Once I have a word list for my Cryptic Wordsearch puzzle, it’s time to get working on the title and clues. The title is another cryptic clue, this time one which introduces the theme of the puzzle. For some puzzles, I’ve been told that once you figure out the title, things start making more sense. As an example, if the theme was “bread”, then you start thinking in certain ways. “Rye”, “Sourdough”, “Sliced” and other answers would be easier to see. Of course, “Money” might also be an answer…
Hopefully, when I start on the answers for the puzzle itself, I’ll have plenty to pick from. If it’s only 30 answers (or worse, less), then it gets more challenging. My first pass through is to look for what are often the hardest to come up with from a themed list, double definitions and sounds-like (homophones).
Double definitions are always nice because they often lend themselves to puns. “Pirate digs up his buried torso?” (5)
Homophones are usually hardest to find because, again, I’m constrained by the theme. If I only have 30-40 words, chances are none of them will be a stand-alone homophone.
If I’m lucky I’ll find a way to use some combination of double definitions and homophones together with other wordplay, but overall I’ve discovered that those are the hardest words to pull out of most themes.
On the other hand, some of the themes we use are more general – “starts with the letter ‘s’”, could be one, in which case life becomes easier.
After the first pass, it’s time to go back and look for the more general wordplay, anagram and hidden word clues. Hidden words are generally the easiest, at least in a forward direction. Which I’d deny discovering most of the time (6). Reversed hidden words are the next thing to check for, and for both of these, I often use a program I’ve created (and rewritten a few times).
The first puzzle books Sudoku-USA published were – surprise, surprise – Sudoku books, but using that program framework I added an ‘anagram’ feature. I went out and got a particularly bad list of dictionary words and wrote code that let me put in a word or sentence and it would come up with possible anagrams. The dictionary, which contained not only English but random foreign words – as well as misspellings – let me at least get ideas for anagrams.
Over time, I expanded the anagram feature to do more general lookups, many of which are important for hidden words. I added the ability to look for ‘words starting with …’, which helps me when I have the first few letters and want to get the next. I also have ‘ends with …’ which helps with the leading portion. For reversed hidden words, I just turn things around and it all works.
As to general word play, cutting and pasting, inserting and all the other tricks, I still use my anagram window. One of its other important features is that if I put in the answer and below it the letters comprising the results of the clue, it will tell me if they match – in any order.
Let’s say the answer is “implied”. I put that in the window and then say that the clue components are “I’m piled” (You might think I’m piled messily) and it will tell me that ‘impiled’ are all part of the clue. That’s not a very good clue, way too easy, but it’s the kind of thing my program is good for recognizing.
When I’ve got my 30 candidate clues, it’s time to start entering them in the database. I create a puzzle “shell”, a place to put the clues, and then start entering them. As I do, the program checks to see if I’ve ever used that answer – or even one similar – in a previous puzzle. As a rule, we don’t like having the same answer appear in the same book, and also check against previous books and sample puzzles. If you’ve solved as many cryptic crosswords as I have, you’ve probably seen ones you KNOW you’ve seen before. My goal is to prevent that from happening. If I do reuse an answer, the clue will be significantly different.
Once the clues are entered it’s time to generate the puzzle. I’ll cover that in Part 3.