The Spice of Life | The Nation


Word Salad

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

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

The Spice of Life

Some time ago we discussed a style of cryptic crosswords in which the words are separated by bars between the squares, instead of black squares. About once or twice a year, we use this format in The Nation. As we mentioned back then, bar-diagram puzzles offer more intersections between across and down entries, and are usually accompanied by a title and some written instructions. Thus they provide a good environment for trickery beyond mere cryptic cluing. Such puzzles are often called variety cryptic crosswords.

We occasionally engage in variety cryptic trickery in some of our themed puzzles. When we do, we reveal the nature of the gimmick in one of the clues. Because of the greater number of unchecked letters in a block diagram, we must keep the complexity of the gimmick manageable. If you thirst for greater challenges along these lines, here are some sources of variety cryptics:

• The Enigma, the monthly publication of the National Puzzlers’ League (NPL), includes one or two cryptics in each issue, most of them variety cryptics. They are edited by Guy Jacobson (Xemu), who took over from us when we got the Nation job. For a selection of the best cryptics from our fifteen years as Enigma cryptic editors, download this book.

The Wall Street Journal features a monthly variety cryptic of unparalleled wit and creativity by the royal couple of US cryptics, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon.

Harper’s includes a monthly variety cryptic by veteran constructor Richard Maltby.

If you like the idea of always having cryptics to solve, wherever and whenever, and if you also own an iOS device, you would enjoy the Puzzazz app. In a past post, we discussed the ways in which it is an ideal platform for electronic cryptic solving, as it provides extraordinary hints to beginner solvers, and it allows hand-written input. Since then, the app has improved dramatically from an already impressive start. Puzzazz supports all kinds of variety cryptic quirks, including bar diagrams, solver-entered bars, a wide geometric range (concentric circles, hexagons, multiple grids, etc.), pictures in clues, numbers instead of letters, drawings on the completed puzzle, and much, much more.

This flexibility is demonstrated dramatically in the new e-book Cryptic All-Stars, a collection of forty-five variety cryptics by thirteen constructors (including Roger Wolff, Mark Halpin, and nine other members of the NPL, including, ahem, Joshua Kosman). In addition, the third e-book of 20 Nation cryptics just came out on Puzzazz—another reason to get the app!

This week’s clueing challenge: DEVICE

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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