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Crossword setter

As comforting as Midsomer Murders or as hard as Roy Keane, crosswords can soothe the savage breast or challenge the toughest, cleverest nut. And if you don't believe me, you are one deficient in judgement, sense or understanding (4).

A sad fact widely know: people who set crosswords can't solve them. Apparently setting is easier – and better paid. Instead of winning a fat atlas from The Times once a decade, they're on a tenner a clue. This gives them the freedom to pursue their other great loves: acrostics, word play ("do you lance a lot?") and watching Countdown. Crossword setters are great fans of the letters game but will often nip out to make tea during the numbers, hurrying back in time for today's Countdown conundrum: Sloblocks.

For the purpose of this column I interviewed my friend Ana Gram, former crossword setter and junkie. Ana's quite something: I've seen her finish the Guardian Quick whilst boiling an egg – albeit an emu's egg. As she spoke, I rested my behind on a hip-high pile of unopened Daily Telegraphs. "Crossword setters are mainly failed novelists," she said. "Many have weird names like Agamemnon, Mistoffelees or Eric the Fudgepacker. Did you know that the proper name for a crossword setter is cruciverbalist? It's derived from the Latin cruci – cross – and verbum – word. Interestingly enough in the United States crossword setters are known as constructors. Many setters in the UK regard this term as affected and consider that "compiler" is adequate…" It was at this point I excused myself, sensing an involuntary intake of breath through a wide open mouth usually triggered by fatigue or boredom (4).

Cryptic crossword setters, like chess players, will often go mad. It doesn't take much: a bad clue, an improper noun or even just the continuing rise of Sudoku, and they become a bit across, or 2 down. It's no surprise – cryptic crosswords are akin to complex jokes and you know what comedians are like. They're probably just in need of a quickie – for easy relief, I recommend the Independent Quick.

Once I reached the age of 16 I would often sit down after a hard day's nothing and join my parents for a drink. My dad would pour himself a pint of Pimm's (with a lemonade top), my mother a tiny sherry (with a blackberry in the bottom), I'd have a pop ("dad, you look fat today") and we'd do the Guardian Quick. Despite my maturing ways, my mother would always single out the easy clues for me: "Here's one for you poppet," she would say. "We live in one, five letters, H, O, U, S, and a blank at the end." I guess when it comes to crossword clues I'll always be her little boy. Either that, or she thought I was retarded.

Thank you for your cognitive process of understanding my written linguistic message (7).

© copyright 2008 Saul Wordsworth
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