Archive for crosswords

Back to Victory

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords, Maynooth with tags , on February 17, 2019 by telescoper

Well, I got back to Maynooth from my little tour last night, on time and not too knackered. Credit where it’s due to Ryanair, in that all three flights I took last week (Dublin-EMA, Luton-Copenhagen, and Copenhagen-Dublin) were in good order and on schedule, as well as being very cheap.

Today I’ve been in the office for a few hours catching up on some preparation for tomorrow’s teaching. I’m starting a new topic in my Engineering Mathematics module so had to assemble a new problem set for distribution.

That done I downloaded a batch of weekend crosswords. I’ve decided not to buy any more British newspapers and to get my news instead from the Irish Times. However, the Financial Times, Guardian and Observer all put their prize crosswords online for free so I can keep up the crossword habit at a much lower cost.

Downloading this week’s FT Prize Crossword, I found that I’m actually a winner:

It’s interesting that two of the three winners are based in Ireland, though I would not wish to over-interpret this datum.

I wonder how long it will take for the prize to reach me in the post? It’s
The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, not a dictionary but a book about a dictionary. Meta.

Azed and Ireland

Posted in Crosswords, Maynooth with tags , , , on December 9, 2018 by telescoper

I had a nice surprise when I opened today’s Observer to the crossword page to find I had won a prize!

The solution to Azed 2423 printed in the paper is not, however, as I remember it.

Obviously there have been a few gremlins at the Observer.

Although I’ve been doing the Azed Crossword for the best part of twenty years this is actually the first time I’ve won the regular crossword prize, in which solvers just have to send in a completed puzzle and the winners’ names are drawn out of a hat, as opposed to the Competition puzzle (which occurs roughly every 4 weeks), in which solvers also have to supply a clue for one of the answers in the grid. It’s also worth saying that this is the first crossword prize I’ve won from Ireland. I have won a couple of other prizes (Everyman and the Times Literary Supplement) in the the past year, but I gave my address in Wales on both occasions as I was spending half time there and half in Maynooth for much of the past year.

Anyway, the prize is not a dictionary but £25 in book tokens, which should be enough to buy a dictionary should I feel the need. I think I may choose something else, however, assuming the tokens ever make it across to Ireland! I’ve not been impressed with the efficiency of the postal service to and from the UK so far…

According to the &lit archive I’ve been sending in entries for about 18 years. Since 3/4 of the Azed puzzles are of the regular type that means that if I’d done every puzzle correctly for that period I would have about 18 × 52 ×¾ ≈ 700 chances to win, which gives a crude estimate of the number of correct entries that must be sent in each week. In fact I’ve missed quite a few and probably made some mistakes. Nevertheless, a weekly entry of several hundred seems a reasonable order-of-magnitude guess. The number that enter the monthly competition is somewhat lower (around 200 usually). I don’t need to guess that – Azed himself supplies the numbers via the Azed Slip.

I’ve got a mediocre record in the Azed clue-setting Competition – I think I’m much better as a solver than a setter! – but have at least scored some successes and finished 15th (equal) in 2010/11. That turns out to have been my high-water mark, as I stopped doing the Azed puzzle regularly when I moved to Sussex in 2013, at which time I started doing the Beelzebub puzzle in the Independent on Sunday. I only re-started buying the Observer when the Independent stopped producing a print edition in March 2016.

So far I’ve struggled with the clue-writing, but I’ll soldier on with it and hopefully will hit some form at some point. Three puzzles into the latest season I’ve scored three HCs, which is at least consistent. Officially `HC’ means Highly Commended’ but I translate it as `Hard Cheese’. One needs to get a VHC (`Very Highly Commended’) at least to score points so I’m still just an `Also Ran’ this year. I got one VHC last year and hopefully can improve on that this time round, with ten puzzles still to go.

Incidentally, looking at the latest Azed Slip I notice that there are several solvers in Ireland. I’ve never noticed that before. I wonder how many have moved recently, like me?

Finally I think I’ll mention the winning clue in the last Azed Competition. The word to be clued was SPASMODICAL and the winning clue was:

À la PM’s disco dancing?

