A Handy Vehicle for Social Interaction

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One Saturday night, during a pre-pandemic party, the 10 p.m. dopamine surge that accompanied the release of the next day’s Mini had set in. Someone I didn’t know approached me for help with the Mini and, in that moment, it was not about fingers tapping furiously across the keyboard or zipping through clues to beat my friends. Instead, this joint solve was a way to get to know someone better. It offered a quick glimpse into that person’s thought process. For the first time, I talked about how I had solved the puzzle, rather than how fast I had solved it.

After a congratulatory high-five, I turned my attention back to the rest of the room. In small groups around the apartment — sitting on the couch, leaning against the wall — other people were engaging in the same collective task: solving that Mini. Surprisingly, a newly released Mini was enough temptation to draw their attention away from partying and toward a collaborative mental exercise. For these students, it became a different vehicle for social interaction.

With our hectic lives and busy schedules, the Mini offered a fleeting yet inspiring outlet for college students to work our intellectual muscles in ways that sitting in a lecture hall did not. It allowed us to seem knowledgeable without “doing the reading,” as is common in college. More than anything, the Mini is powerful enough to bring us together as we await the unknown challenges ahead.

“For so many people, the crossword is a type of glue, capable of forging new relationships and strengthening old ones over a common passion.”

One evening — deep into my second year of solving — a good friend pulled out her own spreadsheet, which was formatted a bit differently from mine. Hers was filled in less consistently with daily solves, but involved far more people who were committed to the Mini cause. Yet another friend loved the crossword so much that, for her birthday, her friends gifted her a pillow printed with the first puzzle they had solved together. I even know a few people who have listed the New York Times Crossword as an interest on their résumés in hopes of starting a conversation with a potential employer. For so many people, the crossword is a glue, capable of forging new relationships and strengthening old ones over a common passion.

Now, I am just as grateful for the social experience of the crossword as I once was for a speedy solve. During a solve, I would often miss a humorous clue or witty wordplay because I would complete the puzzle on the Acrosses alone. By always typing without thinking, I had missed out on the fun. And the camaraderie.

Consistently great, setting standards for grids

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Mihir Balantrapu |

Hey there, and welcome back to Clued In!

Here is a tribute to our dear Gridman, veteran setter, crosswording maven, gentle soul. If you are new to cryptic crosswords, and want to pick up the craft — be it setting or solving cryptic crosswords — a Gridman clue is your best bet to make that start, understand how cryptic devices work, and get great hands-on practice once you warm to his style.

Here is a clue from his final puzzle…

The Hindu Cryptic #13177 | Gridman | 26 Across CLUE: Dog day some managed coolly (7) Clue type : anagram Definition : Dog Answer : SAMOYED Clue explained: We need a 7-letter word that is a synonym or example of ‘dog’. ‘Managed’ is an anagram indicator. An anagram of ‘day some’ is SAMOYED. A Samoyed is a Siberian dog with a fluffy thick pure white winter coat. ‘Dog day’ means one of the hottest days in summer. Gridman has “managed coolly” to produce a very cool clue. His consistency seldom blows hot and cold!

Tributes have poured in for the late Gridman. Here are some from his former co-panellists:

Gridman’s death is a terrible loss to the crossword community. I work on crossword-related software as a hobby, and Gridman used to take a keen interest in that and offered me several insightful suggestions even in that, aside from always engaging constructively on the art of setting clues. ~ Gussalufz

Having solved crosswords for many years, I had observed that those appearing in The Hindu had a distinct Indian touch to it. I often wondered who created those puzzles. The names of setters or their pseudonyms were not published in those days. When I had the opportunity to visit the offices of The Hindu in Chennai around 20 years back to conduct their audit on behalf of The Audit Bureau of Circulations, I made it a point to enquire about it. I got a name: “Rishikesh”. I wanted to meet the setter, but he was away in the US at that time. Many years later, I came across the same name in an Orkut forum discussing crosswords, and the pieces fell into place. I also had the pleasure of meeting him in person when he visited Bangalore to attend a get-together of members of Col. Gopinath’s crossword blog. Both Chaturvasi (as Gridman aka Rishikesh) and I used to blog the day’s puzzle in that blog. We also set a few puzzles jointly for The Hindu. This gave me an opportunity to gauge the depth of his knowledge, skill and adroitness in creating puzzles. But above all, he was a kind and friendly soul, calling up fairly frequently to discuss not only crosswords, but also a host of other things, where we shared a common wavelength. I will sorely miss the gentleman. Farewell, sir. Au revoir… ~ Incognito

