lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Self-inflicted Suffering

Most of us women have to be reported to Beauty Without Cruelty.

As victims.

We tweeze, thread, pluck and wax our bodies to baby smoothness in search of beauty.

All these methods involve some ouch factor. So why do we go through it?

Well, hairy limbs are a definite fashion no-no. And we are all image-conscious slaves of public opinion. There is the additional factor of looking good, which definitely boosts self-confidence. And the men in our lives appreciate it, so there is that to consider, too. :D

Why do men like smooth limbs while until the recent metrosexual trend they didn't have to bothered about their own hirsute selves?

Biology. Smooth hairless limbs suggest juvenility, and hence signal harmlessness. Perhaps they arouse a protective instinct along with just plain arousal. :-)

Whatever the reason, depilation has been around for centuries, and women are obsessed about it.

The first time I got my legs waxed, I squealed and yelped all through. The waxer remarked, with a touch of asperity, that there is no beauty without some pain. Nowadays, some three decades of waxing later, I don't even twitch. One can get used to anything, I suppose.

But the latest trend of bikini waxing and Brazilian waxing is the height of foolishness. Or is it? As clothes get skimpier and more flesh is on display, the body has to match the bare limbs, inevitably. So more gritting one's teeth and more sessions of pain.

The other day, at my salon, I heard yelps and squeals very much like my first waxing session from the next booth. A young woman was getting a Brazilian. Later, as we were getting our pedicures, I asked that young lady why she goes through it if it is as painful as it sounded.

She smiled wanly. "It is worth it; it lasts ages and he likes it", she said.

There you have it. :-) The 'Ouch' is worth it because of the 'Wow!'


Monday, January 30, 2006

Descent into Addiction

It is amazing how much the way I do crosswords has changed over the years.

When I first tried to make sense of cryptic clues, it used to take me a whole evening of wrestling with synonyms, looking up words in my Webster or the encyclopedia. If I solved about half the grid, it used to be a cause for minor celebration.

Over the years, I acquired a Roget's and crossword companions. The thesaurus is a particularly useful thing to have in the early stages of a puzzling career. It is not cheating, as you still have to figure out what words to look up, and which synonym might work. :-)

I used to fill up the white space around the crossword grid with anagram tries. A pencil, eraser and an enormous amount of determination are absolute essentials when it comes to a complicated anagram. :D

After a while, say a decade of dedicated puzzling, anagrams jump out at you, and it becomes easier to figure out the definition, sort out the elements of the clue, and you learn the indicators.

For instance, C can be carbon, Celsius, Centigrade, century, Cuba, key, note or 100!

Your crossword GK quotient increases, and you find you are solving some clues very easily. I found that idiomatic expressions are the easiest for me. For example: Fat girl lit up? (5,2,3,4)

But things changed when The Telegraph in Calcutta discontinued carrying Guardian crosswords. The Statesman still carried The Times crosswords though, and I liked them well enough, but I found all crosswords are not equal. Some are more equal than others! I needed my daily fix of Guardian crosswords.

So I started doing them online. This changed my solving methods quite drastically. I abandoned my Webster and encyclopedia mostly, depending on my desktop dictionary to do word searches.

Ah, the tale becomes sordid now. Guardian crosswords became a subscription service. I paid up.

Then Statesman stopped carrying The Times crossword and I realised I missed them too! No help for it but do them online. They are a subscription service, too? No problem. Been there, done that. I paid up.

Guardian crosswords have a nifty little thingie that is a great help for anagrams. The Times doesn't have one, but seeing the clues on the monitor somehow makes it easier to do anagrams mentally, without resorting to the paper and pencil route.

At first it used to be that I'd read the news, articles and letters to the editor before I turned to the crosswords with a sense of anticipation. Nowadays I barely glance at the headlines before I fold the paper to the crossword and go to it. News can wait. :-)

When I started printing out puzzles to keep me supplied during necessary stays in nursing homes, or visits to my son's school, I realised I was an addict.

