Common Arabic female name; said by an amnesiac sun god? (5)
December 21, 2013 8:20 PM   Subscribe

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Arthur Wynne's creation of the crossword puzzle, Google's homepage hosts a (not terribly difficult) example of the form today.
posted by JHarris (26 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My time was just shy of 15 and a half minutes. Hover for answer to my silly clue in the title.
posted by JHarris at 8:22 PM on December 21, 2013

Ah, the direct link to the interactive version (which has a fairly nice player) is here.
posted by JHarris at 8:24 PM on December 21, 2013

And hey, here's a copy of Wynne's first puzzle. (Spoiler for Google puzzle.)
posted by JHarris at 8:29 PM on December 21, 2013

I thought 24 Across was cute.
posted by asperity at 9:40 PM on December 21, 2013

I don't think I'll have a better opportunity, so here's one I wrote for a friend a while ago:
   1   2   3   4  
1|   |   |   |   |
2|   |   |   |   |
3|   |   |   |   |
4|   |   |   |   |
 |   |   |   |   |
1) Four points provides space for a public discussion.
2) A succession of debts makes a spirited address.
3) Downright reduplicated; five yards of cloth by the English measure.
4) Failing grades without difficulty.

1) Spot an insectivore.
2) An amount of mass extending into the water.
3) A constant friend of Ratty
4) Brown discoloration covered with a spicy sauce.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:38 PM on December 21, 2013

That one's probably out of my league, Joe. Is it British/cryptic style? Those don't look like traditional clues.
posted by JHarris at 11:51 PM on December 21, 2013

I suppose it's sort-of cryptic style. The "down" clues are a lot easier than the ones across; just remember that each line has a pair of clues combined into a single term. I suspect that the main challenge comes from the fact that I'm not very good at crosswords!
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:15 AM on December 22, 2013

Does the google crossword lack in celebratory congratulations when you finish it, or do I have a wrong answer somewhere?
posted by kaibutsu at 12:17 AM on December 22, 2013

You have a wrong answer somewhere. When you finish it'll congratulate you and tell you your time.
posted by MsDaniB at 12:33 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Apparently this puzzle was a late substitution.

(Spoiler warning: the article names a couple of the words in the grid.)
posted by Shmuel510 at 12:57 AM on December 22, 2013

The pair of clues thing is part of cryptic crosswords generally, Joe which are a style that predominate in the UK. Cryptics are interesting, but most of them don't have nearly the grid density of "normal" crosswords, which are often quite tricky in their own way. I don't know if cryptics are any trickier than a good hard traditional puzzle by a good constructor -- I know the first time I encountered and figured out what was going on in a puzzle with rebus answers I was quite pleased with myself, although they aren't very common really.

(I admit, I made this post mostly to talk about crosswords, which I'm kind of geeking out about at the moment. 100th anniversary of the form's as good a time as any, right?)
posted by JHarris at 2:04 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think I'm an intermediate-level solver; I can usually do the NYT Monday through Wednesday without too much trouble, but harder puzzles give me fits. (New York Times puzzles increase in difficulty through the week, from Monday to Sunday.) Even so, if it helps people out, here are my solving tips.

