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Interview with Shuchismita Upadhyay

12 English novelist, it’s said — and the sort of press correspondent he once was? (3), 4 Scottish meadow, hectare, that’s horrible (5). What are these and why are they here, you must be wondering. Yes, you guessed it right as these are clues in a crossword. But, what are they doing here?  They are here because the person who we have interviewed is the brain behind Crosswordunclued.com. We welcome Shuchi to your adda for this all exclusive interview. We not only speak about crosswords but also about theatre, life & many other things. Keep your pen & paper ready as we are all set to solve the crossword of life featuring Shuchismita Upadhyay.

Q: When and why did you start blogging?

A: I started blogging in 2008 to share thoughts about crosswords and to help initiate new solvers into the game.

I learnt how to solve cryptic crosswords by trial and error. It took me a while to get the hang of it; even after many years of solving I would fill in answers without fully understanding why. When I look back, I think I could have picked up the game faster and appreciated its nuances more if there was someone to guide me a bit. My blog started as a primer for new solvers, something I wish I had in my early days of solving.

Q: What topics do you generally blog about?

A: All about cryptic crosswords: clue types, solving tips, trends in published puzzles, grid attributes, interviews of crossword personalities, crossword books/films and other crossword trivia.

Q: Do you ever get stuck while writing an entry? If yes, what do you do then?

A: I find entries meant for beginners challenging to write. I write those at an easy pace, often revising them several times before I hit Publish. I make an effort to shorten and simplify, sometimes I ask non-solver friends to preview a post and tell me if it makes sense.

At times I have an idea but don’t have supporting clues for it. In that case, I reach out to setters for clues. The crossword community is extremely generous and I’ve had a lot of help in writing my articles. I also invite guest authors to write on topics that they’d have more information and insight on – their contributions are among my favourite posts on the blog.

Q: Do you promote your blog? Which promotional techniques work best for you and why?

A: I post links to new blog entries on twitter, Facebook and Google+. Beyond that, No.

It works better for me to concentrate on content rather than promotion. If readers like it, they share and talk about it.

Q: How long have you been solving crosswords? While analysing and solving other crosswords, how do you define or judge the quality of a clue?

A: I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t solving crosswords! It used to be quick crosswords earlier, till I discovered cryptics in high school.

Initially the only thing that mattered was to fill up the grid. That I could question the clue did not occur to me. Later on in my college hostel I had access to a number of newspapers that carried cryptics. That’s when I began to notice styles, difficulty level, and clue quality.

How do I define whether a clue is good or bad? There are reams about this on my blog :) but in a nutshell:

A good cryptic clue says one thing on the surface, another thing below the surface – both equally convincingly. The surface reads like a part of conversation or a news headline, and leads the solver away from the real meaning of the clue. When the answer is found, a good clue makes the solver say “Aha, how did I not see that before”, not “What’s this word doing in the clue?” or “OK *yawn*”.

I’ll give you an example of a clue I solved today, by Dean Mayer:

Light meat or cheese sandwiches (5)

If you haven’t done cryptic crosswords before, you’ll probably be surprised to know that the answer has nothing to do with bread and its fillings.

The answer is TORCH. Below the surface, this clue is saying: “meaT OR CHeese” sandwiches (verb) i.e. holds inside it, a word meaning “light”.

See how smoothly both readings work? That one is a really good clue.

Q: Wordplay – a movie released in 2006, reflected the world and tournament of crossword solvers. You even reviewed the film on your blog. If you had to make an Indian version of the same movie, whom would you cast and why?

A: The original movie is a documentary about the New York Times crossword tournament, with interviews of celebrity solvers like Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart. Since there’s no tournament of the same scale in India, nor do I know of any celebrities who are passionate about crosswords, making an Indian version of the same movie would not be so exciting to me.

The movie I would like to make is a regular feature film in which the lead protagonist is a crossword setter. The film will have references to crosswords, there may be a subplot/key scene that hinges on the power of words (misunderstood phrase in an email? crossword clue that triggers an epiphany?), but the whole film will not be about crosswords. And yes, this setter will not be shown as someone with an abnormal affliction :).

