Clueless? – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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An open letter to the Clueless Club

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Some of the recent posts from members of the Clueless Club have made me despair and so I give below my thoughts on the DT Cryptic Puzzle.

First of all, I am not an “expert”, I don’t think even the most experienced solver – and I speak from the point of view of 40 years of DT Cryptic solving – could ever be an expert as there is always something new to learn every day.  I was introduced to the mysteries of cryptic puzzles by a fellow commuter and was hooked.   They do, however,  take a lot of practice to get into the minds of the various compilers, all of whom have different styles and methods of stretching our brains.

There is not an exact art to solving the DT Cryptic – some days they can, if you have had enough practice and your brain is on form, be solved in one go.  Contrary to belief expressed by some posters to the blog, most days it is not an instant process.  Personally I usually have one or two clues left, or even a whole corner, but move on to the other puzzles in the paper and find, on returning to the Cryptic, that some strange subconscious part of my brain has worked out the answer for me.  I refer to these puzzles as a “cogitator” as you do need time to think it over.     Before I “met” Big Dave and certainly in the early days of solving, I would not complete a puzzle, have a look at the solution next day and still be none the wiser as to how the clue related to the answer.  But I persevered.

I have, however, never been downhearted at not being able to solve a puzzle.  I relish the challenge and don’t give in (even with the awful “Marmite” puzzles so hated by BD).  I have known Friday Toughie puzzles where I have gone back to them on and off until I finished, refusing to look at the hints as I was determined to crack the solution myself.  One particular puzzle took me on and off until the Saturday afternoon but the joy on completion was really something.

Finally remember these are Cryptic Puzzles in the Daily Telegraph, not puzzles in one of the red topped tabloids more concerned with young ladies who seem to have forgotten their vests!   They take lots and lots of practice (the crosswords not the vest forgetting!) so persevere as it’s the most enjoyable pastime I know.


14 comments on “Clueless?

  1. Thanks Crypticsue for your insight and I totally agree with all you are saying.
    Pommers (the worse half) introduced me to the DT almost 35 years ago and I was befuddled by the language. Could often only get one or two answers on my own – even though I am a “logical” person, was good at maths and was a computer programmer!
    Now 35 years on I can occasionally complete one on my own although, being retired old giffers, we now do them together sat in our courtyard in Spain. The “Toughie” sometimes has us stumped but like you we persevere and usually get there in the end with a bit of help from Big Dave and friends.
    So to all the bloggers a big thank you for making life more enjoyable for us when we are really well and truly stuck.

  2. Hi Crypticsue, thanks for the ‘encouragement’ above as one of the life long members of the Clueless Club (I have been doing cryptic crosswords for a year now) we aim to encourage those of us who feel defeated on seeing how easy some people find them and how quickly they complete them, the clueless club’ is just a bit of fun, I am lucky to have found this blog and have achieved more than i would ever have expected to with the help and patience of Dave and all the other bloggers, I am also lucky that my brother who has being doing these for over forty years, whilst i was running through the crosswords in the said tabloids, is somewhat of aqn expert, however somedays i find now that i can give him the odd answer he can’t get, my own goal set for getting out of the ‘clueless club’ is to complete a crossword without using books, blog or electronic aids! I have managed several without the blog but still wait to achieve the rest, i think the most disheartening thing for those of us who are newbies etc. is to hear a comment on a puzzle that we would rate as poss 4* or so, by someone who thinks it is so easy and cannot understand why we CC members have difficulty, so on behalf of all CC members I thank you for your kind words and say come on everyone We can do it!! :)

    1. i think the most important thing is to try! I, too, have been doing the puzzle for about 40 years and, even now, sometimes have problems completing – unusual words. different phrases, a ‘thick brain’, all contribute. I use all the tactics, doing as much as I can and then coming back to it, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes I really dislike the compilers who have made things hard for me; but when i get an answer I realise that it possible has something to do with my working out instead (although that’s not always the case!) At other times, i am really hard on myself for not having worked it out. None of that really matters. It’s about choice – we choose to try and solve the puzzle, and the risk is that we might or might not. We then have another choice – to do the same thing all over again, or not! If you get pleasure out of what you achieve, at whatever level, then that’s what counts.

      As a side note, some years ago I was doing the Cryptic, whilst having a cup of tea in a cafe before going to work. At the next table sat a middle-aged man, all suited and booted, with a very attractive lady somewhat younger than he was sitting next to him. Although I wasn’t actually listening to his conversation, as I was concentrating on my crossword, I became aware that he, too, was doing a crossword, and was reading the clues aloud to his lady friend and explaining how he worked out the answers. I realised by what he was saying, that we were both doing the same crossword. However, what became readily apparent was that his answers bore no relevance to the crossword we were both doing – he was simply trying to impress her. Goodness only knows what his grid looked like!

      So it’s not about impressing anyone, it’s about doing what you want to, and enjoying what you do, however much or little you get out of it.

      1. That’s just the point I was trying to make. Its possible to get so much enjoyment from doing these puzzles. Even more so now, after over 39 years in the wilderness, I discovered BD’s wonderful blog when googling a phrase from particularly difficult Toughie clue. Its great to have people who understand my enthusiasm for and pleasure in completing the DT Cryptic.

        1. How did we all manage without BD? I picked up a reference to this blog in Answerbank, while Googling an answer in much the same way as you, and have never looked back – or even been back to Answerbank!

  3. Having hardly ever understood these puzzles, I only started doing them seriously six months ago when I discovered the blog. Then, on a good day, I could do two or three clues, but I read through the blog and the answers, scratched my head a bit and am gradually coming to see how the answers are constructed. Now and then recently, I’ve been able to complete a few, mostly the weekend ones. I certainly didn’t enjoy them for the first few months, but so many others said they did that I thought I might too, eventually. Not sure when I first used the word ‘enjoy’ in a comment, but it’s only been in the last two or three months.

