Quick Cryptic Milestone

Now that we have reached the grand total of 400 puzzles it occurred to me that this might be a suitable time to evaluate the success (or otherwise, but hopefully not) of the Times Quick Cryptic. I have posted below the article written by the Times crossword editor, Richard Rogan, on launch day (with all due acknowledgement, and I hope there will be no objection as my only purpose is to  promote interest in the project) and I would invite feedback from solvers as to how things have gone for them. And of course how TftT has added to their enjoyment. Comments are welcome either here or in the latest Quickie Cryptic blog for maximum readership.

March 10 2014

The Quick Cryptic aims to introduce a new audience to cryptic crosswords and offer a step to solving the main puzzle

Today marks the latest in a series of landmarks in the history of The Times crossword. It all started on February 1, 1930, with Times Cryptic Crossword Number One. For 40 years this was the only cryptic puzzle appearing in the paper. Then, on December 19 1970, a new and larger cousin to the main daily cryptic was born: a square puzzle aptly named the Jumbo.

The Jumbo quickly became popular with solvers, appearing on Bank Holidays on September 6, 1997…, and has appeared on Saturdays and most Bank Holidays ever since. The Times2 crossword, a non-cryptic “concise”, first appeared in 1993 and is still going strong.

What we are introducing today, however, is effectively the opposite of the Jumbo: the Times Quick Cryptic will be a downsized version of our famous daily cryptic (which remains unchanged).

Appearing Monday to Friday on the puzzles pages of Times2, it will be reduced in size and hopefully in difficulty too, the intention being to introduce new people to cryptic crosswords, and to encourage those solvers who’d like to have a go at the main puzzle but feel daunted by it, or who can perhaps only solve a handful of clues.

One other difference you will notice is that, while the other Times crosswords are, and will continue to be, anonymous, the Quick Cryptic will be only semi-anonymous. A pseudonym will appear above the puzzle, masking in most cases the identity of a regular Times crossword compiler.

Will people come to regard Dazzler as dazzlingly witty? Joker as having a sense of humour? Grumpy not? Is Orpheus musical? Will Teazel tease?

As with any new venture, it will be difficult to please everyone. Inevitably some may find it too Quick, but my main concern is that some will still find it too Cryptic: for Quick and Cryptic are strange bedfellows. Any cryptic crossword must necessarily carry an element of mystique and obscurity about it: the word after all comes from the Greek for hidden.

However, I bear good tidings for anyone who feels that a cryptic crossword must be impossibly difficult: namely that nearly all cryptic clues are in many ways fairer than simple Times2 crossword-style clues: they actually give you two chances to arrive at the answer.

Consider the clue: Feline animal (4). Without checking letters we don’t know if the answer is going to be “Lion”, “Puma”, “Lynx”.

However, consider the following three clues: Feline animal’s connections, we hear (4); Feline animal seen in Mali once (4); Feline animal chewed up a mat initially (4).

They are all cryptic but you should hopefully, even if you have never solved a cryptic crossword before, now be able to hazard a reasonable guess in each case as to which answer goes with which clue.

The first clue “we hear” suggests that the answer sounds like a word for connections (or “links”), the second actually contains the answer (“seen in”) hidden somewhere along its length, and in the third “chewed” suggests an anagram of “up”, “a” and the first letter of “mat”.

Or, imagine that you have rattled through a puzzle such as the Times2 and are faced with the following, final clue: Prickly shrub (4). And the letters _A_K. You rack your brains for ages trying to think of the answer.

An ordinary dictionary is little help, so you give up in frustration. However, here is a cryptic clue for the same word: “Prickly shrub from bank, wild (4). Knowing that cryptic crosswords feature anagrams often, and given the A and the K and the fact that there’s a word of four letters containing A and K in the clue, could the answer possibly be an anagram of BANK?

If so, the answer must be NABK. If this obscurity still does not ring a bell you can look in Chambers Dictionary and there it is. An answer you might never have arrived at from the first quick clue.

Of course, I would rarely, if ever, allow a word such as NABK to appear even in the main Times Crossword. And I cannot promise that the clues in the new crossword will all be as comparatively straightforward as the clues for LYNX , LION and PUMA above, but the principle is the same. A cryptic puzzle will usually give you two goes at arriving at an answer.

I will divulge another little secret to those who feel daunted by the main Times Crossword: those puzzles do vary in difficulty. Yes, there are days when even the experts struggle to finish it before they’ve got off the train — on the journey home — but there are also days where the puzzle may be scarcely harder than the Quick Cryptic.

To echo a point I made earlier: when you are struggling with today’s puzzle don’t forget that it is supposed to be Cryptic. And to those of you who may polish it off in a couple of minutes and say, “That was a bit disappointing: what do I do now?” I will point out the word Quick.

Because, like the cryptic clue itself, we are offering two routes to the goal of grid completion: a path which is shorter than that offered by the Times Crossword, but also one with some more interesting obstacles along the way than the much-loved T2 Crossword.

Either way, I hope it will bring some measure of satisfaction to all.

