A few years ago, goaded by the assumptions of others that, because my spelling is competent and I like to fling the occasional quirky word into my sentences, I’d be good at cryptic crosswords. To be honest, I didn’t really need the pen. To a watcher, I may have had an apparent calmness, like the serene surface of a pond in moonlight where still waters run deep, belying the frenetic activity below as my mind whizzed wildly. It was unfortunate therefore that the whirring cerebellum rarely came up with a word that fitted either the clue or the grid, and certainly not both at once. The answers aren’t at all black and white – at least not until you’ve cleared fifty shades of grey.
And while the winter has been dark and damp, once again I am brandishing the pen to crack the codes of these demon puzzles. However, each time I come up with an answer or two, I feel like Willy Wonka as he toured the factory with the four children who weren’t Charlie Bucket: each had the potential to be the right one at the start of the story but didn’t fit at all when it came to the crunch.
While I have expanded my vocabulary to include words I can’t imagine using in normal conversation, I am convinced that some of the answers – and yes, I sometimes cheat and ‘work backwards’ – have surely been made up. I double-check the answers in the Oxford English Dictionary but its obsequious precision poses its own particular challenge – I often find taking a broad-minded phonetic approach can help… huejelly.
I also have to doubt the personal hygiene, nutritional health and economic contribution to society of those who ‘complete the crossword in their dressing-gown before breakfast’. Really? If that were me, I still wouldn’t have made it to the toaster before sundown. Or the end of the month.
And can I finish them now? I am reminded of a cartoon I once saw where Winnie-the-Pooh embarks on a new fitness regime. When asked how many times he could touch his toes, he replied ‘nearly’. Ask me again in another few years!