EV Hints – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV Hints

EV Hints

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An announcement from the editor of the EV Puzzles, Steve Bartlett follows:

I am pleased to announce a weekly hints post for The Enigmatic Variations (EV) barred-grid puzzles, starting this coming Sunday on this site. The EV series runs in the print version of The Sunday Telegraph and is also available through the Telegraph Puzzles website.

The post should be available every Sunday at noon and will be in very much the same format as current posts on the site for the Saturday and Sunday Prize cryptic puzzles. The aim is to provide inexperienced barred-grid solvers with a place to go to understand how to tackle these puzzles with useful information pertinent to the puzzle on day of publication.

My feeling is that the differences between the blocked cryptic puzzles and barred puzzles can be off-putting and daunting for those trying to make the transition, with little immediate help to understand them. As Big Dave’s site has visitors interested in the Telegraph puzzle offerings, it makes sense that there should be a presence for Enigmatic Variations puzzles. Hopefully, with the guidance provided on Sundays, more solvers will feel willing to have a go at the puzzles.

Puzzles at the easier end of the EV spectrum have been selected for the first few September slots to run with the introduction of the new hints posts. I would be very happy to hear from solvers interested in taking up the challenge of trying out the EV series in September (and beyond) with the help of the hints and hearing about their experiences. I should think anyone regularly solving Toughie puzzles should make good progress with the September EVs.

I’d like to outline a few general aspects of the EV puzzles which are different from blocked puzzles:

Bars — bars are used to mark the end of entries instead of blocks. This enables setters to hide messages in the grid, for example. It also provides solvers with a greater percentage of crossing letters for entries than in blocked grids.

Preamble — the introductory text accompanying the puzzle will outline special instructions relevant to the puzzle. This can include modifications to clues, answers or entries, and hidden words to highlight in the final grid, for example. Some preambles are more complex than others, but the Sunday posts will aim to demystify these.

Themes/gimmicks — all EV puzzles are based on a theme of the compiler’s choosing. In order to develop the theme, a compiler can use gimmicks such as misprints, extra letters in clues and many more to generate messages. Again, the Sunday posts will help solvers to understand how to tackle these.

Vocabulary — Chambers Dictionary (2016) is the source dictionary for all EV puzzles and is very much vital. The development of themes will often restrict the compiler’s choice of words to use in the grid, leading to some uncommon words. Any entry within the dictionary can be used for entries and within clues, with some puzzles using unfamiliar definitions.

There are many more inventive things going on in the EV series and I hope that it can attract a new following of solvers with the help provided on this site.

Steve Bartlett (proXimal)

EV Editor



31 comments on “EV Hints

  1. Perhaps before launching something new on the electronic version the DT could sort out the problems of drop out and the debacle which was last Sundays Prize puzzle which they haven’t even had the courtesy to acknowledge let alone correct!

    1. That seems unnecessarily mean, Brian. Actually, Chris Lancaster did apologise (I liked to his message from a comment on Sunday’s hints).

      But more to the point, different people within an organization have different roles, skills, and responsibilities. Yes, it would be good if a bug in an app could be fixed, but I doubt the actual coding for that would be done by the editor of that crossword, let alone a different one. Given proXimalhas this plan to share with EV with more solvers, delaying it until somebody in another team does something unrelated is of no benefit to you or anybody else.

    2. Brian, what is being launched on the “electronic version” of the DT?

      Do you have insider information?

  2. Hi Steve,

    This looks great – I am looking forward to it! And thanks BD for hosting such posts :-)

    One early suggestion. Perhaps any budding thematic* solver might do well by first ‘revising’:
    (a) the ‘usual suspects’ found in wordplay, e.g. http://crypticcrosswords.net/crosswords/usual-suspects/ , and
    (b) one letter abbreviations found in cryptic crosswords, e.g. those at http://www.specialisedcrosswords.co.uk/tips/ , where such lists can be viewed / downloaded & printed.
    They’ll then have a firm foundation to build upon when embarking on the additional layers that the ‘thematic puzzle’ provides.

    I hope this helps,


    * And by ‘thematic’ puzzle, for those less familiar with the term, I usually mean the EV (Enigmatic Variations in the Sunday Telegraph), The Listener, The Inquisitor & those in The Magpie magazine.

  3. Thanks, proXimal. It was only last Sunday I was staring at the Enigmatic Variations wondering how anybody gets started with one of those (that one had across clues covering two answers, with separate definitions and wordplay for the letters they have in common), and thinking that it’d be good to have hints for it.

    Any chance there could also be a full explanation post after the closing date has passed, unwrapping all the layers in these things beyond just solving the clues?

