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How Hard Can It Be? | The Nation

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Word Salad

Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.

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Click here for Kosman and Picciotto’s tips on how to work their puzzles116.49 KB

How Hard Can It Be?

As we mention at the end of every post, there is a blog dedicated to the Nation puzzle, which is maintained by Braze. He posts full solutions of the current online puzzle on the subsequent Monday or Tuesday, well in advance of the arrival of the hard-copy puzzle. His blog is also where you can ask for hints, and comment on specific clues.

On the day when the puzzle appears on TheNation.com, Braze gives it an overall difficulty rating, based on his own solving experience. As we construct the puzzles, we try to avoid having too many very easy clues, and too many very difficult clues. Of course, that still leaves a bit of a range. In comparison with the other two North American weekly black-square cryptics, Braze finds that our puzzles generally are more challenging than Cox and Rathvon’s (in The National Post), but easier than Fraser Simpson’s (in the Globe and Mail). We asked him to elaborate.

I’ll rate a puzzle easy if I can roll right along from one quadrant to another, even if a few of the clues are hard and I need the intersecting letters to solve them. I’m likely to rate the puzzle hard if I get stuck more than once or twice or if there’s a section where several tough words intersect each other.

To be more specific about what makes individual clues difficult, Braze chose these examples from puzzle 3227 (from our first year).

• Uncommon indicators (here an unusual reversal indicator for a down clue):
      NEHRU  Former Indian leader exalting primordial chicken (5)

• A less-than-obvious boundary between definition and wordplay (here, Braze first looked for a Thai island):
      HAITIAN  McKellen follows head-over-heels Thai island resident (7)

* Combining different types of wordplay in a single clue (here a single letter followed by an anagram):
      RAINDROP  Reluctantly to begin with, I pardon lousy bit of weather (8)

• Uncommon entries (usually, as here, balanced by straightforward wordplay):
      PURDAH  In Chad, Rupert reversed seclusion (6)

• Crosswordese (“obi” is probably not familiar to non-puzzlers):
      NAIROBI  Rani ruined belt in African city (7)

We enjoy the first three ways to complicate our solvers’ lives; we try to limit uncommon entries to words we like, but we realize not everyone shares our tastes along these lines; and as for the crosswordese, we apologize.

Thanks, Braze!

This week’s cluing challenge: NAIROBI. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

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