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Cryptic crosswords
Frogmarch 2002 - Whitby
tobyaw
Cryptic crosswords are puzzles that require knowledge, experience, and intuition to solve. I find a good cryptic crossword to be a deeply satisfying puzzle. Unlike sudoku, or most of the other types of puzzles that regularly appear in newspapers, a cryptic crossword is very human; it emphasises our human characteristics while solving it, in what sometimes feels like a personal contest with the setter.

It would be hard to programme a computer to solve a cryptic crossword, whereas many other types of puzzle can be solved by simple algorithms. Why solve a sudoku by hand, when a computer could do so much more efficiently?

I grew up with my mother and granny doing crosswords, but didn’t understood the process myself, always finding it rather opaque. Some years ago, Kate and I decided to learn how crosswords work, so we bought a crossword dictionary. We spent a couples of months doing the Daily Telegraph crossword each day, checking the answers the following day for clues we failed to get, and making sure that we always understood how the clue got to the answer. Suddenly it clicked, and we could do most of the crossword, most days, without too much bother. (There are always a few clues that stump us, but often Kate can see what I can’t, and vice versa.)

Now, in this post-newsprint age, we subscribe to The Telegraph on our iPads, mainly for the cryptic crossword. This is why I could never want a holiday away from technology and the internet — the first step to enjoying time off work is to download the Daily Telegraph and have a look at the crossword.


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What entertaining clues! And I like the idea that Guardian readers can be expected to know that strawberry leaves are associated with dukes.

I've tried various other newspapers’ crosswords, and find that I can sometimes make a reasonable stab at them, but I think familiarity with the house style goes a long way towards helping one answer the clues. So I always go back to the Telegraph, which is read by both mine and Kate’s parents. Is the choice of daily newspaper inherited?

Some years ago I had a subscription to the Spectator, and I could never get anywhere with their crossword. I suppose I didn't work hard enough at it.

I like the idea that Guardian readers can be expected to know that strawberry leaves are associated with dukes.
Yes, it pleases me too. I think that some groups of setters (and the Guardian ones are among them) assume particular sorts of knowledge, some of which is reasonably obscure. Heraldry occasionally turns up ("or" for gold is quite a common one), as do Shakespearean references ("prince" can often mean "hal", "king" is sometimes "lear", and so on) and chemical symbols ("au" for gold, "ag" for silver and so on).

Is the choice of daily newspaper inherited?
In my case, no - my parents were Telegraph readers, but I tend to favour the Guardian (although we tend only to buy it at the weekend). This might have something to do with me having not inherited my parents' political views, of course.

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