Archive for Azed

Eightsome Reels Again

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , on June 19, 2022 by telescoper

I haven’t blogged about crosswords for a while so I thought I’d mention this week’s Azed puzzle (No. 2610) which is of ‘Eightsome Reels’ type, as explained in the picture above. I mentioned a similar one years and years ago (Azed No. 1921) so I thought I’d make a few comments on this one. I won’t give the full solution though because that would spoil the competition but I will give a hint or two.

The solutions are obviously all 8 letters long and they have to be fitted in the squares surrounding the corresponding number. The trouble is that you’re not told which square to start from, or whether the letters are to be entered clockwise or anticlockwise.

The only way I know to start one of these puzzles is to solve several adjacent clues without entering them in the diagram and then see if I can find a way to fit them together on a bit of scrap paper. The structure of the diagram guarantees many checked letters (i.e. overlaps) between neighbouring answers so once you have a few then the subsequent ones get easier to fit in. These puzzles are usually difficult to start though.

In this particular case I managed to solve about half the clues before entering anything on the grid. But how to write them in so they fit together?

For me the solution was to get the three answers in the corner at the bottom right corner (35, 36 and 30). I think 35 is a nice clue:

35. Erica, breaking rule? – ‘a thing of shreds and patches’

Think American novelist following by an anagram; the reference to Gilbert & Sullivan gives you JONGLEUR (a wandering minstrel). The following clue is the easiest of the lot

36. How corpse ends in morgue’s awfully … so?

This is clearly GRUESOME (end of corpse, i.e. E in anagram of MORGUES).

Now you see that EUR and RUE are common to the two answers so they must fit in the three lights running vertically upwards between 35 and 36 and the two words must be ordered differently so that one is clockwise and the other anti-clockwise. If you write RUE upwards here (so GRUESOME is clockwise), then the three letters in the corner will be MEG. If on the other hand you write them downwards (so GRUESOME is anticlockwise) then the three letters in the corner are SOM. The rubric states that the unchecked letters in the corners can be arranged to form LESS FINE POEM which does not contain a G. Thus the first possibility is excluded. The answer to 36 must therefore be written anticlockwise and the answer to 35 clockwise to mesh with it.

To check this is right you can solve 30, the answer to which has three letters in common with GRUESOME and must be written clockwise.

The symmetry having thus been broken, all you have to do is solve the other clues and fit them in accordingly…

The Affair of the Missing Trophy

Posted in Covid-19, Crosswords with tags , , on May 13, 2021 by telescoper

A few weeks ago I posted about my first ever First Prize in the Azed Crossword Competition. At the end of that post I mentioned that I was eagerly anticipating being sent a silver trophy called the Azed Instant Victor Verborum Cup to hold for a month before passing it on to the winner of the next competition.

Unfortunately it seems that, owing to a combination of the Royal Mail and Covid-19, the Azed trophy has gone missing somewhere on its travels. In fact it hasn’t even reached the winner before me (a Dr S.J. Shaw) yet. The chances of it being located, retrieved and then sent to me before it would be time to send it on to the next winner are now remote so I don’t suppose I’ll ever get my hands on it. Ho hum.

Still, I did get a nice card from Dr Shaw explaining the situation and sending his congratulations:

I hope the trophy is found because it would be a shame if the tradition of passing it on came to an end, but it’s not such a big deal that I’ll miss out on having it on my mantelpiece for a few weeks. At least it absolves me of the responsibility of ensuring it reaches the next winner…

A First in Azed

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords with tags , , , , on April 25, 2021 by telescoper

I was roused from my Sunday-morning lie-in by the news that I had actually won First Prize in the latest Azed Competition. The best I’ve done previously was third place, and that was almost a decade ago!

As I’ve mentioned before, the monthly Azed Competition puzzle involves not only solving the Azed crossword but also supplying a cryptic clue for a word or phrase given only as a definition in the crossword. This competition is tough, partly because Azed is a stickler for syntactical soundness in submitted clues, and partly because many of the competitors are professional crossword setters.

I’ve struggled this year to find the time and the energy to make a decent attempt at the Azed competition, but the latest competition puzzle was published on Easter Sunday so I had Easter Monday to think about it. Solving the actual puzzle wasn’t too hard this time, which gave me plenty of time to work on the harder bit of composing a clue.

The target word was FILATORY (a machine for spinning thread). For some reason the first thing that popped into my mind was Greek Mythology, specifically the Moirai (Fates) who between them weave the tapestry of life, but one of whom, Clotho, spins the thread. I noticed that one can find the letters of TRIO in FILATORY leaving FAY+L. I looked up FAY in the One True Chambers Dictionary where I found that in its meaning as “fairy” is is derived from the Latin Fata. Even better. I just need to find a way of putting an L into the mix but as a standard abbreviation for “line” that wasn’t too hard.

