How to Get Started in Cryptic Crosswords

cryptic3

[Image courtesy of Amazon. The Times Cryptic Crossword Book.]

On Twitter yesterday, Oliver Roeder from FiveThirtyEight asked, “If one wanted to learn/practice solving cryptic crosswords, with what puzzles should one begin?”

Most of the replies mentioned different cryptic crossword outlets to try out, like The Nation, Harper’s Magazine, and The UK Times Quick Cryptic Crossword Book. The Nation in particular was recommended as a good starter cryptic.

Monthly offerings from constructors like Andrew Ries and Cox & Rathvon were also mentioned, though I would add Patrick Berry’s Son of the Crypt cryptic collection to the list of suggestions. (I would normally also recommend The Guardian because of their great cryptics, but they’re pretty tough, particularly for beginners.)

This, of course, presumes that Roeder meant which cryptic puzzles one should start with.

cryptic

[Image courtesy of The New European.]

It occurred to me that he might be asking what OTHER puzzles are good for beefing up your cryptic crossword solving game.

Given the different kinds of clues used in cryptic crosswords, I have a few suggestions.

1. Anagram puzzle

Anagrams are a staple of cryptic cluing, and any puzzler looking to get into cryptics should have some facility with them. There are plenty of ways to practice — the Jumble, Anagram Magic Square and other puzzles from our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles, and even Bananagrams, Words with Friends, or Scrabble will help build your anagram skills.

2. Rebus

Rebus puzzles are all about adding and subtracting letters to form words or phrases, and there’s plenty of that in cryptic cluing. This is a good way to get used to breaking down longer words into abbreviations, anagrams, and so on in order to puzzle out the answer to a cryptic clue.

3. Brain teaser/riddle

Many cryptic clues rely on words with multiple meanings, as well as words that serve as both instructions and hints. Brain teasers and riddles employ similar wordplay, and they can help you develop a proclivity for looking at words from a new point of view.

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[Image courtesy of Eastern Daily Press.]

Of course, if you want help learning to decipher the many variations on cryptic crossword cluing that you’ll encounter, there are some great resources out there.

Penny Dell Puzzles has a PDF containing examples of the most common cluing tricks, and you can bolster that with similar insights from Wikipedia and The Nation.

If you’re looking for deeper dives into all sorts of cryptic cluing, my one-stop shop for insight is The Guardian’s crossword blog. They offer regular features breaking down various kinds of cryptic clues.

In the last few weeks alone, they’ve covered cycling clues, “stuttering” in clues, and how the points of the compass can be used in cluing, and there are dozens of similarly illuminating posts in their archive.

It’s a terrific resource for newbie cryptic solvers and established puzzlers alike.

And it’s worth getting into cryptic crosswords, if only for the occasional subversive little Easter egg like this one from yesterday’s The Guardian cryptic:

brexit

Did I miss any resources or outlets for great cryptic crosswords? Let me know in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you!


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Brain Teaser Week: Answers Edition!

Did you enjoy Brain Teaser Week, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? We certainly hope so! It was a fun experiment in dedicating an entire week to a particular type of puzzle.

We gave you three puzzles to challenge your deductive, mathematical, and puzzly skills, and now it’s time to break them down and explain them.


Tuesday’s Puzzle:

A set of football games is to be organized in a “round-robin” fashion, i.e., every participating team plays a match against every other team once and only once.

If 105 matches in total are played, how many teams participated?

If every team plays every other team once, you can easily begin charting the matches and keeping count. With 2 teams (Team A and Team B), there’s 1 match: AB. With 3 teams (A, B, and C), there are 3 matches: AB, AC, BC. With 4 teams (A, B, C, and D), there are 6 matches: AB, AC, AD, BC, BD, CD. With 5 teams (A, B, C, D, and E), there are 10 matches: AB, AC, AD, AE, BC, BD, BE, CD, CE, DE.

Now, we could continue onward, writing out all the matches until we reach 105, but if you notice, a pattern is forming. With every team added, the number of potential matches increases by one.

With one team, 0 matches. With two teams, 1 match. With three teams, 2 more matches (making 3). With four teams, 3 more matches (making 6). With five teams, 4 more matches (making 10).

So, following that pattern, 6 teams gives us 15, 7 teams gives us 21, and so on. A little simple addition tells us that 15 teams equals 105 matches.


Thursday’s Puzzle:

You want to send a valuable object to a friend securely. You have a box which can be fitted with multiple locks, and you have several locks and their corresponding keys. However, your friend does not have any keys to your locks, and if you send a key in an unlocked box, the key could be copied en route.

How can you and your friend send the object securely?

(Here’s the simplest answer we could come up with. You may very well have come up with alternatives.)

The trick is to remember that you’re not the only one who can put locks on this box.

Put the valuable object into the box, secure it with one of your locks, and send the box to your friend.

Next, have your friend attach one of his own locks and return it. When you receive it again, remove your lock and send it back. Now your friend can unlock his own lock and retrieve the object.

Voila!


Friday’s Puzzle:

The owner of a winery recently passed away. In his will, he left 21 barrels to his three sons. Seven of them are filled with wine, seven are half full, and seven are empty.

However, the wine and barrels must be split so that each son has the same number of full barrels, the same number of half-full barrels, and the same number of empty barrels.

Note that there are no measuring devices handy. How can the barrels and wine be evenly divided?

For starters, you know your end goal here: You need each set of barrels to be evenly divisible by 3 for everything to work out. And you have 21 barrels, which is divisible by 3. So you just need to move the wine around so make a pattern where each grouping (full, half-full, and empty) is also divisible by 3.

