ST 2541 – as solved by two of us

Sunday Telegraph Cryptic No 2541

Blow-by-blow solving accounts from two contributors

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

BD Rating – Difficulty ** Enjoyment *****

Peter’s introduction

For a change this week, we’re trying to show you the solving process in action rather than an explanation of the clues written after the event. Two of us solved this puzzle while making notes about our thoughts, so that you can see two approaches to solving and the differences and similarities between our thought processes.

If you’re reading this to learn something, Gnomethang’s solving experience will be more familiar, and mine may seem absurdly unlikely. Mine is the result of a lot of practice – I’ve been trying to solve cryptics for about 34 years, tackling at least two puzzles a day for more than 25 of those years. I’ve been doing puzzles written by Brian Greer in particular for most of that period – he was probably a Times setter when I first looked (overambitiously) at Times puzzles in 1977, and he edited the Times crossword from 1995 to 2000 (Times xwd editors are setters, who amend clues quite often to achieve their version of the ‘Times style’). You’ll see that even with all that experience I don’t always see everything correctly when I first read a clue – I go up some blind alleys just like everyone else. As well as knowing commonly used tricks very well, the benefit of those years of practice is often seeing the right ‘wordplay structure’ early on, though not always knowing why. You might wonder why, after so much practice that these puzzles are often easy, I still do them. Apart from championship practice and spreading the cryptic crossword gospel, I do them partly because there’s always the chance that something will fox me for a while, and partly because I hope to see some clever treatment of words – in this puzzle, the ‘doubled’ bits of wordplay in 2D and 4D are a couple of examples.

Caveat: Although we’ve tried to record our thoughts accurately, cryptic clues rely on language-based tricks and our brains deal with language in ways that we don’t always understand – if you read books about language by people like Steven Pinker you’ll discover linguistic rules faithfully followed by your brain without your conscious knowledge. So when we’re solving clues, there may important things going on in our heads that we don’t know about, and statements about what we think and don’t think about apply only to our deliberate/conscious thinking.

Gnomethang’s solving story

I always like to start a crossword by running through all the across clues then all the down clues. This way I can get a feel for the puzzle in terms of potential difficulty and gauge the setter’s style. This is obviously less important if you know the setter beforehand but I find it good practice so that you do not miss out a clue which might be a sitter and help with other checking letters. I guess it harks back to the old exam days at school – you don’t want to find an extra page or an unexpected stinker of a question!

At this stage I never dwell too long on any one clue as I don’t want to get bogged down and also want to get a ‘shape’ of the puzzle. I always write the letters for any obvious anagrams in a circle, but if the answer doesn’t jump out at me I quickly move on. I also ‘pen in lightly’ anything that looks OK but is not fully justified and will also put in any obvious part answers: ‘of the’, ‘on’, and single ‘a’s if they are clear (you can come unstuck occasionally but I always make sure that they are lightly written as a reminder). At this time I am looking at possible clue types and other wordplay elements that look possible or promising.

So on with the show:

