Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vivek sings Cryptic Notes for 6 to 96

Whatever they tell you at school or at the university, your education is never complete. In Dan Brown’s 2003 worldwide bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, the venerable Jacques Sauniere, curator of Louvre Museum tells his six year old granddaughter Sophie Neveu ‘life is filled with secrets. You can’t learn them all at once’. Learning and discovering secrets is what education is about and more importantly it is about how to discover secrets.

Let me not make this unnecessarily intriguing like the mystical teachings of the Kabbala. I am not writing about paradoxes, anagrams, Fibonacci numbers, and cryptography but about a book written by a dynamic civil servant, Vivek Kumar Singh, called Understanding Cryptic Crosswords: A Step by Step Guide. An Indian Administrative Service Officer, he is currently the Principal Secretary, Department of Culture and Youth Affairs, Government of Bihar. For sundry details, the book has been published by Macmillan India this year and was released at the World Book Fair in New Delhi. It is priced very nominally at Rs. 155 which is very affordable and I recommend it very strongly for every child, adult and entrants to their second childhood. Let me explain these recommendations to the three categories.

Fundamentally, the book is about using language in imaginative and creative ways; of thinking outside the box;of lateral explorations. The author lists three requirements for initiation: a sharp mind, adequate general knowledge and a reasonable command over the English language. In many of the cryptic crosswords in national dailies usually borrowed from western sources, the cultural associations are alien, hence difficult for many Indians. This is where Vivek Singh’s book scores a major point: it is culturally inclusive. With this remarkable book, he seeks to transform an esoteric pastime into a popular meaningful activity. Unlike simple crosswords in which clues are fairly straightforward and a fair vocabulary and reasonable general knowledge are adequate ingredients for success, cryptic crosswords are complex with camouflaged clues. Hence the challenges are more exacting and correspondingly, solving them is more fulfilling. And this book, perhaps is the only book that tells you how to do it.

Back to the benefits for the three categories. For children, it is a wonderful opportunity to play with language; think creatively; think laterally; improve one’s vocabulary, general knowledge and reasoning; things that parents pay a fortune for, later in life. The School and College curricula, because of population and other pressures often make parrots of bright talents. This is an opportunity to reverse the ornithological programming. Adults, including parents and teachers will benefit immensely by learning and teaching these wholesome skills. It will keep them off the passive pastime for dolts for some time at least (not everybody watches the news,good films and sports) and other forms of middle-age mischief. For senior citizens, it is a great way to spend quality time, keep dementia and Alzheimers at bay and become what they can be: the best teachers in the world with their wealth of experience.

Hence: buy it, use it and enjoy it. Start slowly, stick with it, you will love it. Cheers.

P.S. For my students who think and practice Deconstruction, it is invaluable!
Sgniteerg rof eht wen raey


  1. Dear Prof. Dutt,

    My hearty congratulations to Shri Vivek Singh whom I consider besides being a good civil servant, a good friend and now would like to see him as an equally good writer as well. Thanks for updating me about his new achievement. I shall try and find the book here at Crossword, Ahmedabad and would read it with interest.

    Thanks and regards

    Mihir Bholey
    Associate Sr. Faculty
    National Institute of Design

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Vivek sir is a genius. He is now sharing his skills with others which must be appreciated by one and all.

    Sanjeev Verma, Patna

  4. Long overdue, Vivek. Great Job!!!

  5. Vivek - Congratulations.

    Your friend from school,

  6. 2 across and 1 down: a pint that's no longer small, we hear ... Bottom's up to the unscrambler of cryptic codes