The Week In Crosswords

Some weeks it’s hard to decide which event should lead the coverage. This is not one of those weeks. But it is a story that some may find upsetting, so it goes under the cut.

The Reverend John Galbraith Graham, also known as Araucaria, is one of the giants of crossword construction, though the cultural divide between American and British crosswords (and “plain” and “cryptic” ones) means that some of this blog’s readers may not know who he is. He’s responsible for a school of thought around cryptics, more playful than those of rival schools, and if not the oldest living constructor certainly the most productive nonagenarian in the field, with a career that goes back to 1958. Here’s a fairly recent video of him discussing his work.

In December of last year, 1 Across, the magazine he founded in 1984, published this crossword, but it didn’t rocket to international attention until the Guardian re-published it on the 11th. It contains the announcement that “Araucaria has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15,” which, once the puzzle is solved, translates to a terminal diagnosis. Yet he is not retiring: he will continue to create puzzles as long as he’s physically able to do so, facing his end with a dapper courage to which we can all aspire. If you want to try solving the crossword yourself, do so before checking out the best coverage of Graham’s announcement, at the Guardian itself.

Elsewhere in The Guardian, editor Hugh Stephenson vows to root out any cryptic clues with two possible answers… a harder job than you might think.

Crosswords as propaganda: According to Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah, BEERSHEBA is a Palestinian city… and that’s only the latest in a long line of flat denials that Israel is even a country.

Wired interviews Roy Leban about the technology of Puzzazz. Some nice details on Puzzazz’s TouchWrite, and the grunt work involved in a startup.

What’s it like to play table tennis with Will Shortz? Somehow both friendly and intimidating, as you’d expect.

From the comments for last week: Emily Cox, Henry Rathvon and Henry Hook’s Crooked Crosswords is the latest feature to go digital and pay-for-play, Peter Norvig has some interesting letter-frequency analysis with obvious relevance for constructors, and Pete Muller wrapped up his Monthly Music Meta as reported elsewhere on this blog.

Didn’t see it till now: this Vic Fleming interview gets into 100 Years, 100 Crosswords and the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, and describes an intriguing puzzle with seven consecutive variable squares, no mean feat.

Finally, holy crap, these squares are the most revolutionary thing in personal computing I’ve seen since the iPad. Crossing words is only the beginning. (Hat tip: Patrick Blindauer.)

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3 Responses to The Week In Crosswords

  1. Abby says:

    I was dismayed when I did that Guardian puzzle last week. There was a nice tribute puzzle to him (as Cinephile) in the FT for his 90th birthday a couple of years ago. Financial Times #13,619 if you can find it somewhere, else you can just read the summary here:

  2. bob stigger says:

    In my opinion, a cryptic puzzle is no different from any other puzzle in that the puzzle should have only one solution but there is no good reason a clue shouldn’t have more than one solution. So long as all but one of the clue solutions is excluded by the crossing letters, fairness has been honored. If anything it adds to the entertainment factor. Bob Stigger

    • Abby says:

      I have been the victim, many times, of cryptic clues that lead to more than one answer. In your typical daily cryptic, only half the letters are checked, so it can be a PITA. The usual excuse for all the unches is that cryptic clues are “self-checking”. They’re not if there’s an easy second answer.

      Things are worse in puzzles without enumerations. Some of the examples cited were from a Genius where the length of the words was completely unknown and they had no checks because the answer to the clue did not go in the grid at all.

      (The gimmick was that some of the answers were part of a pair. You put the non-clued one in the diagram. The word that went in the diagram was B?L?. What was the other word? Right answer was CHAIN to enter BALL (what I got), but the article points out there were other ways to go. I certainly wasted a lot of time wondering if it was COCK and BULL or COO and BILL or…)

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