A Crossword Setter's Book Reviews
The following list of books I use to varying degrees to help me set crosswords. Some are more useful than others, and no one book stands out as being indispensable.
Noel Jessop is Australia's most prolific crossword setter. With output of over 1000 published crosswords per year, he is certainly in a good position to comment on the standard of crosswords and to reveal the secrets behind clue setting. While he produces many orthodox crosswords, his real love is with the cryptic variety. Over his long crossword career he has written a number of books on the subject.Crossword Puzzles Without Tears by Noel Jessop, published by Butterfly Books. 1994. 133pp. Paperback.
This book covers the history of the crossword, its anatomy, the cryptic crossword in detail and the crossword 'rules' that Noel lives by. There are also 36 puzzles of great variety for you to solve.
This book contains 100 crosswords that avid solvers will find a treat. You'll find Noel never varies from his belief in fair grids and accurate, sound clues. For more information visit the Ryan Publishing website.
Crosswords, How To Solve Them by Ruth Crisp, a Teach Yourself Book, published by Hodder & Stoughton. 1992. 122pp. Paperback.
Ruth Crisp's crossword book, whilst following Alec Robins' book in the Teach Yourself series, is a vastly different book. Far less technical, aiming at the average crossword fan with a desire to know more about cryptic crosswords. Ruth gets straight into it - no crossword history or long introductions - just a step by step clue setting expose, featuring crosswords to practice the just-learnt techniques. The end of the book contains many useful lists including an extensive Anagram Indicator list and a Splitting Words list.
Cryptic Crossword Dictionary by Jennifer Chandler, published by Herron Publications. 1993. 530pp. Paperback
Jennifer Chandler spent a long time compiling more than 20,000 references to cryptic abbreviations, clue descriptions and cryptic puns. These, it seems, were taken from many sources of cryptic crosswords, many in Australia. Unfortunately, the fact that a crossword is published, is no guarantee that it contains totally correct references. This means that this book lists some abbreviations that can't be found anywhere else and terms that a fair setter would never use. Nevertheless, the Cryptic Crossword Dictionary is an important reference for the solver and to the discerning setter. Note that this book is out of print.
Crossword Proper Name Finder by John C. Plankinton, published by Creative Arts Book Company. 2000. 732pp. Paperback
This is a comprehensive list of just about everyone who was or is in the area of the arts, theatre and sports. This is mostly for US crossword enthusiasts who have to find an actor's first name or a former New York Yankee. A quick check for Australian actors revealed only those who've had some international exposure - probably what you'd expect. The need for this sort of reference outside of the US is questionable although it may be useful for solving women's magazine-type crosswords. There are a number of sections that list rivers and award winners and there's space to add extra entries. Will Shortz (Crossword Editor, New York Times) gives it his endorsement and its compilation has taken a lot of effort.
Chambers Dictionary, 1998 edition.
The Chambers Dictionary has long been the favoured dictionary for serious crossword solvers and setters because of its all-round coverage of words and terms used today. It focuses on providing the meaning of terms and often provides synonyms (helpful for the solver) as well. Unfortunately, the publishers persist with including obsolete and archaic words and meanings which could only be useful to readers of old literature. This along with every word misspelt by Spenser, tends to clog up the dictionary, making it hard to find what's current and relevant to today's crossword devotee. Still, I wouldn't be without it! Note that Chambers Harrap in their wisdom haven't released an equivalent CD-ROM version and my correspondence with them indicates one won't be forthcoming. I'd gladly take the same software that accompanied the 1993 dictionary release coupled with the up-to-date dictionary than no software at all.
Chambers Crossword Manual by Don Manley, published by W & R Chambers. 275pp. Hardback.
The history and development of the crossword puzzle, with details and examples of different types of puzzle. The author explains the different ways in which clues may be presented and provides tips on understanding different compilers' styles. It also covers principles for good clue and grid construction. A review of the latest edition will be completed soon.
Chambers Anagrams - Based on the Chambers Dictionary, this book provides single word or hyphenated solutions to anagrams once the source letters have been sorted alphabetically. A review of the latest edition will be completed soon.
Chambers Crossword Completer - Based on the Chambers Dictionary, this book has two lists, the first sorted by each word's even letters and the second sorted by each word's odd letters, then arranged by length. Assuming a standard symmetrical grid, this book will help find the words that match the intersecting letters. Conversely, the setter can construct a grid without struggling with a dictionary. A review of the latest edition will be completed soon.
Chambers Back-Words for Crosswords - Based on the Chambers Dictionary, this book lists all words in the dictionary alphabetically as if the words were written backwards. Again, the words are grouped by length. Thus, all the 8-letter TION words are listed together and every word ending in Z can be found easily. Very useful when the initial of the answer is not available. Chambers released a new version of this book in September 2002.
Chambers Concise Crossword Dictionary, 2001 - Drawing on all the resources of Chambers databases, the Chambers Concise Crossword Dictionary provides a comprehensive collection of information to help crossword solvers.Essentially it's a book of synonyms with extra reference material arranged in such a way to help a solver identify the word they are looking for. Of course, the secret of such a book lies in what's included, not how it's included. I have found the book very useful in both solving and setting crosswords. Jonathan Crowther's and Don Manley's contributions would be especially useful for the novice solver. There's also a comprehensive list of anagram indicators. It's big brother, Chambers Crossword Dictionary, will be reviewed soon.