But this is one addiction that is not harmful to health. Actually, according to some studies, solving crosswords can actually stave off Alzheimer's disease. So I can claim I am taking care of my health as I reach for my Araucaria's anthology in the afternoons. :D

The solution to the clue to those who didn't get it: Broad in the beam. Fat girl lit up. :D


Saturday, January 28, 2006

Anagrammatically yours!

Hm. There is a problem right away. There are not many anagrams you can make out of the word yours. Yours anagrammatically would equally suggest to any cruciverbalist that 'yours' is an anagram. Okay, let's call that a working title. LOL

The use of anagrams in crosswords is something a tyro discovers, much like sex. Once discovered, it is a source of perennial joy, because they vary, they beguile, they have strings attached and riders (pun intended), they are mysterious, they are convoluted... in other words just like sex! :D

Cart horse is an anagram for orchestra, beginners learn soon enough, it is a classic.

But before Dan Brown and DaVinci Code made anagrams a household word, crossword enthusiasts were there, with their pencils and patiently trying out, striking off letters, erasing them and trying other words. Because anagrams are the bread and butter of cryptic crosswords.

Today I solved a lovely anagram clue: Above Britain, flying for USA, say? (12)

The solution is an anagram of Above Britain, abbreviation. USA is an abbreviation, see? :-)

If you can make 'Saturnalia' into 'Australian', you begin to understand the insidious charm of anagrams.

There are some compilers who revel in complex anagrams which take up most of the grid and make my life a misery till I solve them, and Bunthorne of Guardian tops the list. Some solvers give up as soon as they see his name, in fact. But he is witty, and wonderful.

But the mother of all anagrams was constructed by Araucaria, Father John Graham, my favourite compiler:

O Hark the herald angels sing the boy's descent which lifted up the world.

It was in a seasonal Christmas puzzle, and when solved yielded:

While shepherds watched their flock by night, all seated on the ground!


Friday, January 27, 2006

Flipping heck!

Why do we curse, call names and use bad words?

I was reading a David Gemmell novel. He writes heroic fantasies, and very well. Warriors in his novels always rush into battle shouting something like "Come on, you whoresons, if you dare."

But today I stopped to think a bit about the word whoreson.

Why is it more evocative than a plain bastard?

I think I have the answer. A bastard is merely an illegitimate off-spring of unmarried parents. But a whoreson, why, the implication is clear. Your mother slept with so many men you don't know your father. Definitely more cutting than saying your parents were not married!

I don't know many women who swear or curse a lot. I think women don't need to. We can manage without profanity and blasphemy. At least, women of my age group. My own speech, if I am being nasty, tends towards referring to intellectual capacity rather than parentage. I might say that cretin, or you numskull.

Perhaps it's because it's a woman I will be insulting indirectly if I mention parentage and legitimacy of birth. And a woman of easy virtue and negotiable affection is still a woman and why should I insult my own gender to just to incite or irritate somebody else?

And why do we swear, anyway? Does it really relieve our frustration or anger? Blasphemy has long ago lost it's power to shock, and Hinduism does not have a prohibition against taking the name of God in vain. We are indeed told to invoke the name of God, a lot.

Cursing is creative in Indian languages, I feel. 'May you be wormridden' is my personal favourite in Telugu. It's much more satisfying than 'May you rot in hell', which is after all a doubtful proposition, and you won't have the satisfaction of seeing it; not that I'd ever invoked it or any other curse at anybody.

But profanity to incense the listener is another thing. We curse in frustration, exasperation, helplessness; we also use words to goad and provoke. Even here, I think women are milder: in the sense that we manage to express ourselves without resorting to words referring to fornication, excretion and genealogy.