My clue was

Fay trio with line in weaving? One spins thread.

The second part is the definition (a filatory spins thread) whereas the first part is the word play, FAY TRIO with L forms the basis of an anagram, with “weaving” as the anagram indicator (“anagrind”) instructing the solver to form an anagram.

I think the mythological connection between the two parts of the clue lays a false trail that disguises the definition a bit so I was quite pleased with this effort, thinking it might just get a VHC. I was very surprised to find it winning outright and am absolutely delighted!

I’ve expunged the first line of my address from the scan for obvious reasons, though it is there in the newspaper. I presume it is there because the winner of the Azed Competition not only gets a prize in the form of book tokens but is also sent the Azed Instant Victor Verborum Cup to hold for a month before passing it on to the winner of the next competition, when the result of that is announced, in this case about a month from now. The next Competition puzzle is in next week’s Observer, published on May 2nd. The following day is a Bank Holiday in Ireland so I’ll be able to have a good go at that too.

Presumably the trophy will arrive in the post at some point. With the current state of the mail service between Ireland and the UK I only hope it arrives before I have to send it on to the next winner!

No Azed celebration…

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords with tags , on July 26, 2020 by telescoper

I heard today that the special lunch that had been planned to celebrate the 2500th Azed crossword puzzle has been cancelled. It was first planned to take place in May (to coincide roughly with the publication of the 2500th puzzle), then postponed to September and now cancelled altogether. The venue, Wadham College Oxford, is not hosting any large events for the foreseeable future.

I wasn’t surprised by this news, but it is a shame. I was looking forward to using the event as an excuse for a break. I wouldn’t have gone just for the lunch, obviously, but would have stayed for some time either side.

On the other hand, travelling from Ireland to England and back in September would have been difficult, not least because I might have had to quarantine for 14 days in both ditections! Even without that it would have been a disruption to the preparations for the new academic year.

So I guess I’ll be staying here for the rest of the summer, though I might taje a short break somewhere in Ireland if I can.

Anyway, going back to the crosswords I got an HC (highly commended) in the latest Azed Competition (No. 2508). That was a first for me as it is the first entry I have sent in by email rather than in the post. At least I know it arrived safely. As usual I enjoyed solving the puzzle much more than composing a clue. I’m definitely a solver rather than a setter. Next Sunday will be another competition puzzle so I’ll see if I can do better in that.

Crossword Collision

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords with tags , , , , on July 28, 2019 by telescoper

I was thinking recently that it’s been a while since I posted anything about crosswords, and today I got a nice surprise that gives me an excuse for a short post.

As a subscriber to the Azed Slip detailing the outcomes of the monthly Azed crossword puzzle competition, I knew a week or so ago that I’d got a VHC (`Very Highly Commended’) in Azed No. 2456. That’s not enough to merit a prize but at least gets me on the scoreboard for this year’s competition. I have been entering this competition for almost 20 years with decidedly modest success, though I did reach the dizzy heights of 15th place in 2010/11. I stopped for a while when I was at Sussex, as I switched to the Independent whose prize crossword yielded a steady stream of dictionaries. I resumed in 2017 but have found it difficult to get back into the swing of writing clues (at which I’ve never really been very good anyway).

Anyway, Azed No. 2456 was a `special’ puzzle of a type described as `Collisions’. All the Across solutions consisted of two words with one or more letters in common entered in such a way that the two words run into each other. The pairs of words are clued in such a way that the definition part relates to the full word, but the cryptic indication relates only to the part not involved in the collision, i.e. omitting the overlapping letters. Down clues were `normal’, which helped a lot in providing checked lights to help in solving the trickier across clues.

The puzzle was fairly tricky to solve but, as always with the Azed Competition entrants also have to compose a clue of their own. In this case the pair of colliding words was TRACTOR/TORMINAL. My clue (which I don’t think was all that good, really) was:

One feeds paper endless number of gripes threatening to replace Tory with Liberal

Here `One feeds paper’ defines TRACTOR (re: tractor-feed printer); `endless number’ is TRAC (i.e. TRACK with the end missing and with number meaning a track on a record); `of gripes’ defines TORMINAL; the rest is MINATORY (threatening) with TORY replaced by L for Liberal.

You can find the (far better) prize-winning clues here. There’s no actual prize for a VHC – except for a warm glow of satisfaction – but y effort was at least deemed good enough to get my name in this week’s Observer:

But if that wasn’t enough it turns out that I also won this week’s Everyman!

