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Crossword Compiling

24
Jun
2013
 

By Christine Lovatt

Some jobs are hard to imagine doing, like cleaning skyscraper windows hundreds of feet up in the air in a cherry-picker or working in an egg factory where you lie on your back scraping rotten eggs off conveyor belts.

In comparison, making crosswords is not so bad. We have our frustrating moments but overall it’s like trying to tie a knot with one hand - tricky but fun.
I receive a lot of correspondence asking how I compile crosswords, so here’s the answer.

How to compile a crossword, by Christine Lovatt

Firstly, I start off with the grid, which is our name for the pattern of black and white squares. I’ve usually got a few notes jotted down about words, especially if I’m compiling a cryptic crossword – such as an idea about a new clue for a word I haven’t used for a while.

There’s probably no such thing as a word that has never appeared in a Lovatts crossword, unless it’s very obscure, because over the past 35 years we must have made thousands of giant crosswords, each using hundreds of words.

The English language has been good to us, providing us with a plethora of vocabulary to play with, and we’ve tried to use as much variety in our clues and answers to stretch your literary powers to the limit.

Over the years, we’ve compiled our own database of words which is constantly being refined. The computer enables us to find the words from the list that will fit the required spaces. It’s not as easy as it sounds, however, as there are often no words to fit the space and I have to cut back and make changes, trying not to use the same word twice.

By the time I’ve filled in the whole grid, which can take anywhere from one to three hours, I’m desperate for a coffee. A walk to the kitchen usually means a chat with my crosswording colleagues also seeking a caffeine-led revival.

Back to the desk for the next stage – creating the clues. This takes another hour or two, with frequent interruptions for lunch, meetings, phone queries, birthday parties (we regularly meet up in the kitchen for cake to celebrate any staff birthdays) – in fact any diversions, such as scratching my head in frustration when the right words won’t come.

Then I read over the clues to check for errors before passing the crossword over to be checked by the team. The final product is then added to the magazine contents.

Before the file is sent to the printers, the crosswords are all checked a final time – hard to believe that after all this, mistakes can still creep in, proving that we’re only human after all.

Happy Puzzling!

Christine 

47 Responses to

Crossword Compiling

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said:
June 29, 2013 at 8:06 AM

stitchpuzz; that's a good observation...the Times was always a very difficult crossword because many of the clues had very specific British cultural and geographic references, and of course a very sophisticated vocabulary because of its readership.

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said:
June 29, 2013 at 8:11 AM

Jafa: that sounds a great activity. There's a few software programmes now that can be used by kids to compile crosswords. I'll dig into the fading memory and see if I can recall any other clues that have somehow stuck. BTW I'm still smarting that you beat me on the "broke" answer by about 6 hours...

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said:
June 29, 2013 at 8:15 AM

keight8: sadly, the Age crosswords are not available in the free online edition. But looking on their website I noticed that the compiler you were talking abt is writing a book on doing Cryptics. Cheers.

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Mojito said:
June 30, 2013 at 2:11 PM

That book is sure to be a best seller!

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StevenF said:
July 01, 2013 at 12:21 AM

Some jobs are hard to imagine doing, like cleaning skyscraper windows hundreds of feet up in the air in a cherry-picker A cherry-picker doesn't reach 100 feet, let alone hundreds.

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said:
July 01, 2013 at 12:45 AM

One final thing that I have to say about crossword compilers is that it really irks me when a clue is "monkey" and the answer is "ape" or vice-versa. Apes are not monkeys. Apes are distinguished from monkeys by the lack of a tail which puts them in a separate class.

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said:
July 01, 2013 at 7:55 AM

StevenF, that is known as hyperbole. Everyone knows that cherry pickers don't go to the top of skyscapers. You are just being pedantic, tsk, tsk. Frankly, I'd rather be on a cherrypicker than the ropes and trestles that go to the top...

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said:
July 01, 2013 at 8:07 AM

K88, my pet hate in crosswords is when the compiler relies too heavily on computer programmes. The 'clinical' clues are repeated time and time again, ad nauseum (eg Daily Telegraph). I would bet my bottom dollar that the YouPlay Classic Crossword (and the Code Cracker) is compiled by a man... Not a criticism at all, just an observation.

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spoggy said:
July 02, 2013 at 4:10 PM

sigh,, and i sometimes work with a 27 yo lass who , the other night at work, asked me how to spell WAIT ? and also asked me what DATE Christmas day was on this year ????

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pdiaco said:
July 10, 2013 at 4:36 AM

One could take hi-res photos of The Age cryptics at a public library or wherever one finds a lonely crossword begging to be solved, and then use Photoshop or free imaging software such as GIMP to write/erase text on the crossword photo image (using layers). One could print the images too. A fair amount of effort required developing the skills, but it's a good incentive to learn essential image processing techniques.

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said:
July 10, 2013 at 8:26 AM

'A lonely crossword begging to be solved' - l-o-v-e it!

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said:
July 11, 2013 at 8:14 AM

pdiaco, you have a way with words...

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pdiaco said:
July 11, 2013 at 12:27 PM

此翻译确实转换成什么样子像狗屎一见钟情英语。 Decrypt that.

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pdiaco said:
July 11, 2013 at 1:43 PM

Google Translate generated the above Chinese characters from my input of 'This translator does indeed convert English into what looks like *SWEAR* at first sight". However when I then translated the exact same generated code back into English, the English words were "This translated into what really love at first sight looks like dog faeces in English". So even the Chinese on reading the Chinese code above would say 'pdiaco, you have a way with words.' :).

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pdiaco said:
July 11, 2013 at 1:47 PM

Looks like YP substituted 'SWEAR' for the four letter word meaning excrement. Oh well, faeces happen.

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said:
July 11, 2013 at 3:31 PM

LOL

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deedledoo said:
October 29, 2014 at 5:44 PM

Hmmmm - I usually have a coffee first then read garfield then grab a cryptic same routine for 30 odd years - admit it was Peanuts before Garfield