Here’s what you start with:

  • 7 full barrels
  • 7 half-full barrels
  • 7 empty barrels

Pour one of the half-full barrels into another half-full barrel. That gives you:

  • 8 full barrels
  • 5 half-full barrels
  • 8 empty barrels

If you notice, the full and empty barrels increase by one as the half-full barrels decrease by two. (Naturally, the total number of barrels doesn’t change.)

So let’s do it again. Pour one of the half-full barrels into another half-full barrel. That gives you:

  • 9 full barrels
  • 3 half-full barrels
  • 9 empty barrels

And each of those numbers is divisible by 3! Now, each son gets three full barrels, one half-full barrel, and three empty barrels.


How did you do, fellow puzzlers? Did you enjoy Brain Teaser Week? If you did, let us know and we’ll try again with another puzzle genre!

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The Conclusion of Brain Teaser Week!

It’s the third and final day of our celebration of all things brain-teasing, riddling, and word-tricky, and we’ve got one last devious challenge lined up for you.

Remember! On Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week, a different brain teaser or word problem will be posted, and it’s up to you to unravel them. Contact us with the correct answer — either here on the blog through the comments, or on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram through our messages — and you’ll be entered into a pool to win a prize!

And yes, you can enter more than once! Heck, if you solve Tuesday, Thursday, AND Friday’s puzzles, that’s three chances to win!

Let’s get started, shall we?


Here’s today’s brain teaser, which mixes the math of Tuesday’s puzzle with the deductive reasoning of Thursday’s puzzle:

The owner of a winery recently passed away. In his will, he left 21 barrels to his three sons. Seven of them are filled with wine, seven are half full, and seven are empty.

However, the wine and barrels must be split so that each son has the same number of full barrels, the same number of half-full barrels, and the same number of empty barrels.

Note that there are no measuring devices handy. How can the barrels and wine be evenly divided?


Good luck, fellow puzzlers! We’ll see you Tuesday with answers for all three brain teasers!

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Brain Teaser Week Continues!

It’s Day 2 of our celebration of all things mind-tickling, and we’ve got another diabolical challenge lined up for you.

Remember! On Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week, a different brain teaser or word problem will be posted, and it’s up to you to unravel them. Contact us with the correct answer — either here on the blog through the comments, or on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram through our messages — and you’ll be entered into a pool to win a prize!

And yes, you can enter more than once! Heck, if you solve Tuesday, Thursday, AND Friday’s puzzles, that’s three chances to win!

Let’s get started, shall we?


Here’s today’s brain teaser, which is less mathematical than Tuesday’s and more logical or deductive:

You want to send a valuable object to a friend securely. You have a box which can be fitted with multiple locks, and you have several locks and their corresponding keys. However, your friend does not have any keys to your locks, and if you send a key in an unlocked box, the key could be copied en route.

How can you and your friend send the object securely?


Good luck, fellow puzzlers! We’ll see you Friday with our next brain teaser!

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Welcome to Brain Teaser Week!

[Image courtesy of Bogoreducare.org.]

Hello puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

This week I thought I would try something different and focus on a theme for the week’s posts, rather than posting about different topics on our usual days.

So, please join me in some puzzly challenges as we celebrate Brain Teasers Week here at PuzzleNation Blog.

On Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week, a different brain teaser or word problem will be posted, and it’s up to you to unravel them. Contact us with the correct answer — either here on the blog through the comments, or on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram through our messages, and you’ll be entered into a pool to win a prize!

And yes, you can enter more than once! Heck, if you solve Tuesday, Thursday, AND Friday’s puzzles, that’s three chances to win!

Let’s get started, shall we?


Here’s today’s brain teaser:

A set of football games is to be organized in a “round-robin” fashion, i.e., every participating team plays a match against every other team once and only once.

If 105 matches in total are played, how many teams participated?


Good luck, fellow puzzlers! We’ll see you Thursday with our next brain teaser!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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Brain Teaser: A Curious Way to Tell Time

We love tackling brain teasers, riddles, math puzzles, and mind ticklers here at PuzzleNation Blog.

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles also enjoy putting their puzzly skills to work by posting various brain teasers..

And one of our mutual readers was hoping we could explain how to solve a puzzle that recently made the rounds on Penny’s social media accounts.

We’d be happy to!

Today, let’s take a look at a brain teaser all about time.

So, where do we begin?

Let’s start by breaking that sentence down to make it easier to parse: “The number of hours left today is half of the number of hours already passed.”

Well, a simpler way of saying that is “the number of hours already passed is twice the number of hours left.”

So if you have the number of hours left — let’s call that X — then the number of hours already passed is twice X, or 2X. Between X and 2X, that’s your entire day covered.

Sorting that out gives us the simple formula of X + 2X = 24, since there are 24 hours in a day.

That easily becomes 3X = 24, and simple division tells us that X = 8.

So X, the number of hours left today, is 8. Which means that twice X, or 16, is the number of hours already passed.

And if there are 8 hours left in the day (or 16 hours already passed), that means it’s 4 PM.


Most of the time, brain teasers are all about efficiently organizing the information we have.

That allows us to figure out how best to use that information to move forward and solve the puzzle. This is just as true with a relatively straightforward brain teaser like this as it is with a complicated logic puzzle with all sorts of pieces to put together.

It’s all about figuring out what we know, what we don’t, and how what we DO know can lead us to what we don’t.

That’s just part of the fun.


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