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Ny Times Crossword Puzzles

When, not 'if', you get to the stage where you reckon you're pretty good at cryptic crosswords it will be a good idea to try the offerings of papers or magazines other than your regulars. You may come away shocked by the experience, brought back to earth, stunned by the fact that their setters language is so different from what you've been accustomed to.

All cryptic setters have their distinctive style, and this will also become evident when you move away from your comfort zone. Setters try not to let their style make them too obvious but with varying degrees of success.

I've cut my cryptic teeth on the puzzles in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age which have the advantage of a different setter for each of the six days, that difference being marked by their different initials. That lets you experience six different styles, which prevents you from falling into too much of a rut.

Even so, I feel the need every now and again to try puzzles from other sources, and so have taken The Australian for five days (Mon 29 Jan to the 1 Feb ie Times puzzle numbers 7978 to 7982) to keep my hand in.

Some Differences

This article will tell of some of the 'differences' that are evident in The Australian and of some interesting new styles of clues found there. While there are differences, the fundamentals remain the same - two word clues require a synonym to suit both words; the anagram pointer words are there eg 'broken', 'arranged', 'translated' etc; the words that indicate that you need to reverse letters; the use of '..the French..' to get 'le', 'la' and 'les' etc etc are all comfortingly present.

The first obvious difference is that The Australian's cryptics come from The Times and carry no initials indicating a particular setter, though regular Times puzzlers are no doubt familiar with particular styles.

The second difference is that, being framed by English setters there are some clues that require a 'local' English understanding and some with a touch of English eccentricity.

One clue for example required puzzlers to make sense of 'cardinal endlessly' to which Australians would respond with ELL or PEL(from Pell) whereas the required letters were UME (from Cardinal Hume, their man in Westminster Cathedral).

Another requires you to know or guess that SE 25 is the town of 'Esher', which isn't going to come easily to most Australians. Nor that the 'home counties' are in England's East South East ie ESE

EXAMPLE from puzzle No 7981
"Caves in time swallowing trunk road in city (3,6)"

caves in = BOWS
time = T so thus far we have BOWS----T
'trunk' gives the 'swallowed' letters ie TREE
All up, we get BOW STREET in London city
OK traveller, you might know it but there are plenty of Australians who won't.

Some of the UK personalities invoked will trick us up too, just as some of ours would them eg for SYMONDS, the cricketer, would they have come up with ROY? Or TUGGER from WAUGH?

These 'regional' differences are especially noticeable in the Weekend Australian's 'Sunday Times' puzzles, which are fun to do but not a good place for beginners to cut their teeth.

One Criticism

While the Times puzzles are very clever, stimulating and often amusing, there is one thing that is quite frustrating and even unfair. That is their common habit of using, without indication, just the first letter/s of nearby word/s to round out an answer, even though those words are not regularly abbreviated.

It's OK to expect 'h' from 'hot' or 'c' from 'cold' because we see them every day on our taps, but the use of willy-nilly abbreviations to finish off a word is capricious and unimaginative, though Inspector Morse would no doubt disagree.

EXAMPLE from puzzle No 7980

"Run I do differently crossing line in competition (7)"

The answer is RIVALRY (competition)
I do differently = IVARY which is placed thus _IVA_RY
So the R comes from the first letter in Run and the L from the first letter in Line, and without any indication that they do.

Ten Examples

Let's look at some of the more distinctive and more amusing examples that were present.

(1) "Anne has gone (8)" - a really clever clue

has = HATH, the old form of 'has'
gone = AWAY
ANSWER: HATHAWAY Shakespeare's spouse

(2) "Icecream we hear, on hand for a feast (4,6)

icecream = SUNDAY which we hear like an icecream 'sundae'
hand = PALM
ANSWER: PALM SUNDAY, the Christian festival

(3) "Hesitate, hearing frivolous girl in drunken speech (6-6)" - an amusing offering

frivolous girl = silly sally and when we hear it spoken drunkenly it comes out as SHILLY - SHALLY, which is where 'hesitate' comes in.

(4) "Pill a driver must take on his rounds (4,4)"

driver = a golfer who goes 'round' his course
pill = BALL, and in this case a GOLF BALL

(5) "Birds transport a poet we hear (9)"

transport = LORI which we hear as 'lorry'
poet = KEETS which we hear as 'Keats'
ANSWER: LORIKEETS. Almost too easy!

(6) "Airhead's anxiety about the support home (7-5)"
anxiety = FEAR which placed 'about' THE gives FEATHER
support = BRA
at home = IN
Altogether, they yield FEATHER-BRAIN or 'airhead'

(7) "Huge female insect biting man's head (7)"

female insect = MA MOTH
man's head = M**
'biting' here signifies that M comes within the jaws of MA and MOTH, hence MAMMOTH

**This is a reasonable use of the first letter M since the indicator word 'head' signifies it.

(8) "Rescue from trouble in fight (4,3)"

fight = BOUT into which you put 'trouble' ie AIL
ANSWER: BAIL OUT ie 'rescue'

NOTE the use here of the indicator words:

'FROM', which often signifies that the 'answer' words precedes it (Rescue) and that the answer has to come 'from' the words that follow it.

'IN' which indicates that you need to put the clue word/s preceding it (trouble) IN the word/s that follow it (fight)

(9) "Inflated hydrogen in hut failing to explode (11)"

This is a clever use of the clue words but it turns out that what we have is our old friend the anagram, indicated by 'explode'
Hydrogen = H
Put H with the letters in 'hut failing' to get HIGHFALUTIN' ie 'inflated' - and right away from the idea of hydrogen exploding in a hut!

(10) "Slow delivery of armour to one being shelled (5,4)"

Here's another very cleverly worded clue, giving the impression that the answer's going to have something to do with warfare, but:
one being shelled = SNAIL which is a shelled creature
armour = MAIL as in coats of armour
ANSWER: SNAIL MAIL, a not uncommon phrase for a 'slow delivery'

Well that's enough, I hope, to encourage you to try The Australian cryptics from the Times every now and again. They're fun, a bit different and they'll lift your game. And if you're already a Times Crossword fan have a go at the cryptics in say the SMH, The Age or the Canberra Times.

There are also some good cryptics in regional papers, many of which come for free. The Sydney Telegraph has a good daily 'Two Speed' puzzle where both quick and cryptic clues are given - very helpful for newcomers to the art.

Remember, variety is the spice of cryptic life

PS: A General Crossword Hint - Don't ponder too long!

There is no more common problem in crosswords of any sort, but especially so in cryptic crosswords, than spending too much time on your first and second rounds of clue solving. Move on quickly ie after say 30 seconds max, if you can't see what a clue is all about. It's too frustrating and you'll just bog down.

After one or two run-throughs you'll no doubt have to spend more time, but by then you should have enough letters from clues you have solved to make the task easier.

And that goes for the puzzle as a whole. Walk away from it for a bit and when you come back you often get those flashes of brilliance that let you finish.

Dick Honor is a retired publisher and self-confessed cryptic crossword tragic. He is the author of "Your Start-Up Guide To Cryptic Crosswords", a guide for those who believe that cryptic crosswords are beyond them. Dick provides beginners with simple language guidance, 450 practice clues with answers and a glossary of over 700 cryptic clue words.