Tough as Nails Themeless #86

I used to keep a list of themeless seeds based on interesting words I wanted to build around. Lately, I’ve been keeping seeds for themelesses more like I do for cryptics: with a clue I want to use, whether or not that word is particularly “sparkly” in and of itself. In this case, that clue was 37A.

After some shipping delays, my book is now almost ready to ship! Please pre-order one if you haven’t already!

Tough as Nails Themeless #86 – Across Lite

Oneth of the Month Mini Cryptic #13

It’s the return of mini cryptics! I decided to stop doing them because there were other outlets for them, but now The Browser has taken a pause on its Sevens puzzles and AVCX is also running them less frequently. At ACPT I was persuaded that we need more gateway drugs, so your dealer is back. This one is inspired by Eurovision!

And although this site is still called Tough as Nails, these minis are easy! If you’re scared of cryptics, minis are a great way to work yourself up to a full-sized puzzle.

Tough as Nails Mini Cryptic #13 – Across Lite

Decrypting the Cryptic: Resources!

I get asked a lot on Twitter and elsewhere to recommend what a beginning cryptic solver can do to get started. I’ve been meaning to blog about it for some time and now I finally find myself with a bit of spare time to do it, so here goes!

The rules: By far the biggest barrier to cryptic solving is finding a clear definition of how clues work. I’ve done some of this in my Decrypting the Cryptic series from 2020, and Francis Heaney’s guide at AVCX is also very good.

Working your way up to a puzzle: If you read this blog, you probably already know about #crypticclueaday on Twitter. I’m not the only one posting clues under that hashtag — Indian setter Sowmya Ramkumar (who goes by the pseudonym Hypatia when she constructs) does clues too, so now there are twice as many opportunities to practice as when I started the hashtag. Sowmya gives explanations for each clue the following day, whereas I do all of mine on #explanationfriday.

Mini cryptics are a great next step if you’re still feeling too intimidated to try a full-size 15×15 cryptic. I did a mini on the first of the month every month in 2022, and I think at ACPT I might have been talked into starting that back up again. The Browser also has a set of 13 5×7-sized puzzles, and AVCX+ sporadically puts them out as well. Next in size are the New Yorker‘s cryptics, which are 8×10 barred grids. (Thanks to the commenter who noted my inexcusable omission of TNY. Bad Stella. No biscuit!) If you’ve never solved a barred-grid puzzle, fear not; it looks different from a standard block cryptic, but the mechanics of solving are the same.

Where are the easiest full-sized puzzles?

I am deeply saddened by the decision of Canada’s National Post newspaper to discontinue publishing cryptics as of October 2022. The puzzles were made by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, and for my money they were the gentlest and easiest intro for a (North) American new to cryptics. Fortunately, the National Post Cryptic Crossword Forum blog remains up, and you can find many of Cox and Rathvon’s puzzles from the paper available to print out. (No online solving option, I’m afraid, but I find solving a cryptic on paper to be far more satisfying — give it a try, young ‘uns!)

It is also extremely bullshit that the New York Times took their entire variety puzzle archive offline. NYT runs only a few cryptics a year, but they are quite easy. If you have a paid subscription at Xwordinfo, you can still get a very few of the cryptics as PDFs. I would not buy a subscription just to get the cryptic puzzles, but if you already have one because you like the construction tools, having access to the variety puzzles is a nice benefit.

Next easiest are those from The Browser. Yes, please do pay for a subscription — the puzzles are awesome! (And I don’t say that just because I’m one of the people who make them.) AVCX+ are also accessible for the most part, although every so often we like to throw a tough variety cryptic in there to keep you on your toes. Out of Left Field is I would say on par with AVCX+ and a little harder than The Browser.

At some not-yet-determined point I’ll write a post on resources for constructors!

Tough as Nails Themeless #84

Wow, what a weekend! It was great to reunite with old friends and meet so many Tough as Nails solvers for the first time at ACPT. It is, although the most fun weekend of my year, also the most stressful. Remember how Doug Hoylman used to be described as the Iceman? I am the opposite of the Iceman. I am the Constantly-About-to-Throw-Up Nervous Wreck.

I did manage to make a trip to the hardware store with my second fifth-place finish in a row and first place in NYC (the latter made easier since Andy Kravis was attending a wedding):

I had the most amazing time and I hope you enjoy this week’s themeless!

Tough as Nails Themeless #84 – Across Lite