Crossword News September 2013
Last month we had Round Robbin' by the Crossword Centre as our Prize
Puzzle. With a grid designed by Auctor and clues written by 36
different experts this was a tricky puzzle. As soon became to solvers
the letter O was "robbed" from the answers to many of the clues and was
omitted from the wordplay. The preamble stated that "nothing needs to
be highlighted!" and in fact in the final solution the O made by the
only Os in the grid had to be highlighted.
Here are some of the many comments.
I've just highlighted nothing! I wonder how many of my devious mates
will also highlight nothing and how many will be in your list of those
who didn't highlight nothing! (Just imagine the furore that would
result if it were a Listener crossword - I thought it was of Listener
quality.) What a pack of twisted minds we all obviously have to compile
that set of brilliant clues. We gazed at it for fully twenty-four hours
(with only my own solution in place - and that was one with an O
missing from both wordplay and entry, so it should have told me all I
needed to know - that we were robbin' Os. This was a tough but
very rewarding solve.
An excellent puzzle with some difficult clues and an interesting red
herring. The latter made me think that the theme could be described as
‘Ring me when you get this’. It’s difficult to know
how else to describe the theme except to say it’s all about
The title led me to expect that it would be the letter O that wasn't
indicated by the wordplay in the appropriate clues. Not knowing which
answers were two words made things more difficult, and even when I
could deduce that 3d must be the last two-word answer I ended up
resorting to an online list of battles to find the answer. I was
pretty sure that "nothing" would be something that needed to be
highlighted since I didn't see any reason to say that no highlighting
was required. I was pleased to eventually notice that, given what I had
already solved, it was possible that the O's in the grid were arranged
in a circle. It certainly helped me to know exactly which cells should
contain an O, and also how many letters were indicated by each clue's
subsidiary indication. I thought it was pretty clever that the O's in
the grid appeared in seven across and seven down entries.
There were 64 entries of which 51 were correct. The winner was Chris
Ellis who will soon be receiving his prize of the Chambers Crossword
Dictionary. Solvers were asked to vote for their favourite clues. This
turned into a close contest with early leader, Luciano Ward, and his
clue to (O)H DEAR and its 2-letter definition
My old man and that woman are intertwined (5)
pipped at the post by Ian Simpson and his (in-joke) clue to EEY(O)RE
A blue ass fly's last to enter Mr McKenna's sixth on Derek's centre (6)
I have sent Ian a prize of the latest edition of Bradford's Crossword Solver's Dictionary.
Shirley Curran has blogged the puzzle on Listen with Others at
As usual a full solution will be available on our yahoo group page at
http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/crosswordcentre/files/ and on the
Facebook Crossword Centre. I wish to give my sincere thanks to all of
the clue-writers for their efforts. I am very proud of our unique Round
Robin puzzles and look forward to our next!
This month's Prize Puzzle is Plain Puzzle by Kripke. This is an
excellent challenge with some fine clues. You have until 8th October to
send your entry.
For October we are publishing Panacea by Sancho and I am sure you will find it an amusing teaser.
Some crossword solvers were guinea pigs in a psychological
experiment in Buckingham recently. Drs. Kathryn Friedlander and Philip
Fine have now released their findings to the press. It makes
Problem-solving ability is key to Cryptic Crossword Success
Researchers: Dr. Philip Fine and Dr. Kathryn Friedlander, University of Buckingham
Fine, P. & Friedlander, K. J. (2013, 28-31 August). Cryptic
Crossword Expertise and Fluid Intelligence. presented at the
International Symposium on Performing Science, Vienna; proceedings
paper published by the Royal College of Music, London (in print).
Friedlander, K. J. & Fine, P. (2013, 4th-6th September). Fluid
Intelligence and Cryptic Crossword Expertise . presented at the CogDev
2013: BPS Developmental and Cognitive Sections Joint Conference 2013,
FULL Details of the Research
Our study falls into the broad category of ‘Expertise
Research’. Many previous studies have looked at how people become
‘expert’ in practice-intensive fields such as music, chess
or Scrabble, and have weighed up the relative contributions of hard
work, motivation and talent. Based upon these studies, it has
become commonplace in popular psychology (for example, Malcolm
Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ ) to downplay the importance of
innate aptitudes and to stress the need for regular, focused practice
routines over many hours (the 10 year/10,000 hour rule), starting from
Cryptic crossword solving offers a fresh approach to the study of
expertise because the ground-rules are rather different. Solvers of all
standards generally begin tackling puzzles in their teens or early
twenties, and spend only 5-10 hours per week solving puzzles; yet there
is a wide range of expertise. Our previous surveys also indicated that
cryptic crossword solvers were generally very well-educated and tended
to favour university subjects and careers in the fields of IT, science
and maths. This led us to hypothesize that cryptic crossword solvers as
a whole were particularly good at logical problem-solving, compared to
the normal population; and to suspect that expert solvers might be even
more proficient at this.
