somewhere!) So, always gets in means EVER is put inside SAL. SEVERAL.

24. Giveaway merchants who don't want custom? (4,7) = FREE TRADERS
Cryptic definition.


2. Record membership (5) = ENROL
Double definition, of sorts.

3. They may part with a smile (4) = LIPS
Cryptic definition.

4. Offence committed in sunlit setting (6) = INSULT
Anagram of sunlit, indicated by setting.

5. I can ship out from Spain (8) = HISPANIC
Anagram of I can ship, indicated by out.

6. Fierce sheep starts to breathe heavily (7) = RAMPANT
Charade. RAM = sheep, and PANT = starts to breathe heavily.

7. For him it's mostly filling in time at work (11) = TAXIDERMIST
Cryptic definition. These can be hard to get until you have more letters filled in, in the grid.

8. Mother sails out in signs of similar weather (11) = ISOTHERMALS
Anagram of mother sails, indicated by out.

13. Fabric obtained for ready money only (8) = CASHMERE
Charade. CASH (ready money) + MERE (only).

15. In France you change later for protection (7) = TUTELAR
Charade + anagram. You, in France = TU. An anagram of later (indicated by change) = TELAR. I wasn't familiar with this word: TUTELAR is an adjective meaning 'serving as a protector, guardian or patron'. I'm not sure the form of the word protection is strictly correct here, as that's the noun form, and strictly speaking, it ought to be an adjective, the same as the answer.

17. Cat lands us in more trouble (6) = MOUSER
Container + anagram. Put us inside (in) an anagram (trouble) of more.

20. Two kings embracing are not seen so often (5) = RARER
Container. Two kings indicates two abbreviations for kings, R (Latin for king = Rex), in this case. And they're embracing, or going around, are, which is in the clear = R(ARE)R.

21. Keen to upset a singer (4) = AVID
Reversal. A singer might be a DIVA. And when upset, or reversed, this gives us AVID.

How did you get on?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Train wreck?

Well, moving house (no we haven't unpacked all the boxes yet, shut up), followed by two indexing jobs (Income Contingent Loans, and Born Bad) in close succession kind of occupied all my attention and energy for a few months there. My apologies!

I had a train trip to Sydney in April, and was amused by this crossword in the 'in train' magazine, The Link.

1 Across is supposedly a 4 letter word for 'leap' ... except in the grid it's 1 Down, and there isn't a 1 Across ... and so on. I'm sure the setter was well and truly pissed off to find out the designer put the wrong grid in with the clues (or vice versa)!

Monday, 10 March 2014


We're in the midst of moving house, I will be back on deck eventually!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Cookbook Indexing

My goodness, what happened to the last month?

Well, what happened was an indexing job. These tend to be very intense, on a short deadline, and don't leave much time or mental energy for anything else.

I've just written a double index for a vegan cookbook, Edible, by Angela Flack. As the book is roughly half recipes, and half nutritional & health information, I wrote two indexes. One is a recipe index, and the other is a topic index.

"Edible" vegan cookbook

When indexing cookbooks, it's important to keep in mind that there are two sorts of people using the book.

The first group are people who haven't used the book before, so they don't know the names of recipes. They need to be able to search on main or unusual ingredients ... I've got a bunch of chia seeds here, what can I make with them?

For these readers, it's important to list any given recipe in several places, as a subheading under main/unusual ingredients. An example from the book :

   Mussaman Curry, 167

sweet potatoes
   Mussaman Curry, 167

It also needs to be listed under types of recipes, as a reader might be searching for something to make for dinner :

 main dishes
   Mussaman Curry, 167

   Mussaman Curry, 167

The second group of people are those who've used the cookbook a fair bit, and know the name of the recipe they want to make. For these readers, it's important to include the name of the recipe in full, as is.

It needs to be listed under its full name, in alphabetical order:
Mussaman Curry, 167
Mustard Madness (dressing), 73

So, in most cases, a recipe will appear at least twice in a cookbook index, and sometimes even 5 or 6 times, depending on the number of main or unusual ingredients.

And that's a little tiny bit about cookbook indexing! Now you know!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Gemini Cryptic 6860

It's been a while since I dissected a Gemini Cryptic; here's the first one for 2014 ...

This one appeared in the Monday 13 January issue of The Canberra Times. The Gemini Cryptic is a British cryptic, set by two people. More detail here. As ever, the definition is underlined (except in double and cryptic definition clues). 


