The Stickler Weekly Insights 222

It’s pretty clear that, in general, solvers don’t own, or don’t have access to comprehensive dictionaries. How do I know? There are many queries about definitions and components of clues that would be answered with just one simple look-up. As a solver, you can’t be expected to know everything about a word and I can’t be expected to write crosswords using the lowest common denominator of word knowledge of my solvers.
Having said that, I have to aim for a place that both of us can exist, and to that end I have rules regarding what words and meanings I use, the references they must be in and whether I have a working knowledge of a word/term. When in doubt, a simple clue can come to the rescue.
All this is under threat, though, as the electronic dictionaries I have that run locally on my PC, are no longer being produced. They have been replaced by online versions that are a poor substitute, with slow response time, zero integration with crossword software and limited search options. Such online software needs a working internet and insists on a logon process that automatically logs you off after a short period of inactivity. In the case of Oxford, you can buy a personal annual subscription that gives you access to 100s of publications, but there’s no provision for a smaller fee for just a couple of titles. The system is heavily geared towards institutions like universities and schools, but does allow people to access publications through libraries, if your local library has signed up. Yearly fees for each publisher tend to be more than buying hard or soft copies of dictionaries, making the online environment very much unsatisfactory for crossword setters. With very few crosswords to produce, I won’t be using online versions anytime soon, relying heavily on my ageing PC-based electronic dictionaries. While dictionaries don’t change that much, they do change, so there’s a real possiblity that over time I’ll get left behind. I guess I’ll deal with that if and when it occurs.

The Stickler

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5 Responses to The Stickler Weekly Insights 222

  1. Ian Batey says:

    That’s frustrating! The online thesaurus’ are what I refer to most in solving – though I try to restrict this to times when I think I have understood the clues correctly, can’t solve the wordplay fully and can’t think of a definition that fits the wordplay. I can imagine it would be a far more resource-heavy process to set than to solve, and especially so with your care for consistency in your clues. Thanks for persevering!

  2. Greg Mansell says:

    This sounds like a real problem for setters. However, for solvers, if you have a smartphone, there’s no excuse for not having multiple comprehensive reference sources. For very little outlay, you can install the full versions of the world’s best dictionaries and thesauri. They generally include a wildcard search option, and they’re kept up to date.
    My recommendations:
    * Chambers Dictionary
    * Chambers Thesaurus
    * Collins Dictionary & Thesaurus
    * Macquarie Dictionary (although no longer available for Android)
    * Oxford Dictionary & Thesaurus

  3. Greg Mansell says:

    David – there are two separate instances of this “Weekly Insights 222” page: one with comments, and one without.

  4. David Stickley says:

    Due to my ineptitude, a duplicate Insight post was created. Andrew Gibson’s reply that appeared in that post can be seen below. In WordPress there’s no easy way to move posts.

    “Andrew Gibson says:
    April 27, 2018 at 9:44 am

    The answer to this dilemma is simple. All you need to do is to go to a good book shop and buy one. I was in Sydney recently and bought a 2017 version of the “Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary”. It is very rare for any word appearing in your crosswords not to be listed in this publication. And it cost less than $50.00.”

    • David Stickley says:

      Hi Andrew,

      Yes, that’s certainly an option for an amateur setter. In the more than 20 years that I’ve been setting professionally, I have NEVER written a crossword using printed books alone. From the very first crossword using Crossword Compiler, I used an electronic version of Chambers, and Collins soon followed with electronic versions of their dictionary and thesaurus. I now have those (updated versions) and Macquarie Dictionary, Macquarie Thesaurus, Australian Oxford Dictionary, Random House Dictionary, Chambers Thesaurus and Oxford Thesaurus, which I consider a basic list to cross check the words I use in the answers and clues. Every clue requires multiple look-ups for the definition and more look-ups for the words used in the wordplay. All this can be done automatically through Crossword Compiler with a press of an icon for each reference. I estimate each crossword would take 40-50% longer to set if I did the equivalent with printed versions of my references.