Thursday, December 19, 2013

Abecedarian jigsaw (Puzzle No. 3,307)

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate to hard.  Took a little while to get a toehold, but the theme was pretty easy.  

Hozom’s comment: Explaining Ourselves, in which Hot and Trazom point out that even good solvers sometimes get totally baffled by a clue.  There are constructive ways to handle this and ways that are not constructive: blaming the constructor is not constructive.  And if I may say so myself, creating a blog to solve and annotate each week’s puzzle, and answering questions about how clues are supposed to be parsed is constructive.  

What got me about the anecdote that Hot and Trazom started their post with was that the correspondent who compared them unfavorably to Frank Lewis said that Lewis’s clues always explained themselves.  I disagree diametrically.  If anything, it was Lewis who was willing to sometimes follow British practice and omit an indicator from the clue.  Hot and Trazom are pretty strict Ximeneans (definition, wordplay, and nothing else).

Solution and annotation to puzzle no. 3,307 will be posted Monday.  Join us this weekend for a special centennial edition of Sunday brunch! 

Two weeks ago, we looked at the alphabetical jigsaw, which was one of Araucaria’s contributions to cryptic crosswording.   Today we’ll discuss its close relation, the abecedarian jigsaw.  Henry Hook and Richard Maltby credit Dogop of The Listener for creating the form (in October 1973), or more precisely adapting it from its block cousin.  

The abecedarian jigsaw is set on a bar grid, usually 12 x 12, so it has 40 clues and answers instead of the 26 in most block versions.  Thus you can’t have only one solution for each letter of the alphabet, but you do have to have at least one of each letter.  Not as elegant, but a little more difficult, since you don’t know the first letter until you get the adjacent clues.   It’s also more difficult because there are more spaces to choose from when placing answers, but then once you get started, you get more help from intersecting letters.  

The past couple of weeks, I solved several of Maltby’s abecedarian jigsaws from Harper’s: it’s a form he’s gone back to seven times by my count (interestingly, the one titled Abecedarian Jigsaw IV actually was the fifth).  One of them was a variant on the variant where the clues were alphabetized by their last letter instead of the first, so the letter frequencies were quite different.  

So speaking of letter frequencies, I learned from experience that it’s better to start solving abecedarian jigsaws with the last clues instead of the first ones.  U and X and Z answers are not only uncommon, but usually pretty obvious in the wordplay, and those also show you how many V, W, and Y answers there are.  After that, the solving strategy is pretty much the same; the key is to get at least three of the longest answers (which usually come in fours as these puzzles have 90 degree symmetry) and place them by process of elimination (if the fourth letter of the long answer is B and you know the only B answer is a five letter word, then if the fourth space of a possible location starts a four letter word that’s not going to work.  

So the alphabetical/abecedarian is a great variant: simple enough that lots of constructors have created them, and common enough to become an institution. 

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