First pass

1A Misleading details in plans covering promise of redemption (8 )
Nothing immediate – Move on.
9A King and I joining a publisher in social activity (5-3)
R or K with I. Def probably social activity – move on.
10A Pitch a decisive factor in cricket match (4)
Think ‘pitch’ = tar or throw. Not sure – move on
11A Politicians at work maintaining domestic security (5-7)
Politicians = house? Move on
13A English writer, going by railway, leaves (8 )
((E + Pen) or name of Eng Writer),RY for railway? Move on
16A Land in Africa, part of Somalia (4)
MALI hidden (‘part of’ was the indicator)
17A Where things may be stored underground for spring (5)
Probably double def., one being ‘underground storage’ – move on
18A Facts that can be twisted a little (4)
Move on and wait for checking letters
20A Stop protecting one who’s happy to be a loser? (6)
I or A in ‘stop’ synonym. Move on
21A Assistant in theatre, perhaps, announced poet (8 )
Possibly (homophone of Hospital or theatre worker) = (name of poet). Move on
23A Recital isn’t arranged ahead of time for musician (12)
CLARINETTIST – Anagram jumps out (RECITALISNT) + T
26A Monarch that’s rejected in this republic (4)
EIRE – After a while these charades begin to jump out at you. I immediately started thinking (ER + IE) for (Monarch + ‘that is’). When the next word in the clue was ‘rejected’ I reversed this, and had the answer before I finished reading the clue.
27A Patching damaged headgear that’s not worn out (8 )
NIGHTCAP – Clue clearly asking for anagram of PATCHING (damaged). Again finished before I finished reading the clue. Like it.
28A Menacing relative outside home (8 )
Def probably ‘menacing’ – could be –ING or an adjective (-ENT ). Aunt around H?. Move on
2D Doubly supporting mother, as a matter of politeness (3,5)
Hmm. ‘A’ at end (MA, MA?). Possibly Latin – move on.
3D Tiger crashes disastrously — this reveals mounting cost (4,8
Probably anagram (TIGER CRASHES)*/disastrously. ‘Mounting’ probably cryptic – something to do with horseriding? Move on
4D Having a few degrees, and intelligent? Not so, not so! (6)
Move on
5D Avoid spending money in bar (4)
Somethiing like L,S, or D for ‘money’ in Rod or Inn? – Move on
6D Toy with coaches in school tennis games (5,3)
TRAIN SET. Nearly put this in lightly as I thought that coaches = trains (so what is ‘school’ doing?). Then realized that the def is ‘Toy with coaches’, so ‘school’ indicates TRAIN.
7D It’s a North-facing area for vineyards (4)
Move on – I rarely like 4-letter words without checking letters
8D Broadcast airing after six in original state (8 )
VIRGINIA. ‘Broadcast’ sets anagram sensor off – AIRING + VI (6) is a gimme. Slight worry about ‘original’ here – what is it doing?
12D Trailblazers run inside to look after dogs (12)
R inside word for trailblazers? Think I need a dog breed – possibly TE??, or SETTERS at the end? Move on
14D Person I’m addressing, with most of the next generation (5)
Move on and wait for checking letters
16D One needed in dreadful endemic? (8 )
MEDICINE – I inside (ENDEMIC)* from ‘dreadful’. Where is the def? Reading it again gives all-in-one/&lit. Nice one!
17D Saintly female I see speaking in Italian city (8 )
VERONICA – Nearly passed this one over – spotted IC insertion but which Italian city? Eyes were resting on next clue when VERONA came. Confirm Saint name and go!
19D Paintings put up with some Biblical text and cross (8 )
Possibly an ART reversal in something indicated by ‘text’, def = cross (transom?). Move on.
22D Harmony seldom initially found in marriage (6)
UNISON – S inserted in ‘marriage’? Aha! – UNION! The checking ‘I’ helped here.
24D A river journey in old vessel (4)
ARGO – Checking letters A?G? with old vessel (ship) is a dead giveaway even though O is part of wordplay. Just looking at A?G? I would probably say ARGO before any other word.
25D Gratuitous advice? (4)
Gratuitous suggested FREE or CLUE. Gratuity from gratuitous suggested TIPS. Then I looked at the checking letters!

Gnomethang - after the first look at all the clues

After my first run through all the clues I have 11 answers filled in which is about normal, possibly more than normal for a Sunday. I already feel that this is easier than last week’s. Now I go back through all the unsolved clues again but will ignore ones for which I have no checking letters. I will typically spend a bit more time on these clues and find that it usually pays dividends, but again I won’t get too bogged down on any one clue – that can come later if necessary.

Second pass

9A I had a quick look at the ending of this word in case VIRGINIA is wrong but it looks OK
11A I pen in –ING on the end of the clue but don’t go any further
15A SWEDEN – This jumped out having seen S????N and expecting ED in there somewhere. NEWS reversed on the outside
17A VAULT – Leapt out at me (ahem!), and confirmed my double def idea.
28A S(IN)ISTER – I had the wrong relative before but the S?N start makes it obvious where the IN goes, and that leads to the answer.
12D TRENDSETTERS – This would have gone in on first pass if I had thought a bit longer but no worries – a good clue to get in for the grid.