Q: In the review of the same movie on your blog, you expressed how America is such a great place for encouraging enterprise. What event or things, you or the Indian crossword community would wish to setup here for your niche? Does anybody in India also conduct private Crossword Tournaments, like The New York Times? Is this interest widely seen in Indians, to even have courses for it (privately held by crossword lovers or maybe government affiliated)?

A: That was a general observation on the choices available in America. The crossword editor of New York Times majored in Enigmatology, a course he designed himself. He is the only person known to hold a college degree in the subject. In India, it is hard enough for those stepping into college to convince their families that they don’t want to become engineers or doctors, let alone designing their own courses for study!

I have heard of crossword tournaments in colleges, nothing country-wide. Going by the enthusiasm of solvers online, I expect such a tournament will be a big draw. Live crossword courses are an interesting idea too.

Q: Is there any familiarity of clues and words, if a particular crossword is set by an Indian? Who is your favorite crossword setter?

A: Familiarity of context is a highlight of solving crosswords created by Indian setters. A clue like “Delay surrounding broadcast of tweet essentially about cattle class storage (7)”  by Cryptonyte in The Hindu, with its reference to Tharoor’s tweet, can only be found in an Indian crossword setter’s work.

Among Indian crossword setters, my favourite is Textrous (Vinod Raman) who sets for The Hindu and Mint.

Q: What kind of practice is involved in mastering crosswords as you do? Do you solve few crosswords each day? Suggest three best Crossword Websites/Newspapers for newbie crossword solvers.

A: I solve about one crossword a day. In addition to a good vocabulary and regular solving, I think what is required to reach the level of finishing the grid is simply the desire to finish. Spending extra time looking up answers to clues you missed, learning new tricks and applying them later really help to lift your game.

I’ll suggest these crosswords from Indian publications for newbie solvers:

  • The Hindu Crossword – The difficulty varies by setter. Sankalak, Gridman and Textrous work well for beginners.
  • New Indian Express – Syndicated from UK, the setter is Roger Squires.
  • Wordview in Mint – Weekly (Friday) crossword, set alternately by Tony Sebastian and Vinod Raman.

Q: Is it possible to earn revenue, solely by being a crossword setter? What are the revenue generating opportunities in this field, in India and abroad?

A: I’m not a crossword setter so I cannot say for sure. I do know that for most crossword setters in India, setting is not a full-time profession.

There is scope for developers to come up with commercial crossword software. I would happily buy a tool that reads a crossword from an image/PDF and generate an interactive grid from it, Alphabet Jigsaw crossword setters would probably want a tool to automate grid fills (it is currently done manually). However, these might not be mainstream enough to get big returns on investment. Those who want them really want them, but their numbers are small.

A possibly bigger opportunity is for online solving software constructors to convince Indian publications to buy their product. So far none of the mainstream Indian publications provide interactive crosswords.

Q: Pardon our knowledge, but can you tell us more about the rules of solving a cryptic crossword? Is it fair to use the web or look up the dictionary to find related words?

A: You solve to entertain yourself – whatever works for you is fair. With anagram solvers, pattern-matchers etc. on the web, solving crosswords has become a lot easier than before. But let me ask: will you watch a film yourself or request a friend to see it and tell you the story? The whole point of the crossword is the fun of cracking the clues. Taking the shortcut will give you the answer but detract from the fun. I do use aids when I can spend no more time with the crossword or when I give up, but I’m happier solving without help.

Of course, some advanced cryptics like Azed and Mephisto are designed with the expectation that the solver will use a dictionary.

Q: We would like to share your love for theatre and art with our readers :) You run a blog called DramaDose for theatre junkies where we find excellent information, collection and reviews of many plays. Tell us something more about this blog and interest.

A: I started DramaDose on an impulse. I used to watch a lot of plays and wanted to read their reviews but found very little written about them online. [Many newspapers are content to rehash the play’s promotional material in the name of “review”!] So I decided to set up my own theatre blog. The favourable response to it was a pleasant surprise.

I mostly write play reviews on DramaDose, sometimes interviews with the play’s crew, links to other theatre-related articles I like, theatre news. DramaDose is now co-authored with Arvind, Sreekanth and Anshu.

Q: Name your favourite Theatre artists. Do share with our readers the play(s) that you liked the most and shed some light on its script and the theatre troupe.