I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve been named in both Observer Crossword competitions. Now that is a nice collision!

P.S. In case you’re wondering the reason it gives Cardiff as my address is that (a) I still have a house there and (b) I’ve had some problems with things being delivered to Ireland from the UK and (c) I recently found a stash of sticky address labels with the Cardiff address on which saves the hassle of writing my address out on each entry.

 

 

R.I.P. Colin Dexter (1930-2017)

Posted in Crosswords, Literature, Television with tags , , , on March 21, 2017 by telescoper

I was saddened this afternoon to hear of the death, at the age of 86, of Colin Dexter, the novelist who created the character of  Inspector Morse, memorably played on the long-running TV series of the same name by John Thaw.

The television series of Inspector Morse came to an end in 2000, with a poignant episode called The Remorseful Day, but has led to two successful spin-offs, in Lewis and Endeavour both of which are still running.  Colin Dexter regularly appeared in  in both Inspector Morse and Lewis, mainly in non-speaking roles and part of the fun of these programmes was trying to spot him in the background.

As a crime writer, Colin Dexter was definitely in the `English’ tradition of Agatha Christie, in that his detective stories relied more on cleverly convoluted plots than depth of characterization, but the central character of Morse was a brilliant creation in itself and is rightly celebrated. Crime fiction is too often undervalued in literary circles, but I find it a fascinating genre and Colin Dexter was a fine exponent.

Colin Dexter was also an avid solver of crossword puzzles, a characteristic shared by his Detective Inspector Morse. In fact I met Colin Dexter once, back in 2010, at a lunch to celebrate the 2000th Azed puzzle in the Observer which I blogged about  here.  Colin Dexter used to be a regular entrant – and often a winner – in Azed‘s  monthly clue-setting competition, but I haven’t seen his name among the winners for a while. You can see his outstanding record on the “&lit” archive here. I guess he retired from crosswords just has he had done from writing crime novels. To be honest, he seemed quite frail back in 2010 so I’m not surprised he decided to take it easy in his later years.

Incidentally, Colin Dexter took the name `Morse’ from his friend Jeremy Morse, another keen cruciverbalist. Sadly he passed away last year, at the age of 87. Jeremy Morse was another frequent winner of the Azed competition and he produced some really cracking clues – you can find them all on the “&lit” archive too.

Here’s a little cryptic tribute:

Morse inventor developed Nordic Telex (5,6)

Now I think I’ll head home to cook my traditional mid-week vegetable curry, have a glass of wine, and see if I can watch a  DVD last episode of Inspector Morse without crying

R.I.P. Norman Colin Dexter (1930-2017)

 

 

45 Years of the Azed Crossword

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , on March 7, 2017 by telescoper

I apologize for being a little late to celebrate this publicly, but I noticed yesterday that Sunday 5th March 2017 marked the 45th anniversary of the appearance of the first Azed crossword puzzle in the Observer. The first one appeared on 5th March 1972 when I was 8 years old and the compiler, Jonathan Crowther, must have been even younger.

I should add that in 1972 I didn’t even know that the Observer newspaper existed. The only Sunday paper I was aware of in those days was the Sunday Post which, though published in Scotland, was very popular on Tyneside at the time. I remember the cartoons very well indeed, especially The Broons and Oor Wullie.

I resumed doing the Azed puzzle about a year ago with the demise of the print edition of the Independent on Sunday but I have yet to register any successes in the monthly competition. There have been a few glitches in this recently, such as incorrect grids and wrong instructions, which put me off even attempting some of the recent competitions. And those I have entered I’ve done so cursorily, with little time to think much about it.

Since this Sunday’s puzzle marks a special occasion, however, I think I might try to send in a decent clue this time. I completed the puzzle – Azed No. 2334 – last night so have a few days to ponder on an appropriate entry.

Incidentally, if you look at the across clues in this week’s puzzle you will see that the first letters form an acrostic: “FORTY FIVE YEARS OF AZED” but only if the supplied clue for 29 across beings with “R”. That’s how I realized it was the Azed Crossword’s 45th birthday!

Anyway, as a physicist I particularly enjoyed 25 down:

Particle rapidly showing displacement of neutron (6)

Not too difficult, but rather neat!

