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Diabolically Arcane

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Off The Beach

January 24, 2011

images Back from the beach – tanned twice over.

But first, a big thanks to all you wry-minded regulars for keeping this site so abuzz. I’ve been following your invention from a niche near Eden, swimming in your wit and energy. By the same token, it’s been nice to pause, gorging on books and harvesting new ideas.

And just like my Clinique Sun Block, the formula worked. Have returned to the Word Cave this morning laden with new stuff for 2011 – for you bloggerati, for the puzzling public, for columns and Wordwits, as well as the Letters and Numbers fans. Stuff like what? Well:

  • a cluster of new Storms ready to unleash from tomorrow;
  • a code challenge set up by a recent Puzzled reader;
  • talk of new compilers – Gurney and Gad in the Financial Times, and perhaps another closer to home;
  • a fresh batch of Meh and Huh fodder;
  • dozens of bizarre derivations for my nightly vignettes on SBS;
  • and random word-nerdery for sporadic posting through the year.

But let’s get back to that double tanning. What did I mean? The first tan was orthodox. It came courtesy of the South Coast sunshine. The second? That was administered by the general public due to my LITTLE CREATURES crossword just been.

Some of that birching was deserved too. The idea was cute (a saloon whim, no surprise), and the pay-off was extended, though my error in 19-Down (neglecting to account for MAN-HOUR’s H was abject), while the double-loading of capsized in the main theme clue was ambitious, to paraphrase Dennis Commetti. Too much for such a pivotal clue. And if none of this makes sense, no matter. Just skip ahead to the final paragraph.

But for those in deep, and habitual DA solvers, I’m beginning to think these mega-tricky crosswords (those that ask you to manipulate answers, or decode other treacheries) may be misplaced as a general Fairfax feature. The Monsters are too monstrous, it seems. Every new twist fills the editor’s sack with complaints. But where and how can I keep such puzzles on offer? A monthly feature, like the Guardian’s Genius? A different forum? Feels like a puzzle to solve in itself.

In the meantime, a happy 2011 to all comers. Here’s to a fruitful, hoot-ful year, where every word yields the ideal clue, every pun a smirk and every anagram a rousing aha. So let’s crank the wordplay up to eleven, and may every conundrum bring contentment.



24 January at 10:39AM

Welcome back DA,looking forward to another year of 'storment'. I must move in a different public to you, because the feeling in tripper land towards your 'little creatures' was generally positive, although I wonder about the legitimacy of having made up words in the solution. It was a lot of fun though.


24 January at 10:42AM

Welcome back DA! Sounds like we will have much to keep our little brains occupied over the coming weeks and months...

I thought Friday's crossword was fabulous, although I did bitch about the missing anagram signpost in 1D elsewhere. But loved the theme (and learned a few new words which will no doubt come in handy if I ever pursue a career in vet science)


24 January at 10:54AM

Ibid! Also enjoyed Saturday's crossword - was tough going but definately worth it (even though I needed some tripper/google help) - as frustrating as it was, I liked the fact you couldn't rely on the cross-letters.

Mr X

24 January at 11:07AM

Welcome back. I also note that over the break the blog-compiled "Fishy Songs" appeared in Metro's Radar Trap. I can't remember which regulars provided the piscine tunes but it was nice to see the on-line contibutions appear in print.


24 January at 11:16AM

Gday Mr X, good to hear from you. Fishy Songs was a tiddler of an idea before we stormed such a great list into being. A general thanks to all who took part.

And thanks too for the xword words. The catch I suppose with these deep-theme puzzles is how many solvers they exclude. But that's not to overlook the fun awaiting the braver and hardier souls. Tis a pickle, milord.

Mr X

24 January at 11:51AM

The die-hard fans (ie DA Trippers)certainly seem to rate the themed crossword above the general ones. And there is an argument that pushing the envelope leads to innovations that enhance the wider world of cryptics. Not every new concept will work but that's true of experimentation in every field.
My only minor quibble with the "kids" x-word was that the 2 obscure juvenile terms had no word play to help get the final solution once the cross-letters were filled in.


24 January at 12:09PM

What's the saying....You don't make a great omelette without breaking a few eggs (or is it souffle?) Anyway, it reminded me a little of the "taboo" crossword of a few years back which seemed to polarise opinions. Personally I loved it.


24 January at 12:55PM

I too love a good theme -- as I did last week's -- and it would be an immense shame to have them disappear.

I shell out $2.50 on Saturdays for your crossword each week. Otherwise, I just wouldn't buy the paper.

From the comments on DA Trippers, I'm not the only one who does this.

So have you thought of running a subscription service that offers a new, more-difficult-than-normal DA each week for, say, $1 a pop?