Now I sit back and take a look at the grid to look at the areas that seem likely to fall first having more checking letters. The south-east corner looks favourite:

18A DATA – Reversal of A TAD. I had a feeling about an anagram (twisted) and I suppose a reversal is a special case anagram. Checking letters did the job in any case.
19D TRAVERSE – the ART reversal confirmed and the Biblical text simply VERSE – again this might have fallen earlier but no harm done.
21A HOUSEMAN – Checking letters ??U?E?A? made me think of MAN and also HOUSE almost simultaneously. I get the hospital/theatre worker and seem to remember Housman the poet – a quick Google confirms the latter. I have no problem with checking this sort of thing to confirm unfamiliar words.
14D YOUTH – YOU + TH(e). Pen RY in at 13a
11A HOUSE SITTING – Obvious now you look at it.

I keep on working upwards, having a quick glance at: 3d – still nothing shouting on the anagram front, and 5d – nope

9A APRES-SKI – I should have spotted SKI earlier, particularly thinking about K and I.

Gnomethang - after 20 answers

That makes 20 clues filled in and Peter and I agreed to take a picture of the grid so here it is (although I’ve just spotted 7D). Now I’ll just work through the rest of the grid. I’ll be pretty random here and just look around until something falls in.

7D ASTI follows – forgot it was a wine-making region as well as a wine
3D CASH REGISTER – this anagram stood up longer than expected possibly because I was still hanging onto the definition involving horses or something
10A TOSS – Hmmm! Both definitions effectively mean the same thing. (Not very good.)
20A DIETER – Hadn’t looked here for a bit and it is hanging out fully checked. Another clue that is obvious with checking letters and the I looking to be near the beginning.
5D SAVE – PUT in without realizing why, penny dropped a few moments later (BAR none = SAVE none)
4D I realize that I have not looked at this since the first pass. This might have been a gimme but I am still none the wiser. Crack on…
1A SPECIOUS – I missed IOU for ‘Promise of redemption’ which is a bit daft – normally this would have been penned lightly in at the start
2D PRO FORMA – I don’t see what the PRO is all about in the wordplay but the answer is clear. 20 minutes later I was writing an email to Prolixic and halfway through asking him about the wordplay when the penny dropped mid-sentence! This only leaves 13a and 4d (and turns out these were last in for Prolixic too!)
13A GREENERY – Smacks hand on forehead – Our Man in Havana! Silly me and I wasn’t thinking about an alternative definition very much so missed (leaves = greenery), seeing it after thinking of (leaves = salad).
4D OBTUSE – had a good laugh at this. What a good clue, and how obtuse was I for not going back to that clue sooner?

As suspected from the first run-through this didn’t turn out to be as tricky as expected. I still made heavy work of a few clues which could have fallen earlier with a bit more application. What I will say is that if I am ever confronted with a stinker this approach usually gets me into the mind of the setter more quickly than just cherry-picking adjacent clues, as reading all the clues gives me a feel for the puzzle as a whole.

What did come out of this exercise, and I hadn’t quite realized it, is that I don’t much like 4-letter answers and unless they are jumping out at me I tend to leave them until I have checking letters. Also I might in the future think that little bit harder at the outset as there were a handful of clues that were quite gettable first time.

In any case, however you approach puzzles, there are a couple of important things to remember:

  • No crossword setter wants to create a puzzle so hard that no-one can solve it – it’s no fun for them or for us.
  • Every clue has a definition of some kind, and in most types of clue there’s always another definition or wordplay to go with it – it is up to us to find the split.