1) He requires staff for the spring (4-7) = POLE-VAULTER
Cryptic definition. Nothing to do with hiring people, this guy needs a pole to spring up with!

9) Vindication of French miscreant (7) = DEFENCE
Charade clue. Of French = DE ('of' in French) + FENCE (a miscreant, as in someone who received stolen goods).

10) Cool courage is never shattered (5) = NERVE
Anagram (shattered) of never.

11) She's not improved by the golden touch (4) = LILY
Cryptic definition. Reference to 'gild the lily' and a girl's name.

12) In use can turn into a problem (8) = NUISANCE
Anagram (turn into) of in use can.

14) A ship wreck holds nothing for her (5) = SOPHIA
Anagram (wreck) of a ship + O (nothing). Her is the definition, indicating (a little unfairly) any girl's name.

16) It checks the growth of population (6) = CENSUS
Cryptic definition. Nothing to do with prophylactics or population control, but checking as in recording!

18) Sense there's agreement among rowing men (8) = EYESIGHT
Container clue. You need some knowledge of rowing as a sport to get this one! Agreement inside (among) rowing men = YES in EIGHT. 

19) Call used in boxing (4) = RING
Double definition. Call someone on the phone, or ring them. And a boxing ring.

22) Oft repeated ceremony on the third of October (5) = TRITE
The third of October = T. The third letter of October, get it? With RITE (ceremony) tacked on.

23) Royal symbols from Algeria (7) = REGALIA
Anagram of Algeria. This clue is unfair, as there is no anagram indicator. A fairer version would be something like Royal symbols from Algeria in disarray.

24) Order for weapons now (7,4) = PRESENT ARMS
Cryptic definition.


2) Refuse organic food? (5) = OFFAL
Cryptic definition. Refuse is a noun here, meaning stuff that's thrown away, rather than the verb.

3) Bird from another nest (4) = ERNE
Hidden word, in another nest. A bird that mainly resides in crosswords nowadays, ERNE is a literary term for the sea eagle.

4) Place to meet after a drive (6) = AVENUE
Charade clue. VENUE (place to meet) after A.

5) They call out at court? (8) = LINESMEN
An apt clue to appear during the Australian Open ... cryptic definition, referring to the tennis court, not a legal court!

6) Jobs for the boys? (7) = ERRANDS
Another cryptic definition. Errands being small jobs you might get boys to run for you (if you're lucky!)

7) Young people arranged to see Scotland (11) = ADOLESCENTS
Anagram (arranged) of see Scotland.

8) It's selected by a backer (7,4) = REVERSE GEAR
Cryptic definition. Not a financial backer, but someone who is driving backwards!

13) They share an item in a geometry set (8) = DIVIDERS
Double definition. People who share are those who divide things up. And dividers are a measuring compass, often seen in geometry sets at school.

15) PM has about a thousand in support (7) = PREMIER
Container clue. Put RE (about) + M (thousand) in PIER (support).

17) Greek ferry operator (6) = CHARON
Slightly cryptic definition. Greek mythology. Refers to Charon, the old man who ferried souls into Hades, across the Rivers Styx and Acheron.

20) Mails sorted out for the Muslim world (5) = ISLAM
Anagram (sorted out) of mails.

21) Site of beautiful marble mausoleum in Panama graveyard (4) = AGRA
This clue gets the 'longest definition' prize for this crossword! Hidden word clue, the answer is in Panama graveyard. Agra is where the Taj Mahal is located.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Centennial Winners

Happy New Year all!

I'm pleased to announce the winners of the last cryptic clue writing competition, for the word CENTENNIAL.

First prize: For the hundredth time Len, nice tan job (GrizNHeph) — A lovely concise clue, with LEN NICE TAN as the anagram fodder, and job as the anagram indicator.

Second prize: Celebrate one hundred years by shaking 50 Romans in canteen (sandbox74)— an anagram of 50 Romans (L) with IN CANTEEN, indicated by shaking.

Third prize: CNN late in e-broadcast, spoil 100th year anniversary (Asuquo) — an anagram of CNN LATE IN E. Broadcast and spoil could be the anagram indicators (although only one is needed).

I know that sandbox74 and Asuquo are both outside of the regions where I can gift apps, sorry people ... but you can have that peaceful inner glow and smugness of knowing you did good  ;)

GrizNHeph, drop me an email to let me know where you live, and hopefully I can send an app to you!