Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I've got back into dosing myself on the hardest of the hard cryptic crosswords (well, of those available in NZ). They are the Kropotkin crosswords which are in the Weekend Herald. When I'm high on them, I'll proclaim them as the most spectacular challenge to the intellect; and solving them as akin to godliness. Naturally they are neither, but such exaggeration is indicative of how much I'm enjoying them.

It is not just that they are a more difficult; it is that some of the answers are obscure words that you may not have even seen before. The compiler creates words occasionally. This week the answers that I have got so far feature: frescade, theeing, Frenchman's Creek, chorpoda and hircine; and last week featured: gormenghast, dilutee, trencherman, grimwig, neath and chinwag. Of the other answers, few are 'normal' words. Useful knowledge this week included knowing that 'inch' was another word for an island, 'fell' was an old word for a skin or hide, 'magister' is the latin for master, two greek letters (chi and mu), a Maori Major of the past and the names of indian tribes. Almost all the clues are so carefully crafted so that you can look at them for hours before they are unlocked. It is truly a puzzle that can keep you occupied throughout the week.

Currently I have four clues remaining, gnawing at me (from the 26 in the beginning). The only other person I know who does them has already got all 4 of them, indicating they are not completely impossible. The only saving grace is that I have got one he hasn't got. Anyway, just to demostrate a little of the wonder:

Correspond with me after letter got from overseas (5) Answer: CHI+ME 'Chi' is a greek letter, and to Chime in is to agree or to correspond!

Ravel - A french composer of hits about the first century (8) Answer: Un+sti(t)(c)h 'Un' being french for A and ravel not just being the name of a French composer but also a word meaning to undo! So intricate and well crafted.

I can't wait till Saturday to finally 'get' the remaining clues and get another set of the finest challenges.


Crypticity said...

Finished! The realisation of a mistaken answer was enough to resolve the unsolvable.

The most beautiful question being:

"Do this to make black viewers see fish (9)"

For a long time I was trying to find all the words meaning 'to make black'. This was later clarified by finding the first letter was an 's'. That left sear, scorch or spot. Viewers could be eyes... But there is no such thing as seareyes. But when the mistaken answer was revealed, the third letter for the above clue was found to be a "c"; thus "s_c_eyes". Sockeyes!! Sockeye Salmon is a kind of fish, and if you sock some eyes you blacken some viewers ("eyes"). Brilliant. A nice answer to seal up the thing. My Friday was mentally unoccupied without any cryptic gristle to chew on. I slaughtered the Herald cryptic in under 14 minutes. What was I meant to do for the rest of the day? The so-called quick crossword had more challenge (which is to say, it is not yet finished) but nyeh, what is the point??

Crypticity said...

The Kropotkin again was a sustained challenge. It took me a day to even get two, before a steady trickle of answer filled the grid. Xin was crucial to one breakthrough. Then I was left with two seemingly intractable clusters of unsolved answers. It was distressing. Then in bed last night, inspiration! Suddenly one knot was untied and finished (I wrote it in in the morning). Now I've got one cluster of four answers left and no real leads.

One distraction was the discovery of another superstrength cryptic, probably stronger than Kropotkin! In the Sunday Star Times they have an English cryptic called the Mephisto. O the struggle. I spent all day trying to get anything and scratched out three before giving in. Looking at the answer, bah, I could hardly see any connection.. a sample of the answers: kyloes, omrahs. sesey, ytterbia, haoma, esnes, ksar, witenagemot and ramism! I have a long way to go... Either that or these superhard crosswords are going further up the arse of obscurity.

Crypticity said...

Another week, another set of crosswords to throw myself into. This weeks Kropotkin was comparatively easy (it took me two days to get most of them).

I needed a challenge so I did what I had been planning to do since I encountered the Mephisto; on my rubbish walk, I found a Sunday Star Times with an immaculate puzzle section and made off with it.

I set about trying to nut it out. The first step was to put the answer page safely away; it was to be a week-long challenge. Sunday yielded a few answers, matching my effort last week. I thought I had hit the wall, but a breakthrough was made on the way home from work on the Monday. A few more slid into place. And then another wall. Had I got as far as I would get. Today (Tuesday) I was getting ready to go to work when BINGO flashed in my mind. I solved two within ten seconds (one it later turned out to be wrong by a letter though). Another few came while I was unwinding at the kitchen table.

I believed I had all I was going to get and checked the answers. The remaining ones were obscure: accoy, clart, opsin, novalia, ulikon, troat, usen't, acrolein, kronos and imari. I got 19 of the 32 clues, which was much better than the 3 from last week.

More importantly I'm finding some important lessons like having a bit of faith in my presuppositions. This will be important in all the 'hard' ones because you can't know all the words. You need to be thinking how to construct likely words, pulling disparate pieces of knowledge into a fusion that answers the hints it gives.

MichaelUK said...

A friend recently visited New Zealand and brought a Kropotkin back with him. We all spent a weekend doing our usual cryptic crosswords and got five clues between us in the Kropotkin all weekend! We are in the UK and I was wondering if you knew whether this crossword is available online anywhere?

Crypticity said...

Hi Michael,

Kropotkin is a joy once you spend time doing them. It takes some time to adjust but then you'll get about half. It really does test your mettle every time. I've rarely got them all, but to fill up most of the grid gives one a sense of achievement. Be warned though, that there are NZ references in them (just like the Times crossword which annoys the heck out of me when it goes all geographical or historical).

They aren't available online but he does send out a newsletter with them attached and with information about the references in some of his clues. On top of that, he compiles them into books. Contact Rex Benson (aka Kropotkin) on

If you get on the newsletter mailing list, you'll have to shield your eyes from the explanations in the e-mail and just download the attached file. It'll have the answers on page two of the file so don't print that either!

I've got lots of them in Word format if you'd like some of the older ones though. If you'd like one or two to try out, e-mail me on: