June 09, 2008

A cryptic, a link to an interview

Jeffrey Harris has posted his e-mail interview with constructor Karen Tracey. If you're curious about crossword constructing methods in general, Karen's puzzles, and the databases constructors use to facilitate their creative ventures, read up.

Jonah Ostroff, a graduating senior at Carleton College, shared with me a themed cryptic crossword he made for the Carl, the college's biweekly magazine of arts and entertainment that has a puzzle page—alas, this magazine didn't exist when I went to Carleton. Jonah got some pre-publication feedback from a Carleton professor, occasional crossword constructor David Liben-Nowell. Jonah reports that a previous offering was a maze full of letters in which solvers were to walk over Helvetica letters but not Arial. (Font geekery + puzzles = win-win. I haven't seen that puzzle myself, though.)

Visit the Crossword Fiend Google Groups page to download Jonah's puzzle. The clues and grid are in two separate PDF files (clues.pdf, board.pdf) you can print out. Spoilers after the jump. (Update: Alex Boisvert made an Across Lite version of Jonah's cryptic, and it's available on the same page.)

Jonah's clues reminded me more of British cryptic clues (easyish Times ones as opposed to gnarly Listener clues) than American ones, meaning they tend to be a little more complex and a bit less direct than the typical cryptic the NYT occasionally prints. The clues often don't make a ton of sense as sentences, but the cues that tell you how to craft the answer word can be subtle.

3-Across, [His comic Arlo & Janis holds the theme to this puzzle], is answered by CARL. Carl isn't the name of the cartoonist, it's a series of letters "held" in comic Arlo and also the name of the magazine the puzzle appeared in. The four longest answers in the grid contain that same foursome of letters. 18-Across is NASCAR LANES, which is a contrived answer, but it has that embedded CARL.

I had to Google to figure out two of the answers. 6-Down, [Thumb piano, international relations incorporated in business degree], is MBIRA, a Zimbabwean musical instrument you may have seen. (International relations = IR, tucked inside business degree = MBA.) 27-Down, [Factors are obscuring encryption algorithm], is RSA. It's an encryption algorithm named after three people with last names starting with R, S, and A; Jonah included that one because the "R," Ron Rivest, had just been on campus.

My favorite clues: 6-Across, [Tell mom a fiancé has family] for MAFIA; 11-Across, [Against a pair of sixes, Gore is cheerful] for CONVIVIAL (against = con, Roman sixes = VI and VI, Al Gore).

Thanks for sharing your auspicious first crossword, Jonah!