Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why I like cryptic crossword puzzles

I'm not very good at identifying the different types of '-uctive' reasoning (adductive, deductive, reductive...), but I do like to exercise them. There is a UK newspaper I buy purely for the puzzles. I have no time for its sensationalist right wing politics, but it has a 4 page spread of the best puzzles. I buy the paper, take out the middle pages and recycle the rest. Because this is a monumental waste and distinctly un-green, I restrict myself to buying the paper only when I have a longish train journey to make.

I enjoy Sudokus. I would imagine that this must be pure deductive reasoning. Here is an example of an easy Sudoku. Just in case there are any people left who don't know how they work, the idea is to place the digits 1-9 in each row, each column and each 3X3 box. Of course, it stands to reason that there can be no repeats.

I also enjoy codewords. Another example of deductive reasoning (I think), these are puzzles in which each number represents a letter of the alphabet and you have to crack the code. You are usually given two or three letters as a key to get you going. I have been doing these since I was about 8 years old, and have gotten pretty quick at them. I can usually solve them in far less time than is allocated for an 'expert', so I set my own challenge. Since I tend to do them on trains, I usually challenge myself to solve the puzzle before we reach the next station.

But my greatest love, by far, is crosswords. Usually, when I say this people picture this kind of thing.Ack. Gack. Ptui. Not interested.

What I like is a kind of crossword that seems peculiar to England and a few of its ex-colonies. The cryptic crossword puzzle. My husband, the techie, fails to see the point, which is kind of sad, because I had fond notions of the two of us solving the morning crossword over toast and tea in our twilight years. Sigh. Bliss. To my mind, it involves the same sort of reasoning involved in programming. But I've never been a programmer, so perhaps I'm wrong about that.

Every day, my husband dutifully brings home a freebie paper distributed during the homeward journey. He does the sudokus on the train... which I tolerate ;o) and I do the crossword in bed before I turn off the light.

I'm not altogether sure what sort of reasoning is involved, but the answer is always in the clue somehow. For example, in the clue "Spoil in a remarkable way (3)" the answer is concealed. In the clue "Healthy spasm (3)" we're dealing with a bit of wordplay to come up with the answer: fit. Another example of which is to be found in my favourite clue from Monday's paper this week: "Dejected - no liquor left! (3,2,7)" to which the answer, in case you're interested, is out of spirits. Sometimes the answer is hidden, sometimes it's an anagram, sometimes it involves a bit of lateral thinking.

The daily cryptic crossword was a feature of my childhood. My mother is a crossword junkie, so she was regularly to be seen poring over the puzzle.

When the extended family gathered at my grandparents' home for the Christmas holidays, with all 14 of us under one roof (bear in mind that it was the height of summer, so this might involve some people camping out on the front lawn, or in the garage), the daily crossword was completed as a team exercise. I had no contribution to make...yet... but I loved the conversation that ensued. I loved the collaborative problem-solving. The brainstorming that generated some ridiculous suggestions (some of which turned out to be correct!). The cameraderie, the pursuit of a common goal. The good humoured bickering when one person got the the puzzle first and solved it before anyone else had got a look in.

These are drivers I have brought with me to the field of learning. Call me an idealist if you like, but I have seen it in action. I have seen people engaged in team problem solving... and it worked so well, even when the last clue remained stubbornly unsolved, that it remains one of my fondest memories to this day.

So to end... a few cryptic clues for you to solve. I will publish the results in a comment on this post, so you can choose to see them or not. After that, I will curl up in a sunny corner (yes, the sun is shining) with a cup of tea and today's puzzle.

Oh... and if anyone can tell me what kind of '-uctive' is involved, I'd be thrilled to learn... as long as it isn't unproductive!

  1. Negligent about a girl (6)
  2. A church provides and unbeatable service (3)
  3. Finish sketch for a particular purpose (4,2,2,3)
  4. Perhaps gravity caused him to add fresh weight to science? (6)
  5. The practice of the American era (5)


The upsycho said...

(1) remiss
(2) ace
(3) draw to an end
(4) Newton
(5) usage

Unknown said...


This is an excellent tool, a...hmmm, instrument I use to keep adult learners engaged on the subject during breaks or when technology acts up. Many a time I would get an email after class requesting the answers. That's when I really smile for the time used to create puzzles on the topic covered and their continued engagement after the class ends. Bingo is good too, would you believe? Thanks, Michele.

Daniel Wroblewski said...

I also love cryptic puzzles. I used to subscribe to Games magazine, almost exclusively for the 2 cryptic puzzles in each bi-monthly issue. I find them irrestible, and they last for days or weeks as I always have trouble with one or 2 of the clues.

The upsycho said...

@Daniel Thanks for your comment. There are times when I struggle with the last few clues, too. The next day's paper serves to pu tme out of my misery.

BTW I used to have a friend with the same surname as yours. Do you have any relatives in Cape Town, or is it a fairly common Polish name?