Peter’s solving story

All my crossword solving is partly practice for the next Times Crossword Championship. So I time most puzzles, and use an approach intended to get me a correct solution in the shortest possible time. “Speed merchant” solvers like me have different approaches, but we all seem to exploit checking letters to get help with other answers as much as we can. Some of us believe that the bottom right corner is the best place to start, others look at long answers first because getting them provides a lot of checking letters, or multi-word answers because there are usually fewer multi-word answers with the right word-lengths to fit a slot than single-word answers.

Personally, I just start with the first across clue, and when I solve an across clue, switch to the downs which (a) have just had their first checking letter filled in, and (b) intersect with a later across clue. The ideal situation is that you solve the across clue(s) going across the top of the grid, and most of the downs crossing them, to get checking letters for the acrosses in the rest of the top half. Perfection is solving the first clue you read and then getting all the others in your chosen order with the help of checking letters. That didn’t happen with this puzzle (and hardly ever happens because I move on pretty quickly when nothing comes to mind) but I wasn’t far away. That’s partly because the process of recording my thoughts about an unsolved clue was often enough to trigger an extra idea that gave me the
answer.

So maybe my speedy method is too speedy – I’m now wondering whether a slower look at the first few clues would reduce the number of puzzles where my first answer is about the fifth across clue and the help from checking letters then means I complete the bottom of the puzzle first, and have to go back to complete the top. Please don’t think that because I seem to stroll through this puzzle, you’re a poor solver because you didn’t stroll through it. That’s not my intention and it’s not true. Some of the fast solvers are very clever people, but that’s not the most important reason why they’re fast – they gained a huge advantage by starting young. As far as I know, every single one of my serious rivals as a fast solver started solving before their 18th birthday.

Material in [square brackets] below represents later thoughts while writing this report.

1A Misleading details in plans covering promise of redemption (8 )
“promise of redemption” suggests IOU from redemption of debts (rather than souls). This probably means a container clue and an answer fitting ????(IOU)S, with ????S for plans, meaning ‘misleading’. Inspiration strikes – SPECS are plans, so it’s SPECIOUS
2D Doubly supporting mother, as a matter of politeness (3,5) P?? ?????
[Once any answers are written in, I look at the grid entry where an answer will be written before reading the clue. So from here the patterns of checking letters (as amended by the word-lengths shown at the end of the clue) are shown for each clue, as that’s what I think about first.] Back at this clue, “Matter of politeness” seems a possible def, and P?? ????? looks unusual – no really common three-letter words start with a P. “mother” suggests MA, and “supporting mother” suggests MA?????? in a down clue, but it can’t be. Try P?? ???MA – PRO FORMA fits, and ‘pro’ and ‘for’ both mean ‘supporting’. Not completely confident about the def., but this wordplay seems very strong so in it goes.
3D Tiger crashes disastrously — this reveals mounting cost (4,8 ) C??? ????????
This has to be an angram of (tiger crashes) doesn’t it? Nothing springs to mind instantly so I write the letters in a bit of blank space. I use randomly-filled rectangles of letters rather than circles, so I write

C E H G
E R I S
S T A R

I also wonder about something horsey from the word “mounting”, but concentrating on the C??? part, nothing comes to mind. Giving this up, and just pondering ‘cost’, I think of CASH, and from

# E # G
E R I #
S T # R

I can now see REGISTER as the second word.

