lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Interpreting signals

There is a lot of non-verbal language out there.

When I stick my arm out to hail a cab; when a girl smiles an invitation to explore possibilities at her young man: we are employing body language.

In my case, it is such a universal signal that it doesn't have to be studied or explained (you stick your arm out, and a cruising cab halts. QED). :D In the girl's case though, if she isn't careful or aware of what her body-language is communicating while her mind is in a dilemma about it, she will at worst end up as a victim of date-rape, or be branded a tease and thank her lucky stars to get off that easy.

Most of our communication is non-verbal; a study puts it at a staggering 93%, claiming that even tones, inflections, and levels of voice add to non-verbal communication. I can see the point. I only have to see a person to form an opinion; his or her body language sends me subliminal signals about what he or she is actually feeling, meaning and indicating with unconscious but give-away signals.

This explains why you can sense a friend needing intervention, even when the friend has been resolutely mute about whatever is bothering him or her. It also explains why we make snap judgments or form instant opinions about people.

In crosswords, though, it is all leading you up the garden path, more or less; where the compiler says what he means, but manages to make it so that you don't know if he means what he says. It is communication taken to the dizzying heights of inference, allusions, free association and um... er... GK. It is playing word-games at a different level altogether.

It is communication, oh, yes! 'I mean what I say'. That's acceptable. 'I say what I mean'. Acceptable too. 'I mean what I say, but what I say mightn't mean what I am contriving to tell you' ... Hmm.

Clues that use anagrams are so eclectic in their indicators, they are more confusing to figure out than being young and in love. Anagram indicators in cryptic crosswords are as varied as the compilers' minds. When 'out', 'shot', 'confused', 'off', 'cooked', 'possibly', 'popping', 'wild' or 'concoction' appear in the clues, they are all anagram indicators.

Altruistic work for poor, poor nob (3,4).
Here the first 'poor' is a signal of an anagram. It tells you that 'poor nob' is an anagram of the solution. The answer is 'pro bono', which is altruistic work. :D

Not all anagrams are as straight forward, though. Most cryptic clues have a mixture of anagrams and other tricks to confuse the solver.

Bunthorne's 'No hope, alas, for one born with a fear of the new (9)' is one such clue.

Alas is an unusual anagram indicator, but it tells us that 'no hope' is an anagram for part of the solution; 'one' is 1, or in crossword shorthand I. 'born' is usually 'B' (as used in family trees); 'with a' tells us to add an 'a' to the mixture. Ergo, NEOPHOBIA. :D

In crosswords, then, communication takes on the bizarre approach of being obscure, instead of being direct. The compiler is saying what he means, but perversely doesn't mean what he says. A good crossword compiler is always fair even while being obscure and leading you up all different paths of reasoning which will make the solution blindingly obvious, once you have solved it.

A couple of weeks ago I talked about solving Paul's crossword and feeling benevolent towards the world; the clues were a theme: birds.

And the indicator was an annoying 'something up' which featured in most of the clues.

Great man heads north, which is up; pass notice which is up; it's said to go the other way, which is up; get down what may be up... You see? :D

Make out vessel which is up (6) was what perplexed me for a while.

'Make' here was an anagram indicator, not 'out' which usually is.

So, an anagram of 'out', with vessel... tou+ can, toucan, which is a bird and which is up, thank you so very much, Paul. :D

It's simpler dealing with body language, I guess.

I was going to sign off, but...Before I get flamed by friendly fire about not telling you the solutions, here we go:

Great man heads north which is up - heron

Pass notice which is up - crossbill

It's said to go the other way, which is up - tern

Get down what may be up -swallow...

Birds all the way, and bloody maddening till you figure it out. :D

Okay. Folks, I will post again on body language, I haven't finished my say there. :)

And yes, you will hear more about 'You can call me madam, young man'. I haven't finished there, either.

My eyes are back to normal, but due for more testing situations, I suppose, and thanks for all the mails of commiseration.

But folks; please, please, pretty please with whatever sugar-substitute enticements you choose on top, post your comments on the blog. Please? Come on, I am asking nicely. :D



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