There’s also a nice one at 14 down:

Spacecraft may enter it: I soon changed pressure at this point (10)

 

Academic Cruciverbalism

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords, Literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2016 by telescoper

The other day I came across something I’ve never seen before: an academic paper about cryptic crosswords. It’s in an open access journal so feel free to clock – it’s not behind a paywall. Anyway, the abstract reads:

This paper presents a relatively unexplored area of expertise research which focuses on the solving of British-style cryptic crossword puzzles. Unlike its American “straight-definition” counterparts, which are primarily semantically-cued retrieval tasks, the British cryptic crossword is an exercise in code-cracking detection work. Solvers learn to ignore the superficial “surface reading” of the clue, which is phrased to be deliberately misleading, and look instead for a grammatical set of coded instructions which, if executed precisely, will lead to the correct (and only) answer. Sample clues are set out to illustrate the task requirements and demands. Hypothesized aptitudes for the field might include high fluid intelligence, skill at quasi-algebraic puzzles, pattern matching, visuospatial manipulation, divergent thinking and breaking frame abilities. These skills are additional to the crystallized knowledge and word-retrieval demands which are also a feature of American crossword puzzles. The authors present results from an exploratory survey intended to identify the characteristics of the cryptic crossword solving population, and outline the impact of these results on the direction of their subsequent research. Survey results were strongly supportive of a number of hypothesized skill-sets and guided the selection of appropriate test content and research paradigms which formed the basis of an extensive research program to be reported elsewhere. The paper concludes by arguing the case for a more grounded approach to expertise studies, termed the Grounded Expertise Components Approach. In this, the design and scope of the empirical program flows from a detailed and objectively-based characterization of the research population at the very onset of the program.

I still spend quite a lot of my spare time solving these “British-style” cryptic crossword puzzles. In fact I simply can’t put a crossword down until I’ve solved all the clues, behaviour which I admit is bordering on the pathological. Still, I think of it as a kind of mental jogging, forcing your brain to work in unaccustomed ways is probably good to develop mental fitness for other more useful things. I won’t claim to have a “high fluid intelligence” or any other of the attributes described in the abstract, however. As a matter of fact I think in many ways cryptic crosswords are easier than the straight “American-style” definition puzzle. I’ll explain why shortly. I can’t remember when I first started doing cyptic crossword puzzles, or even how I learned to do them. But then people can learn languages simply by picking them up as they go along so that’s probably how I learned to do crosswords. Most people I know who don’t do cryptic crosswords tend to think of them like some sort of occult practice, although I’ve never actually been thrown off a plane for doing one!

If you’ve never done one of these puzzles before, you probably won’t understand the clues at all even if you know the answer and I can’t possibly explain them in a single post. In a nutshell, however, they involve clues that usually give two routes to the word to be entered in the crossword grid. One is a definition of the solution word and the other is a subsidiary cryptic allusion to it. Usually the main problem to be solved involves the identification of the primary definition and secondary cryptic part, which are usually heavily disguised. The reason why I think cryptic puzzles are in some ways easier than the “straight-definition” variety is that they provide two different routes to the solution rather than one definition. The difficulty is just learning to parse the clue and decide what each component means.

The secondary clue can be of many different types. The most straightforward just exploits multiple meanings. For example, take

Fleeces, things often ordered by men of rank [6]

The answer to this is RIFLES which is defined by “fleeces” in one sense, but “men of rank” (soldiers) also order their arms hence giving a different meaning. Other types include puns, riddles, anagrams, hidden words, and so on. Many of these involve an operative word or phrase instructing the solver to do something with the letters in the clue, e.g.

Port’s apt to make you steer it erratically [7]

has the solution TRIESTE, which is an anagram of STEER+IT, port being the definition.

Most compilers agree however that the very best type of clue is of the style known as “&lit” (short for “and literally what it says”). Such clues are very difficult to construct and are really beautiful when they work because both the definition and cryptic parts comprise the same words read in different ways. Here’s a simple example

The ultimate of turpitide in Lent [5]

which is FEAST. Here we have “e” as the last letter of turpitude in “fast” (lent) giving “feast” but a feast is exactly what the clue says too. Nice.

Some clues involve more than one element of this type and some defy further explanation altogether, but I hope this at least gives you a clue as to what is involved.

Cryptic crosswords like the ones you find in British newspapers were definitely invented in the United Kingdom, although the crossword itself was probably born in the USA. The first great compiler of the cryptic type used the pseudonym Torquemada in the Observer. During the 1930s such puzzles became increasingly popular with many newspapers, including famously The Times, developing their own distinctive style. People tend to assume that The Times crossword is the most difficult, but I’m not sure. I don’t actually buy that paper but whenever I’ve found one lying around I’ve never found the crossword particularly hard or, more importantly, particularly interesting.

With the demise of the Independent, source of many prize dictionaries, I have now returned to the Guardian and Observer puzzles at the weekend as well as the interesting mixture of cryptic and literary clues of the puzzle in the weekly Times Literary Supplement and the “Genius” puzzle in The Oldie. I’ve won both of these a few times, actually, including the TLS prize just last week (£40 cash).

