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Cryptic on the move

October 9 - 15, 2019

Gulf Weekly Naman Arora
By Naman Arora

Gulf Weekly Cryptic on the move

One of the world’s leading cruciverbalists based in Bahrain has released her second book of crosswords along with an all-new online interactive website, giving solvers from ‘across the word’ a chance to keep their hobby, literally, in their pocket.

Sowmya Ramkumar, who published her first book two years ago as reported by the GulfWeekly, worked with fellow crossword setters from around the world to release Cryptic Crossroads - Volume 2: Crosswords from 1ACross.org - Fifth Anniversary Issue.

Sowmya said: “The book has 22 grids that have been set by 29 different setters from across the globe. This includes Mr CG Rishikesh (pseudonym Gridman) who has been setting crosswords for the last 49 years! He is the oldest setter who currently sets for The Hindu, a leading Indian daily newspaper. It also includes several other professional setters like Kishore Rao, Eddie Looby and Brian Dungate. The book has interesting Q&A’s with each setter that lets you know a bit more about them and what makes them tick. Each setter has provided a unique flavour to the book based on their own eclectic influences.”

This time, working with fellow cruciverbalist and 1Across member Viresh Ratnakar, Sowmya has implemented software called Exolve to create interactive crosswords. This is the first crossword book that has an interactive component not requiring anyone to install any apps to solve it.

The book, a team effort by some of the world’s top setters and tested by some of the world’s top solvers  including Ramki Krishnan who is a four time champion of the Indian Crossword League, has 22 puzzles, including a Harry Potter themed puzzle and a five-centric  brain teaser to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the 1Across community.

Sowmya added: “The first book was received extremely well by the crossword community and filled us with a sense of purpose. We had never realised that a group of people who were acquainted mainly on social media and had never even met in real life, could come together and not only publish a book but also raise money for a worthy cause, through sponsorship alongside.

“With the sponsorship, we were able to provide a cheque for BD2,000 to the Adyar Cancer Research Institute for cancer research and care. The motivation for creating an interactive version is that we spend a lot of time during the day waiting. I thought it would be a great idea if crossword books can be opened from virtually any device, solved on the go and then be continued at any time and from any device seamlessly. We had thought of this during our first book, but the technology available for doing this was still rudimentary.”

The cryptic crossword community around the world is a select yet close one. Reverend John Graham who used to set under the pseudonym Araucaria for The Guardian was one of the top-ranked setters in the world. In January 2013, a few months before he passed away due to cancer, he set a special crossword with the following instructions: “Araucaria has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15.”

Those who solved the puzzle found the answer to 18 was cancer, to 19 oesophagus, and to 13 15 palliative care. Many of his fans, including Sowmya, were shocked and driven to tears by this unusual announcement which he had cleverly worked into a crossword. A number of his old clues are fondly remembered and enjoyed by his fans worldwide.

There is an annual competition called the Indian Crossword League (IXL), which is run by Vivek Singh, an Indian bureaucrat with a passion for crosswords. It involves 10 competitive weekly rounds of solving crosswords and a grand finale held in India. Sowmya started participating since 2013 and has been a top 10 finalist for the last few years.

She has also earned her second Guinness World Record in 2018 as part of Mother India’s Crochet Queens (MICQ) for making the largest collection of stuffed animals – using an art form of crochet called Amigurumi.

Coming from a family of high achievers and wordsmiths, Sowmya grew up solving logic puzzles and started speed-solving crosswords within 15 minutes before school by the time she turned 15. Now, having taken a break from a career in numbers, she focuses her attention on converting her husband and her son, Adhvik, to the world of words, remarking: “My son and I enjoy playing around with anagrams of simple words and names of animals or fruit – like act for Cat, or flow for wolf and I love punning with him – especially since he gets some of the corny jokes. Recently, for some school home work on the skeletal system, he chose to do a small crossword and I was very happy that it was his own choice not mine.”

Visit http://www.1across.org/book/cc2/ to learn more about the book and buy a copy of the interactive eBook on Amazon.com. For a print copy, email 1acrossgp@gmail.com or try your hand at solving Hypatia’s special crossword created for GW’s readers, which can be found at http://1across.org/1ACGrids/GW.html The first person to submit a complete and correct solution online will receive a copy of the new book!

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