Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Trying to think like a cryptic puzzler

Having recently immersed myself in David Astle's book Rewording the Brain, I keep noticing the intricacies of words as I see or hear them.

Just for my own enjoyment I'm going to keep a list here of ideas that pop into my head. I'm intending to come back to this post and add to it.

prancer - Topless dancer uses PR to become a famous hoofer.
emulate - copy a bird dead (Hmm... this one doesn't really work, but I'm having fun.)

Okay... this is all a bit harder than it seemed at first.

emulate - successfully rival a bird left devoured. Nope, not going well. I wonder if I could somehow incorporate the word port, as in the left side of a ship.

Bird left and dined. No, now I'm missing the vital clue as to the entire meaning the answer.
Wait a minute... Rival bird left and dined. I like that.

Let's try another one.

sourdough - spiteful Doug initially has bread. That might work. I'll have to reread the chapters on types of clues and on the use of uppercase letters in a clue.

kith - friends help with a set of tools

A search of Macquarie Dictionary surprised me on this one. I thought 'kith and kin' meant family, but it turns out kith means acquaintances or friends and only the word kin means relatives.

Now, just as I'm about the stop writing here, I've noticed the word beet blutacked to my wall. What about that one? Bee has a drink.
But how do I work in the overall meaning of beet?
Et means and in Latin.
Or I could make it a container clue (page 115 of Astle's book) with bet containing the letter e.

No, I must make myself stop right now and get back to reading the book.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Cryptic crosswords as food for the brain

A friend bought me a copy of David Astle's new book, Rewording the Brain and I'm loving it.

It's written in three sections. Part One discusses the value of puzzling for maintaining brain function. Part Two is an examination of the main types of clues we could expect in a cryptic puzzle. Part Three is a selection of puzzles with ascending levels of difficulty plus assistance in solving them.

I'm particularly grateful for the section at the end of the book with solutions and an explanation for each as to how the answers were achieved.

For years I've been enjoying cryptics in our local newspapers, but don't usually attempt David Astle's puzzles because I thought they would be too difficult for me. Perhaps after working my way through the fifty examples in this book I'll be brave enough to attempt his weekly one.

in his book David Astle mentions The Big Issue, our local street magazine. The Big Issue has a cryptic crossword each fortnight, and the puzzle is always accompanied by a 'straight' version, so you can look across at the ordinary clue if the cryptic one has you puzzled.

Thursday, 12 April 2018


I've been reading The Diary of a Bookseller.

Yes, I do realise this is an awful photo of the book cover, but it's the best I was willing to do, given my poor photography skills.

It's a fun read, but also informative. I'll be careful next time I bother a bookseller by entering his or her shop to browse. (It's a bit like primary schools. They're great places to teach, but it's quite bothersome that children arrive most days and expect to get some of your attention.)

The author being a bookseller, I'd expect him to have a good vocabulary, so I wasn't surprised to come across words I hadn't heard before. One was incunabula, on page 126 of the edition I read. Shaun Bythell, the bookseller, says that when he's driving to assess a collection of books offered for sale, he's pleasantly excited at the prospect of finding, amongst other things, incunabula.

Often I can guess a meaning by having seen similar words, but this one had me tossed. What could he be expecting to find?

Britannica made it clear to me. It means books printed by machine before the end of the fifteenth century.

Wow! To an Australian this seems incredible. Imagine holding a book that was six hundred years old.

I do remember, as a child, having the privilege of browsing the basement of the Ballarat Mechanics' Institute Library and touching a book published before Europeans 'discovered' this continent. I forget what the actual book was, but the emotional response is still with me. Wonder. Awe.

I think the books I saw that day are now in the State Library of Victoria, but I'm not sure.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

beseech and beseek

Yesterday's cryptic crossword clue was: Begged Hugo Best to reform.

Okay, I could get that, especially with the help of Andy's Anagram Solver. 

The answer was besought.

I don't believe I've ever before come across this verb in the past tense. It occurred to me it sounded as if it should be the past tense of beseek, as in the similar verb seek - sought - have sought.

There's no verb beseek, as far as my sketchy research could discover.

Beseech does come from the same old word as seek, though. The Online Etymology Dictionary says:
c. 1200, bisecen "to entreat, beg urgently," from Old English besecan; see be- + seek. "in contrast to the simple vb., in which the northern seek has displaced the southern seech, in the compound beseech has become the standard form" [OED]. Cognate with Old Frisian biseka, Dutch bezoeken, Old High German bisuochan. German cognate besuchen is merely "to visit". Related: Besought (OED writes that beseeched is "now regarded as incorrect"); beseeching
I'd still say beseeched. I must check out an Australian Dictionary. I'll try Macquarie...
Yes, Macquarie in 2017 still gives it as an alternative. 
verb (t) (besought or beseeched, beseeching)
1. to implore urgently.
2. to beg eagerly for: solicit.
Interestingly, the Australian dictionary gives it as a transitive verb, but both Miriam-Webster and say it can also be used intransitively, and gives this example: Earnestly I did I beseech, but to no avail. 

No, I can't imagine myself using it as an intransitive verb, and a moderately determined internet search didn't find any such usages. (Is 15 minutes of lounging around at my computer to check out a couple of sites a 'determined' search?)

Oh well, off to bed to dream about words.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Walking the streets in fits and starts

My dog Penny and I set off briskly. After all, we hadn't had breakfast yet, but given the prediction of a hot day, we were trying to beat the heat. What was this? Oh yes, an interesting tree to sniff, and grass that might contain some recent pee-mails by local dogs.

We proceeded. And stopped again. Lamp-posts are always fascinating.

And so it  went, around the streets.

This surely must be the definition of  a walk that proceeds in fits and starts. Literally.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary: Luxury Edition defines this phrase as with irregular bursts of activity.

Yep. That's how it went.

The Word Detective looks at the phrase in some depth. In part, he says:
"Fits and starts" does indeed mean "intermittent" or "off and on, spasmodically, not making  steady progress."

Spot on!

The writer explains that the expression 'by starts' probably appeared around 1421, and the expression 'by fits' can be dated to 1583. Joining the two is described as a more-is-better model, like similarly redundant phrases such as 'in leaps and bounds.'

Once I had mentioned to Penny that breakfast awaited us in the kitchen, the pace picked up amazingly. Vertical surfaces lost their appeal. We raced home.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Deans as leaders of a group of ten

I am reading a book by Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict, A Spirituality for the 21st Century.

I find it interesting that a manual written many hundreds of years ago has so much to tell us about how to live a measured life. Joan Chittister's commentary explains how we can learn from Benedict's wisdom.

The idea is to read one section each day, but I've fallen behind and today arrived at the entry for February 26, where I  noticed this:
If the community is rather large, some chosen for their good repute and holy life should be made deans. They will take care of their groups of ten...
Whoa, I said to myself - 'groups of ten.' Hmm...dean does seem to have some resemblance to the Greek word for 'ten, or the Latin word.

So I looked it up in the Online Etymology Dictionary, and bingo! It means someone who has charge of ten people.

dean (n.)early 14c., from Old French deien (12c., Modern French doyen), from Late Latin decanus "head of a group of 10 monks in a monastery," from earlier secular meaning "commander of 10 soldiers" (which was extended to civil administrators in the late empire), from Greek dekanos, from deka "ten" (from PIE root *dekm- "ten"). Replaced Old English teoĆ°ingealdor. College sense is from 1570s (in Latin from late 13c.).