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The Women’s Web ‘Love Your Leisure’ series will consist of interviews with a few interesting female bloggers who have fascinating hobbies and have enthusiastically developed and fine-tuned them, in an effort to find personal relaxation and satisfaction. We hope you enjoy reading more about these bloggers and their passions. Presented in a Q&A format, this one is with Crossword Enthusiast Shuchismita Upadhyay of Crossword Unclued.
Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Shuchismita Upadhyay, which usually gets shortened to Shuchi. I read avidly, enjoy films and theatre, am drawn to creative pursuits. I am interested in design and its varied application – websites, clothes, objects of art, databases.
I have been blogging about crosswords since 2008 – my blog shares solving tips, a guide for beginners, analysis of interesting clues and other crossword trivia.
I live in Bangalore and work as a software engineer with an IT firm.
Q1.How did your interest in crosswords come about and what keeps you continuously interested in them?
Word games have fascinated me ever since I learnt how to read and write. It used to be word search puzzles in children’s magazines in the beginning, from which I moved on to the scrambled word game in the Times Of India.
I discovered cryptic crosswords – the kind I solve now – in high school, when I chanced upon the puzzle in the Economic Times. The clues in this puzzle were very curious, nothing like what I’d seen so far. A typical clue would be like this:
Face up to a sticky experience (3)
I would think of a 3-letter word for courage, pen it in and soon reach a dead-end as after a few such entries, the crossings in the grid would rule out any further possible answers.
The early days of solving were full of woe. When the solution was published, the correct answer to that clue would turn out to be GUM. This made no sense till I began to see that cryptic clues had two parts – one the definition, the other the wordplay. Both together created a surface illusion to mislead the solver.
“a sticky experience” [the definition] isn’t a difficult situation, it is an oblique description of (chewing) gum. Mug is slang for face; “up” indicates a change of direction in a Down clue. So “face up”[the wordplay] = (MUG)<- = GUM.
This insight unlocked a whole new world where – to paraphrase crossword setter Afrit – words did not mean what they said, yet said what they meant. A world where “heart-broken” could mean EARTH (anagram of HEART) and “good spirits” could mean GALES (G + ALES).
Once I learnt the ropes, there was no looking back.
Q2.What do you find most rewarding about crosswords?
Crosswords are enormous fun! The thrill of solving a high-quality crossword has no parallel. A crossword is like a duel between the setter and the solver – the setter puts up a decent fight and yet gives a fair chance to the solver to win gracefully.
The best crosswords regale us with humour and ingenuity and elegance. I have the highest admiration for their creators.
Q3.What are/where do you find your favourite crossword puzzles to solve?
My current favourite is the Times UK crossword, available online for subscribers. The crossword is challenging, fair and creative, all that an earnest solver would wish for. The site provides an interactive grid, a timer and a scoring system, plus Club specials like a clue-writing contest.
My other favourites are the Guardian and the Financial Times crosswords, also published from UK. These are available on their websites for free.
Q4.Do you do anything special to sharpen your crossword solving skills?
Gladwell’s 10000-hour rule applies perfectly to cryptic crosswords. There is no better way to sharpen solving skills than good old-fashioned solving. I solve 1-2 crosswords every day and follow blogs that discuss crossword solutions.
Q5.Solving crosswords is quite a niche hobby. What do you think about the interest/attitude towards it among Indians? Are there any notable competitions or tournaments for it?
As far as I know, the “niche” aspect of solving crosswords is not confined to India. Only a fraction of solvers relate to crosswords with more than a perfunctory interest. In that niche, Indian solvers are pretty active from what I see online. There are crossword groups on social networks run by Indians, hobbyist crosswords setters who share their puzzles online, clue-writing contests in which Indians participate enthusiastically.
The audience is there, publishers in India need to take notice. If Indian papers gave more attention to the crosswords made in-house – provided an interactive solving platform, invested in a crossword editor, wrote about their crosswords and setters, listened to solvers’ feedback – their reach and popularity would surely grow.
Except crossword contests held during university festivals, I am not aware of tournaments in India. The popular ones outside are Times Crossword Championship in UK and the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament – if you want to know more about this one, I recommend the brilliant film Wordplay.
Q6.Which are some favourite blog posts of yours in Crossword Unclued? Also what other related blogs/ sites do you enjoy or find useful?
With some posts, the process of writing has pleasant associations – this post about crossword “failure” analysis got me introduced to a remarkable person, the 80-year old cosmic-ray physicist S. Naranan; writing the one about stereotypes associated with crossword solvers was cathartic:-)
My posts that spur interesting discussions, such as Hindonyms post and Hindu Crossword Compilers: Your views?, are also special to me.
Blogs that analyse crossword solutions are very helpful to solvers. I follow Times for the Times for the Times UK crossword, FifteenSquared for the Guardian and Financial Times crosswords, The Hindu Crossword Corner for solutions to The Hindu Crossword.
Q7.What tips would you give beginners in crosswords?
Have patience and persistence; relish the experience of solving every single clue rather than waiting to conquer the full grid some day. It is a slow journey to mastery, but if you love the playfulness of language, making that journey is worth every step.
Previous Interviews With Hobby Bloggers:
Poetry Enthusiast, Saru Singhal
Baking Enthusiast: Monika Manchanda
Gardening Enthusiast: Priyanka Goel
Needlecraft Enthusiast: Nima Titus
Wildlife Enthusiast: Radha Rangarajan
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