4D Having a few degrees, and intelligent? Not so, not so! (6) O?????
No initial ideas except something about temperature from ‘degrees’ – I wonder about OC representing 0 degrees C, but can’t think of any helpful OC???? words after rejecting OCCUTE as gibberish [and OC wouldn’t have made sense as it would be “having no degrees” rather than “having a few degrees”]. Hang on, the “not so, not so” bit suggests we need “with lots of degrees/not intelligent” and degrees come in angles as well as temperatures – OBTUSE is what we want [noting that the opposite ACUTE applies to both a sharp angle and sharp person].
5D Avoid spending money in bar (4) S???
STOP=bar, but seems too weak for “avoid spending money” as it could also be “avoid {something else}” – SAVE is the double def that we need. [I was going to say I couldn’t tell you what magic guided me to looking for a double def rather than {avoid = “(spending) money in bar”} for something like ??(P)? or ?(L)??, but I think it was the word “spending” – an unlikely def/wordplay link and rather superfluous as part of an indication for a money abbreviation.]
9A King and I joining a publisher in social activity (5-3) A?????-???
“King and I” suggests RI or similar, but for (5-3) starting with A, APRES-SKI is an old favourite answer and fits ‘social activity’ – A PRESS = “a publisher” confirms the rest of the wordplay after ‘king’ switches from the commonly-used R (=rex) to the more obvious K but less frequent K. [I’m sure that one result of my years of practice is considering possibilities like this in the best order (statistically) – R before K for ‘king’, and ER before R before Q for ‘queen’.  I’m also sure that our brains do similar things with words that can have several meanings when we read or hear them in sentences.]
6D Toy with coaches in school tennis games (5,3) ?R??? ???
The toy/coaches bit suggests TRAIN SET – yes, TRAIN=school (verb), SET = ‘tennis games’.
7D It’s a North-facing area for vineyards (4) ?S??
First letter almost certainly a vowel, though TSAR, CSAR, and PSST are possible. Reverse ‘it’s a’ from ‘North-facing’ as a down clue reversal indicator, and you’ve got ASTI, the Italian fizz and the area where its grapes come from.
8D Broadcast airing after six in original state (8 ) ?I??????
First letter probably a consonant though AIR????? is possible. ‘Six’ strongly suggests VI, and “broadcast” could be an anagram indicator as well as a sounds-like one, with ‘airing’ as the fodder. VI,RGINIA fits this wordplay and was one of the original 13 states/colonies in the USA so fits “original state” too.

petebiddlecombe - after 10 answers

Here’s the ideal result of my solving method after the top across clue(s). The intersecting downs have given us all the checkers for 10A and 14A, most of the ones for 11A, 13A and 15A, and one checker for 4 other across clues.