I notice people, including me, like a DA appearing periodically rather than all in a bunch. Even though I have AcrossLite copies of many of your crosswords that I haven't attempted, I still want that one weekly crossword that appears in the paper. It regulates my crossword solving nicely.

I know I could just pop one out from the AcrossLite stash, but I never do -- that one weekly copy is what I want.


24 January at 02:16PM

DA, please don't give up on your themes. I think your introductory wording is enough of a warning.

Just to really bait them, why not do a cryptic that breaks all the rules - non-cryptic clues, typos/spelling mistakes, Meh homophones, numeric solutions, unseen anagrams, wrong clue numbering, clueing the def - maybe even an asymetrical grid...

Then we'll see what happens to your in-tray!

PS Have a great 2011.


24 January at 03:01PM

Boniface, I think you'll find DA has already done this in the infamous 'taboo'crossword . I can't remember it's exact date of appearance, but I know it can be found somewhere in the Motherlode at the DA trippers site. Now is probably a good time to revisit and reminisce.


24 January at 03:05PM

The weekly DA is a gnarly issue. I love it and look forward to coffee and the cryptic on a Saturday morning. However my sis, who does the cryptic every other day of the week refuses to engage in the Saturday ramble.

I understand the commercial need of the paper to cater for the majority, but believe there has to be at least one day a week where the bar is lifted. Despite the very occasional 'meh' the joy of the weekend DA is the 'uh huh' moments when a clever wordplay is discovered, and the feeling of satisfaction when completed (or near completed).

So please DA, keep the challenges coming!


24 January at 03:32PM

Appreciate the spontaneous focus group. And you're right, SB - this does get down to supply and popular demand, where popularity equates to the majority.

I do have one more major brain-curler in the system, slated to appear in mid-March. That beast could well be the last if I can't cook up the right place and format to avoid riling the midstream solver.

If that sounds elitist, it's not. I value the feedback from solvers, both tyro and pro, and I'm trying to find the right solution.

Could be time for some inhouse discussion and see what we can figure out.


24 January at 03:47PM

I'd hate to see the hard ones go, even if I only got half of Friday's out.


24 January at 04:23PM

Could you have a designated amount of 'special'
crosswords throughout the year. Maybe one every three months or so, with an announcement the week before. Could keep the majority happy, and give the die-hards their fix.


24 January at 04:30PM

I'd hate to see the end of the hard crosswords, even if I only got half of Friday's out.

(My comments seem to keep disappearing, so trying again with a different email.)


24 January at 04:37PM

Agree. I think you need to throw in the occasional hand grenade (with appropriate health warnings) to keep things interesting. And I see no evidence of solvers jumping ship because they might spit the dummy on every 4th or 5th DA. Let's face it, McEnroe didn't get his "legend" tag from trying to make the entire audience love him at every turn. Nor Ali, nor Eminem, nor Tiger Woods....but I digress.

Keep on pushing those boundaries, DA. Make history.


24 January at 09:06PM

AS John "foot" McEnroe would say, "You can't make Hamlet without breaking a few heads." Keep on pushin' that envelope dude!

Anthony Douglas

24 January at 09:07PM

I'll add myself to the list of those who would be enormously disappointed to see the out-of-the-box crosswords disappear. Frankly, I'd prefer them every week. It's the first thing I check - is there a rubric? (Excellent) Merely a whole lot of cross-referencing? (Good) Just a normal cryptic? (Oh well, I guess I might get it all out)

I struggled mightily with this one, and even failed to get some of the wordplay once I had the answers, but I still wouldn't want it lost.

In SMH, at least, we get the Omega once a week. I'd rather chuck that and get you to do three crosswords on the Friday, if it comes to that!

Perhaps the negative letters could be avoided with a different label, as you say. Though I suspect it would have to be each week (even if it's one of your more vanilla efforts), so people had their expectations modified.

I note that Sudoku/Kenken come with difficulty ratings. And Target, in a different way. A solution?


24 January at 09:15PM

ps One needs a purchaseable paperback book of DA's greatest hits (like Where's Wally) to send one's buddies overseas. maybe this list could elect the contents of said book. If the book already exists, "oops"


24 January at 09:20PM

in case JPR is accused of sycophancy, he wants to point out (respectfully) that Weltan..uung has got a c in the middle somewhere (he thinks)


25 January at 01:03AM

It's an interesting dilemma. I love the monsters. As Mr X (kinda) said cryptics are about making crosswords adventurous. And as Mr Douglas said I too love discovering the DA is 'for extra credit'. (So many of the other Age
cryptic c/words are only extraordinary for their ordinariness.)

Newspaper are changing. People get their news off here. Id venture that many who love the challenge would happily do the monster online. In other words have the occasional monster but only on the Afe/SMH sites or by subscription; the waders would still have theirs in the paper unaware of the 'complaint-worthy' one in cyberspace.

