Words & Stuff

zz: Hidden X Term for Puzzlement (7, 9) (Reader Comments and Addenda)

(10 February 1999)

Don Monson notes that the rec.puzzles.crosswords newsgroups is more oriented toward cryptics than toward American-style crosswords; sounds worth checking out.

He also mentions an amazing program called Crossword Maestro that solves cryptic clues for you. Here's an example of the program's approach to a clue from this column:

Save father unusual present on his day (10)

AFTERSHAVE Confidence: 61%
'present on his day' is the definition.
I don't know anything about the answer so I cannot judge whether it can be defined by this definition.
'save father unusual' is the subsidiary indication.
'unusual' indicates an anagram.
'savefather' anagrammed gives 'aftershave'

I'm very impressed. Don noted that the program isn't perfect; for our "Inspire half-breeds with two articles (7)" clue, it suggests SPINIER, but gives a low 19% confidence. But it does better if it knows some of the letters in the answer (as it often would in solving a real crossword). Even without knowing any letters in the answer, it correctly solved at least three of the other clues provided in the column.

Don adds that indirect anagrams -- anagrams of synonyms rather than of words actually in the clue, as in our "Messy porn is a requirement (4)" -- are frowned upon by cryptic enthusiasts. Oops. And he notes that in "Utter only half of puns read (4)," a purist would prefer something like "first half" to indicate which half.

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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>