The Stickler Weekly Insights 206 – Thinking Inside The Box

I’ve talked a number of times about how I believe solvers have changed the way they solve, creating a completely different experience to the one had by those who grew up solving in the pre-internet days. It seems that there isn’t a way to reverse this, however, there are approaches by setters that can force solvers to re-evaluate how they go about solving. What do I mean? A “standard” cryptic clue has two parts, definition and wordplay, and such is the consistency of this structure, an experienced solver can very quickly come up with a best-case scenario that in most instances will lead to the answer. If not the first scenario, then the second will almost always do the job. But, what if two clues were combined into one? That is, one clue leads to two answers – the thought processes have to be different to work it out. In a normal cryptic, a clue leads to an answer that is put into the grid. What if a letter has to be removed before entry into the grid? The resultant grid would be filled with non-words (potentially) and pattern searching using letters from other answers would be unable to help. The recent discussion on the modern solver made me think about some crosswords I’ve done that were really rewarding because they made me think differently – they took me out of the everyday solving space.
Many years ago the Australian Crossword Club had a unique setter in Jim Colles. His crosswords always featured two different aspects that made his work so engrossing: first, his definitions were never straightforward, which made solvers think just a little bit harder; second, he almost always varied from the norm by including a twist that meant the answers needed adjusting before entry: this forced those people who used solving aids to work much harder, to actually work out clues using the wordplay without external help. I loved these crosswords:

  • Backflips and Doublespeak by Jim Colles/Cactus (Puzzle 5, Page 7 from CrOZworld No. 144, April 5 2002)
  • Letter Drop by Jim Colles/Cactus (Puzzle 6, Page 8 from CrOZworld No. 161, September 2003)
  • Anagramedley by Jim Colles/Cactus (Puzzle 6, Page 8 from CrOZworld No. 167, March 2004)

You can simply download these for free and print. A great way to pass the time during this festive season.

Solutions appear two CrOZworld issues on (but please wait until you are just about exhausted)

There’s no doubt these are challenging crosswords that will twist your mind. Take your time, they are well worth it.

The Stickler

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2 Responses to The Stickler Weekly Insights 206 – Thinking Inside The Box

  1. Arthur Maynard says:

    Always ready for a challenge. So I have downloaded all three. At first glance, I think I would normally say I do not understand. But I will see what Christmas brings in the way of downtime.

    Do you plan to take a break next week?

    • Arthur Maynard says:

      I had very poor results from the experiment. I had plenty of time as I finished 207 so early, leaving space in the timetable.
      I downloaded the three puzzles and set to work on April 2002. I am used to Ximean principles, so found it almost impossible to work without both elements – word play and definition. When it was clear I was going nowhere, I downloaded the answers to work out how they arose from the clues. The rules for across were different from those for downs. Finally all the down answers were split into two portions. In the end I understood most clues and most of the solution.
      With that under my belt I revisited the two other puzzles. They had different sets of rules which I could not interpret.
      Through my reading I am aware that anagrams and eventually puzzles were developed by people expanding on the work (originally by monks), and I readily acknowledge that the skills of setting and solving crosswords has evolved, and hopefully will continue to evolve. But this particular exercise reaches into areas which I do not have time to explore.
      Obviously David is an enthusiast. Perhaps his experience and knowledge assisted him to evaluate the issues involved.
      I would be interested to read of the reactions of other solvers, if anybody took up the challenge.