If you try to please everyone you get mediocrity and lots of 5 out of 10 efforts. So I dont care that I didnt like the Little Creatures effort. (So many of people wouldnt have heard of this brand; it was one thing too many not having the help of the right number of letters etc., unusual terms (e.g. cria) and ambiguous ones (foal or colt?; fish or eggs or...?), British slang and an iffy clue for 1d) But Id rather have some 1/10's and 9/10's than just 'Meh's'


25 January at 09:17AM

Hi DA. So, the joke's on me. This year I thought that I might tackle the DA that my sister JD is so enamoured with. Here in Canberra the Saturday Age costs $3.70. That's a fair cup of coffee. Armed with your memoir which JD gave me for my birthday and a fine Parker pen I was away. I was prepared for a challenge and an opportunity to give my brain a stretch. I have just completed my degree, have I not? I understand the Pinata Principle and I can solve anagrams. Anyway, I worked out Lama and was very proud of myself. JD explained some of the finer points to me long after the newspaper had turned to compost and we laughed long and loud. Keep up the good work DA. Perhaps last week's crossword wasn't one for novices (no vices) but how can we learn and progress if the puzzles are dumbed-down? When you raise the bar we can see how high we can jump.


25 January at 09:40AM

Moral of the story - I won't stop making the Monsters. This mini-poll has helped me see the picture. Too many of you seasoned solvers enjoy the wrestle, just as I relish that last click of a mega-theme assembly.

Seems the real question is the the Where, which I'll aim to answer in the next month or so. Meanwhile, the Fairfax DA will still offer plenty of mischief, from ha-ha to aha, plus a few embedded themes (the orthodox way). All the while I shall seek the right zoo for my misunderstood Monsters.

Simon L

25 January at 09:27PM

Happy new years to all,

I used to have the subscription to the fairfax crossword service until they cancelled it a couple of years ago :( That would have been a good place for putting up the extra difficult crosswords.

Anyhow, I've been away in south america for a couple of months, so I'm now looking forward to catching up on the last 7 or so crosswords!


26 January at 11:44PM

Another vote in the mini-poll - my wife & i loved the Little Creatures crossword. It took a team approach to get it all (and much of the weekend) but that is no bad thing. The themed crosswords have all been a joy right from the first DA i ever solved completely (Mark Twain) - so don't stop them please.


27 January at 12:04PM

I'm in agreement with JK.


27 January at 12:48PM

No no no! We need the mega-tricky and themed ones - please don't stop featuring them in the SMH.


27 January at 12:57PM

As a bit of a newbie to cryptics I would hate to see the difficult ones go. They are the yard-stick for measuring my improvement and a great learning tool. I am the only person I know that does cryptics so if they weren't in the weekly newspaper I would lose the benefit of having a group like the DA trippers all attempting the same crossword at the same time and giving easily accessible advice.

As an aside, the Little Creatures crossword was my best effort to date.


27 January at 01:00PM

Fear not, Jonathon. The DA canon will continue to be shot through with deceptions, including those puzzles with tight themes, or none. And these morsels will make up the weekly Fairfax feast.

Though I will be benching the crazier stuff - those crosswords that need instructions - for a spell. In respect of the backlash from the mainstream majority, whose opinion I value as highly as the top-end solvers.

So how long's a spell? Just until we can figure out the right zoo for these stranger beasts, which I will always love creating.


02 February at 04:46PM

Look forward to more tricky DA crosswords in the coming year. Now that I have found DA Trippers, and their generosity in sharing tips, I have actually managed to complete a few! My aim is to complete one without help. I love the themed ones particularly, really enjoyed the fabric one a few weeks ago. Hope the crosswords don't change too much, after all there are 5 other days in the week with simpler cryptics.

Pam Evans

09 January at 08:36AM

Although I solved 2 down etc in last week's Omega I still can't solve the riddle. Is it Bendigo, Ballarat, Beechworth or some other gold town and If so why? Please put my mind to rest so I can get some sleep and can stop thinking about it!!


09 January at 08:46AM

G'day Pam

Just posted an explanation over at the wondrous DA Trippers site:

The answer is BENDIGO (END inside BIG-O, the literal meaning of omega). NOt sure why the Herald didn’t run that extra solution I provided to accompany the answer grid. Hope that alleviates the pain.


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Rug up, roll up. This week I’m chatting at two Bendigo sessions – crosswords on Sat (9/8) & grammar on Sun (10/8). Go here for passes and more info. Breeze by.

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Today’s DA crossword [6/6] has a video link showing you a time-lapse of the puzzle’s hatching. Or peek at the story in Tower, the UTS magazine.

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