Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Times Crossword Championship 2012- Part 3

Typically, a crossword is set to be completed over breakfast or on the way to work in a bus or train.
So, most crossword solvers would be very happy to finish a Times crossword in 1 hour. That would be an admirable feat in and of itself - day in , day out to solve some of the best deceptive surface readings ever.

A Times crossword is also fairly set - having a mixture of straightforward clues like anagrams and hidden words as well as employing witty definitions. Half the battle is won if you can identify what the definition is! In every clue, the definition is either at the start or the end of the sentence.If you can narrow it down to one side, the brain has something manageable to do -  scan for synonyms.

One of the ways to speed up the solving process is to develop a broad vocabulary so that synonyms are reachable. When you are starting solving crosswords, ( and for a number of years after that ) you absolutely need a thesaurus and a crossword dictionary. Don't be ashamed to refer to it constantly.

In the competition, of course, there is no recourse to any sort of reference material. The calibre of the competitors is apparent. They all have a huge vocabulary. However, I am told that these days, crosswords of all sorts have 'dumbed down' to accommodate the masses who do not have Latin and Greek at their fingertips! So just imagine - the scale of difficulty that was accepted before is unacceptable now.

This was neatly illustrated when Mark Goodliffe ( winner of 5 championships in a row from 2008  to 2012 ) was asked to solve 3 Times puzzles from different eras. He could not quite finish the earliest one!

This is a champion who is now in a league of his own. The comparison to Usain Bolt is apt. Here is a direct quote from the Times article the day after Mark won his sixth title.

"Not content with dashing off the answers to three cryptic puzzles in only 20 minutes, he reached down,picked up the Saturday Review, and turned to the Jumbo cryptic crossword.
Just after the runner-up, Jason James, completed his puzzles in a time of 30 minutes, Mr. Goodliffe had rattled off all 60 answers to the additional double-sized grid. It was as if Usain Bolt had reached the finishing line so far ahead of his rivals that he decided to turn back and do the last two thirds of the race again"

Mark "12 secs a clue" Goodliffe

There you go. Do we stop running just because there is a Usain Bolt? No, we don't. The Times Crossword is an everyday challenge that you and I can do and improve on.

When I first started doing it in the NST a few years back it was because I had reached the point where I was solving the Star crossword pretty fast. It was not that challenging anymore. However, theStar Crossword is a good place to begin for new solvers. Stay at it for a couple of years before you even look at the NST crossword!

In the early days , it was very hard going. The 2 hours i would just set aside for 1 puzzle would be fruitless. On average - just 5 clues solved out of 30 or so. But doing it every day over a couple of years has made it reachable by way of completing it. Granted, some days the challenge is phenomenally hard but on most days it is doable.

So, in a way, the time it took to solve one of the crosswords had come down drastically over the 2 years. Literally from an infinite period of time I was able to bring  solving time to a matter of hours.
If the sporting metaphor is to be used, I would compare it to a paralysed person who completes the marathon where a few years before he could not imagine himself running.

While we admire ferocious speed, the thing to take back from this competition is the unique journey undertaken by 180 contestants or so to finally take part in the Times Crossword Championship and in looking back - see how far they have come.


Friday, November 16, 2012

The Times Crosword Championship 2012- Part 2

If I understood John clearly, each puzzle was set by an individual setter. That was interesting. Normally, the Times crossword is the work of several setters.
Would each crossword reveal something unique ? 
Here are the anagram clues in First Preliminary - Puzzle No 1.

X8. "Distinguished artists" is a term translated here (7)

Y8. Pilot coming out of marina, at sea (6)

Z8. Like incorrect shop signs, perhaps, I stood changing (13)

A9. Violently shattering, put back in order (10 )

 Double Definition Clues

B9. Deduce it's a no-win situation (4)

C9. Reckless game bird (7)

D9. Saw what something obvious doesn't need (6)

Charade Clues

E9. Boast by legal group that can exert powerful leverage (7)

F9. Halt source of whisky on base (10)

G9. Trendy point of view, for example (8)

The second preliminary proceeded after an hour. We left for lunch and hoped to make it back for the finals 2 hours later.

to be continued....


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Times Crossword Championship 2012- Part1

Here at last!
Having done the Mensa IBD meeting at Dubrovnik ( 6 wonderful days ) I was looking forward to spending a week in London with my daughter Priya. I had no specific plans to meet up with the crossword group I had met the previous year.
The previous year I had missed going to a pub quiz conducted by one John Henderson - highly recommended by Priya. This time around I was hopeful not to miss it. The same night, however, we had got tickets for  the  stage version of "Chariots of Fire" and that was a must-see. As there was time afterwords, we made our way to the White Hart at Whitechapel. The pub quiz had a few rounds left and I had a glimpse into how John skillfully constructed each round of questions with a common thread linking the answers.When it was over , I was introduced to John Henderson aka The Enigmatist - a master crossword setter and solver.