I first met Gridman in 2014 just before the Indian Crossword League final. Honestly, I had not even seen many of his grids till then, since I used to solve the Hindu only rarely. Since then I have not missed any of his grids, and am now able to guess “it’s a Gridman puzzle” even without a byline! His grid had the right mix of simple and difficult clues to make it an interesting challenge. In the first meeting itself I was awed by his deep knowledge of cryptics. As I interacted with him more over mails, chats and many S&B / IXL meetings, I was amazed at his humility and childlike curiosity for learning new things - even with 1000’s of grids under his belt, he was always open to seeking feedback on how they could be improved. He is more than willing to share his experience and coach new setters and solvers. He was extremely passionate about keeping the Hindu crossword vibrant through our own setters, and giving it a uniquely Indian flavour. Including me, several setters in THC have been introduced by him. He was probably the first Indian setter to gain visibility in several international crossword groups. I know he had planned to retire from setting crosswords actively. But when I spoke to him just a few days ago, he still sounded cheerful and ebullient and was even talking of publishing a book of his memoirs / crosswords. I’m deeply shocked and saddened at his demise. My condolences to his family. ~ KrisKross

Gridman (Chaturvasi) is a legend and had been the face of Indian crosswords in the International community. He was also known as “Rishi” (short for his real name Rishikesh) to all his friends and this was a name familiar to cruciverbalists across various online communities where he would comment and provide insights in his unique and refreshing style. His comments were not only knowledgeable but also tinged with humour. In spite of his extensive knowledge and experience, he exhibited a child-like curiosity and always wanted to learn – whether it was about new software related to crosswords, tricks in Excel that would help him to manipulate his substantial clue database, new forums online or techniques in clueing. I am fortunate to have had many email discussions with him on all of these topics. He would often go out of his way to help and support new comers to the world of crosswords and has been a mentor and guide to numerous people in this field. I will never forget his gesture of blogging one of my earliest grids for the Hindu Business Line’s brand supplement (Cat.a.Lyst). It made me feel welcomed and part of the setters’ community. His review was generous and thoughtful. He encouraged me to set for The Hindu as well and was instrumental in recommending my empanelment as a setter for The Hindu Crosswords. He would always make time to meet me whenever I visited Chennai. Extremely tech savvy, he has been a founder member of the 1Across group on Facebook and actively participated in our souvenir and book projects. In fact, he’d accompanied Mr. Ramki Krishnan and me when we went to meet Dr. Santha at the Adyar Cancer Research Institute to donate the proceeds raised from our first book Cryptic Crossroads Volume 1. He later wrote to me that it was an unforgettable and memorable meeting in his life. He loved poetry and literature and has translated several books. He was a phenomenal raconteur who regaled us with many interesting anecdotes. He was a treasure trove of crossword related trivia and I had always hoped that he would write a book about Crosswords in general and Indian Crosswords in particular. I was fortunate to have had a long telephone conversation with him only a couple of weeks ago. His sent me an email as recently as Monday and had sent in a message appreciating a clue in my grid published in The Hindu that morning. This kind of generosity and appreciation of anything he liked was a quintessential characteristic of Gridman and the reason why he will be sorely missed – they just don’t make gentlemen like this anymore. The passing away of Gridman is certainly the end of an era. It feels like a personal loss of a family member. I can only seek solace in the fact that every time I try one of his grids, I get the feeling that I’m having a conversation with the one and only Gridman. Given his phenomenal body of work, I plan to go back to his grids and try them and there are still many conversations to be had. ~ Hypatia

Extremely saddened to hear the passing away of C.G. Rishikesk, a.k.a Gridman. His contribution to the cause of popularising cryptic crossword puzzles was immense. I will miss our conversations on English literature and the written verse. He had a prodigious memory and could quote entire stanzas at will. His mastery of the classics often reflected in his work as a cruciverbalist. A gentleman to the core, all who knew him will miss his counsel. RIP my dear friend. ~ Arden

My first interaction with him was through Colonel Deepak Gopinath. 16th of March 2013. I shared 3 grids via mail for his feedback and perusal. In 4 days time, that is on 20th March I receive a mail from him (will forward the same) congratulating me on joining the panel of setters. Just 4 days. And not only that, he also followed it up with another mail asking me whether I can meet him on 22nd March for a drink with xChequer. We spent 4 hrs that evening, me open-jawed watching the interaction between two giants like a kid in a candy store. From then it was a regular affair. CV Sir will be the first port of call for any visiting setter and he will immediately call me too to meet them. He had nothing but praise for all of us and always the first to congratulate any new/daring attempt. For a man of such stature, humility and unbridled passion for crosswords are standout qualities. Not just that. He was always consuming new information related to arts. He wrote to me as late as Dec 2020 asking where he could download Tamil film scripts and about a new crossword site in the UK for which he made a submission this February. And he had special words of praise for my Tamil crossword which I published in February. He was a keen follower of films as well and would ask me about certain films from time to time. He was zealous in maintaining his database of puzzles and he was heartbroken when recently a set of puzzles were reprinted as he lost track of the fact that he has already used them. Almost all of us who are in the panel today are his proteges. And he had time for all of us always. For me, it is a loss that feels very much personal as he was a father figure and a great soul that you can reach out to at any time for anything. We all are going to miss him very much and I, a bit more than others. He had a spirit that belied his age and was always up for a beer & chat on crossies ~ Afterdark

