May 23, 2013

Guardian Cryptic Grids since 2007 (Part 1)

Just the other day, my cryptic-crosswording alter ego was looking for the complete set of Guardian cryptic crossword grids. A plea on Twitter fell on deaf ears, so I decided to get them myself.

Since the Guardian is so wonderful and splendid, and publishes all its daily puzzles online for free, it’s a trivial matter to fire up curl and grab them, then use Python to parse the HTML, work out the grids, and group them into usages. The whole thing took around 15 minutes to write the first version.

I’ve published the empty grids themselves as text and image files for anyone to download and use, but here I thought I’d have a look at the grids themselves and why they might be used.

In total, there were 72 different grids used between puzzle 24,000 and puzzle 25,938.

grid 1 grid 2 grid 3 grid 4 grid 5 grid 6 grid 7 grid 8 grid 9 grid 10 grid 11 grid 12 grid 13 grid 14 grid 15 grid 16 grid 17 grid 18 grid 19 grid 20 grid 21 grid 22 grid 23 grid 24 grid 25 grid 26 grid 27 grid 28 grid 29 grid 30 grid 31 grid 32 grid 33 grid 34 grid 35 grid 36 grid 37 grid 38 grid 39 grid 40 grid 41 grid 42 grid 43 grid 44 grid 45 grid 46 grid 47 grid 48 grid 49 grid 50 grid 51 grid 52 grid 53 grid 54 grid 55 grid 56 grid 57 grid 58 grid 59 grid 60 grid 61 grid 62 grid 63 grid 64 grid 65 grid 66 grid 67 grid 68 grid 69 grid 70 grid 71 grid 72

The most frequently-used grid was used 108 times. And here it is (drumroll please!):-

grid 1

… Oh. Not much to look at, is it? Personally, I think it’s a bit of an ugly thing, with those clumps of 8 blocked squares. However, it does have features that are seductive to a setter:-

Firstly, it has a nice wide range of light lengths, with lengths between 4 and 11 all in there multiple times. This is pretty unusual in the Guardian grid-set. Curiously, there’s only one other grid in the top fifty that has this trait (It’s grid 22, since you ask). But 6 of the top ten have all lengths 4 to 10 inclusive.

Secondly, it has the light-length 11, which is quite hard to get in a grid since it leaves you with only 4 more squares in a row — you either have to have an ugly 3-letter answer at one side, or split four blocks in some arrangement either side. Doing this usually makes it very hard to have a “fair” grid unless you put your 11-letter words round the edge.

It doesn’t have any lights of 12 letters or more to clue. Once you get to that length, the clueing starts to be convoluted unless you resort to double-meaning puns or anagrams.

Also, it’s an “odd-odd” grid in that the words are in the odd rows and columns of the grid. This gives that nice “crossword” look. Using other odd/even arrangements don’t quite look so nice, see:

grid 02 grid 25

Finally, it’s a pretty “fair” grid. There are no lights where there are fewer unchecked squares than checked squares, as in these grids, for example:-

grid 2 grid 4 grid 7 grid 8

(That first one is the second most popular grid, by the way, but there’s a peculiar reason for that. I’ll explain why in the next part).

Coming next: a breakdown of the grids by setter, and the Amazing Case of Gordius.

Update: here’s part two