Fans of The Hindu’s crossword exchanged notes on a hobby that borders on obsession

Five-thirty p.m. is sacred to Gita Iyer, a program manager at an IT firm in Granite Bay, California. If she has a meeting then, she tells her colleagues she has an emergency, hurries to her cubicle, logs on to the internet and opens the one thing that makes her day — The Hindu’s crossword puzzle.

“If the puzzle is not there by 5.30 p.m., I keep checking until 6 p.m. and it stresses me out,” she said, laughing.

Gita was one of several fans and aficionados of The Hindu’s crossword puzzle, who met at the Presidency Club on Saturday, for an afternoon of discussing crosswords, old books, old films and music and generally bonding with like-minded souls.

Septuagenarian C.G. Rishikesh, who first founded the Orkut community that brought the group together, said this was their sixth meeting since 2010. The community, built through comments and participation on Orkut and later, on a blog created by retired Col. Deepak Gopinath, spans several cities and continents, including participants from Bangalore, Australia and the United States among others.

From a 26-year-old employee of an IT firm to a retired chartered accountant, the fans came from all walks of life. While some have been solving crosswords from childhood, others only started a few years ago. And while for some, the solving is the fun part, for others, it’s setting crossword puzzles that appeals. But for all of them, doing the crossword first thing in the morning (or evening depending on the time zone) is a must.

For the ‘setters’ or those who create The Hindu’s cryptic crossword, the challenge is to ensure it is doable, but not very easy. “It’s the way in which you word the clues that’s special and sets the puzzle apart,” said one setter, who goes by pseudonym xChequer. The puzzles fall into a range of difficulty levels, he explained and each setter has his own way of devising them, within the ambit of the rules.

Several of the fans do the crosswords in other newspapers as well, notably The Guardian. While some enjoy doing it with pen and paper, others use an app created by a friend of the community on a Facebook page, or do it online and then discuss how they got to the answer. They may be of all ages and from various professions – but a passion for the language, the way it is used and how to play with it, binds them all.

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