Advice for normal/American-style crosswords:
- Work in pencil! Only ink them in if you're very sure.
- Some solvers like to start from one corner and work out from there; some setters will cater to this and make one corner (often upper-left) easier than the others. I think, however, it's best to give the whole puzzle a once-over at first and fill in easy clues, and in this way knit together the answers, getting more and more sure of their correctness as you go.
- Answers are always the same part of speech as the clue.
- The answer to a crossword clue cannot be a word, or derived from a word, in the clue. If a clue is written in what seems like an odd way, maybe the puzzle setter was trying to avoid using the word in the answer?
- A question-mark at the end of a clue indicates wordplay or some other trick.
- Watch for capitals; they indicate proper nouns, and can sometimes change the whole meaning of the clue.
- In professional puzzles, every box is checked both ways, part of an Across and a Down clue. This is a subtle aid to the solver -- it is very difficult to fill in every box like that without resorting to certain crossword puzzle tricks that turn up time and again, like short vowel-laden words (look at the tags for the post for a few of these).
- There is what I call the Principle Of Similarity: unusual answers will usually be tipped off in the clue in some way that matches both. A clue written in a foreign language will probably have an answer in that language. A clue containing an abbreviation will probably be abbreviated. A clue written in slang with usually have a slang answer, and the same goes for onomatopoeia.
- There are some tricks that come up many times. Answers that are numbers will probably be represented in roman numerals. If a clue's answer seems like it'll has to be a letter of the alphabet, try spelling it out. (Aie, Bee, Cee, Dee, Eee, Eff, Gee, Aich, Eye, Jay....) Clues that suggest more than one thing will be plural, even if that seems odd (like multiple proper nouns). Also watch for comparatives ("More rapid than" might be FASTER) and superlatives ("Most rosy" could well be REDDEST), because they'll very often end in ER and EST respectively.
- Look out for multi-word answers; clues will generally only tell you there's more than one word in the easiest puzzles. Often, if it looks like a clue must be impossible or very weird at least, the reason is there's multiple short words.
- Many puzzles these days have a theme, some connecting factor. Very often this theme will connect the longest answers in the puzzle, in some way or other. Keep alert to particularly clever themes. If the puzzle has a title, it will usually tip off the theme; if there is no title, there might be a clue that reveals the theme (as in the Google puzzle).
- If the answer to a clue contains a letter that appears infrequently, especially Q, X and Z, immediately look at the clue that crosses that letter; often those answers will be easier to guess.
- It's impossible to get all answers right just from looking at individual clues; there's always some degree of wiggle-room, where two or more answers might fit. Look at parallel words you've already filled in in these cases, and see if any prospective answers you try will create unfortunate letter combinations, like double As or Is, unlikely consonant sequences, or long strings of consonants without vowels. You'll get better at watching for these with practice. Keep in mind though that multi-word answers might produce unexpected letter sequences.
- If you're absolutely stumped, it is possible that means you made a mistake somewhere. Just because it fits the clue and length doesn't mean it's the answer.
- Always keep an eye out for ambiguity. The way you first read a clue might not be the intended reading. The answer will match the part of speech, but maybe the part of speech isn't what you think it is.
- Since every letter is crossed in two directions, you have a fallback if a clue is from a sphere of knowledge you aren't up on. Just because the puzzle contains foreign language clues, or sports names, or musicians, or technical jargon, doesn't mean it'll be impossible for you. (Because of this, really well-designed puzzles will try not to cross two clues from the same area of knowledge, like two sports figures crossing at the same box.)
- The most cunning puzzles of all are rebus puzzles, where some of the boxes might not contain ordinary letters, but digits, symbols, or whole words. They are rare, but they're out there, and they're often not heralded when they show up. If it looks absolutely impossible to make any any answer fit, and you've checked for possible errors, see if replacing one of the letters with a word or symbol will work. If it is a rebus puzzle and there's a theme, it will almost certainly relate to that theme. Remember: the crossing words will have to use the rebus cells, so any weird symbols or words will have to work both ways.
posted by JHarris at 6:20 AM on December 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

The story of the first crossword in the NYT is interesting. Before that the Grey Lady was all news all the time, but it turns out that if your headline every day is 'People Dying, World Suffering, Bombs-Bombs-Bombs!' a little gaming on the side helps the morale at home.

If, like me, you just skipped most of JHarris' hints because, like, duh, then I encourage you to give vintage and antique crosswords a try. If your library still has a micrfilm reader, they might also still have the entire NYT run on microfilm. Go look up the puzzle published on your birthday and give it a try. Puzzles older than your social consciousness are often incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to solve. I got my birthday puzzle a while back, and it's remarkably similar to the experience of playing my 1981 Genus edition Trivial Pursuit deck: Frustrating, in the most delightful way.
posted by carsonb at 7:23 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by carsonb at 7:30 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Amendment to JHarris's excellent comment: NYT crosswords increase in difficulty from Monday to Saturday. The Sunday puzzle is larger but typically Wednesday/Thursday level difficulty.
posted by valrus at 9:26 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ah, I did not know that. Thanks, valrus!

Before that the Grey Lady was all news all the time, but it turns out that if your headline every day is 'People Dying, World Suffering, Bombs-Bombs-Bombs!' a little gaming on the side helps the morale at home.

But not comics, that's just mindless frivolity!
posted by JHarris at 2:22 PM on December 22, 2013

Google putting a crossword on their homepage is basically like their saying "we know you cheat".
posted by nanojath at 11:21 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's weird how different US style crosswords are to UK ones.

Here is an exmaple of a cryptic for example.
But more than that, even the non cryptic ones have far fewer letter crossing over, usually every other letter at most.

They feel very different to complete.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:15 AM on December 23, 2013

That, more than anything, is why I resist getting interested in cryptic/British crosswords, the tricky clues are odd but I'm sure I could get use to them with practice, but not having every letter crossed in both directions means you have less to fall back on if you absolutely cannot get one clue, like if it's written unfairly or relies on specialized knowledge you're not up on.
posted by JHarris at 2:31 PM on December 23, 2013

I'll follow Just this guy, y'know's example and try to solve The Guardian's crossword. It has built-in help so it will be easy to check our work.

The first clue across is "Stocking up time". This is a double clue, with each part reflecting on the other. It's a time, an occasion, when stockings are put up. Nine letters, must be CHRISTMAS. I enter it, and I'm right. Yay!

Second across is "Wise man tucked into the turkey", four letters. What's another word for a wise man? SAGE, perhaps? And that's a herb often found in turkey stuffing, so I enter it (and it's right!).

Next is "Making a tidy packet for Christmas, perhaps". The word "perhaps" usually means that the answer is an example of the clue. How do we make packets tidy? We wrap them. Eight letters may mean that the answer is WRAPPING. And you can buy Christmas wrapping, which confirms our guess. I don't think this is a great clue, but we got it anyway.