    1. After the closing date there will be either a setter’s blog with answers or just the answers on this site and, as usual, a full review on Fifteensquared, to which we will provide a link. I have made it clear that we will not be trying to compete. To get an idea of what to expect, have a look at the setters’ blogs on Listen With Others.

      1. Ah, thanks: I hadn’t realized Fifteensquared covered any Telegraph puzzles.

        My apologies if it seemed like I was suggesting competition. Linking to what Fifteensquared are already providing sounds an excellent idea. Thank you for all the consideration you’re putting into this.

  4. That’s great Steve. My only problem will be not seeing the grid. I wonder if it is possible to scaffold a grid from the enumeration of the clues?

    1. Yes, it is possible BB, but it does tend to force you to solve more clues ‘stand-alone’ which eliminates the ‘could it be this word that fits’ solving – very good practice

    2. Ha-ha. Hahahahahaha.

      I’ve got last Sunday’s, by Kcit, to hand: there’s a kind of ladder thing down the middle, with some squares blocked in. The first 5d (4 letters) starts in the row between C and D and is in the 5th column. T’other 5d is in the 10th column. The grid isn’t even square.

      (Also, do all EV puzzles even have enumerations?)

      1. Smylers, we have a go at all of them and last Saturday’s Kcit was at the tougher end of the range but an absolute gem when we managed it. With the occasional hint, it would have given great satisfaction to lots of solvers who are somewhat daunted at the moment by the barred thematic cryptics. We are promised easier ones for the month of September and hints from now on so it will certainly be worth having a go.

        1. Sure. My laughter was specifically at the idea of managing to construct the grid merely from the clues and enumerations — not at solving the crossword as intended with the grid, which does look fun.

    3. As Smylers notes, EV grids come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some without enumerations, some even without clue numbers in the grid. It would be possible to scaffold a grid sometimes, but not always.

    4. I only asked because 1. I never see a barred puzzle and don’t remember much about what I used to see. 2. A regular solver and commenter here once said that he had to work out the cryptic crossword grid from the enumeration of the clues on a daily basis in order to start solving. I cannot remember who it was but I was impressed

    5. There will not be hints for all the clues, so retroconstructing the grid will not be possible. It is possible from a daily hints post bcause all clues and enumerations are present.

  5. This is great progress indeed and thanks to Mr Bartlett and Big Dave for bringing it about. For years I have looked at the EV puzzle, wondered where to start and then got on with the cryptic.

  6. I look forward to having another attempt at Enigmatic Variations.

    I used to try them many years ago, but very often gave up after being completely flummoxed by the preamble.

    I did solve one once … I think it was a reprint of the original puzzle?

    ProXimal, I am very impressed that you are confident that you can produce the hints by noon on Sunday.

    1. I look forward to hearing how you get on and welcome back! The puzzle comes out after midnight on Saturday, I think, so 12 hours to produce some hints should be fine.

      1. Bed at 2.00am after an afternoon’s rugby and a cocktail of booze. Wake up late about sevenish. Shower, make tea, read the paper, start on the puzzles. Codeword. Quickie. Cryptic. After that Sundays have to be special so I doubt that I will be volunteering to stand in when you are away ProXimal

  7. I will be putting this on the schedule too. I have always been deterred by EV and other barred puzzles but with help from here I am looking forward to giving them a go. Thanks for doing this

  8. I once nearly understood the preamble for an EV, don’t think I have managed to solve a clue, so this will be interesting to see!

  9. I seem to have been selected as the last representative of the old guard (but I hope to be back in the brave new EV world).

    It is worth pointing out that difficulty is in the eye of the beholder. I was interested to read Chalicea’s comment about it being hard, as the only other comment I’ve had that mentioned difficulty was that it was the easiest ever. My own view (and I find it hard to assess my own puzzles) is that it looked more ferocious than it actually was. But the closing date is not yet past so I should say no more…

    I do put up a setter’s blog for all of my puzzles on phionline.net.nz and it will be there later this week.

  10. We’ve just done our first ever EV puzzle. Agree that it (this one by Chalicea), is about the same level of difficulty as a medium level Toughie but having a BRB and probably a Mr Google handy is certainly a good idea.
    We enjoyed the different challenge so thanks Chalicea.
    As the prizes are now electronic we wonder whether entries from overseas solvers will be acceptable now. We’ve sent an entry in just in case.

    1. Overseas entries are acceptable in the EV. Congratulations on completing your first one and I hope you’ll have a go next week.

  11. Congratulations indeed 2kiwis. We’ll look forward to seeing you next week. It is a good idea, too, to have Anne R Bradford’s Crossword Solver’s Dictionary. We find it a really invaluable solving aid.

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