A: Rajit Kapur, Vinay Pathak among the big names. Must also mention some very talented actors I would like to see more of: Puja Sarup from Hamlet The Clown Prince and Hair, Surabhi Herur from Silence! The Court Is In Session, Anand Sami of the group Perch.

I’m a big fan of Arundhati Nag, not only for her talent on stage but also for Ranga Shankara. I love the atmosphere and affordability of the place. I wish more theatre facilities in town adopted Ranga Shankara’s punctuality and ‘no entry after play starts’ policy.

I’ve liked whatever I’ve seen of The Company Theatre and Rage Theatre.

Q: How important is it for a blogger to interact with their readers? Do you respond to all the comments that you receive?

A: Comments and reactions add great value to my blog. I try to respond to all. In fact the polls and Ask The Readers series of posts rely entirely on readers’ responses.

Then again, no single rule fits all blogs. Seth Godin’s blog and Zen Habits have comments off. These two are among the most popular blogs in the world.

Q: According to you, what is the most gratifying aspect of blogging?

A: The ability to reach out to like-minded people across the world.

It also delights me to hear from readers that my blog has helped to build their interest in crosswords or improved their solving.

Q: How, in general, would you rate the quality of Indian blogs? Share your favourite five blogs.

A: The Indian blogs I follow are brilliant! Naming five off the top of my head…

  • Blogical Conclusion. I look forward to reading what Baradwaj Rangan has to say about any movie.
  • Digital Inspiration. For all matters technology, I check here before I turn to Google.
  • Indian Home Maker: I admire this blog for voicing issues that Indian women are expected to live with in silence.
  • Jabberwock: One of the first blogs I started reading. Jai Arjun writes with great insight and style.
  • The Hindu Crossword Corner: Must-read for The Hindu Crossword solvers. Colonel Gopinath posts annotated solutions to the day’s crossword every morning. The comment space is very active and welcoming.

Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to start blogging?

A: Write about topics you care about. The blogger’s enthusiasm shows through and passes on to the audience. Find your own voice; don’t bother much about “blogging best practices”.

Q: Do you earn revenue through your blog? How does one go about it?

A: I run Google AdSense on Crossword Unclued but the earnings are laughable. ☺

I used to accept sponsors on DramaDose earlier, mostly local businesses and theatre groups, but I began to feel a conflict between earning revenue and the spirit of the blog. I don’t host advertisements on DramaDose any longer.

Q: According to you, what is the future of Blogging?

A: The concept of a blog as a quick online diary / source of live news updates will phase out, now that Facebook and Twitter have taken over that space. I expect a shift towards more considered writing on blogs, driven by analysis rather than urgency. The focus on social sharing will increase and we’ll be hearing a lot more about adaptive/responsive web design for blog interfaces.

Q: Let’s conclude off with a few favorites.

Color: Red, white, turquoise.

Movie: Too many to list. Of the ones watched this year, Kahaani and Paan Singh Tomar.

TV Show: I don’t follow any new TV shows. I used to like Byomkesh Bakshi in the pre-cable TV days and caught its recent rerun on DD. Time hadn’t changed my liking for this series.

Book: This is tough! Maybe Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, if I take the number of times I have re-read a book as the simplified yardstick for selection.

Time of Day: Morning

Your Zodiac Sign: Leo

Wait, wait. We know you just got up to solve the crossword in the paper today. But before that, isn’t it a good idea to connect with Shuchi? Do it now. Ask her your queries about theatre, crosswords & more.

Connect with Shuchismita: Blog, BlogAdda, Twitter

3 Responses to “Interview with Shuchismita Upadhyay”

  1. RAJU UMAMAHESWAR says:

    Excellent interaction and comments are very much Schuchiesque as I have come to know her through her blogs on crossword. Wish we could help her more in spreading the word of cryptic crosswords , a passion I share with her, apart from sharing her favourite colour turquoise blue and her birth sign- very coincidental= not for drawing any comparison or for reflected glory!

    Incidentally, I chanced upon a murder mystery novel based on cryptic crosswords during my browsing a library in Toronto. It is with me as part of my memorabilia, amongst others on cryptic crosswords. If and when Schuchi decides to produce a movie—–

  2. Shantanu Shekhar says:

    crosswordunclued has helped ‘unclue’ cryptic Xwords for many a clueless.

  3. Sridhar Shenoy says:

    Very refreshing:)

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