> American-style crosswords, on the other hand, require both knowledge and a degree of lateral thinking.
> One question that Prof Klein is particularly proud that Dr Fill got right was: "Pasta dish at the centre of a murder mystery."
> The answer was poisoned penne.
Does "poisoned penne" actually mean anything as a complete phrase? This clue is very different from a UK cryptic crossword - wordplay features heavily, but answers still have a coherent meaning. Maybe this is why the US crosswords are more complicated for an AI.
Additionally, I would say that that, because the answer isn't a coherent standalone word/phrase, that particular clue/answer combo would only be found in a puzzle as part of a hidden theme shared by a number of 'special clues' throughout the crossword, with some kind of rule uniting the answers (add 'ne' to the end of a common phrase, for example).
And more complicated variants, like anagrams, mashing words together, etc.
Edit: Don't want to sound like I'm deriding their style too much, my partner always got the wordplay so clearly there was a learnable style to it
>I used to do NYT crosswords with my American partner (I'm British) and the wordplay never made sense to me
>Q: “It may turn into another story” A: Spiral Staircase.
>"Pasta dish at the centre of a murder mystery...The answer was poisoned penne.
Some freely available UK cryptics:
* Guardian Quiptic: https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/series/quiptic/latest
* Guardian Everyman: https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/series/everyman
* Chambers: https://chambers.co.uk/puzzles/cryptic-crosswords/
RANDOM ASIDE: My favourite anagram, which has been involved a couple of times in UK cryptic clues is:
VINDALOO AND RICE which is an anagram of LEONARDO DA VINCI
Well, that one can be chalked up to US/UK spelling differences—"storey" is not correct US spelling.
Another thing casual or infrequent solvers should be aware of: day of week matters. NYT puzzles are easiest on Monday, getting progressively harder throughout the week reaching a peak on Saturday. The Sunday puzzle is midweek difficulty, but bigger.
This article  gives an example of how the same 4 letter word might be clued on Monday and Saturday:
Monday: “Nabisco cookie”, “Cookie with creme filling”, or “‘Twist, Lick, Dunk’ cookie”
Saturday: “Snack since 1912”, “It has 12 flowers on each side”, or “Sandwich often given a twist”
one interesting thing about the non-thematic entries in an american crossword is that the only form of wordplay they allow is what in cryptic parlance would be called a "cryptic definition", that is, a clue which is a straight definition in which the words need to be read laterally. the nyt cryptic definitions are as good as any i've seen in the guardian, particularly my all-time favourite,
John, to Ringo (3)
[Edit]: Ah, totally missed the toilet connotation, thanks folks!
Pasta dish served at a burger joint: BIG MACARONI
Lose your temper at some pasta: BLOW A FUSILLI
Also, folks in the thread are ignoring Henry Hook, a famous UK constructor who used plenty of "non-standard" wordplay.
also i'd say portmanteau clues (and rebuses) are standard wordplay for an nyt crossword, they just unfamiliar to people who don't do that kind.
NYT crosswords often have tricks, either in the clues themselves or patterns in the puzzle. Will Shortz commented on one of his favourite clues Q: “It may turn into another story” A: Spiral Staircase.
There are others I’ve found sneaky, eg Q: Greek Leader. A: Alpha
Today’s puzzle had for example Q: Whopper Junior A: Fib
2. Some puzzles have rebus answers, where more than one letter will fill a single square. It’s not obvious when this is the case
3. Sometimes there is an overall pattern to the puzzle. One recent example was a rebus where several squares had double O rebuses in single square. If you connected these squares together they formed the shape of a 7, ie 007. A few clues on the puzzle related to James Bond and would be meaningless without this context, eg the clue would mention a range of years and the answers were Sean Connery or Daniel Craig.
Another deviation from the "one letter per square, all in a line" that they sometimes have is the bent answer. I recall one for instance where there were several isolated black squares, and some answers that ran into these continued after a 90 degree turn. So you might have 5 spaces to the left of the black square, but the answer was actually 9 letters with the last 4 written upward from the black square.
