Never a Crossword?

Part of my morning routine is tackling the Guardian crossword: not the quick one but the cryptic.  Since I started these a few years back I’ve got quite good at them, so I thought I’d post some tips about how to crack the cryptic without breaking your brain.

First, the composition of the clue.  Every clue consists of two parts: the definition (this is the part that’s like a quick crossword) and the composition of the word (bits which are put together to make the word.)  So, if you can’t get the answer from one bit of the clue, you can get it from the other.  Here’s an example from today’s cryptic:

Filthy place ultimately became eyesore (4)

The definition is at the beginning or at the end: therefore it’s either filthy (or filthy place) or eyesore.  Let’s start with filthy place; one possibility would be sty.  The word ultimately generally denotes the last letter of a word; the last letter of became is e; put together they make stye which is a sore on the eye, or eyesore.  Part of the skill of the setter is to channel your thoughts in a certain direction; so that you think of eyesore in terms of something ugly, rather than focussing on the literal meaning, a sore in the eye.

Another feature is anagrams.  Let’s consider this one:

Maiden, with tact, ordered entree (10).  Now, words like ordered often indicate that the letters are scrambled (scrambled is another anagram indicator, as is mixed, confused, jumbled etc).  So having decided that, we have to figure out which words are in the anagram and which constitute the definition.  From the wording of the question it seems that maiden and tact make up the ten letters of the answer, so the definition is entree.  I was on the wrong tack with this for a long while, thinking in terms of food and restaurants; however the answer turned out to be admittance – as in, gaining an entree into a place.

Another common feature is a pun.  Here’s a nice example:

Consummate marriage?  Not so (9).  In order to get this, you have to understand that a question mark denotes a pun and to think of consummate  as a noun, meaning highly skilled, rather than the verb which it appears to be.  The answer is matchless, being a pun on match as in marriage and matchless meaning peerless or consummate (as in a consummate liar.)

The word regularly or oddly often an instruction to pick alternate letters from a word or phrase, like in this one:

sluggish ferrets regularly found beneath home (5)

The definition could be either sluggish or home.  Let’s start with sluggish and concentrate on regularly.  If the instruction to pick regular letters refers to ferrets then that could be either f-r-t or e-r-t.  The latter is more promising.  Now to the last bit: beneath home.  The word home often translates as in, which would fit the number of letters.  So supposing we put them together – this gives ertin.  Not a word.  Ah, but we’ve missed the word beneath.  If we think of a word from top to bottom, the end of the word would be beneath the beginning, thus giving us inert.  Check the definition – sluggish – and you’re there.

OK here’s a couple for you to try.  Answers are below.

drug finally injected into bare elbow (5)

a supporter of mine (3-4) 

decent sandwiches start to entice relative (5)

Seeing how much I enjoy these puzzles, you’d think I’d be more excited about the fact that ‘Round Britain Quiz’ – which is basically a cryptic crossword on the radio – is celebrating being the longest-running quiz show with 70 years on the air.  But the sad fact is that I find it unbelievably tedious: OH and I used to joke that the most exciting thing about it was when the signature tune changed from a minor to a major key at the end.  But they’ve even changed the signature tune now, so all that’s left is one giant yawn-fest:

And here, just in case this post has left you too excited, is an edition with the old theme tune:


Here’s today’s cryptic, whence I got all these clues:

and if you want an easier one, here’s the quiptic (a cross between quick and cryptic)

Kirk out

Answers to crossword clues:

nudge (drug finally = d; bare = nude; elbow as a verb = nudge)

pit-prop (a pun on mine)

niece  (decent = nice; sandwiches = wraps around; start to entire = e; relative = niece)


Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand – we’re back

Apologies for the longish break; I’ve had a longer-than-usual digital detox this Christmas, involving being off Facebook, email and WordPress as well as eschewing my usual daily Guardian crossword.  My laptop has been smouldering with the TV, Netflix and radio programmes I’ve been plonking myself in front of (in front of which I have been plonking myself) but I haven’t only been ‘consuming’ these ‘products’ (I shall come back to my loathing of those terms in a moment) – I have been reading.  And reading.  And reading some more.  Yes, for Christmas I received a copy of ‘The Book of Dust’ by Phillip Pullman.  At 525 pages it weighs in at several kilos and needs the arms of a Hindu god in order to both hold and read it (actually I have read longer books, though not usually in one volume – War and Peace comes to mind, as well as does In Search of Lost Time.  I have a vivid memory of struggling with something that had more than 1000 pages, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. *

Aaanyway, the Book of Dust – absolutely brilliant; so good I had to read it twice and sadly I did so at such a rate that before the week was out, I’d finished.  ‘La Belle Sauvage’ is the first volume of The Book of Dust trilogy; I have no idea when the second will be out or what it will be called (the Book of Dust Jacket, perhaps?)