We invited 28 participants to the University of Buckingham, comprising
10 non-expert solvers of cryptics, who generally take longer than 30
minutes to solve a standard daily cryptic crossword; and 18 experts,
representing an elite body of top-class performers in the field.
These elite solvers could be divided into the following 3 groups
(although there was some overlap between them): 6 speed-solvers, who
compete successfully at the Times Speed-solving Championships
(including 3 past champions); 6 solvers of advanced cryptics such as
the ‘Listener’ crossword (including a number of
correct’ and ‘roll-of-honour’ solvers); and 6 people
who either set or edit crosswords professionally, as well as being
successful solvers in their own right. We made sure that all
participants had equivalent experience (both experts and non-experts
had solved for an average of over 30 years) and that they spent similar
amounts of time solving crosswords each week (about 7.5 hours on
We asked our participants to complete both parts of the AH5 test of
problem solving (Heim, 1968), a timed high-grade fluid intelligence
test which measures the ability to solve novel problems ‘on
one’s feet’. The AH5 is intended to discriminate among very
highly able people at university/post-graduate level. Part I measures
verbal and numerical reasoning abilities, and Part II non-verbal
(diagrammatic) reasoning abilities.
Then, after two warm-up word games, participants solved a bespoke
cryptic crossword which we commissioned from a setter for the
Independent newspaper. The puzzle was typical of those found in a
good-quality daily broadsheet newspaper. The participants were allowed
45 minutes to solve it and were filmed while they did so, talking aloud
to explain their thoughts and progress. We are still in the process of
analysing these recordings, which will form the basis of a separate
Analysing the AH5 scores, we found that all the participants scored
well within Heim’s range for high-ability populations, indicating
that all participants were indeed excellent problem-solvers. But, as we
hypothesized, expert solvers scored significantly higher overall (and
in Part I, but not in Part II) than the non-experts. The experts’
scores placed them, as a group, in the very top band of Heim’s
Most of the non-expert solvers (8 out of 10) failed to finish the
crossword in 45 minutes; conversely 17 out of the 18 experts finished.
The finishing times ranged from 11:07 to 40:35 minutes. The solving
time of the finishers also correlated significantly with their Part I
AH5 scores: those who finished faster generally had higher AH5 Part I
We have concluded from this that cryptic crossword solvers as a whole
appear to be of above average fluid intelligence , and thus may have an
innate aptitude for problem- solving which makes cryptic crossword
solving an attractive and rewarding pastime. Experts score even higher
on fluid intelligence tests .
As with all skills, learning to solve cryptic crosswords requires
practice over a number of years to acquire a good knowledge of the
rules and the common devices. But both of our groups had equivalent
experience of solving cryptic crosswords over many decades, yet their
performance in tackling our bespoke crossword was strikingly different.
This suggests that experience per se does not fully explain group
differences in this domain,
and that fluid intelligence may play a significant role. We are now
looking at some of the sub-skills which the AH5 may have been tapping
Here is advance notice of a great day out with crossword enthusiasts.
RNIB 3D Crosswords Cup 2013
Saturday 12th October - Penderel’s Oak, Wetherspoon, Holborn, London
Main event 2 – 4 pm
Early Birds will be limbering up from 9am with the daily newspapers. Come and have lunch.
The first RNIB Cup in 2011 was featured on the BBC Radio 4 Today
programme, World Service and regional television. Solvers have gathered
their wits and are ready to try again to crack a challenging and
entertaining three-dimensional crossword puzzle - The Seven Dials
Find out what the mystery is and solve it! Singles, pairs and teams are
all welcome in three sections. A team of helpers will make sure no-one
gets stuck for too long.
Tickets for the live event and further details:
There is also an email section with entries from across the globe. Do join in. We would love to have you with us.
All proceeds go to RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning.