THE crossword is 100 years old today, and its origin can be traced to one man. Born in 1871, Arthur Wynne was a Scouser and when he emigrated to America at the age of 19, he could have had little idea of the effect he would have on the daily life of millions of people.
As a journalist working for the New York World, he was asked to produce a new game for their Sunday entertainment section, and on December 21 1913 the first crossword puzzle was published.
This was a simple, non-cryptic diamond-shaped crossword with no black squares, which has now evolved into the various forms which we now enjoy, and particularly the cryptic crossword.
During the 1970s, when I first started solving cryptic crosswords, it wasn’t unusual to see quotations from Shakespeare and other elements of general knowledge, but these have now (thankfully!) disappeared.
Lateral thinking is essential in solving straightforward cryptic clues such as this favourite from prolific compiler Roger Squires: Bar of soap (6,6). Think bar, and you may arrive at “pub”. Think soap, and you may get to “soap opera” which leads you to Coronation Street and the Rover’s Return.
Other clues provide two ways to reach the answer, and are of various types, the simplest of which is to provide two definitions, with the intention of misleading the solver: The last but one round house (4). The first definition is “The last but one round” and “house” the second. Once you recognise that, the answer becomes obvious.
Dog brush (4) is not what it seems. The answer here is “tail” – to dog/follow/tail, and brush as in the tail of a fox.
Beyond this there are various clue types of differing complexity, but most of them will provide two routes to the solution – definition plus wordplay, (or wordplay plus definition). Provided you can identify the definition, this makes the cryptic clue easier than the straightforward quick clue.
Topless dance in new sun shades (7).Topless dance is [d]ance, which must be inserted into an anagram of sun, with the definition being “shades”. The juxtaposition of “topless dance” and “sun shades” is intended to be misleading, and the solver must learn to separate the various elements of an apparently meaningful phrase.
Other clue types involve more complicated wordplay. Try this one, a down clue, evoking images of a busy newspaper delivery van: Rush last of papers onto overnight van (7). Once you realise that last of “papers” is an S, and that overnight van could be Camper, then the definition must be “Rush” and this gives you your solution.
I am frequently asked how I compile a crossword; do I start with no grid/an empty grid/a clue that has occurred to me? The answer is that most newspapers use a specific number of grids, and the compiler chooses one and starts by filling in an empty grid with words and phrases, preferably ones which lend themselves to clueing.
Once the grid is complete – this used to take hours in the days before a computer program was designed to assist – then the process of developing the clues begins.
Fortunately, computers are of no use in this process, and the setter’s job is safe for the time being. Care must be taken to avoid difficult or rude words, depending on the publication for which the crossword is intended.
Fairness is paramount. The setter aims to entertain and provide a fair challenge for the solver, and tries to make as smooth a surface reading of clues as possible. This has the side-effect of misleading the solver. A few of my own favourite clues are listed below:
Tears – Exchange rates causing visible unhappiness (5); Abased – Humiliated when caught in bed (6) Ice – Water that’s full of carbon (3); Alec – Guinness or beer, cold (4); Wardresses –Prison officers struggle with shifts (10).
The setter aims to make the crossword enjoyable and tries to bear in mind the varying abilities of the solver with all solutions apart from proper nouns appearing in one of the standard dictionaries.
• Jeremy Mutch is one of the Yorkshire Post’s crossword compilers.