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.
'save'+'father'='savefather'
'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>