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What Is A Nina?

Well, the first thing to say about Nina, is that it is a name. But in the context of crosswords, it means something quite different indeed.

A nina virtually always only appears in cryptic crosswords, and some authors are well-known for including them in many of their puzzles, whilst others rarely do. Still, most cryptic crosswords are not ninas, and the majority of solvers don't spot them even when they do occur.

So what exactly is a nina? It is when a series of letters spell out a hidden message. Quite often this could be the letters around the outside of the grid in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction, or alternatively perhaps the letters in a certain row or column of the puzzle, when read out, give you a secret message.

So where does nina come from, and what does it stand for? Well apparently it is actually from a person's name and not an acronym: according to wikipedia it comes from a cartoonist called Al Hirschfeld who used the name of daughter Nina in his cartoons and hid it in each of them. Therefore this idea of a hidden message came to be known naturally enough as a nina.

It is not known who the first person to introduce a nina to a crossword was, but it caught on, although modestly.

A nina is not announced with the puzzle so it is up to the solver to find it, and as with a pangram the key is that you don't need to know the nina is there, but it can help you solve the puzzle if you spot it. For instance if you can see a message occurring in certain letters of the grid, then you can write in the rest of the message if you can anticipate what it is in the other squares, which clearly gives you a solving advantage.

In most instances, the nina is only spotted once you finish the puzzle. Like most things in life, once it is pointed out it is obvious, but spotting it in the first place - well that is something else entirely!

At time of writing none of the crosswords on Wordy Puzzle have ninas hidden in them, but you never know we might add them at some point. In the meantime why not look out for them in crosswords you solve in the main newspapers - they can not only cause a chuckle when you find them but help you admire the ingenuity of the setter too.

Date written: 05 Apr 2015

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