‘Two Girls, One On Each Knee,’ Alan Connor
As a lover words, games, puzzles and things you can complete, finish and look at and say: yes, that’s done, I have always enjoyed crosswords.
But let me qualify that: I have always enjoyed 50% of the crossword world.
What’s the capital of Peru? Who wrote ‘A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich’? How many players are there on a basketball team?
These are the kinds of crosswords I enjoy, also known as Quick Crosswords.
Having read Alan Connor‘s book on the Quick Crosswords older, respectable brother the Cryptic Crossword, I finally feel ready to give a chance to an area of puzzling I had always glanced at, got angry at, and avoided at all costs.
In this sense, it reminded me very much of Sylvia Nasar’s ‘A Beautiful Mind‘ on maths genius John Forbes Nash Jr. which was so well written it rekindled a love of numbers which I had somewhat sacrificed to words in my teens, and I rushed straight out to my university library to read some maths books.
Which I didn’t understand a word of, and which confused me.
In other words, Connor takes a complicated topic and makes it fun and interesting, whilst at the same time giving you the half-dozen or so basic rules you need to begin to penetrate this apparently impenetrable art form – from when to look for anagrams, to dividing each clue into the two (or more) different styles of clue, direct and punning.
It was also full of fantastic trivia: how could I have gone this long without knowing that famous aficionados included literary geniuses Georges Perec and Vladimir Nabakov? Or that a Simpsons episode once revolved around the actual crossword puzzle which had featured in an American newspaper that day, allowing the Venn diagram of people who love both to have one of the most surreal experiences as they came together?
Cryptic crosswords used to be used in English literature as short-hand for England, education and intelligence in a very tweedy sense, but the form is around almost a century later, and used for everything from marriage proposals to best wishes for retiring teachers…from my old high school, no less!
The chapter on anagrams will please anyone who loves language, (and reminded me of the wonderful work of comedian/singer/writer/nice guy Demetri Martin), as well as offering an alternative to the famous Panama palindrome with:
“A dog; a plan; a canal; pagoda!”
which tickled me immensely.
I leave my favourite crossword-based story for last though. In 1996 one of the famous crossword creators, (and the thing I took away most from this work was how impressive, consistent, inventive and world-famous these creators can be), made American solvers furious by daring to have two clues to answer: ‘Lead story in tomorrow’s newspaper (!)’, i.e. who would win the next day’s presidential election.
Was he guessing? Did he know something nobody should have done? How did he do it?
The answer is genius…and here!
You thought cryptic crosswords were difficult? They may be even more complicated than you think!
Or, after reading this book, possibly just that little bit easier. I don’t know – I still haven’t tried to solve one yet…
(And in case you were wondering, the ‘cryptic’ book title is one of the easier clues to get…but they all feel pretty good when you get one! If you need a hint: ‘one on each knee’ is the literal clue, and ‘two girls’ is the cryptic part. Think of names, and medicine, and leave me a comment if you want to know the answer).