10A Pitch a decisive factor in cricket match (4) ?O?S
‘pitch’ and ‘TOSS’, as in ‘pitch and toss’ mean much the same, and what about ‘decisive factor in cricket match’? Well the toss is important at least sometimes so I’m going to hope for the best. [This was my least confidently written answer, and I have the same fear of 4-letter words that Gnomethang is starting to get – with checking letter pairs like ?O?S that allow many words to fit, it’s very easy to slip up.]
11A Politicians at work maintaining domestic security (5-7) H?U?E-?I??I?G
Has to start with HOUSE and almost certainly ends -ING. HOUSE fits the politicians (H. of Lords or Commons). They have sessions or sittings, so it’s HOUSE-SITTING
12D Trailblazers run inside to look after dogs (12) T????????????
‘look after’ is often TEND [it uses common letters, and END is in lots of words], and ‘run’ is often R. How about making TREND from these and ‘inside’ as a containment indicator – yes, TREND,SETTERS=dogs
13A English writer, going by railway, leaves (8 ) ?R?E?E??
Leaves might belong to a TREE which seems to fit in with some of the checking letters, but nothing comes to mind, so move on. [An R and two E’s as checkers are pretty unhelpful – one of my older championship rivals publicly admits to ‘vocalophobia’, a fear of patterns like ?E?A?E, and this set isn’t much better]
15A Editor put in report, back in European country (6) S?E??N
SWEDEN fits the checking letters – yes – ED in reverse of NEWS. [In the Oxford Dictionary of English, searched with some nifty software, the only other 6-letter words to fit these checkers are ‘step in’ and ‘step-in’, so the (6) means it has to be SWEDEN, which I didn’t know consciously but seem to have absorbed unconsciously]
16A Land in Africa, part of Somalia (4) ?A?I
From looking at the grid, TAXI might be worth a try. No, this is MALI inside SoMALIa [a modern-day version of the old chestnut about a ‘capital city in Czechoslovakia’]
16D One needed in dreadful endemic? (8 ) M???????
Anag of ‘endemic’? – Yes, MEDICINE [Not stopping long enough to see clearly that it’s an &lit/all-in-one]
17A Where things may be stored underground for spring (5) ????T
Looks like an (underground storage = spring) double def – yes, VAULT
17D Saintly female I see speaking in Italian city (8 ) V???????
Italian city and V__ means VENICE or VERONA [use Shakespeare play titles as an aide-memoire]. {I, “see”} suggests IC and I remember that there is a St VERONICA, though no detail about her except that she might be linked with veronica=speedwell or a dim memory of something in bull-fighting [the latter – Chambers has veronica=”(in bullfighting) a movement with the cape supposedly reminiscent of St Veronica’s in offering her handkerchief to Christ”].
18A Facts that can be twisted a little (4) D??A
I slipped up a little here – I should have looked at 14D=??U??, but forgot to do so. Back at 18A, facts are DATA – a reverse of ‘a tad’ – I had similar thoughts to Gnomethang about ‘twisted’ but it seems a solid answer
19D Paintings put up with some Biblical text and cross (8 ) T???????
‘Paintings put up’ could be a reversal of ART at the beginning – yes, cross could be TRAVERSE, and VERSE fits “some Biblical text”
20A Stop protecting one who’s happy to be a loser? (6) D??T?R
DIETER and DEXTER look like contenders from the checking letters [so was DOCTOR but I missed it] – DIETER is right if it’s weight that’s lost – yes, DETER=stop, with (I=one) inside it
21A Assistant in theatre, perhaps, announced poet (8 ) ????E?A?
MAN seems a likely ending, with some kind of assistant as the def. ‘Poet’ matches AE Housman, who sounds like HOUSEMAN, so the theatre is the operating theatre. [This clue fits a {definition homophone-indicator definition} pattern, which leads to unfair clues when the two items are the same length. It’s fine here because HOUSMAN and HOUSEMAN are different lengths.]
22D Harmony seldom initially found in marriage (6) U?????
Marriage suggests UNION and “seldom initially” suggests – combine these for UNI(S)ON and briefly enjoy the wry social comment in the surface reading
23A Recital isn’t arranged ahead of time for musician (12) C??R?N???I?T
My money from checkers is on CLARINETTIST. Wordplay (recital isn’t)*,T and “musician” confirm it on reading the clue
24D A river journey in old vessel (4) A???
‘A’ in the clue seems v. likely to provide that initial A, then river is probably R – GO=journey and ARGO = boat (from Jason and the Argonauts) arrive in my head together. Brief thought that ‘Argo’ sounds roughly like a river, but then realise that’s Italy’s Arno and say a quiet thankyou to the crossword gods for not thinking of this first – it’s the kind of slightly tempting but horribly wrong answer I’ve sometimes rushed into writing.
25D Gratuitous advice? (4) T???
TIPS matches ‘advice’, and the rest must be punning between ‘gratuity’ and ‘gratuitous’
26A Monarch that’s rejected in this republic (4) E?R?
Might be EARN or ERRS from the checkers, but then reading the clue suggests old favourites ER=Monarch and i.e.=that’s, for a comment about independent Ireland = EIRE and the British monarchy.
27A Patching damaged headgear that’s not worn out (8 ) N?G??C?P
NIGHTCAP looks very probable from checkers, and is an anag. of ‘patching’ [‘not worn out’ is ‘not worn outside your house’]
28A Menacing relative outside home (8 ) S?N?S?E?
SINISTER looks very likely – yes, S(IN=home)ISTER

Well that’s the end of the first pass of the acrosses, which has gone better than I would dare to hope for on a puzzle where I’m going to write about the solving order. Next task is to tackle the remaining downs, or rather down. (If there were more, I’d look at the top half ones from left to right, then the remaining bottom half ones from left to right, always of course looking at the checking letters before reading the clue.)