As with rebuses, they don't tell you that a puzzle has this sort of thing. You are left to figure it out on your own. For that 90 degree turn example, you'd probably get it by filling in enough of the words that cross it to notice that the 5 space section matches the start of a 9 letter word that would work, and notice that the 4 letters that would complete that word are going up from the black square. That seems unlikely to be a coincidence, and then you'd go look at other places where the answers seemed to short and see that same trick works there.
I don't think I've seen any the have both rebuses and non-linear answers. That would be a nightmare.
The majority of the crosswords just had plain clues that weren't confusing. (And didn't require "lateral thinking".)
Penne is pronounced "pennay" in the UK in my experience, making this pun kinda dysfunctional.
Also as pointed out, UK cryptic crossword answers are phrases in actual use, not new word combinations.
Edit to add relevant example:
See 9 across ("Rotten people sin to produce malicious missive") here: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2021/03/08/independent-10733-...
I also noticed that "poisoned pen" isn't a phrase in British English, instead it's "poison pen" or more typically "poison pen letter".
That without working out the other clues would make that alone very hard to work out and be interesting how an AI would work that one.
Gegs (9, 4)
The answer is "Scrambled Eggs", and the clue is (I think) both a cryptic definition if you're familiar with the original, as well as a reverse anagram.
You might have something like
« Pasta dish at the centre of a murder mystery and a spiteful reviewer on the radio. »
Though you'd really want the surface reading to come out a bit smoother (and I don't think "penne" and "pen" are pronounced exactly the same).
UK cryptics feature answers which are words or phrases you’d find in a dictionary
My first naïve thought was that surely it's lack of eyes on the problem. After all, we have AlphaGo. Then again, I can't say I've heard much about AI in games with imperfect information. There's StarCraft 2, but there AI has not quite surpassed humans.
What I did hear was that the AI was very sensitive to whether it gets its pick or not.
I remember a NYT puzzle sometime within the last 2 or 3 years with a 15 character vertical answer spanning the puzzle from top to bottom right down the center with a clue related to Alice in Wonderland. The answer was "the looking glass".
Everything entirely to the left of the looking glass was normal. Horizontal answers entirely to the right of the looking glass were reversed. Horizontal answers that crossed the looking glass were all palindromes centered on the looking glass.
BTW, for those interested in the NYT puzzle but not interested in the newspaper, here's a trick to save some money.
The puzzle and the paper are sold as separate products. The print editions are always bundled together, but the digital editions are separate. The puzzle is about $40/year. However, if you also subscribe to the digital newspaper, you get a 50% discount on a puzzle subscription.
Here's the trick: if you have the puzzle subscription set to automatically renew it continues to renew at the 50% discount rate even if you have cancelled the newspaper subscription.
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0492506/ is a great documentary on the NYT crossword puzzle editor and crossword nuts in general.
As a remote developer I find doing cryptic crosswords one of the few things that helps me switch off entirely from work.
In these crosswords, found in newspapers such as The Times of London, the answers to clues are defined by words or phrases at the start or end of the clue (for the vast majority of clues – occasionally it’s both, a double definition, or the whole clue is the definition).
Half the battle is guessing which part of the clue is the definition (the rest of it bring some kind of hint, such as an anagram). I bet an AI system could learn some rules that would help you decide if you should be focusing on the start or the end. There’s a blog called Times for the Times where people helpfully upload annotated answers, underlining the part of the clue that is the definition.
Point would be to learn new strategies to use as a human, not just to create an AI solver.
You combine that with the Jeopardy-level trivia clues, that are hard if you aren't familiar at all but obvious if you are, and that just leaves the gimmick.
Usually the gimmick isn't that tricky, if you get one, and can see the pattern. Except the damned rebuses. Those are always hard because they feel like they are breaking the rules.
I'm a bit curious what percentage of answers you can get through simple memorization. I assume everyone who authors these puzzles reuses questions quite a bit.