Friday, June 23, 2006

Bird amid backed up waste causes puzzlement (9)

I love cryptic crosswords. A good cryptic crossword is a sublime thing - a true test of the intellect that combines wit, logic, vocabulary and knowledge - and solving one can be both the most frustrating exercise on the planet, as well as the most fulfilling. It's like charades and anagrams and scrabble and quizzing and IQ tests all rolled into one.

One of the things I miss the most in the US, therefore, is access to a good daily crossword. Pointless tests of trivia like the NY Times Crossword don't interest me much (and don't even get me started on Sudoku and other such children's games). I could, of course, put in the extra effort and download crosswords from elsewhere (I've done it on occassion) but it doesn't lessen the sense of deprivation. I hadn't even realised how much I missed these clever little grids until I opened the Eco Times yesterday morning and the sight of the crossword brought me almost to tears with nostalgia.

My all time favourite crossword memory is the crossword contest we used to have at WIMWI. Teams of three people each. A cryptic clue is put up on the board. Teams have 30 seconds in which to hit the buzzer. If no team gets the solution the clue is put in a reserve pool and can be called by any team at any time. Correct solutions are filled into the grid. Obviously, as the contest progresses, more and more of the crossword has been filled up, so cracking the clues becomes easier and the competition heats up. By the end of it all, you're living on pure adrenalin. It's the most amazing feeling in the world.

Don't get me wrong. I've done my share of debating and quizzing. I've participated in all sorts of lit contests - playing scrabble, dumb c, 20 questions / tinto, pictionary and (even) Who's Line is it Anyway competitively. But there's just nothing like the thrill of hearing a cryptic crossword clue and getting it in under 10 seconds without any letters to help you. Trust me.

The other thing that's fun, especially if you're as sadistic as I am, is setting crosswords. It's a terribly painful, long-winded exercise, because you not only have to come up with a grid of words that fits, you then need to come up with clever clues for each one - clues that will seem terribly foxing until the solver gets them, and entirely obvious once he / she does. A really inspired clue is like poetry. There's the same sense of the ineffable, the same desire for accuracy, the same attention to getting every word, every letter exactly right. And there's a great deal of fiendish delight in watching other people trying to crack your clues. Not that you don't want people to crack your clues. On the contrary, it's no fun if they don't eventually get it. You just want them to have to struggle - the joy comes equally from seeing their initial confusion and watching the smile of appreciation when they finally figure out what the word is.

No wonder all these evil geniuses, these brilliant psychopaths, invariably end up giving themselves away. It's not because of some Raskolnikovian desire to be punished. It's just that it's no fun coming up with so brilliant a plan, if you're not eventually found out.


Sony Pony said...

But there's just nothing like the thrill of hearing a cryptic crossword clue and getting it in under 10 seconds without any letters to help you. Trust me.

I will have to. :)

Old Spice said...

Nice piece. I've started Cryptic Crosswords again after a while, and the old tricks are coming back. You're right - it's very satisfying.

In similar vein, read this, or more pertinently, this. Better still, buy his book - you're sure to find a copy somewhere in New Delhi.

Any Delhi stories to share?

Arnold said...

Umm... Humor an old horse like me, please, and tell me what's the answer to the clue given in the title of this post?

Veena said...

Fourteen seconds here...(the boy cracked it in nine) In the interests of remaining married, can we have more so that I can prove my superiority? :)

Also, evil genius, brilliant psychopath? We do think highly of ourselves nowadays, I see.

Tabula Rasa said...

hey, when you say "tinto", do you mean something called "tintoretto", iirc a game where you have to guess the name of a random historical person within a limited period of time? because if that's the case, i think a friend and i invented it! i remember the two of us coming up with something like that while hanging around waiting for our scenes during theater rehearsals. my friend picked the name out of thin air, to symbolize someone random enough that one had to be in the cool set to have heard of it. i'm not sure whether some such game already existed and we modified it (and he simply used a name that already existed), or it was really us who came up with the thing from scratch. i know i thought back then that it was ours -- in fact the next year we even introduced it in the college fest. if it's really the same game, who would have known it would take off like that?! pretty cool.

Falstaff said...

sony pony: :-)

the graduate: Interesting. will try and get my hands on the book.

arnold: It's crossword - crow (bird) + ssord (dross backwards) = crossword (puzzlement)

veena: good show. I think you should just admit defeat, though. Why make it worse?

Oh, and are you questioning the evil or the genius?

tr: really? Yes, that is pretty much the game you describe - it's basically like 20 questions, except the constraint is time, not number of questions. To the best of my knowledge, tinto's been a staple of lit contests in IITs / colleges for years - when did your friend and you invent it? I'm impressed. And grateful.

Tabula Rasa said...

yes that's the one. "for years" would describe it well -- we "invented" it (i'm staking the claim :-) in november 92, and the college fest where we held it first was september-ish 93. glad you liked it :-)

Venu said...

Hey, nice post. I was a crossie fiend back in college too, my favourite was The Hindu Sunday crossie. I never did a full house on Sunday crossie by myself, but my teammate and I used to get a good percent of the clues. We had 2-3 crossie competitions a year, but mostly they were paper ones. We had a buzzer crossie only in the final year; but, alas, me and my teammate were the setters then! These days I am totally out of form: I was racking my brain like hell to crack the title clue (although I would probably reframe it as "Ruffled bird digesting waste causes puzzlement" or something - your clue led me to think the bird would be totally inside the waste.) btw, I was never much a fan of Econ Times crossie; the clues have too many unnecessary and misleading words, methinks. To reiterate, nice post!

Thomas said...

Falstaff: for hot crossword action in the US, I recommend The Atlantic's "Puzzler" column. Be warned, though, that the crosswords in this column are *fiendishly* difficult. If you're looking for a more frequent fix, the Financial Times has an excellent daily cryptic. Unfortunately, both of these are subscription-only :(

Re crosswords in India, I find that the standard varies considerably across newspapers. I think the Telegraph (Kolkata) and the Economic Times are probably your best bet for consistent quality. The TOI crossword used to be quite good in the 90s, but has declined quite alarmingly since then, and I don't know if it's even published any more. Ditto the Indian Express. The Hindu is a bit of a puzzler -- back in the 90s their crosswords were really bad, full of grammatical errors and shoddy clues, and even now many of their puzzles are like that only. But every third day or so they publish an excellent puzzle. My theory is that they have multiple setters, of whom only one is any good.

Tabula Rasa: I remember playing Tinto in 1992-3 with a cousin who learned the game at BITS Pilani in the 80s. I also remember playing it for the first time at my own college in July 1994, at which point it had already been around "for years".

Anonymous said...

The Sunday NY Times has a cryptic crossword sometimes - maybe once every 6 weeks.

The (London) Times puzzle is syndicated in the New York Post with a lag of about three weeks. Among British cryptic puzzles, the Times, Guardian and Daily Telegraph are all available on subscription web-sites. (Googling for 'crossword' with the name of the paper should find each site). They do use local stuff sometimes, but if you're from India you'll at least be OK with stuff like on=leg from cricket.

Anonymous said...

silver comes after gold here (8,6)

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