Other than that Christmas presents centred around food and drink; things which are actually products and which I did actually consume.  I have a rabid dislike of these words being applied inappropriately to things which are not products (TV, films, shows, etc) and if anyone ever dares to suggest that The Book of Dust is a product which I have consumed, I shall beat them around the ears with all 525 pages of it.

Well, that’s it for today.  I daresay I shall have more thoughts in the days to come…

Happy New Year

* I think it may have been ‘A Suitable Boy’.

Kirk out

Happy New Meh

I don’t wish to go all bah humbug on you, but I have to confess that this has been the most meh Christmas and New Year that I can remember.  I don’t know why; I suspect it’s personal rather than anything to do with the zeitgeist, but although I can remember Christmases when I was sad or depressed or hung over (besides the Christmases I can’t remember because I was permanently drunk) I can’t remember a season when I was so – well, unenthusiastic.  I guess this is what children are for: just when you become jaded with the idea of getting drunk every year, you get married and have your own children – and so now that I’m bored with it all I’m ready for some grandchildren.

It wasn’t always thus: Christmases in my childhood were very traditional.  They began with an Advent calendar (the windows opened on pictures which you could enjoy every day, not a stupid chocolate which was gone in a second) – no, I tell a lie, it began in the summer with the creation of home made Christmas puddings and cake: my mother would no more have dreamed of buying these items than of dressing up as an angel and flying around the kitchen.

We awoke to the traditional stocking presents; then after breakfast we would go to church.  Then the sherry would come out and the lunch preparations would begin in earnest.  Everyone came to us as we had the largest house; the food was cooked in the vast, high-ceilinged kitchen and brought through to the large dining-room table.  After lunch we always watched the Queen (who, then as now, had practically nothing to say) before having our pudding and mince pies.  Puddings were set alight in a darkened room by dousing them in brandy.

After the clearing-up (and not a moment before) we would open our main presents.  Not for us the children tired of presents before lunchtime: we had to wait almost the whole day for ours.  After this the adults (I kid you not) would go upstairs to dress for the evening (my mother had a long green velvet skirt which always came out at this time of year) and then we would settle down for games.

As a child I always wanted to have the TV on since in those days if you missed something you’d missed it: we must have foregone more Morecambe and Wise Christmas shows than anyone in the entire country.  Mind you, they’ve all been on a thousand times since, along with biopics and documentaries and reconstructions of how they came to be made.

But the games!  Charades was a staple but we had loads: one was a version of Blind Man’s Buff called Squeak, Piggy Squeak! where a blindfolded victim was turned round and round while everyone changed places.  He or she then had to approach someone in a chair, place a cushion on their lap and chant the immortal words, ‘squeak, piggy, squeak!’  The person would then squeak, disguising their voice as much as possible.  If the blindfolded one guessed their identity then they were blindfolded in turn, and so the game went on.

As well as these we had cupboards full of board games such as monopoly and ludo, card games such as cribbage (my grandfather made the boards himself) and a net, ball and bats which could transform the dining table into a ping-pong table, albeit one whose fluted edges made the balls ping off at impossible angles.

New Year, by contrast, was pretty much a non-event: my parents rarely stayed up to see in the New Year and when I was old enough I either did a shift at the pub where I worked or went up to Trafalgar Square with friends.  One memorable year I met friends in London and we all got totally hammered (come to think of it, that must have been a great night, since I don’t remember it at all…)

Nowadays Christmas is very muted; just a handful of us gather with a mix of veggie and turkey breasts; we watch the Queen and light the pudding in a desultory sort of way, drink a fair amount of wine and then go into a slump.  And as for New Year… well, this time we went to bed early, like the pathetic old people we are.

Like I say, it’s all been very, very meh.

Kirk out