October 8th, 2014

Times Xword Editor on the launch of the new Quick Cryptic

Richard Rogan
Last updated at 11:17AM, March 10 2014

The Quick Cryptic aims to introduce a new audience to cryptic crosswords and offer a step to solving the main puzzle

Today marks the latest in a series of landmarks in the history of The Times crossword. It all started on February 1, 1930, with Times Cryptic Crossword Number One. For 40 years this was the only cryptic puzzle appearing in the paper. Then, on December 19 1970, a new and larger cousin to the main daily cryptic was born: a square puzzle aptly named the Jumbo.

The Jumbo quickly became popular with solvers, appearing on Bank Holidays. On September 6, 1997, while the attention of the country was focused on the funeral of the Princess of Wales, the Jumbo went weekly, and has appeared on Saturdays and most Bank Holidays ever since. The Times2 crossword, a non-cryptic “concise”, first appeared in 1993 and is still going strong.

What we are introducing today, however, is effectively the opposite of the Jumbo: the Times Quick Cryptic will be a downsized version of our famous daily cryptic (which remains unchanged).

Appearing Monday to Friday on the puzzles pages of Times2, it will be reduced in size and hopefully in difficulty too, the intention being to introduce new people to cryptic crosswords, and to encourage those solvers who’d like to have a go at the main puzzle but feel daunted by it, or who can perhaps only solve a handful of clues.

One other difference you will notice is that, while the other Times crosswords are, and will continue to be, anonymous, the Quick Cryptic will be only semi-anonymous. A pseudonym will appear above the puzzle, masking in most cases the identity of a regular Times crossword compiler.

Will people come to regard Dazzler as dazzlingly witty? Joker as having a sense of humour? Grumpy not? Is Orpheus musical? Will Teazel tease?

As with any new venture, it will be difficult to please everyone. Inevitably some may find it too Quick, but my main concern is that some will still find it too Cryptic: for Quick and Cryptic are strange bedfellows. Any cryptic crossword must necessarily carry an element of mystique and obscurity about it: the word after all comes from the Greek for hidden.

However, I bear good tidings for anyone who feels that a cryptic crossword must be impossibly difficult: namely that nearly all cryptic clues are in many ways fairer than simple Times2 crossword-style clues: they actually give you two chances to arrive at the answer.

Consider the clue: Feline animal (4). Without checking letters we don’t know if the answer is going to be “Lion”, “Puma”, “Lynx”.

However, consider the following three clues: Feline animal’s connections, we hear (4); Feline animal seen in Mali once (4); Feline animal chewed up a mat initially (4).

They are all cryptic but you should hopefully, even if you have never solved a cryptic crossword before, now be able to hazard a reasonable guess in each case as to which answer goes with which clue.

The first clue “we hear” suggests that the answer sounds like a word for connections (or “links”), the second actually contains the answer (“seen in”) hidden somewhere along its length, and in the third “chewed” suggests an anagram of “up”, “a” and the first letter of “mat”.

Or, imagine that you have rattled through a puzzle such as the Times2 and are faced with the following, final clue: Prickly shrub (4). And the letters _A_K. You rack your brains for ages trying to think of the answer.

An ordinary dictionary is little help, so you give up in frustration. However, here is a cryptic clue for the same word: “Prickly shrub from bank, wild (4). Knowing that cryptic crosswords feature anagrams often, and given the A and the K and the fact that there’s a word of four letters containing A and K in the clue, could the answer possibly be an anagram of BANK?

If so, the answer must be NABK. If this obscurity still does not ring a bell you can look in Chambers Dictionary and there it is. An answer you might never have arrived at from the first quick clue.

Of course, I would rarely, if ever, allow a word such as NABK to appear even in the main Times Crossword. And I cannot promise that the clues in the new crossword will all be as comparatively straightforward as the clues for LYNX , LION and PUMA above, but the principle is the same. A cryptic puzzle will usually give you two goes at arriving at an answer.

I will divulge another little secret to those who feel daunted by the main Times Crossword: those puzzles do vary in difficulty. Yes, there are days when even the experts struggle to finish it before they’ve got off the train — on the journey home — but there are also days where the puzzle may be scarcely harder than the Quick Cryptic.

To echo a point I made earlier: when you are struggling with today’s puzzle don’t forget that it is supposed to be Cryptic. And to those of you who may polish it off in a couple of minutes and say, “That was a bit disappointing: what do I do now?” I will point out the word Quick.

Because, like the cryptic clue itself, we are offering two routes to the goal of grid completion: a path which is shorter than that offered by the Times Crossword, but also one with some more interesting obstacles along the way than the much-loved T2 Crossword.

Either way, I hope it will bring some measure of satisfaction to all.

Ten tips for solving a cryptic crossword, by Paul Dunn

1. How clues work
Most consist of two parts, a definition and wordplay, so in “Such a holy person in church room (6)” the definition is “church room”; “holy person” equals Saint — ST — and “Such a” is a synonym for “very”: so insert the letters ST in VERY and you get VESTRY.

2. Playful clues?
Some clues are more jokey, such as this famous example: “HIJKLMNO? (5)”. The answer is “water” (ie H to O, or H TWO O). These are often indicated by a question mark.

3. Anagrams
Words such as “moved”, “scrambled” “let loose”, etc, mean that the letters of other words must be moved around to get the answer. For example, this elegant clue: “Mixed-up Presbyterian’s a singer (7,6)”. Mix up the letters of presbyterians and you get “Britney Spears”.

4. Starter’s order
Look out for phrases such as “initially” or “for starters”, which show that the first letters of the clue words spell the answer, eg, “Initially indolent dosser likes endless rest (5)”, which gives IDLER.

5. In hiding
Some answers lurk inside the clue. So “Some dull academic a bit of a brain (6)” conceals MEDULLA — but beware: hidden words can run backwards (look out for “climbing” or “in reverse”). Sometimes you must look at alternate letters (indicated, perhaps, by “odds” “evens” or “in turn”).

6. Learn the language
Certain words are used to indicate letters in an answer. Some are obvious, such as S for small (check the label in your pullover). Others are less so. “Books” often mean OT or NT (for Old or New Testament), “men” can mean OR (for “other ranks”, men as opposed to officers) king can be R or K and knight K or N (from the honours list or chess notation).

7. Puns
Words such as “broadcast” or “audience” can indicate a pun. So “Audience’s wrecked corner (8)”, would be RECTANGLE.

8. Brush up your Shakespeare . . .
. . . and your classical mythology, books of the Bible, kings and queens, etc. Keep abreast of slang, ancient and modern: “rhino”, “tin”, “bread” and “brass” all mean money; “jolly” is slang for Royal Marine or the letters RM; and “drug” can mean the letter E (for Ecstasy).

9. Breaking up isn’t hard
Think about how words are made up: often they break down into separate unrelated words, thus rearrange consists of “rear” and “range”.

10. Stuck?
Put the puzzle aside for a while; often the solution is blindingly obvious when you return to it.