14D Person I’m addressing, with most of the next generation (5) ??U?H
last-but one letter almost certainly from SGCT – YOU= “person I’m addressing”, and TH = most of ‘the’, giving us YOUTH=next generation. So now we move on to the last remaining across clue.
13A English writer, going by railway, leaves (8 ) ?R?E?E?Y
Leaves could be GREENERY, couldn’t they? Yes – Graham GREENE is the writer, going next to RY=railway.

And that wraps up a straightforward puzzle for me. As I said at the start, if I’d been solving without recording my thoughts, my progress would have looked much more like gnomethang’s. We both discovered (in slightly different ways) that investing a bit more effort in the first few clues might get us off to a better start. Two things possibly worth noting from my solving story:

  • At no point did I think through the possible clue-types, asking “can this clue be an anagram?” and so on, looking for possible wordplay when the answer is yes (I don’t think Gnomethang did either). Instead, I saw possible wordplay elements (including indicator words) or definitions in the clue and started my reasoning from there. For me, pondering possible clue-types and looking for possible places for the def/wordplay split are techniques held in reserve in case I get badly stuck.
  • How important the crossword aspect of these puzzles can be – a few times, I guessed the answer or a choice of 2 or 3 answers from checking letters before even seeing the clue. So even if you do an “across and then down” read-through like Gnomethang at the beginning [I did until I was completing puzzles regularly and decided I wanted to go faster], I would strongly recommend using checking letters to decide where to concentrate your efforts after that. Even as an expert solver, I know that my confidence is affected by the amount of time that’s gone by since my last solution, so clearing up the blackest corner after an initial read-through is good psychology. Particular checking letters are one of the few reasons why I might change my order – something like the initial V in one of 17A and D implied by solving the other might well make me look back at that clue even if I’d read it once.
Advertisements

14 Comments

  1. crypticsue
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to both for a very interesting insight into puzzle solving. Although I don’t usually buy the Sunday Paper, I knew that Gnomethang and Peter were going to “review” this puzzle differently so I popped out and completed the puzzle in my usual quick time. I am a fast solver who started at the age of 19 1/2 but maybe if I had been introduced to the DT Cryptic at 18….!! I think this has been a very interesting exercise to see how others do the puzzle. My way of solving appears to be a mixture of the two: I read all the across clues first, filling in as I go along, on this occasion only, noting the order in which I solved the clues: my first answer being 10a, then 16a then 27a, then I moved on to the downs and had to go all the way down to 25d before putting in an answer. I certainly don’t consciously think about the type of clue, eg anagram, charade whatever – I think over time you develop an instinctive way of completing a puzzle. Certainly, since becoming a reviewer, I find I have to concentrate on ignoring what the type of clue is and just solve in my usual way and then analyse the type of clue afterwards, or I can’t do the puzzle at all!

  2. Posted June 25, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks crypticsue. Just a quick note to you all point out that this was born out of an idea to try and give some pointers to perhaps less experienced solvers so that they might see if there was any part of our approaches that might help. Unfortunately the puzzle didn’t turn out to be so tricky that we needed to delve into the “What to do when stuck” scenario but we have touched on the idea here.
    If this acts a springboard for a discussion along those lines then that’s great (and I guess we can do it here!). If not then I hope at least that you enjoy reading our combined ramblings!.

    (Sue, I hope you carry on with the Sunday’s – they really are rather good!)

  3. Mr Tub
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I did finish this puzzle eventually but wasn’t happy at all about how I did it. 27a is a good example of my frustrations. I only got the answer from thinking of something you wore on your head whilst indoors and seeing whether the ideas I came up with would fit the grid. When I read Gnomethang’s solution I was amazed to find out this was an anagram as I still couldn’t see it anywhere. It was only when I read Peter’s explanation that the penny finally dropped!

    Part of me used to think there are probably as many ways to finish a puzzle as there are people trying to do it, but now I’m not so sure. Being able to see the similarities as well as the differences between the methods you have both used is facinating. As someone who is still very new to the crossword it has taught me that I need to spend a bit more time on the theory as well as the practise. Thank you both for taking the time to share your thoughts in such detail.

