Hello, Hackwoody here!

😕 Minor celebrity at the crease beginning to get intense (10)

Do fundraising cricket games get too serious?

The answer is at the foot of the page.

If you read the introduction you will know I am a compiler of cryptic crosswords, setting under the pseudonym HACKWOODY.

Some of my puzzles are here: https://crossword.info/hackwoody. They are freely available to anyone to tackle. These will give you a flavour of what’s ahead. Here is a link to Cryptic #1.

Here in my first Patreon post I tell you more about my subscription content on Patreon. What extra will you see behind the subscribers’ curtain?

* More crossword puzzles, cryptic ones, some of standard construction and some under the broad umbrella of “thematic” where something more is going on beside individual words.

* You will also read in my posts how I go about writing cryptic clues within the guidelines commonly applied by puzzle setters. You will read my commentary on how to detect potential efforts by a cryptic crossword setter to deflect you from solving — reverse engineer clues, if you like. For this, I shall work through selected clues from my puzzles from both my viewpoint as setter and yours as solver.

* As this page develops, I hope you will engage with me about what you do and don’t enjoy about my content, about the creative process behind compiling cryptics as it touches setter and solver, and about ideas to try.

Doing crosswords is fun from both viewpoints: that of the solver and that of the setter. I share with you on Patreon both viewpoints but ultimately, I hope, to your benefit and enjoyment.

My content is from my own puzzles, so you will see clue writing from this setter’s point of view. You will see ideas here that you will nevertheless see across all other setters’ clues. Differences should be of style and creativity.

I derive a lot of pleasure from the creation of a good clue. This is a clue that satisfies the need to be mind-provoking and aesthetically pleasing while being scrupulously fair to the solver. Setters generally want solvers to succeed, me included! So the game is always slightly in the solver’s favour.

To reach this point I have gradually absorbed the concepts behind “good,” and had some moments of clarity when I saw my shortcomings, which then released me into a new phase of construction. We’re talking years here: evolution is slow! But, I have taken note of feedback from some notable individuals in the field and only hope that what I am carrying forward fits the bill.

There is a trope that defines a good cryptic clue as one that means what is says and says what it means. In practice, this will be a clue in which every word within it has a purpose and value leading to the answer to be entered into the grid, and nothing more.

A good clue has one incontrovertible solution.

Cryptic clues are by design misleading in the way they deflect the solver away from the solution. What they should never be of course is deceptive in the way of a fraud.

I should mention that I adopt a convention throughout of putting words in angle brackets to confirm when am talking about a <word> in a clue. Where it is is plain that I am presenting a clue itself, I won’t use < >. In some instances I shall also use what are oddly called “scare quotes.” I hope this feels natural and is acceptable to your reading of the content.

A further convention I adopt is to write solutions and fragments of solutions in capital letters, as is customary when entering into a grid regardless of the case of letters in the clue.

Here’s a clue from my first puzzle https://crossword.info/hackwoody/99999_Hackwoody_1L.

😕 Condition required to rotate iron pipe (4).

You will understand every word in this clue, and you will recognize the clue as an English sentence with a plausible meaning.

You can take the literal meaning, which would be by definition a word that is a condition needed to rotate [an] iron pipe, if there were such a suitable word! This is known as the surface reading. But, you know instantly that this will not give you the answer to enter into the grid! You’re doing a cryptic!

Easily though the clue may read on the surface — conjuring up a picture in your mind maybe of a rotating pipe — your surgical probing of the clue will definitely be needed to be able to read it another way — the cryptic way — and THAT will lead you to the answer you seek.

You will instead be looking for a way to read a cryptic clue as having two sections: a definition section, acting as a synonym of the word to be entered in the grid, and a cryptic section that constructs the actual word to be entered but by a roundabout, covert way. These parts should converge on the incontrovertible solution.

You may do this and never bother to read the surface of a clue for example when you are on a timer, which is almost always fine for solving, although you will miss out on a level of entertainment in my view, time permitting.

Considering both sections provides a confirmation that, yes, you sussed the answer right and you should enter it in the grid: you worked out a word from the cryptic bit, it fits with the definition, and is the right length. (Great if you also have intersecting letters but this is never a requirement.)

Go back to my illustrative clue: Condition required to rotate iron pipe.

You will need to see that it is <condition> that is to rotate, not <iron pipe>! The clue does not stop you looking at it this way when broken-up, with <condition> as a subject of the action to rotate, and this is the way to think.

Now, substitute <condition> with a word that is synonymous, IF, and rotate it FI.

We often need to recall that a word commonly used in one way can be used in another — in this instance a conjunction “if” as a noun, as in “ifs and buts”.

In the same way, <iron> is represented by its symbol, FE.

You should be aware that when you solve the cryptic part you are expected to substitute key words synonymously to get to the solution and you will do this without prompting (where no prompt is present) or by applying an instruction within the clue. You will never be asked to substitute a word you have already substituted and you will never be expected to substitute the instructional words, only recognize them and apply them.

Of course, when you enter a solution into a grid you invariably use capital letters, so when I enter solutions or partial solutions in my posts I will do likewise.

I hope these conventions sit comfortably with you. My aim is to be clear.

This word you worked out, FIFE, agrees with the definition part of the clue <pipe>, when we remember the image of a piper playing (possibly in a kilt on a craggy coastline, but anyway…), and we enter it with confidence.

The deflections where we rotate one thing and not another, where we substitute a word by its symbol as it forms part of the solution, and where we should think of a musical instrument not a conduit for liquid, are all considered fair in this game, because both the setter and the solver understand and accept these alternative senses at the same time as the senses of the words and sentence we first read.

So, going back one more time to the clue when you first read it… Condition required to rotate iron pipe (4). When you are in tune with solving a cryptic clue, <rotate> will jump out at you; so will <iron> for its chemical symbol; you will think of either <condition> or <iron pipe> as the definition section, but ideally settle on <pipe> because <iron pipe> is less likely to be synonymous with a real word, and <condition> is synonymous with IF, a cryptic regular.

This is the game.

It is a game of delightfully twisted thinking. The beauty of it is that how to twist is agreed implicitly by both parties…given a good clue.

It is true that you may be being double-bluffed or find yourself barking up the wrong true, but then you will try a new approach, ideally still a good one.

There are lots of deflectional tactics — ways of identifying cryptic bits and assembling them implicitly or according to instructions in the clue. And, there are guide-lines to follow.

This is what I will present to you.

I hope it helps you recognize when and how your thoughts are being deflected and how the setter’s mind was whirring at the time. You may also want to let your mind wander and create cryptic clues of your own to see how ingenious or elliptical you can be.

A word before I sign off about the decorative motif you see in the background. This is my conceit. The objects you see pay homage to William Hackwood, a modeller employed personally by Josiah Wedgwood into his business in the 18th Century. Hackwood was my ancestor and I have based my pseudonym on his name. The genealogical research into our forebears was rigorously traced by my father, Brian, during his later years, and presented in an article published in Ars Ceramica, 2001, Number 17. Homage is also paid, therefore, to Dad.

Thank you for reading.




I prepare my crosswords using Crossword Compiler https://www.crossword-compiler.com/. The puzzles make use of this software’s built-in publishing resources, which include an applet for interactive solving when you do the puzzle online, as well as a button to produce a printable PDF if you prefer the non-tech, pen-in-hand, paper-for-scribbling environment. Another button will simply show you the solution.

Images that are not in the public domain in relation to reproduction are included by kind permission of the V&A.

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