    Of course I don’t enjoy the really hard ones, such as last Tuesday, but if they were all simple 2*s down at my level, how would I make any progress? And there would no-one here to help me, ‘cos you’d all be bored to death and gone elsewhere! My knowledge of most things not connected with sport is fairly average and there’s a lot of words I don’t know. What’s important is that I’ve learned things along the way. If only I could remember them …!

  4. This is what i like about the internet;the meeting of like-minded folk. Much of what you wrote rang true with me. I can’t beat your 40 years of wrestling with the devious minds of the DT compilers but i’m hooked and i have a friend who also enjoys the challenge too. I started back in Uni. when it was more interesting to use what i had learned to fill in those cells than to plough through the textbooks. In my 20’s and 30’s i dallied with them but other things were paramount. Now, i’m determined every day to ‘crack’ them before work. This website is a lot of fun not only to see who else is ‘out there’ but also their degree of addiction and various approaches to problem solving. Like you, many’s the time one clue or a corner of the puzzle leaves me blank but during the day the penny will drop and it will seem like child’s play. It is rewarding that all that learning was for something! Can’t wait for the next challenge and the prospect of a new word, phrase or whatever lighting my dimness.

  5. Thank you crypticsue for your comments. I have been doing the FT cryptic regularly for less than a year and have learnt loads in that time but am still very much a beginner and firmly ensconsed in the CC. I do agree however that some of the comments made are unhelpful. Sometimes I feel that I will never ‘get there’ but, as you say, ofttimes a break and a fresh look will lead to a new slant on a clue or two and even if I only get a few clues myself I can look at BD (& others) hints and often the penny will drop without me having to reveal the answer. Keep at it fellow CCs, if we knew all the answers all the time where would the challenge be??

  6. It is mildly insulting to tell CC members that the DT crossword is not in a tabloid – surely we know that?

    The point about the Telegraph crossword is that there should be a realistic prospect of being able to do it, or most of it. We like a challenge, but if we want a struggle, we’ll go to the Toughie. Or The Times.

    I was introduced to these decades ago by an enlightened English Teacher at a comp in a northern town. He and his colleague did The Guardian crossword in a tiny smoke-filled office. They had views on some of the compilers then, just as I do now. Think “Janus headless but still has bottom (4)” But my teacher used the Telegraph crossword because it was reasonably solvable.

    It is still the one cryptic crossword I can sometimes do. I don’t expect to do every one and I like to learn something new each day. This blog is splendidly helpful in that.

    If it were not for the Telegraph crossword, I would not buy a paper most days.

    I despair when I struggle with something which is very difficult even after it has been explained. For example, when the answer is a short word which was the first syllable of a longer word which has had another word removed. When the word which has been removed is not commonly used, and an obscure meaning rather than a usual one is given, then I think “this is not what the Telegraph crossword should be about.”

    One hazard of coming to this blog is to have struggled with a crossword, and to come here to find lots of comments along the lines of “Congratulations to the Master, but can’t we have a more difficult one?” Please! There ARE more difficult ones – go and do them. Don’t spoil it for the CC.

    If you think the likes of me should do The Sun cryptic crossword – you may be right. I did not know it had one. (Does it?) If I have misunderstood where the DT crossword fits in, I’m sure you will tell me. I could even start Big Pete’s Crossword Blog. But maybe “Big Lucy” would be more appropriate?

  7. I’d just like to clarify something and give my own message to the Clueless Club.
    My wife (Pommette) has been a tad misleading in her post! Although we have dabbled occasionally in crosswords for many years it has only been in the last 4 that the DT crossword has become an addiction! Looked at together usually over lunch!
    4 years ago it’s true that Pommette could only get 2 or 3 clues herself and left it to me to do what I could with the rest and then explain the reasoning. She learned rapidly and after finding this blog she has learned even faster! Now it’s a rare day that we can’t complete the cryptic between us in reasonable time and have started tackling the Toughie in the last couple of months. I have to say we need help from the tips on this blog at the moment but we are getting better!
    So, message to the CC is “Don’t give up”! If you are truly interesyed in crypic crosswords, do what you can, read the tips and do some more, then look at the answers and read the reasoning. If you do this you WILL get better at solving and your enjoyment level will rise rapidly.
    Today the cryptic – tomorrow the Toughie!!! Ask Pommette if you don’t believe me.

  8. Lots of interesting comments.

    Level of difficulty is an issue that people at other crossword blogs discuss too. At the Times for the Times blog, I’ve lost count of the number of times a few relatively easy or difficult puzzles close together have generated complaints that the level has gone too far up or down, followed by opposite complaints a few weeks later when the spin of the puzzle-selection roulette wheel goes the other way.

    I don’t think the point of the Telegraph (or any other) puzzle is to be at a particular difficulty level – if you look at any of the five ‘broadsheet’ cryptics you’ll find that the diffiulty level for each puzzle varies quite widely, and that’s perfectly reasonable, because the point of the puzzles is to satisfy a range of people, from those tackling their first ever cryptic crossword to those who have been finishing the puzzle most days for decades but like to be sure that they still can. The best the editor and setters can hope for is probably a rough balance between “too easy” and “too hard” comments.

    Geoff is the commenter who I think has it most right here – when you’re starting and find it difficult to solve more than a few clues, it doesn’t feel that much like fun. But we’ve all been there – stick at it and the clues and answers will gradually make sense – much less gradually now that you can read a report that explains the answers.

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