There was this girl whom I knew when she was barely in her teens. Kicha was her nickname, the official monicker being Krishnaveni. She was a colleague's daughter. We used to live in the same neighbourhood; Kicha would come and spend a few hours during weekends with us.
In a year's time, transfer took me to a different city and occasions to meet became rare. In time, she got married and life took her to different climes. With efflux of time, we drifted.
Her parents were, of course, in touch with us. A surprise telephone call from them, a brief stopover in their home on our long drive to my hometown, a chance meeting at a wedding, we would get updated about each other's family, but we hardly got to see Kicha or her brother Anand.
Recently we ran into her - on Orkut - and shook hands. It transpired that she is interested in crosswords but was all thumbs when it came to solving them. She wanted a crash course in crosswords.
Unlike Euclid who is said to have replied to King Ptolemy who wanted an easier way to learn geometry that 'There is no royal road to geometry', I told her a simple, do-able technique. This was my recipe:
Take yesterday's puzzle, Compare with today's answer. Find out how the key relates to the clue. Like, if the clue is 'Flower with two banks (5)' and the answer is 'river', what is the connection? Nothing, at first sight.
Look hard. The river flows - therefore the river is a flow-er, a flower. The river has two banks. So there you are! 'Flower with two banks (5)' is indeed a 'river'.
Go on to the next clue. Do not give up till you connect the key to the clue. With this strategy, you need no guide.
Kicha seemed to like it. She cracked 'Plane crash in the mountains' and came up with 'Nepal'. She wanted a few more examples.
I believe that those who have proceeded beyond the fourth paragraph would be interested in my reply to Kitcha.
Clue: Coming from another country, I am from Michigan, shortly funding a refugee (9)
Route: I am >> I'm >> IM; ('Shortly' indicates that the preceding or the succeeding word has to be shortened) abbreviation of Michigan is MI; a GRANT funds a refugee. IM + MI + GRANT = IMMIGRANT, a person 'coming from another country'.
Clue: An all-pervasive number (5)
Route: ETHER is supposed to be everywhere. ETHER is an anaesthetic, something that numbs your senses, a numb-er, a 'number'.
Clue: Operation sounds like Tom's friend (or enemy?) is knighted. (7)
Route: Tom's friend (of Tom and Jerry fame) >> Jerry. When knighted, he becomes SIR JERRY - ('Sounds like', 'say', 'it is heard', etc imply that it is a homophone) - sounds like SURGERY, an operation.
Clue: Confusion of the Spain actor (8)
Route: ('Confusion' implies that it is an anagram.) The Spain >> THESPIAN, an actor.
Clue: Type of feline that has pride for headless scream (8)
Route: Feline >> CAT; pride >> EGO; Scream >> CRY. ('Headless' implies that the first letter has to be dropped; therefore RY). CAT + EGO + RY >> CATEGORY which means 'type'.
Clue: Apparel Abhishek Bachchan's in-law intended, say, to wear? (7)
Route: Abhishek Bachchan's in-law >> RAI; intended >> MEANT; 'say' implies homophone. therefore MENT. RAI + MENT >> RAIMENT means 'apparel'.
Clue: When Mercury soars without, ancient city finds gentle rain from heaven great kindness (5)
Route: Ur was an ancient city. MERCURY without UR is MERCY, 'great kindness'.
Clue: Nothing to hold a spike (4)
Route: Nothing >> NIL; NIL holding 'A' >> N(A)IL >> NAIL and a NAIL is a 'spike'.
Clue: Place roughly under top of vertical tree trunk (5)
Route: Top of tree written verticaliy is T; roughly (as in 'roughly 1000' = '100 or so') is OR SO. T + OR SO = TORSO, which means 'trunk'.
Clue: Happy bishop turned on the light helium (6)
Route: in chess notation, bishop is represented by B; 'turned on the light' >> LIT; helium >> HE. Thus B + LIT + HE >> BLITHE which means 'happy'.
Clue: Only one insect not left. Explain! (7)
Route: Only >> JUST; one >> 1 >> I; insect >> FLY. ('Not left' indicates that L has to be dropped; so FY) JUST + I + FY >> JUSTIFY which means 'explain'.
Clue: One who does not mingle but is open about mangled clues (7)
Route: About >> Regarding >> RE; 'clues' when mangled gives CLUSE; RE + CLUSE >> RECLUSE, a person 'who does not mingle much'.
Welcome to the fascinating world of evil circus brats, subarctic livers, visceral cut ribs, basic curl rivets, - I mean 'cruciverbalists'.