20 comments on “Quick Cryptic Milestone”

  1. I have been doing the Quick Cryptic right from the beginning and have only missed a few of the 400. It seems just the right level for me. I can now usually finish (with a few checks on an X-word app) in around an hour and have also had occasional forays into the Times biggie (but only completed once and usually can only get a handful of answers). Please continue with the Quickie. I don’t think I am ready for regular solving of the main one – too frustrating! Thanks to all the setters and particularly to the bloggers whose comments and hints have been really helpful.
  2. started with number 1 and have made great progress. A new world for me which has brought great enjoyment and a growing sense of achievement. Blogs are invaluable. Thanks to all.

    68 year old novice

  3. As a complete crossword novice until eight months ago, I offer sincere thanks to all those who post the daily blogs (sometimes at very short notice). Having read a few crossword books to start me off, I would really have struggled to improve my parsing of clues without the blogs. I have slowly improved my times to (just about) under an hour and even if I never progress to the 15×15 I’m very happy to have entered “Crosswordland” in such illustrious company! Looking forward to the next milestone.
  4. I absolutely love the Quick Cryptic and wish it could be expanded into both Saturday and Sunday editions. The Jumbo is just too big and the Times Review crossword on Sunday too difficult. It has got me into cryptic crosswords and makes me look forward to Monday mornings.



  5. My wife and I have enjoyed the quick cryptic over a G and T most afternoons since the start. Many thanks to the bloggers and setters, long may it continue. Elin and Ian.
  6. Love the quick cryptic! Just about mastered the format and am now enjoying making an attempt on the main cryptic. many thanks to the stress and bloggers.
  7. I love the quick crossword and am addicted. I miss it on Saturdays and Sundays. I can now a few clues on the main crossword too.

    The blog has been invaluable too


  8. I would echo all the above. I had always considered cryptic beyond me, but since the Quick Cryptic & with great help from this blog, I now never touch the ‘straight’ type of xword as I find the QC far more rewarding. Many thanks to the bloggers here, your time spent explaining clues is much appreciated by novices like me.
  9. Like all the above I found the quickie a great way to access what had previously been an impenetrable dark art. I can usually now finish it if I try. That said I find doing it first them moving onto the main one doesn’t work well as I either overthink the quickie or underthings t’other. So I now just start with the main TC. Sometimes finish it. Almost always enjoy it (although I can do without the opera and plants). This blog has made a huge difference for which many thanks.
  10. I love to have a go at these and can often finish them but it usually takes me around an hour. The main cryptic is too hard for me but this is just fab.
    I too miss them at the weekend.
    The blog helps me with understanding the ones I don’t fully understand or can’t complete.
    When the renewal for my subscription went up in price considerably I thought of cancelling but an hours enjoyment each day was the clinching factor for staying.
  11. I do and enjoy the quick cryptic every day now and am at the stage where I can (usually) complete it without recourse to the blog. However this was not the case at the beginning and I have learnt a great deal from the helpful bloggers which has given me confidence to move on to the main crossword and occasionally complete it. I used to look at the clues for the main crossword and give up but now it is making more sense. Thank you
  12. Like the majority of respondents I thoroughly enjoy the “quickie” having moved from The Daily Mail; liked their crossword but couldn’t tolerate their journalism! In contrast I now enjoy both the paper and the quick cryptic crossword. Can usually complete it in about an hour but cannot ever see me completing the main puzzle, I’m too thick:-) This blog is great (thank you)
  13. I started doing the Quick Cryptic from Crossword number 1 when I managed about 3 clues. Now, on most days, I finish the crossword. My record is 20 minutes, but it usually takes around an hour. The blog has been a brilliant teaching tool along the way, and I still look up those last few tricky clues every so often.
    I hope the Times continues with the puzzle. I look forward to it each day and, like others, miss it on Saturday and Sunday. Jo
    1. Hi, streetsj, would you care to expand on this as I’m not clear on the point you are agreeing with?
      1. Sorry. I was just saying that everyone agreed that a) the quick cryptic was great and b) the blog had been very helpful. I concur with both. And thus the uniformity of opinion was boring. But in a good way!
  14. I have really enjoyed this puzzle since its launch. I have only ever managed to solve a few clues in the main cryptic puzzle, but am delighted when, after a day’s thinking, I can sit back with a smile because I have completed this one!

    I am hoping that, with more practice, I might graduate to the real one!!!!

    Thank you!

  15. Thanks, Jack, for posting this.

    My own situation is that I had not done the main Times crossword for many years.. and all those years ago I would generally fail to finish. The introduction of the quickie encouraged me to start again and I think has been brilliant at helping me regain and surpass my ability as a young man. The mix of straightforward clues in among the harder ones helps a lot in adding cross-checking letters.

    But the thing that has helped me more than anything is this blog. In the past I was often left mystified when reading the solution the day after through not understanding how the clue worked. Through the coaching from Jack and his colleagues in explaining the solution every day to this and the main crossword I have come to spot the clue constructions much more easily. And when, as I often am, I’m still baffled with why an answer is right, I know where to come to find the answer!

    So well done to all the setters. I now have the confidence to expect to complete the quickie (almost) every day, but with sufficient pause for thought to never find it boring. I think they have got it just about right.

    And thank-you too to all the bloggers. I learn something new every day.

  16. Thanks to all who have left feedback here. It’s good to know the Quickie has been so well-received generally and rewarding to hear that the TftT blogs have added so much to solvers’ enjoyment.

    Further comments are more than welcome but are probably best included in discussion of the most recent puzzle as few other than myself will know when anything new is posted here once it’s fallen down the front page.

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