Carpe Diem (Seize this day) - 2
Cryptic Crosswords

by S.Parthasarathy
Carpe Diem was introduced to me by Prasad. I copied (stole) Prasad's idea, added my own masala and wrote a blog in November 2011 to a site called TSR (The South Reports). Discontinued after an year or so after writing 6 articles.


I’d start by clarifying that my blogs are serious stuff and contain a message (please don’t sneer). The first blog’s message was pointed out by reader Philip Joshua in his comment as ‘Rice to the occasion’.

If I am asked to thank the English race for just one invention, I shall unhesitatingly choose the Cryptic Crossword. It is a wonderful pastime and I thank God I fell into this habit. I think I was in third form (8th Standard) when there was a word in The Hindu that I did not know. I asked my father (who was a teacher) what the word meant. He explained the meaning and then told me, ’You should also look up the word in the dictionary.’ There was an Oxford Dictionary in our house. From that time, the dictionary and thesaurus have been my companions. Perhaps my interest in reading the dictionary launched me into the wonderful world of cryptic crosswords. I remember that my cousin (now my brother-in-law) and I used to jointly solve Indian Express crossword in our college days (in the 60s, Indian Express was the only paper in Madras to publish a cryptic crossword every day).

I am giving here three interesting crossword clues to help you appreciate the beauty of cryptic crosswords.

IST (10) = CAPITALIST (a straightforward clue)
Half the alphabet is very small (4) = ATOM (The full alphabet of 26 letters is A to Z and half the alphabet i.e. 13 letters, is A to M)
Hidden gift for double anagram (6,6) = LATENT TALENT (Both words are anagrams - made up of the same letters)

Crossword puzzles are mainly of two types, Cryptic and non-cryptic. Non-cryptic puzzles are more in use in USA, while Britain is the home of cryptic crosswords. The non-cryptic or quick or easy puzzles, as they are called, generally are one-liner clues. I personally prefer cryptic crosswords to them.

All cryptic clues consist of a definition of the answer, an indication that helps you to get the answer and the number of letters in the answer. A cryptic clue is a sentence or phrase, appearing to make some kind of sense and puts ideas into the solver's head. The answer can be derived by interpreting all or part of the clue in ways which are less obvious. In other words, some element of bluffing or deception is the whole point of a good cryptic clue. Punning, which I love, is an integral part of a cryptic clue. Number will be used to denote something that numbs you (ether or chloroform) rather than to indicate one, two etc. Similarly flower will be used to indicate a river (which flows) rather than rose or any other flower. Another sign of a good crossword is the symmetry of the grid. Even when you turn the crossword by 180 degrees, the black and white squares will look identical.

I buy all English newspapers that carry cryptic crosswords. So it is 5 newspapers in Chennai and 8 newspapers when I’m in Bangalore. The first crossword that I solve is Economic times (reproduced from Daily Mail, London), which, in my view, is the best in Indian newspapers. The next to be solved are the ones in The Hindu and The New Indian Express and the two Guardian crosswords in The Hindu and The Deccan Chronicle. Though the latter are not cryptic, I attempt them. The crosswords in Sunday Hindu and Sunday Times are of very good quality. I post hints and solution to the Sunday Hindu crossword by 8.00 AM every week in my website. Just as work is its own reward, solving a crossword is its own reward. The joy of finishing a good cryptic Crossword puzzle is heaven on earth (like eating curd rice). I got my wife also interested into solving crosswords and both of us solve the cryptic crosswords in Economic Times and Express. Actually, I tick whatever I’ve solved without filling up the squares so that she can write the answer. There is a story behind initiating my wife into crosswords.

About 25 years ago, I was engrossed in the crossword when my wife asked,’ How is my new sari?’ I didn’t answer her for some time. You know that communication does not need words and my silence communicated something to her and she was silent for the next two days. I had to buy another sari for her. It was then that I felt that my wife should understand how engrossed one can become while solving crosswords. So I started her crossword lessons. I’m glad it has worked and she is an avid and a good solver today. On many days, our conversation goes like this
‘I got 2 across. It is Act One’
‘Yes, dear, it is an anagram of At once.’
‘Of course, it is.’

The purpose of this blog is to tell you that solving cruptic crosswords is a happy hobby and is not intended to teach you how to solve cryptic crosswords. There are books and websites, including my own (www.sparthasarathy.com). There are about 10 different types of clues and a good crossword compiler uses all of them. But I’ll talk about just two types of clues - Anagrams and Charades. Anagram is a re-arrangement of the letters and is very popular. I have given here seven anagram clues ranging from 4-letter words (parliamentary, of course) to a 10-letter word. Answers are at the end of the para.

A1. Wild west food (4)
A2. Broken shelf holds meat (5)
A3. Newspaper chief rode it about (6)
A4. Noises in restless slumber(7)
A5. It rarely turns out like this in books (8)
(Answers: A1 –Stew, A2 – Flesh, A3 – Editor, A4 – Rumbles, A5 – Literary)

The following are all anagrams of The South Reports.
Heroes' Truth Stop, Hereto Thru Posts, Thresher Opts Out and Tutor Shot Sphere.

Charades, another type of cryptic clues are the bread and butter of Cryptic crosswords and generally form more than half of all clues. The name comes from the parlour game where you try to convey a phrase like the name of a film, by acting or giving clues to each word or syllable. Similarly a charade clue just breaks up the answer into two or more manageable parts and provides a clue for each part, usually in the same order. The elements may be defined directly or by the use of equivalents. A few simple examples are here. Answers are at the end of the para.

C1 - Study about publicity (4)
C2 - Guy to leave tropical fruit (5)
C3 - Pitch raincoat to asphalt (6)
C4 - Agriculture in remote Chinese dynasty(7)
C5 - Floods one sister with appointments(9)
(Answers: C1 –Re-ad, C2 – Man-go, C3 – Tar-mac, C4 – Far-ming, C5 – I-nun-dates)

It is a very big step from solving cryptic crosswords to compiling them. I’d attempted a few times to compile them and was not satisfied with the result. In 2009, when I was in California, I came across a Tamil monthly magazine named Thendral, which is published from there. Both my wife and I were bowled over by the cryptic crossword compiled by Mr. Vanchinathan in that magazine. The quality of the crossword is as good as the best cryptic crossword in English. After coming back to India, we downloaded all the crosswords and solved them. We continue to solve them every month. We met Mr. Vanchinathan (who is based in Chennai) in March 2009 and with his blessings I started compiling cryptic crosswords in Tamil from April 2009. I’m happy that the crossword has been appearing without a break on the 21st of every month in my website.

Ok, what is the message of this blog? It is ‘Crosswords avoid cross words’. Well, any hobby that you passionately take up will make you happy and help you carpe the diem.

Till we Carpe the Diem again.

Be happy while you're living, or you're a long time dead. - Scottish Proverb


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