I grew up without hearing swearing or bad language. Perhaps that has shaped my thinking, but I think scatalogical terms and casual swearing that children resort to in order to infuriate their parents is just a tactic. My son, when he is home on holidays, starts off vacation time unable to string two sentences without a swear-word, but his language gets cleaner by the day, and he resorts to irony and sarcasm, same as his parents.

He obviously reverts to using the F word as an adjective and adverb once he goes back, but lack of response other than raised eyebrows seems to wither the swearing.

Profanity is perhaps only necessary if you have a paucity of language skills. But, on the other hand, there are times you need to express your feelings forcefully, and succinctly. Read on...

Besides, when you hit your thumb with an eight-pound hammer it's nice to be able to blaspheme. It takes a very special and strong-minded kind of atheist to jump up and down with their hand clasped under their other armpit and shout, "Oh! random-fluctuations-in-the-space-time-continuum! or "Aaargh, primitive-and-outmoded-concept-on-a-crutch!

Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms.

That is probably why we swear.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Why Crosswords?

Why does one do crosswords?

As I religiously finish my daily quota of crosswords, both cryptic and concise, I wonder.

Is it just an addiction to word games, a compulsive puzzle-solving? But I don't do sudoku, or jumbles. I dislike the 'find six things different between two seemingly identical pictures' kinda games. But a good crossword clue can light up my day, and leave me smiling every time I recall it.

What prompts a setter to compile a crossword? More pertinently, what makes thousands of us match wits and vocabulary with the compilers?

When I come across a clue so simple, elegant and to the point like: Potty train? (4), I feel I have the answer. This is a game, after all. Think of a word. Any word. Now I will tell you exactly what I meant. :-)

That is the challenge of the crossword. To arrive at the exact word or phrase the compiler had in mind when he/she was being abstruse on purpose. A good cryptic crossword is always fair, at least with the definition. The obfuscation, the misleading, the suggestions of tangents all turn out to be fair, if you only knew what the definition was. :-) That's part of the challenge.

I have had a couple of decades' worth of solving cryptic clues, learning the crossword shorthand, figuring out the mind-set of particular compilers; and still, I come up short once in a while, and goggle at the cleverness of the compiler.

St Francis' confession of folly?(6)

That one had me laughing the whole evening.

I did make an ass of myself once I solved it. I called up friends, I gloated at pals. :-)

What inspires such determination to pick up the gauntlet any compiler casts?
What is it about cryptic crosswords then, that is so fascinating?

The wit and humour of the compiler, certainly. The clever misdirection, while being fair. Fairness in crosswords is always dubious though, until one solves the clue.

I got hooked when I learnt that pink means carnation, but a vehicle and a race have to be in your thoughts to arrive there. Vehicle=car, race= nation.

Of course, I discovered that knowing synonyms is not enough. To be able to sort anagrams out is a good and useful trait. To figure out when to read backwards, when to resort to crossword shorthand of Roman numerals, Greek alphabet, musical notation, radio signs; all these become inculcated in the soul of an avid cryptic crossword enthusiast.

And when I figured out that HIJKLMNO (5) ,would lead to the solution: Water, I became a convert and a zealot. :-)

But the most beguiling thing about cryptic crosswords is never knowing what particular path your compiler is leading you up to. I'd spent a whole day researching Dickens, when I should have been thinking Jane Austen, but it was also an informative day and Araucaria just enriched my GK. If I managed to finish the puzzle it is a plus, but if he got the better of me, well. No skin off my nose. :-) You win, Father Graham.

I will get back with more on the mindsets of crosswords puzzle enthusiasts.

For those of you that didn't get it, the answers are:

Potty train? Loco: Potty, as in crazy, train as for locomotives.

St Francis' confession of folly? Assisi: Self explanatory, I'd have thought, but I had to explain it to my husband. So, here goes. I am an ass.


Monday, January 23, 2006

welcome to my blog

Hello world.

I will start posting as soon as I get sorted out.

I will talk about cryptic crosswords, life, universe and everything.

Terry Pratchett's philosophy will feature here, too.


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