For information on these books, other and upcoming releases, visit the Chambers website.
The Macquarie Dictionary, 3rd edition.1998 edition
The Macquarie Dictionary is the dictionary for Australian English. It pulls no punches, containing all words from those used by drunks in a pub to those used by academics. It contains mostly contemporary entries and covers many phrases and terms peculiarly Australian. There's no attempt to identify the origins of words, but there are separate headword entries for words that in other dictionaries may fall under the one headword. As far as it's usefulness to the crossword fan - particularly good for setting or solving Australian puzzles but not quite as comprehensive as the Chambers Dictionary.
The Concise Macquarie Dictionary, 3rd edition. 1998 edition, 1392pp.
The concise dictionary editor's job must be one of the hardest. What should be included and what should be left out? Due to size restrictions and a growing number of new words, the typical concise dictionary often has less words than it should. The Concise Macquarie Dictionary doesn't tend to fall into this trap, but I'm still surprised by words that have been omitted. Like its big brother, there's a large amount of Australian (and NZ) content, making it a necessary addition to my reference collection. One thing I like about modern dictionaries is their propensity to include reference material like places and names. These entries are just as valid for inclusion in a crossword as standard entries, so their presence is very helpful. I believe more daily crosswords and wordpuzzles should be based on such a concise dictionary since its supposed to reflect everyday language.
The New Shorter Oxford Dictionary, 1993 edition.
Oxford make thick dictionaries! That's because there's an entry for every word-type (like PLOUGH noun and PLOUGH verb), and each entry has its own history documented. For crossword solving, some of the more obscure definitions can be verified easily. To find out words that mean the same, you'll have to get the Oxford Thesaurus, as most definitions are more descriptive than concise. To learn about the origins of a word, including where in literature it was first used, this is definitely the book for you.
The Australian Oxford Dictionary released by Oxford University Press, 1999
I like to use a new dictionary for quite some time before commenting on it. Firstly, all dictionaries have their ways of presenting entries; and that takes some getting used to. Secondly, the most important aspect of a dictionary for me is coverage; and that too can only be discovered by a prolonged period of use. Time will also tell whether a new dictionary gets regular use, or gathers dust on the bookshelf. I'm pleased to say that the AOD is my constant companion, and for the time being, has supplanted my Big Mac as my first-choice Australian reference book.
So, what do I like about it? My usual references (mostly with electronic access) are the Chambers, Collins and Macquarie dictionaries. The first two have great content generally, and include a worldly view of Australian English. The Collins has encyclopedic entries that include some Aussie stuff, but it's not definitive. The Macquarie tends to have everything which is good in one respect, but misleading in another. Crossword setters need to know what's in current usage, and the Macquarie gives know indication of this. Enter the AOD. Compiled by Australians using the resources of OxfordUP, this reference is bigger than the Macquarie in size, but not coverage (not a bad thing). It focuses on the Oz things without incorporating obscure references, and includes a great deal of info for most entries. There's abbrev., usage notes, encyclopedic entries, place names, idioms and phrases, all cross-referenced where deemed necessary. Only a few times have I not found an expected entry. After all, it can't be expected to contain everything. That's why it's always useful to have a number of references available.
Visit iFinger to obtain an electronic version of this dictionary that can be accessed from any Windows program. You can try before you buy.
The AOD is a great alternative reference from the traditional Big Mac for coverage of Australian English.
Collins Australian Dictionary, 5th Edition released by Harper Collins
Of course, I like any reference that has a focus on Australian content. Many wordlists available on the Net don't contain many Australianisms, Aboriginal words or native flora or fauna, so to have reference that includes some of these words is great and makes for better Australian crosswords.
There seems to be a general trend among dictionary makers to limit their non-concise dictionaries to a single volume. This has its disadvantages, the most noticeable being the need to exclude particular content in order to maintain a reasonably-sized book. As new words, phrases and expanded definitions are added, something must make way for them. Collins has decided to remove all biographical references but leave the small Swiss villages. Personally I'd like to see the obscure and obsolete entries and content go, and the biographical returned. It's good to have it all in the one reference. Chambers has never had biographical references but has always produced a separate book to cover this deficiency.
The entry layout of the Collins Australian Dictionary is different to many dictionaries, but curiously similar to The Macquarie. Root words and common multi-word terms score their own headword entry, with related phrases at the end of the headword's definition(s). Australian content is generally good, although Australian icons like Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House aren't represented, and of course, there are no prominent Australians listed.
There appears to be no electronic version of this dictionary available yet, which is a shame. Personally, I think all new modern references should come in both forms since computers are such a big part of people's work and home life and most students do their homework in front of a computer.
Collins has done a good job in producing an Australian version of their renowned Collins English Dictionary. Sensible coverage has always been a Collins' trademark, something that continues in this book apart from the absence of biographical entries. This reference is a valuable addition to any crossword setter or solver's library, and I would highly recommend it.
Anyone with comments on these mini reviews or with information on later editions of the books, please .
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