Sunday, 11 April 2010

One Hundred, Not Out

... and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets, I have reached post 100 on this blog and - and! - on this very same day, which shall be a Red Letter Day in my diary, I have completed the Times Jumbo Cryptic Crossword. Completed as in answered every single clue, with good fit, and with all the answers making perfect sense. In other words, I have not just inked in letters that form obscure and archaic expletives in Croatian.

What has a disturbing illustration of an insect got to do with this? You may well ask. And if you do, I'll answer - because I'm very good at answering at the moment, having finished the Times Jumbo Cryptic Crossword only this morning.

My very baddest friend - differentiated from another friend, the Grate Fiend, who is also extremely bad but directs her wickedness in different directions - once made me read out the Test Match highlights from my phone over lunch. It was all men vigorously rubbing their balls against their thighs and bowling maidens over - and that was the BBC, not some smutty satellite channel. I got some odd looks from the people at adjacent tables, I can tell you, and someone's fettucini clearly went down the wrong way.

Several people - okay, men - have tried to explain the rules of this tedious game but I cannot fix them in my mind. Surely anything that is played over five whole days, breaks for afternoon tea and then has an indecisive result cannot be classed as a sport?

Crossword compilers are very fond of cricketing allusions, but luckily yesterday's Times Jumbo Cryptic Crossword didn't have any, which may be why I was able to solve it. (As in answer every single clue.)

36 down - Final stage of astronaut's journey must be practical and realistic (4-2-5)

52 down - Silver is removed from hallway - it's no longer used (5)

The last clue solved- which had puzzled me for almost 24 hours - was 1 across. Female priest in Mass not normal (7).

There's a trick to doing cryptic crosswords. My mother, whose day isn't complete unless she has done the Telegraph's Cryptic Crossword, says one needs to get into the mind of the compiler. This has become increasingly more difficult since newspapers started using computer-generated crosswords. There is very little wit or joy to be had in a computer-generated crossword.

There was a how-to series in The Guardian - in fact, there have been several over the years - but I found it more puzzling than the puzzles themselves. What I do find fascinating is that cryptic crosswords highlight the way my brain works. I can stare and stare and stare at a clue and draw a blank. The next day, I glance at it again and get the answer straight off. My brain likes tangents and approaches things side on. It makes connections between numbers and so-called sports and insects. It doesn't like to think too hard - basically it's workshy and idle - and if I try to force it in one direction it revolts and lies down, refusing to cooperate.

In thinking - a little too hard - about how my brain works, I now have an image of wild horses galloping round in circles, trampling men with red balls and stains on their trousers.

I have an acquaintance - a former bricklayer - whose job involves asking questions of patients whilst their brains are being operated on; the tops of their skulls flipped open like the shell of a soft-boiled egg. Logically, I know that I haven't got hundreds and thousands (15 down - Sweet little things paired off in accommodation - 8,3,9) of thoughts and words rolling round in my head like a ever-churning tombola, but to be on the safe side, the top of my skull had better stay put - in case the former bricklayer gets trampled in the stampede.


  1. Being one who is far more in tune with the colour blue than Cryptic Crosswords, your clues have as much meaning to me as Kryptonite ...

  2. I can add Cryptic Crosswords to the long, long list of things I do instead of doing what I really ought to be doing ...

  3. Ah Moptop, it's all I can do to keep my self-esteem above water with this post.

    You do cryptic crosswords. Successfully. With pleasure. And you seem to have a genetic gift for them.
    This shouldn't have anything to do with my SE, I know, but it does. I can't do them, and here is yet more evidence that there is something wrong with me. I really, really wanted to be able to figure out 36 and 52 down, and if not, to at least find the solution a bit farther down. Even if cleverly imbedded in your text. But no.

    Can you at least.....?

  4. O, I can't often do 'em. See posts passim.

    That's why today is a Red Letter Day!

    36 D: Down-to-earth - one of those blindingly obvious answers AFTER you've solved it.

    52 A: Passe. Hallway is passage. The symbol for silver is AG. Remove the silver from the hallway. Pass[ag]e and you are left with passe which means no longer used.

    1 A: Melissa. Mass not normal means the letters will be churned up. The priest is Eli which is IN mass. Put together, you get Melissa - which is the female at the start of the clue.

    The hard part is working out which bit of the clue is directing you to the actual answer and which bits are there to obfuscate.

  5. That you got 1A leaves me speechless.

    Off to read your other post.

  6. Computer-generated crosswords: I don't know of any newspaper cryptic crosswords in the UK which are computer-generated. The Daily Telegraph experimented very briefly about a decade ago with the idea of storing clues in a database and only paying setters for the occasional new clue, but this was scotched by the setters, many of who worked for more than one paper so could easily get the other papers (The Guardian in particular) to write "knocking copy" about the idea - justifiably so.