    • Posted June 25, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      I think that 27a is a good example of where experience helps. The clue is written in an absolutely standard way:

      Patching damaged headgear that’s not worn out (8 )
      anagram + anagram indicator = definition

      I immediately knew what was going on and ignored the rather good surface reading (sorry Brian!). That is not to say that the clue is straightforward or has no merits as the good thing about it, as you noticed, is the not obvious ‘patching = nightcap’ anagram. There are not many anagrams where you can take an -ING ending and lose it in an anagram – NIGHT is one of the more common ones and again, having seen it before (more likely getting caught!) I am now on the lookout for this sort of thing.

  4. gazza
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Wow – I’m impressed by all this order and method. I tend to stare blankly at the clues until something occurs to me and then branch out in a haphazard fashion from that point until I get stuck, at which point I resume the blank staring.
    Thanks to both for all the effort you put into producing the interesting insights.

    • Posted June 25, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      I should have thought of that gazza – it would have saved a bit of typing!

  5. Rishi
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting.
    On one or two occasions a couple of years ago, I solved UK crosswords with a friend in Bangalore in this manner.
    He and I had the clue sheet and the grid on our respective machines and each of us filled in even as we posted the answers and exchanged notes in a chat session.

  6. Geoff
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Very useful, very helpful. Thank you for making the effort. It’s reassuring to know a reviewer looks at a clue and thinks, no idea, move on.

    • Posted June 25, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      Geoff

      If you went through a puzzle filling in the answer to every clue first time, you would soon lose interest (a bit like doing the Quick Crossword!). The knack is to decide where you need to wait for checking letters and to learn to look for easy ways of getting into a puzzle. Most good setters will use a few of these “easy” clues.

  7. Posted June 26, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Thanks for all the responses. The idea came in part from a similar analysis by the winner of the 2008 Times Crossword Championship final (it has a link to the puzzles that still works). When I read it I was struck by the differences from my own memory of the same finals, in solving order and which clues were solved on first look. But of course these were circumstances where speed was all – and those who read the analysis should do so with a “Don’t try this at home!” warning for some of the short-cuts – the author knows when to gamble! This example shows that even the experts quite often have no idea and move on.

    “What to do when stuck” sounds like a good topic for another page.

  8. Peter
    Posted June 28, 2010 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    What a really good page.

    At some point maybe the same could be done with a Tuesday or Friday puzzle.

    • Posted June 28, 2010 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      Thanks Peter. Peter B and I picked the Sunday crossword because he reviews it anyway and recently they have been some of the more tricky puzzles – personally I would place RayT and Virgilius as the hardest of the DT puzzles. Unfortunately, this one turned out to be relatively straightforward so some of the process was lost.
      I think I speak for PeterB as well when I say that these solving approached are pretty typical for both of us so picking another puzzle would not lead to a grossly dissimilar review. You never know though and it would be interesting to say other solvers approaches, whatever the level.

      • Posted June 28, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        I also don’t think this kind of coverage for a different daily paper puzzle would tell you anything really useful. If we did it for a (true) toughie then you wouldn’t see me solving so easily, but you’d either have a second report on the same puzzle or a long wait for the Toughie report – it took quite a long time to put this report together.

        One point of the article is to show how we often solve clues from bits of the clue, often guessing from checking letters and possible defs. This is rather different to the neat and tidy analysis that can be suggested in the reports where we simply explain how the answer works.

  9. dram
    Posted June 28, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks for this article gents. I was particularly interested to read gnomie’s overall approach to the grid and Peter’s habit of looking for the components of the wordplay rather than the clue type – worth giving a whirl. I usually manage to crack most clues and end up with a handful that I simply cannot get, however hard I try. I have taken on board Peter’s advice that the best thing to do it to learn from the answers at that point rather than struggle endlessly.