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Retired colonel beats scientist

- Six in crossword grand finale

Patna, Dec. 22: “And thus, Ulster got a powerful leader (5)”. Any clue, who we are talking about?

Those conversant with cryptic crossword would decipher that the clue is about Sonia Gandhi. The explanation: “And thus” stands for “SO”, Ulster stands for Northern Ireland which can also be written as “NI” in short and the letter “A” is given in the clue. Adding these three, one gets the name “SONIA” — a powerful leader.

Many such cryptic clues tested the wits of the finalists of the Indian Crossword League (IXL) 2013 organised by Patna-based civil society Extra C to mark the centenary year of crosswords. Arthur Wynne, a US-based Briton, had come out with the first crossword puzzle titled “word cross”. It was published in the US daily New York Word in 1913.

Retired army engineer Colonel (retd) Deepak Gopinath (61), one of the 10 finalists, surpassed others with his wit and emerged winner in the finals of IXL in Bangalore on Saturday. He faced a tough competition from a young scientist from Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), Bangalore, Mohsin Ahmed (21), who finished second in the national-level competition.

The selection of the 10 finalists was done on the basis of eight weekly online rounds launched from Patna in October. The 10 finalists had to first take part in a preliminary round, after which six qualified for the grand finale. Shuchismita Upadhyay, who has her roots in Bihar and studied in Notre Dame Academy, Patna, was one of the six participants who had qualified for the grand finale.

Sharing his success mantra with The Telegraph over phone from Bangalore on Sunday, Gopinath said: “One should read a lot. It helps in building a rich vocabulary — a must for solving the crosswords.”

Having settled in Bangalore after retirement in 2006, Gopinath is a native of Chittur in Kerala. He picked up the habit of solving crosswords while pursuing mechanical engineering at PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore. He joined Indian Army in 1976. He took part in the rehabilitation work undertaken by the Indian Army in tsunami-hit Andaman & Nicobar Islands. He was posted there in 2004.

“Apart from enriching one’s vocabulary, one also needs to solve crosswords regularly as it is the best way of mastering the art,” he said, praising Mohsin for being so good in solving the puzzles at a young age of 21.

Expressing happiness over the success of the first-of-its kind national-level event of crosswords, IXL director (legal) Kushagra Singh said: “We have a plan to organise an international-level competition in 2014 and its preparations would commence soon.”

Singh said IXL would also work to promote crossword among school and college students and would be launching a new competition — “One clue a day” — for them from January. Participants would have to log on to www.crypticsing.com for taking part in the event. “We stand for inculcating the habit of solving crosswords among people from a young age,” he said.