I made my first foray into Crossword setting when I came in touch with Gridman through the THCC forum. His motivation and push, with all grace despite the massive gulf in age and experience, is something I cherish and he was instrumental in my debut as Spinner in the THC, despite just being a 20-yr old rookie. I owe a lot of my crossword knowledge to him and what he did for Indian crosswords is unparalleled. I can personally recall the names of hundreds of people who started solving crosswords in India purely because of the lucidity of Gridman puzzles. His presence will be missed. ~ Spinner

Extremely saddened to hear the news of demise of our beloved crossword Guruji. It will be the black day for the Indian cruciverbalists. I always considered him as the face of Indian crosswords. He was instrumental in infusing the required level of knowledge to the crossword enthusiasts for very many years. My association with him was nearly two decades, although I never met him face-to-face, and it was only because of him that my crossword solving skills have improved. His contribution to enhance the level of crossword solving was immense and enlightening. His crosswords were always very entertaining and solvers, like me, would always have proud moments of elevation in their skills. It was because of his unrelenting endeavour, many Indian setters have been introduced over the years. Crossword setting is a battle of brains [and wits] and setters are warriors. It is unfortunate we lost the Commander! But the battle continues in the name of “CV Sir’s crusade”! His absence will surely be felt by solvers and setters alike forever. [cross]Words fail me to say, Rest in Peace, Gridman!!! ~ Karaoke

I consider myself very fortunate to have become friends with CV Sir over the years. We have exchanged several phone calls, emails interacting in detail about several aspects of cryptic crosswords. It has been a pleasure to share thoughts about all the technical aspects of clues. Along the course, we have also discussed about life beyond the world of crosswords. I found CV Sir to be an extraordinarily well-read gentleman with an excellent knowledge of English literature. To say CV Sir was a legend is of course an understatement. His contribution and service in the field of cryptic crosswords is unparalleled. I am proud to have been his co-setter, not just for The Hindu newspaper but also for the Indian Crossword League (IXL) and the national inter-school contest CCCC. I met CV Sir in Chennai for THCC Meet and also in Bangalore for IXL Finals. I treasure those moments of face-to-face interaction. It was lovely to share a drink, hear his witty comments and shoot the breeze. A thorough gentleman, a good human being and a great friend whom I will miss terribly. I am blessed to have known you and interacted with you over the years. Thanks for everything. Rest in peace CV Sir. ~ Dr. X

To become better at solving cryptic crosswords, you should do one simple thing. Just subscribe to The Hindu Crossword Plus. That’s the place where you can solve cryptics live to your heart’s content. Come over to Clued In to get your doubts cleared and your craft honed.

Click right here to subscribe to the interactive THCrosswordPlus, so you can solve on your mobile phone, get hints, and even check your answers on the go!

How to Write a Kaleidoscopic Character

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Editor’s Note: Read Robert McGill’s new short story, “Something Something Alice Munro.”

“Something Something Alice Munro” is a new short story by Robert McGill. To mark the story’s publication in The Atlantic, McGill and Oliver Munday, the design director of the magazine, discussed the story over email. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Oliver Munday: Your story “Something Something Alice Munro” brings a Harold Bloom quote to mind: “Influence is influenza.” It’s clear from the opening sentences that the famed author Alice Munro will be a prominent influence on the text, but by the end you manage to take this conceit to unexpected places. The story is a witty look at the anxiety of literary influence, to cite Bloom once more. Did the story always follow from a conceptual premise, or did the characters emerge first?

Robert McGill: I started out wanting to write about Alice Munro: in particular, about the one time I met her, 15 years ago at a literary festival. I’d grown up in a town close to hers, and I’d read all her stories. At the festival, we shared a few minutes of small talk, and I was completely tongue-tied.

Once I started writing the story, I realized that it was going to be less about meeting Munro than about having been a young person in her part of the world and wanting to tell stories of a sort that she hasn’t. From that point, I developed the story’s peculiar sentence-by-sentence constraints (each sentence begins or ends with either Alice Munro or you), which channel a certain contradictory, Bloomian impulse in me: to make the story all about Munro and, at the same time, totally not something she would write.

Munday: In Canada, where you’re from, Alice Munro, the Nobel laureate, presides as one of the country’s foremost literary celebrities. It’s interesting for an American reader to consider this type of fame, because we lack such a singular prose star in our national imagination. How much has Munro shaped Canada’s literature as a result of her status?

