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.