X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Books

Why do the British love cryptic crosswords?

Alan Connor's Two Girls, One on each Knee (7) is full of stories about the word puzzle — and tips for beginners

16 November 2013

9:00 AM

16 November 2013

9:00 AM

Everyone loves an anniversary and the crossword world — if there is such a thing — has been waiting a long time for this one. December is the 100th anniversary of the publication of what is generally recognised as the first crossword — although back then it was called a ‘word cross’. It was set by Arthur Wynne and appeared in the New York World. The first solution to the first clue was ‘fun’ and it is perhaps no coincidence that Alan Connor begins his journey through the rich history of crosswords thus: ‘This is a book about having fun with words.’

It would take a stony-hearted reader to ignore such a siren’s call. But beware the rocky shores of crosswordland. All sorts of dangers await. Connor, for example, identifies the schism that exists between those who would and those who would not allow LINEAGE as a subsidiary indicator for EAGLE. For one school LINEAGE cannot be taken to mean ‘L in EAGE’ to give EAGLE. For others it can. It is merely a question of consent.

It is this relationship between setter and solver, between words and fun, which provides the narrative thrust for Two Girls, One on Each Knee (7). Connor subscribes to the general view in this country that there is something about cryptic crosswords that is uniquely British. It’s hard to prove — but hard also to disagree with. Perhaps it is to do with the idea of fairness and of consent. Afrit famously set the standard for fairness in crosswords when he wrote that a setter must say what he means though he may not necessarily mean what he says. ‘It is [the solver’s] fault if he takes it the wrong way, but it is [the setter’s] fault if he cannot logically take it the right way.’

John Grant, once editor of the Times crossword, put his finger on it when he said that setters are ‘entering a game in which the point is to lose gracefully’. And the game is played by consent. The Guardian’s premier setter, Araucaria, is more libertarian than most — he would allow L in EAGE — but he was well aware of the limits on setters when he wrote in 1978 that


though all things are lawful, all things are not expedient; and the compiler must keep within the reasonable expectations of his public or he will become unpopular — and the crossword is an art form (if it is one at all) which has no independent value apart from the esteem of that public.

Connor claims that in the UK 12 million people attempt a crossword every week. That’s a lot of people and plenty of esteem. And his book traces the stories that inevitably arise with verve and enthusiasm. Here we have chapters on crosswords and the news, crosswords and spies, crosswords and machines. And in between there are a wealth of stories, from Roy Dean’s remarkable solving of a Times crossword in 3 minutes 45 seconds, live on the Today programme, through to lessons in how to be rude in a crossword. Readers of Private Eye, even if they don’t solve the crossword, will have noticed Cyclops’ gloriously, improbably, irresistibly rude concoctions. The justification: his ‘relentless smut seems to place even more onus on the wordplay to stand up.’

There are also unlikely snippets. We know that the Queen likes a crossword, but who would have thought that Sepp Blatter has as his constant companion The Ultimate Crossword Book?

Connor’s advice to the would-be crossword solver, culled from John Sykes, is that it is often best to start with the clues for the bottom-right-hand corner of the grid. The theory is that crossword-setters start setting at the top-left-hand corner and by the time they get to the bottom-right they are likely to be tired and using simpler and less fiendish— a favourite word when discussing crosswords — techniques.

This may or may not be true, but the advice could as easily apply to Connor’s delightful book. There is a structure of sorts — it relates to a puzzle included in the book — and readers are invited to work it out. ‘The experience of reading this book’, Connor says in the preamble, ‘should be equivalent to that of solving a cryptic puzzle…’

In fact it is rather better; it does not demand as much of the reader as a good puzzle does of the solver, but it delivers far more of its own accord. It is witty, charming, encyclopaedic and highly readable — and it can be read in any order. Take a chapter or a paragraph, a puzzle or a clue. In each the reader will find something to intrigue and delight.

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £10.39. Tel: 08430 600033

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close