Monday, October 26, 2020
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Cryptics, Sudoku and authorship

I have misplaced the book – I can at least tell you it’s called Two Girls, One on Each Knee and it’s by Alan Connor and it’s wonderful – but I remember reading that a newspaper (I think the Telegraph) at one point (I think it was the 1990s) tried to meddle with the way Cryptic crosswords got made.

Crucially, they tried to meddle with the authorship. Real humans would still set the individual clues, but then computers would step in and build the clues into complete puzzle grids. If you’re not into Cryptics, you’re probably like: so what? But people who were into Cryptics were very much not: so what. They were very much: what.

Cryptic crosswords are the crosswords that have the really confusing clues. Here’s a favourite. You, 500 (4). That four means the answer has four letters in it. The other bit is the clue, which with a good Cryptic such as this one should contain a literal definition of the answer and also a bit of wordplay designed to help you to the answer. You solve Cryptics in kind of a pincer movement. I actually solved You, 500 (4) myself when I first saw it (well, after about twenty minutes of getting grumpy), and it was one of the highlights of my life. The answer is “thou”. “You” literally means thou. And “500” is half of a thousand, just as half of a thousand is also…thou.

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I have misplaced the book – I can at least tell you it’s called Two Girls, One on Each Knee and it’s by Alan Connor and it’s wonderful – but I remember reading that a newspaper (I think the Telegraph) at one point (I think it was the 1990s) tried to meddle with the way Cryptic crosswords got made.

Crucially, they tried to meddle with the authorship. Real humans would still set the individual clues, but then computers would step in and build the clues into complete puzzle grids. If you’re not into Cryptics, you’re probably like: so what? But people who were into Cryptics were very much not: so what. They were very much: what.

Cryptic crosswords are the crosswords that have the really confusing clues. Here’s a favourite. You, 500 (4). That four means the answer has four letters in it. The other bit is the clue, which with a good Cryptic such as this one should contain a literal definition of the answer and also a bit of wordplay designed to help you to the answer. You solve Cryptics in kind of a pincer movement. I actually solved You, 500 (4) myself when I first saw it (well, after about twenty minutes of getting grumpy), and it was one of the highlights of my life. The answer is “thou”. “You” literally means thou. And “500” is half of a thousand, just as half of a thousand is also…thou.

Read more

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