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More on online solving and the Backspace key - RTC3
Random Thoughts on Crosswords Cryptic and Concise + Recherché Times Crossword Clues Considered
More on online solving and the Backspace key
There's no doubt in my mind that when it comes to the simple mechanics of online solving, Race the Clock (RTC) is the clear winner. However, it would seem that I awarded the wooden spoon to The Independent prematurely, as I've now found that The Telegraph is far worse. To my surprise, The Times Crossword Club comes out comparatively well, and it's only in comparison with Race the Clock that it's shown up as second-rate.

Solving Telegraph crosswords online is very different from solving other newspapers' crosswords - that is, assuming that the software used for solving their 20 Puzzle Taster crosswords is the same as that used once you've subscribed. The main difference becomes apparent as soon as you fill in the final letter of your first answer, at which point the cursor moves immediately to the first cell of the next grid entry. However, this is not the grid entry for the next clue, bearing in mind that in any normal crossword the across clues appear before the down clues. Instead the Telegraph's next grid entry is either the one for the clue with the next highest number (if an across clue and a down clue share that number, the across clue is chosen first), or, if you've just filled in the answer to an across clue, the grid entry for the down clue with the same clue number if there is one. When you fill in the final letter of the answer to the highest-numbered clue (the final across clue) the cursor simply vanishes.

How weird is that? My guess is that the software was designed and written by someone who had never actually tried to solve a crossword, online or off - perhaps someone (from Bangalore, say) who had never actually seen a crossword before. It does however suggest a possible option that some online solvers might like to select, which is that when you type in the final letter of an answer, the cursor should be positioned on the first cell (or perhaps the first unoccupied cell - but more of that another time) of the grid entry for the next clue. I'm not sure whether this is something I'd want myself, but the real speed merchants might be keen to save a keystroke.

There is a rider, which is that the Backspace key should then take you back to the final cell of the grid entry you've just left, clear it and leave the cursor positioned on it. Is this what The Telegraph's software does? Not a hope! You're left firmly stuck on the first cell of the grid entry you've just moved to, and if it's already occupied by a letter you've filled in previously, then the Backspace key will clear that letter.

Apart from that, The Telegraph's software treats the Backspace key as badly as most of the other newspapers' software, but there's an added twist. If I'm typing in an entry and I press Backspace having just typed a letter other than the final letter of an answer, the cursor moves back one cell but the contents of that cell are not cleared (only RTC gets this right by clearing the letter you've just mistyped). However, if I click on a letter, the software establishes the direction of the grid entry (across or down), and it can be difficult to persuade it to change this. Here both The Times and The Independent behave well: clicking on a letter toggles between across and down where possible (if you click a second time on an unchecked letter, nothing happens). This is arguably better than RTC, where clicking a second time on an unchecked letter attempts to toggle the orientation so that every other click leaves that letter highlighted but clears all lowlighting. The Guardian behaves less well: clicking on a letter doesn't toggle between across and down, but clicking on an unchecked letter fixes the orientation until you deliberately change it, whereas The Telegraph is apt to change the orientation at the drop of a hat (I haven't had the energy to work out the precise algorithm).

Current Location: Ealing
Current Mood: discouraged

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