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Customer Review

57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 8 May 2003
This review is from: The Hidden Code of Cryptic Crosswords (Paperback)
I think this is the least successful of the currently available "how to do cryptic crosswords" books. The author undoubtedly has experience of solving puzzles, and has a pretty good grasp of how the clues work. But explaining cryptic clues to other people needs more than this.

A big problem with the book is that it invents its own language for talking about cryptic clues, using exotic terms like "nosek" and "hydration", which make a glossary essential. (Can you guess what hydration is? I'll tell you at the end of the review, and I'm pretty sure you'll guess wrong.) Many of these invented words are not used in other discussions about cryptic puzzles, either because more intelligible alternatives already exist (e.g. "container and contents" - longer than "concon" but easily understood without a glossary), or because no-one thinks the word is necessary (e.g. "geograph" = a clue requiring geographical knowledge).

Some of the descriptions using this language are pretty impenetrable, in a way that other books manage to avoid. For example, to explain "Poet writes note held by disheartened singer" = SPENSER, all we need is something like:

Clue type: container and contents
Definition: Poet = (Edmund) Spenser.
Wordplay: Writes note = PENS E, all inside: disheartened SingeR = SR, giving S(PENS E)R.

Instead, this clue is a "condix" rather than just a "concon", and is explained thus:
"Both dixes remain once a central dix is removed from singer. This is not a simple one step disheartenment that leaves the answer standing in the form of a partword. The addix is required to construct the answer. Thus we see that the addix is a two step construction (undix, then addix) as all the earlier examples show. One, remove dix from clue. Two, put dix in answer."

Special formatting, to show the structure of clues, is used throughout the book. You never get any unformatted clues to look at, to see whether the book has taught you to analyse the structure of the unformatted clues that appear in real puzzles. Nor do you get any sample puzzles to try, or much advice about where to find puzzles to cut your teeth on. It's a bit like a driving course that never puts you behind the wheel of a car.

There are also several pages of material that contribute very little to the purpose of the book. The table of "differences and similarities in the nomenclature of segments or word parts" could be deleted, and information about topics like the potential palindromic properties of numbers below 196, and the introduction of zero to Western maths, belongs in some other book.

Here's that definition of Hydration: "Insertion of a letter at the head of a word; opposite of beheadment."
(Presumably from the mythical Hydra, which had many heads - but absolutely nothing to do with the normal meaning of "hydration").
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Aug 2010 12:18:50 BDT
Shonali says:
Hi and thanks for this review. Have you read any other cryptic crossword books that are more useful?

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Aug 2010 07:53:32 BDT
Yes!

The best two are How to Master The Times Crossword: The Times Cryptic Crossword Demystified and Chambers Crossword Manual - both have reviews from me.

If you click on my name, you should be able to find my "Listmania" lists, which include a full list of "how to solve cryptics" books -

http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-to-solve-cryptic-crosswords-tutorial-books/lm/R2BDTR9N48RXN3/

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Aug 2010 10:51:33 BDT
Shonali says:
Thank you very much!
I had considered the Times one after being stumped at last Sunday's crossword and so now that it has your endorsement, I will be buying it.
Thanks again
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