The word `dancing’ here is an anagram indicator, and the previous letters (A+LA+PMS+DISCO) form an anagram of the target word. A different wording of the clue acts as the definition, suggesting that Theresa May’s dancing at the Tory Party Conference was spasmodical. This type of clue is described as `anag. &lit’ (meaning `anagram’ and literally what it says). Undoubtedly, &lit clues are very difficult to construct, and the anagram in the above clue is extremely clever. Whether you think the &lit constitutes a fair definition of SPASMODICAL is a matter of taste. It’s perhaps a bit borderline, but probably saved by the `?’ at the end which traditionally implies some sort of funny business with the definition. In any case, this one is far less controversial than some of the others I’ve seen. For example, here it a prize-winning clue for SUBORDINATELY:

As in ‘B-role’ duty possibly

Here `possibly’ is the anagram indicator, which is fair enough, but for me the surface reading barely makes sense. Azed is the only judge, however, and he generally does seem to cut people quite a bit of slack when they attempt this type of clue.

The Crossword Puzzle Sketch

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , on January 13, 2018 by telescoper

Fifty years old, and starring the wonderful Beryl Reid, here’s a classic sketch about (of all things) … crosswords!

Crossed Words

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , on August 6, 2017 by telescoper

I’m abroad at the moment so failed to take my regular Sunday morning stroll to the local newsagent to pick up a copy of the Observer. I had to rely on Twitter, therefore, to tell me that I’ve won another prize in the Everyman competition.

It looks like I’ll be distributing some more dictionaries when I get back to Cardiff! Unfortunately, though, the books will probably arrive before I return so I’ll have to traipse off to the sorting office to collection them…

Incidentally, in the last Azed competition (No. 2351) I got a `Highly Commended’ for my clue for the (somewhat obscure) target word RHAGADES:

Root has a northern-style slash at ones not on cracks (8)

As usual, though, the winning clues were far better than mine! I won’t have time to do the latest competition puzzle, which is a shame because it involves a Playfair codeword, like the one I blogged about here.

P.S. The rubric for the latest Azed puzzle refers to `four clues in italics’ but I don’t see any clues in italics (at least in the online version)…

Lucky Dictionaries

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , on November 17, 2015 by telescoper

Here’s a funny thing.

About two years ago I stopped buying the Observer on Sundays and switched to the Independent on Sunday. That decision was largely based on the cost of the paper rather than the quality of the crossword, but I ended up trading the Observer’s Azed and (easier) Everyman for the Sunday Independent’s Beelzebub and (easier) OUP Prize Cryptic. It’s paid off in terms of prizes – I’ve completely lost count of the number of dictionaries I’ve won from the Independent competitions.

However, two weeks ago I wasn’t feeling very well so I decided to stock up with diversions and for a change bought both the Independent on Sunday and the Observer. And so it came to pass that I did the Everyman crossword for the first time in more than two years. Today I received these:


And a £15 book token to boot. All of which told me that I’d won the prize! Now what’s the probability of that? Maybe I’ll try again in a couple of years…

The Law of Averages

Posted in Bad Statistics, Crosswords with tags , , on March 4, 2015 by telescoper

Just a couple of weeks ago I found myself bemoaning my bad luck in the following terms

A few months have passed since I last won a dictionary as a prize in the Independent Crossword competition. That’s nothing remarkable in itself, but since my average rate of dictionary accumulation has been about one a month over the last few years, it seems a bit of a lull.  Have I forgotten how to do crosswords and keep sending in wrong solutions? Is the Royal Mail intercepting my post? Has the number of correct entries per week suddenly increased, reducing my odds of winning? Have the competition organizers turned against me?

In fact, statistically speaking, there’s nothing significant in this gap. Even if my grids are all correct, the number of correct grids has remained constant, and the winner is pulled at random  from those submitted (i.e. in such a way that all correct entries are equally likely to be drawn) , then a relatively long unsuccessful period such as I am experiencing at the moment is not at all improbable. The point is that such runs are far more likely in a truly random process than most people imagine, as indeed are runs of successes. Chance coincidence happen more often than you think.

Well, as I suspected would happen soon my run of ill fortune came to an end today with the arrival of this splendid item in the mail:


It’s the prize for winning Beelzebub 1303, the rather devilish prize cryptic in the Independent on Sunday Magazine. It’s nice to get back to winning ways. Now what’s the betting I’ll now get a run of successes?

P.S. I used the title “Law of Averages” just so I could point out in a footnote that there’s actually no such thing.

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.

Bank Holiday in Bute Park

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 6, 2013 by telescoper

Well, I’ve done next to nothing today. Just yesterday’s Azed crossword in which I found

All too public ‘diary’ left in the loo (4)

which clues what this is.

I also held my last ever project meeting with Cardiff student; hand-in dates are looming across the country, I suspect.

Other than that, I’ve just been strolling around, and otherwise enjoying, Bute Park in the sunshine along with half the population of Cardiff. It is a pity the Council don’t take better care of the grass, though..

Setters and Solvers

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , , , , , on February 26, 2012 by telescoper

I realise that yesterday I said I only had time for a quick post, and then proceeded to write >1000 words on the subject of Masters degrees. Today I really only have time for a quick post, as I have to finish writing my examination paper (amongst other things).

Anyway, I haven’t blogged about crosswords for a while so I just thought mention a few things. Some time ago I switched from the Guardian to the Independent on Saturdays. The Guardian is a sad case. As its circulation falls, the price continues to rise. It is now getting more expensive virtually by the week. It comes with stacks of tedious supplements which go straight into the recycling bin anyway. There’s much less of the Independent and it’s both higher quality and cheaper. There’s a lesson there for the Grauniad, I think.

More importantly (for me) the Guardian’s crosswords have gone rapidly downhill and I much prefer the Independent’s setters nowadays. I do occasionally do the Grauniad prize one by downloading it from the net, especially if it’s Araucaria, but most of the other setters are nowhere near as good. Since I started doing the Indy crossword last year I’ve won the prize, a rather splendid dictionary, three times. I’ve got one in my study at home and one in my office. The other I gave to my mum. If I win any more I’m not sure how I’ll dispose of them. Perhaps I could open a shop?

The magazine bit of the Independent has a more difficult crossword called Inquisitor. I’m not sure about these at all. Sometimes they’re really good, but too often they require so many modifications to be made to each solution before entry into the grid that they become completely tedious, and the completed puzzle just looks like a random jumble of letters. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my crosswords to have words in them. Last week’s (Inquisitor 1217) was an extreme example, with “thematic modifications” all over the place and some parts of the puzzle completely unclued. It turned out that you had to remove every third letter of each solution before entering it into the grid, the theme being an obscure and entirely unclued reference to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner “And he stoppeth one of three”. I got there in the end – I find I can’t leave a puzzle incomplete once I’ve started – but I didn’t post it off in protest at how unsatisfying it was.  I don’t mind difficult puzzles, but they have to be fair: leaving huge parts of the puzzle unclued means that it’s just guesswork rather than logic.

My favourite crossword is still Azed in the Observer. I got off to a good start in this year’s clue setting competition with a run of VHCs (“Very Highly Commended”). However, I didn’t have time to do the Christmas Azed and have therefore slipped down the league table a bit.

I got an HC in the last competition, No. 2070, in which the word to be clued was MISTREATMENT. My clue was

Kinky “Master” welcoming one into pain or wanting abuse

i.e. anagram of MASTER including I running into TORMENT with OR missing (wanting); abuse is the definition. It’s OK I suppose but admittedly not as good as the prize-winning entries.

This word is tailor-made for an &lit type of clue, which Azed seems to like. The winning entry for this one was of this type

Abuse T. Emin’s art met?

So you can read this as “abuse” (an anagram indicator) of the subsequent letters to make MISTREATMENT or the whole clue itself as a definition. Azed seems to allow a lot of slack in the definition part of such clues, but I’m not at all convinced that “T. Emin’s art” has ever been actually mistreated so I don’t like this as much as some of the other clues. It’s not my decision, however, and I have to say some of the clues in the list are really superb, much better than my mundane effort.

I love solving crossword puzzles, but I find setting the clues extremely difficult. I think I’m the same way with physics too. I like solving – or trying to solve – problems of various kinds, but I find setting them very hard work. That’s why it takes me so long to write examination papers, and why I consequently have to go into the office on a lovely spring sunday. It would be much easier to set exactly the same paper as last year, but of course no self-respecting university teacher would ever even dream of doing that….

Another Crossword Competition

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , on October 24, 2011 by telescoper

Flushed with success after winning a prize in the Saturday Independent crossword competition (even if it is yet another dictionary) and flying high at No. 6 in the Azed Annual Honours List I thought I’d have another go at setting a puzzle for my readers. There were some complaints that my last crossword was too difficult, so here is a slightly simpler one for you:

Across                                                       Down

1  Current symbol for ego?                    1  One visual organ, we hear