Nine across is two words (four and two letters respectively). The clue is also two words, so we know that the answer must be a pair of words that are implied by "provides" and implied by "presents". The second term is tricky - "presents" may be a noun ("he gave presents") or a verb ("she presents him with a watch"). I can't think of an answer right now, so let's move on.

Ten across is "Ingredients relating to cold mince pie". As so often happens with these crosswords, I got the answer intuitively and confirmed it later: a RECIPE is a list of ingredients, and it can be broken down into RE (relating to) C (for cold) and IPE ("pie" that has been "minced", i.e., rearranged).

Eleven across is "Hymns or carols he arranged", eight letters. The word "arranged" means we're looking for an anagram, and the words we need to use are probably "carols he". The first clue ("hymns") means that it's still a musical term ... CHORALES!

This seems like a good point to try some of the crossing words. One down is "Slice the turkey with five in mind?" A five-letter word for slicing a turkey is CARVE, and I can see that this word has a "V", which is the Roman numeral equalling five, inserted into the middle of CARE. Which can mean "mind", as in "I don't care/ I don't mind".

Two down is "Parcel I untied reveals an identical one". The word "untied" implies that this is an anagram. The clue "an identical one", seven letters, might be REPLICA - which has the letters of "PARCEL I"!

"Pick off the bird". A straight-forward pair of clues: to "pick something off" can be to SNIPE it, and a snipe is a sort of bird.

"Wise men state it's miraculous": at this time of year the wise men must be MAGI, and since it's seven letters the whole word must be MAGICAL. This is simultaneously the state of being a Magus, and also something miraculous.

"One cheers up after second drink". This is a nasty one: the word "after" might mean "the word implied by "one cheers up" comes after the word implied by "second drink", or it might mean "the last letters of 'one cheers up'". We know the word starts with "s", so let's take the second option: the last three letters of "one cheers up", SUP. From an earlier clue we have the letter O a bit lower down, which makes the word sound like SUPPORTER or SUPPORTED, both of which are associated "cheering up". "Porter" is a drink (it's a sort of beer) so we might try SUPPORTER. Not a great clue, this one.

Six down is "Stuff to eat, as it is cooked". We already have the first letter, S. What's a seven-letter word for "stuff"? SATIATE! And it's an anagram of EAT AS IT. I suppose "cooked" is beaing used to signify an anagram here.

Now that I have the first and third letters of nine across I can revisit it: two words, four and two letters respectively, clued by "Provides presents". There aren't so many candidates - PATS, PETS, PITA, PITS, PITY, POTS, PUTA (?), PUTS. The last one seems a good candidate for "provides", but how about "presents"? Ah, it's a phrase: PUTS ON.

Finally, seven down is nine letters and is clued by " Christmas meal, followed by kiss and an elegantly carved pipe". We have the first, third and fifth letters: G-O-E, so I bet the first part of the word is "GOOSE". Goosekiss? Goosepeck? Goosebuss? I eventually figured out that it was GOOSENECK, but I had to use a dictionary.

Anyway, that's the first part of the crossword. To my mind it's much more engaging than the American style, because you always have more than one way of getting at the answer. Too many USAn crosswords depend on some obscure detail and leave me stuck if I don't know it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:46 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, but that's why American crosswords cross every letter, so in the worst case you have an alternate way of getting the whole thing. And while American crosswords certainly have explicit tricks, British crosswords have even more of them.

British crossword clues are each like individual puzzles, and they don't have to cross every letter, making them much easier to construct. (Speaking from the perspective of someone who tried to write an American-style puzzle autofill algorithm once.) To a degree that means British puzzles test flexibility of thought than knowledge, but only until solvers learn the tricks. (I remember that GAMES Magazine publishes lists of those tricks in small print along with any cryptics.) American puzzles have a bit more of an aspect of the trivia quiz, but the possibility of finding answers to clues you don't know means you're more likely to learn new things doing them.

I don't think either is better than the other, but still prefer the American style. Partly because I'm not fond of anagrams.
posted by JHarris at 4:33 AM on December 24, 2013

Note: both puzzle types usually have more than one way of answering a clue, but in British style puzzles the necessary redundancy (which is what makes it a puzzle instead of a quiz or test) is supplied by the clue, while in American puzzles handled by the grid itself.
posted by JHarris at 4:34 AM on December 24, 2013

22 Across is quite fun.

But I don't understand the clue for PUTS ON
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:00 AM on December 24, 2013

Non-cryptic crosswords are word puzzles with a hint of general knowledge quiz. Cryptic crosswords, at their best, are a form of literature.
posted by Grangousier at 5:06 AM on December 24, 2013

Hm, I'm not sure I agree with that, not for any non-reductive definition for "literature." And if you're going to compare, you have to compare the best of both types, and I've done some terrific non-cryptic puzzles before.
posted by JHarris at 5:36 AM on December 24, 2013

I don't understand the clue for PUTS ON

"Provides presents" looks as though it means "gives gifts", but really the two words ("provides", "presents") are each a separate clue. You can "put on" a meal or some entertainment, which means that you're providing the meal or the entertainment; and you can "put on" a lecture or a show, which means that you're presenting it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:57 PM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

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