March 25, 2016

41cIAiMXYoL._AA160_ 51B5tp4i7fL._AA160_ 51FafGDT8SL._AA160_When I went off to train to be a teacher, I had first to spend a fortnight in a local secondary school observing teachers and students. It was then that I taught myself to do the Guardian cryptic crossword. It wasn’t easy, with a different compiler with their own particular quirkiness every day, but I persevered. The need to decipher the clues, and the fact that when you got the correct answer, you knew it, I found very appealing. For that academic year, I had a fellow student in our house who enjoyed it just as much as I did, so we did the crossword together most days, perfecting our ability. Most days we finished it.

Cryptics seem to be one of those things that, once you’ve mastered, stay with you. In my first year of teaching, as a supply teacher in Hackney, I found a companion in the Head of History: together we aimed to finish the Guardian and the Times cryptic by the end of the school day; most days we had at least one, if not both. And then, in my first ‘real’ teaching post, at Harrogate Grammar, there was the crossword corner in the staffroom, where we rattled through it every lunchtime… anagrams were my speciality.

What’s all this doing on my blog? Well, for a number of reasons, to do with the trivialisation of the newspaper, and its availability online, I only buy a printed paper at the weekend, so now I have turned to books of cryptic crosswords. I’ve exhausted all the Guardian ones, and now I’m working my way through the Times. Yes, I know you can access them online, but any crossword solver will tell you, it’s not the same. You need the paper space alongside to scribble on, working out anagrams, down clues and so on.

The Times crosswords are a bit run-of-the-mill, although demanding; they’re anonymous rather than named, so you aren’t sure who you’re pitting your wits against. And their conventions for clues are a bit looser in some ways, and completely off-the-wall in others, as far as I can make out. The Guardian crosswords are better, often harder, but the compiler is named (with a nom de plume), so you know who you are up against, and who to avoid, if you want to. Monday’s is always easy; the weekend one is often good fun, and there are specials three times a year, at Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, when you may get a themed crossword, an extra large one, a double one or an alphabetical jigsaw (where you get the first letter of the answer but no numbers on the grid and have to work out where to put the solutions – I love these!). You get to like particular compilers and their ways: everyone used to love Araucaria, and my favourite was always Bunthorne (aka Bob Smithies, anchorman of Granada Reports when I was a student, though it took me years to discover that).

You can possibly see that an English teacher would love crosswords: it’s all about playing with words, and knowledge of the language, as well as keeping my brain active. I used to like Scrabble too, but my friends refused to play with me…


One Response to “Crosswords”

  1. Wally Says:

    Me too. I do the i cryptic every day, and the Guardian when there’s a paper in the house. I won the i prize crossword a couple of months ago!


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