Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

Solv­ing the puz­zle One of life’s more sat­is­fy­ing pas­times is the hum­ble crossword puz­zle. Rang­ing across a spec­trum of com­plex­ity, ver­sions of the puz­zle ap­pear all over the world, from the very straight­for­ward type, in which a clue is dis­tilled down to a ba­sic dic­tionary def­i­ni­tion, such as all-time favourites like “Flight­less Aus­tralian bird (3)” (the emu, with the num­ber of letters in brack­ets), to com­plex puzzles that en­com­pass a wide range of chal­leng­ing grids and words.

In­ter­est­ing dif­fer­ences in crossword grids have evolved in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. In Bri­tain, a crossword grid’s de­sign must fol­low sym­me­try to look the same if held up­side down, and must have a com­par­a­tively higher num­ber of checked (black) squares.

Amer­i­can cross­words re­tain the sym­me­try rule but ev­ery white square will be a part of two words. This poses a chal­lenge for puz­zle set­ter and solver alike: the set­ter must now pack in more words that make sense across and down, a sit­u­a­tion that calls for more ob­scure words for the solver.

The Wikipedia en­try on crossword grids de­scribes two more grid types that I was un­aware of. One is a Ja­panese grid in which shaded (black) squares may not share a side (ie that they may not be or­thog­o­nally con­tigu­ous but only di­ag­o­nally so) and that the cor­ner squares must be white.

Even more fas­ci­nat­ing is the Swedish grid, which dis­penses with num­bers and black squares al­to­gether. In­stead, clues are con­tained in squares that would nor­mally be shaded in other grids, and these could be writ­ten clues, or even pic­tures: an ar­row from the clue cell points the solver in the di­rec­tion the an­swer takes.

Then there is the cryptic crossword puz­zle in which ev­ery clue has a di­rect as well as a hid­den com­po­nent, cun­ningly com­bined to fox you rather than lead you to the cor­rect an­swer.

For ex­am­ple, “Hot sea­son for an adder? (6)” – where the ques­tion mark warns you there’s some mis­chief here.

The an­swer is ‘sum­mer’ which is both a hot sea­son as well as some­one who adds.

More on crossword trick­ery next week.

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