Eleventh grader Adya Singh’s favourite guess in the recent National Crossword finals was a timely one: ELECTION, sneakily clued as ‘European liberal prepared notice for poll.’ That’s cryptic crosswords for you, a bemusing world of wordplay, anagrams and cheeky coincidences that is finding more and more takers each year. In part, we have the annual CCCC to thank — recognised by the Limca Book of Records as one-of-a-kind, the mega crossword contest wrapped up its eleventh edition this week in New Delhi.
Competing solo from VPW Patna, Singh was up against two sharp student teams from SES Gurukul (Pune) and Mother’s International School, Delhi, who placed second and third respectively. In a cliffhanger of a final, Gurukul’s Sahil Sabne expertly parsed SHASTRI to bag the silver, clued as ‘Press has tried controlling former Prime Minister’, the answer hidden in ‘Pres S HAS TRIed…’.
A precocious first-timer, Sabne with teammate Sakshee Vaidya ascribes their silver win to much practice after reading ‘Understanding Cryptic Crosswords’ by IAS Vivek Singh, calling the book a ‘godsend’. As for the CCCC’s difficulty, “it was like swimming into the sea and meeting a shark; feeling more prepared now that you know what’s coming,” muses the eighth-grader. The contest is a mainstay for Indian schools which have a strong emphasis on extra-curriculars.
“One thing led to another”: Singh on her solo win
Adya Singh, in comparison, had a more cool-headed journey, armed with experience from placing third last year. A PCM student, her proficiency in crosswords stemmed from solving newspaper grids in middle school, to solving past contest grids, to eventually making mini crosswords of her own. She also feels cryptics have positively shaped her studies, providing new way of thinking when tackling science and math topics in school.
Solving cryptics is akin to parrying with a grid’s setter, who tends to be two steps ahead with the aim of misdirection. It is often difficult to finish an entire grid in one sitting, explains Singh, due to the intense mental exertion compared to normal crosswords. The CCCC’s contest grids are thus adjusted to be easier for schoolkids, taking about 20 minutes to finish.
Singh and Sabne’s performance also shared a common link: personal determination—Singh decided to battle it out solo due to an unwell teammate, while Sabne and Vaidya seemingly had their school’s crossword culture to uphold. “Our past alumni Omkar Joshi, Rajlaxmi Chavan, Prathamesh Joshi and Anushree Deo were also very successful in CCCC,” the duo shared.
Over two days, the Grand Finale witnessed 38 school teams make their play for the prestigious CCCC trophy after a months-long mental marathon —think two online prelims, an on-stage round, five quarter finals and two semi-finals. Organised by Patna body Extra-C, the finals were attended by a bevy of senior government officials.
Extra-C also runs the Indian Crossword League, an open cryptics contest attended by solvers from across the world. Its last leg is currently underway. For more information, you can visit crypticsingh.com.