McGill: I think of Munro and Margaret Atwood as the big, bright binary system in the Canadian literary firmament. (Together, their initials are “AMMA.” What would Freud say?) Atwood has established one way to gain global fame and influence as a Canadian author: travel the world regularly to speak, tweet prolifically, and appear in hit TV shows based on your novels. Then there’s Munro, just writing story after story while living quietly in the backwoods. It has been good for Canadian writers to have them both as models and know both paths are viable.

There’s also the fact that neither Munro nor Atwood has shied from writing undisguisedly about Canada. That’s still a big deal in a country where generations of writers felt they had to set their stories elsewhere if they wanted to make it.

Munday: Nessa and Hadi, the two characters at the center of “Something Something Alice Munro,” are both writers. Nessa is pursuing a Ph.D. and writing a dissertation on the work of Munro, and Hadi is a poet. You describe them as best friends who sleep together. Would romantic love somehow threaten their respective intellectual pursuits, or are they simply hedging and afraid of commitment?

McGill: I don’t know if they’re afraid of commitment per se. They might just be wary of each other. They’re both still working out some fundamental things—for instance, in their relations to their parents. Maybe it’s an act of care for each other and themselves not to complicate things with one another.

I’m hedging here, aren’t I? They’re my characters, so I should know them inside out. But I sometimes feel that I’ve gotten characters down to the best of my abilities when I’ve brought them to the point where they’re intriguing puzzles to me as well as to others.

Munday: The title of the story, along with the regular invocations of Munro, act as a kind of comic diversion from the drama. The characters use Munro as a distraction from life, but also as a lens through which to interpret it. Fiction writ large functions similarly, inflecting on events, suffusing our perceptions of the world, and often providing a form of escape. In what other ways are the characters, and you as their author, using Alice Munro?

McGill: There’s a quotation from Edward Said that might apply to Nessa: “It seems a common human failing to prefer the schematic authority of a text to the disorientations of direct encounters with the human.” For all that fiction helps you to see the world in new ways, it risks constraining how you see things too. If Nessa’s outlook begins and ends with Munro’s writing, she’s hamstrung herself. One wonders: What’s she really committing herself to when she commits herself to Munro?

For Hadi, the picture of small-town Canada associated with Munro’s fiction—stultifyingly homogenous, astringently Protestant—carries its own limitations. You can see why he might chafe against requests to discuss his writing alongside hers. But then, her picture isn’t quite so reductive as I’ve just suggested. So writers like Hadi—or me—who use Munro as a foil might be not using so much as misusing her. Failing to see her work clearly.

Munday: You begin “Something Something Alice Munro” in third person, remaining close to Nessa, only to switch to the second person to inhabit Hadi’s voice and limn the emotional core of the story—Hadi’s relationship with his father. How did this form of shifting perspectives develop?

McGill: In some vital ways, I identify with Hadi and Nessa. In other ways, the two of them are much more like people of my acquaintance than like me. So writing the story, I experienced this kaleidoscopic effect: the aspects of the characters emerging from what I know of myself kept blurring into what I know and imagine of others. Shifting the perspective between Nessa and Hadi, between third person and second, was a way of acknowledging this unique experience that fiction produces, in which the writer and readers all end up asking of each other and the characters, “Where, in this story, do you end and I begin?” If you come away from a work of fiction not having been unsettled from the point of view you had going in, then somebody hasn’t done their job.

Munday: There’s a sly, meta aspect to the story, an ambiguity around the narration that causes us to wonder who’s actually writing it. The question of authorial authority arises—whether writers should draw from only their lived experience as opposed to imagining the experiences of others. How do you feel about these demarcations, which seem to be hardening in fiction?

McGill: I back the idea that the label “fiction” should never be taken as a license to write without an obligation to the real-life cultures and identities affected by your writing. I think of fiction as a unique space where authors and readers, however partially and provisionally, shed their skins to imaginatively inhabit the lives of others; to learn about the enormous diversity of life. So as a reader, if I discover that an author’s trading in caricatures and stereotypes, I feel they’ve let down the side.

One of the things I like about Alice Munro’s writing in this regard is that she isn’t precious about the status of fiction. Writers in her work are always being told that they’ve gotten things wrong or that they’re trading in cheap tricks. But she still implicitly recognizes that fiction has a unique role in our lives. Nonfiction alone isn’t enough. Maybe it would be if being a good person required only listening to what other people say publicly about their lives. But all the time, we’re called on to imagine how others are feeling and thinking, to infer what they can’t or won’t say out loud. That’s where fiction gains one of its key roles: as a comparatively safe—because veiled—space of self-articulation and as a model for carefully, sensitively imagining how it is to be someone else.