With the Enigmatist

 John is married to Jane Teather who is a regular crossword blogger at Fifteensquared
We had a nice chat regarding - what else ? - crosswords and cluing. It was then he casually mentioned that THE Times Crossword Championship was being held that Saturday! He was part of the organizing team and was not taking part AND he was responsible for 1 of the competition crosswords!
Ever since  I was hooked on the Times crossword ( featured in our NST ) I had read quite a bit about this legendary competition. John was the winner in 1996.I mentioned to Priya that we had to attend the competition.Turned out it was within walking distance from where she lived!
John kindly got our names and said that we would be invited as special guests and all we had to do was to inform security of our names!
Now crossword solving is not a spectator sport - and I'm sure that he was very happy at having us there and experiencing a rare treat. The fastest solvers as well as solvers who wanted to see how they fare in a competition - would be there. He mentioned that it was too late to accept new entries!
Being aware of the format - 2 heats and 1 final - each of them with 3 crosswords to solve in 1 hour - I knew that I did not have the speed to complete even 1 crossword in that time.

hmm, crosswords...

Saturday saw Priya and me in the Times office at Thomas More Square. There was quite a crowd waiting for the First Heat from 11am to 12pm.The atmosphere was relaxed but not boisterous. We saw John all suited up - The Invigilator , now.

1st heat of the Championship about to get underway

Soon, an announcement was made and 90 contestants got into the competition hall. There was an introduction by Richard Browne, the Times crossword editor. Then David Levy, the organizer , rattled out some of the rules - clear writing, no usage of any other blank paper and absolutely no phones ringing. With that, the competition began.

Sole Spectator

Twenty five minutes into the heats , we had the 1st submission. 3 crosswords with 90 clues  done in less than half an hour. Talk about fast! The hour drew near and the 1st heat was over. As the contestants went out for tea and snacks, Priya and I met up with a couple of old friends I had met the year before.They remembered me as Derek Harrison's friend. First was Oli Grant.

Oli and Jay

Chris Brougham was there , too. He mentioned that he was there mainly for the occasion and was not too worried about the clock. He made a comparison with a top level chef challenge where judgement was made on how fast one ate up the prepared food!

Chris and Priya

Soon, the results were announced - the first 12 would go into the finals.Oli made it!

Closest I'll come to...

to be continued......


Sunday, November 4, 2012

X-Factor Answers Explanation

Visual Key to Clue Analysis :
Definition : BOLD
Wordplay : Italics with keywords underlined as well
Link : Normal


O8. Stunts with tree feller none of them ending in disappointment (10)

stunts = antics
tree = lime
feller = axe

none of them with ending means take out the last letter for all of them.Then we have

antic   lim   ax  = anticlimax = disappointment

P8. Whirlwind romance's beginning in proposal with kiss (6)

romance's beginning = R
proposal = vote 
kiss = X

vortex = whirlwind

Q8. Take plane from here, perhaps to circle lake and wood (7)

to = TO  circle = O lake = L wood = BOX

TOOLBOX = take plane from here, perhaps  ( Toolbox contains a variety of tools, of which , plane is one. )

R8. Cross on a German square depicting St. Francis (6)

cross = X
a German square = a vier

X a vier

S8. Trots like this? Ran six miles in bursts between motorways (7-8)

bursts is anagram indicator  and fodder is "ran six miles in"
motorway = M

Hence we have answer outline as follows : M (ransixmilesin M

Definition is very neat - referring to Trots as Commies and not the Verb

Commies love Marxism-Leninism

T8. Stuffing mix ready for mincing on time (9)

Mincing is anagram indicator and refers to mixready

last letter is T ( time )

we have Taxidermy = Stuffing

U8. After border exchange, old German immigrant comes to this island (5)

old German immigrant = Saxon

Saxon ( after border exchange ) = Naxos which is an island

V8. Fellow had audience at Palace, perhaps, taking in Times article and some verse (9)

 Fellow = He
had audience at Palace, perhaps = met ER ( er being queen )
times article = X A

He XA meter = hexameter  = some verse

W8. Compound I travel round on farm animal (4,5)

i travel = i ride
round is containment indicator

i ride is around ON OX (farm animal )

I R ON OX IDE = compound