I also like to do the bi-weekly crossword set by Cyclops in Private Eye which has clues which are not only clever but also laced with a liberal helping of lavatorial humour and topical commentary which is right up my street. Many of the answers (“lights” in crossword parlance) are quite rude, such as

Local energy source of stress for Bush [5]

which is PUBES (“pub” from “local”+ E for energy +S for “source of stress”; Bush is the definition).

I send off the answers to the Eye crossword every time but have never won it yet. That one has a cash prize of £100.

Anyway, Torquemada, who I mentioned above, was eventually followed as the Observer’s crossword compiler by the great Ximenes (real name D.S. Macnutt) who wrote a brilliant book called the Art of the Crossword which I heartily recommend if you want to learn more about the subject. One of the nice stories in his book concerns the fact that crossword puzzles of the cryptic type were actually used to select recruits for British Intelligence during the Second World War, but this had a flip side. In late May 1944 the chief crossword setter for the Daily Telegraph was paid a visit by some heavies from MI5. It turned out that in a recent puzzle he had used the words MULBERRY, PLUTO, NEPTUNE and OVERLORD all of which were highly confidential code words to be used for the forthcoming D-Day invasion. The full background to this curious story is given here.

 

Farewell, Independent, and thanks for all the dictionaries..

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 30, 2016 by telescoper

I thought I’d resume blogging activity rather gently with a short post to mark the end of an era. Both the Independent and the Independent on Sunday have ceased to exist, at least in their print editions.  It was about three years ago that I switched from the Observer to the Independent on Sunday, which involved switching from the Azed cryptic crossword to Beelzebub for my most testing weekly crossword challenge. I stopped doing the Saturday Prize Cryptic puzzle in the Saturday Guardian too, in favour of the Independent Saturday Prize crossword in the Independent which immediately paid dividends in terms of prizes!

For crossword aficianados both the Azed and Beelzebub crosswords are composed by strict adherents of the rules set by the great Ximenes and both feature grids with no black squares, in contrast to the more normal Everyman puzzle. Jonathan Crowther, who sets the Azed puzzles is the successor to Ximenes in the Observer; he’s been setting puzzles there since 1971.

Anyway, the last Independent on Sunday was published on Sunday 20th March and it included a list of the winners of the last two Beelzebub puzzles; the very final one was No. 1,358:

Beelzebub

It’s a nice way to mark the end of an era! One last dictionary to add to the collection. I’ve completely lost track of the number of books of words I’ve won from the weekly puzzles in the Independent, but it’s certainly more than 50. I’ve given many away but there’s still a large stack in Dorothy’s office.

Anyway, I spent some of my Easter weekend off doing the Guardian  prize crossword (extra-large size, but quite easy) followed by Everyman and Azed in the Observer. I guess that’s my diet from now on…

 

Goodbye to Azed

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , , , on November 3, 2013 by telescoper

Having a bit of a tidy up on the blog earlier today, I noticed today that it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything in the category marked “crosswords”.

The reason for this is that the responsibilities I acquired with my current position have made it quite difficult to find the time to indulge my passion for cruciverbalism if I’m also going to keep this blog going. In fact, I’ve recently made a decision to ditch a puzzle that has been a favourite for some time, Azed in the Observer.

Some time ago I stopped getting the Guardian on Saturday and switched to the Independent. That has been quite rewarding because I’ve taken to the Indy crossword and have won the prize a number of times. I’ve lost count how many, actually, but it’s probably about twenty. The prize on each occasion was a dictionary, the same dictionary, and I’ve given most of them away.

I persevered with the Observer, chiefly because of Azed, but I’m afraid the quality of the paper has deteriorated as quickly as its price has increased. I therefore decided, with some regret, to switch to the Independent on Sunday. I find this is a much more compact and better written newspaper with, as a friend of mine accurately summed it up, “much less shite in it” than the Observer.

The Independent on Sunday has a normal prize cryptic (similar to the Saturday one) in the paper and another one, Beelzebub, in the magazine, which is similar in style of both grid and clues to Azed, nicely done but perhaps a little less challenging. There isn’t a monthly clue-writing competition either; since I always struggled to find the time and inspiration to offer decent clues I think it’s just as well that I admit defeat and withdraw from that competition. Perhaps I’ll return to it when I’ve got more spare time, which is only likely to happen when I’m retired..

P.S. Incidentally you can find the circulation figures of UK newspapers here. The Observer and the Independent on Sunday have both fallen precipitously since ~ 2007.