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12 December 2006 @ 06:23 pm
Authors in one of the top scientific journals, Nature, start getting sent the "metajournal" Nurture. Nurture contains a lot of information about authorship, the act of editing, getting the cover image, information on new Nature publications, .... It also contains puzzles on its back cover, which for awhile has been its most noteworthy feature to me. In each issue are a British-style cryptic and two su|do|ku puzzles from Wayne Gould/pappocom.

While most people might assume I'd rush to the su|do|ku, I always tell them the cryptic is a lot more fun to try out and certainly more challenging. I've gotten a couple clues into them before, but never a whole puzzle. Today, with the help of a coworker similarly inexperienced in cryptics, let alone British cryptics, we were able to crack the whole thing and it was indeed a lot of fun. It also marks the first time I've ever finished a cryptic. I don't know if I'll be solving the Financial Times one the next time I'm flying internationally, but I feel I can give it a shot. Also of note, I now know the etymology of the word ahoy. I had a rather forced answer of "hoy" that was a ship, and while I was not familiar with the name, it sure makes a lot of sense in the context of the word ahoy.
Adam R. Wood: butasanzotmeister on December 13th, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC)
I've had a love-hate relationship with cryptics for years. I have some of Henry Hook's books of cryptics, which are the absolute extent of my puzzle masochism. I figure I'll be finishing those somewhere in the vacinity of the year 2137. I honestly can't remember whether or not I've ever finished a full-size* cryptic without looking up at least one entry. I'd like to think I have, but I doubt I've ever done it more than once. - ZM

*GAMES Magazine used to run smaller training puzzles that listed the variety of wordplay involved after each clue.
pigbert on December 14th, 2006 12:43 am (UTC)
If you've never come across Emily Cox & Henry Rathvon's variety cryptics from the Atlantic Monthly, IMO those are the pinnacle of cryptic puzzle crafting. They're kind of similar to the ones in the Henry Hook books in that each has a different style of grid or gimmick required to fit the entries in, but they go a bit farther in that each has a fantastic payoff once the puzzle is complete. For one example, if some of the entries must have a letter deleted before they fit in the grid, those deleted letters in sequence could spell an additional phrase, with multiple punny meanings relating to the puzzle's title or theme, and also explaining why those letters must be deleted. Kind of hard to explain, but where I feel relief after completing Hook puzzles (which I also like), finishing a C&R puzzle always results in a few moments of admiration at a perfectly crafted puzzle and a payoff I never saw coming. I find myself pulling completed books off the shelf to enjoy scanning through each puzzle again, something I never do with Hook's, which lack that payoff.

Also, the difficulty of their clues is scaled back a bit from Hook's, a little more accessible (and fun) for less-masochistic solvers. Unfortunately for some reason the Atlantic stopped publishing their puzzles after nearly 30 years of monthly goodness, but there are a few collections available.

Motris, if you're getting more interested in cryptics, I really recommend Cox & Rathvon's "Random House Guide to Cryptic Crosswords", I think it's out of print but I see a few used sellers on Amazon for around $5, which is a steal. It starts off with really well-written introductions to clue types and solving strategies, then a few entry-level puzzles that introduce each clue type incrementally, a few regular block-style grids, then explodes with 50 variety puzzles from the Atlantic. There is also a really well-written section on how to write your own clues and puzzles, which is also really interesting. They have another "Atlantic Monthly Cryptic Crosswords" book which is just a collection of another 50+ puzzles without the extras.

BTW even experienced American cryptic puzzle solvers find the puzzles in British newspapers impenetrable - the clueing rules there are a lot more loose, and they usually require intimate knowledge of British English, local slang, geography, etc. If you're interested in real masochism..

Andy (still looking forward to seeing some of your Battleships Sudoku in GAMES)
motrismotris on December 14th, 2006 01:26 am (UTC)
I was also recommended to try out the New Yorker's cryptics as edited by Fraser Simpson as a starting point to get more into them. I definitely encounter enough wordplay in Mystery Hunt puzzles that I should be able to succeed on cryptics and really its just finding the time to do them. What you describe about the C&R puzzles sounds like exactly the fun hidden details I would love so I'll definitely put that collection on my list to get.

While I don't know when/if battleship sudoku will be appearing in GAMES, I can reveal the exciting news that I am working with Sterling to put out a book of these puzzles in the next year (well, I'm not sure of the lag-time in publishing, but my end will be complete by this spring). It will be my next main puzzle project after the Mystery Hunt and while I will need to write some easier puzzles (including some 6x6) to introduce a broader audience to the variation, I think the end result will be a unique (and hopefully not therefore too low-selling) collection of puzzles. I also hope that it is just the first, and not the last, offering you will be able to find from me in the future.
pigbert on December 16th, 2006 12:33 am (UTC)
Woohoo! A GAMES page would be a nice diversion, but a whole book in the works is terrific news! You can tell Sterling that it's guaranteed to sell at least one copy.. :)

It'll be good to see it break up the vanilla sudoku flood on the puzzle book shelves.. I've admired Will Shortz seemingly my whole life for his work in spreading quality puzzles first in GAMES, then rescuing the NYT crossword from the dreadful Maleska era, and always making sure to provide authors' credits.. So it's dismaying to see the unreal number of "Will Shortz <*> Sudoku <*>" books published, without any mention of who (or more likely whose generator) produced them - "Easy", "Hard", OK, but "Vacation"? "for a Sunday Morning"? "Stress-Buster"? It's all exactly the same puzzles, I guess it's marketing, and, well, I guess it works.. I'll just hope/pretend that some publisher dumped a bunch of money on him to use his name, and he's not involved in coming up with all these identical books with weird brandings. In any case, I really look forward to seeing more of your work published, and I hope lots of others end up doing so too!

Regarding cryptics, I have no doubt you'll be successful in solving, just like anything else they just take some practice and familiarity to be able to parse clues and detect a lot of the common tricks. One unfortunate thing I found after doing a lot of cryptics is that I tend to plunge into immediately analyzing a clue to find the split between definition and wordplay portions, or possible anagram indicators, etc. and forget to appreciate the surface sense of the clue's wording. I think one of the most elegant things about the cryptic form is how a clue can be read as a functional (if strange) phrase or sentence, and also hide an interesting structure inside that encodes a totally unrelated word..