100 years of cross­words

Arthur Wynne left eng­land for the US, left farm­ing for jour­nal­ism, and then left mil­lions de­light­ing in solv­ing his in­ven­tion.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By DAVID MCKIE

DEVO­TEES of all kinds of crossword (cru­civer­bal­ists, some peo­ple coyly call them) saluted the mem­ory of a Liver­pool man who em­i­grated to the United States, aban­doned onion farm­ing for jour­nal­ism, be­came ed­i­tor of the New York World, and on Dec 21, 1913, filled a spare space in his pa­per with a de­vice that he called a word cross, thus en­sur­ing his name would be hon­oured on the an­niver­sary as the in­ven­tor of cross­words.

Only cur­mud­geons would point out at this mo­ment that this claim is a lit­tle du­bi­ous.

Arthur Wynne him­self was quick to ac­knowl­edge that the idea was as old as the lan­guage, and the ori­gins of the puz­zle that he cre­ated can be plau­si­bly shown to go back at least as far as Pom­peii.

And though his New York World puzzles con­tin­ued, it was not un­til two young men called Si­mon and Schus­ter, whose pub­lish­ing house would go on to give us Ernest Hem­ing­way and Scott Fitzger­ald, put puzzles into a book 11 years later that they re­ally caught on.

The first news­pa­per in Bri­tain to use them seems to have been the Sun­day Ex­press in 1925. The then Manch­ester Guardian fol­lowed four years later, 13 months ahead of the Times.

But it also has to be said that cross­words to­day bear about as much re­sem­blance to Wynne’s pi­o­neer­ing num­ber as does the Gold­berg Vari­a­tions to Chop­sticks.

Wynne’s puz­zle was shaped like a di­a­mond.

All you had to do was to fill in the an­swers to ques­tions like “the plu­ral of is” and “what artists learn to do” – even if one or two de­manded more eru­di­tion (“the fi­bre of the go­muti palm”, the an­swer to which was “doh”.)

To­day’s fa­mil­iar black squares were in those days un­known.

The art form has evolved in dif­fer­ent ways in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, but here, there are now essen­tially three va­ri­eties: the quick, the cryptic and the su­per­cryp­tic, for ace solvers only.

The quick is some­times thought to be sim­ple but that isn’t al­ways the case: a clue may sim­ply say “draw”, but that’s a word whose al­ter­na­tive mean­ings com­mand a whole col­umn in any th­e­saurus.

It’s the cryptic and su­per­cryp­tic, though, that are se­ri­ous busi­ness.

Over the years, in­ge­nious hands have de­vel­oped more and more tech­niques for mak­ing their solvers sweat.

The Lon­don-based Ob­server was the pace­maker here, un­leash­ing on its cus­tomers first Torque­mada and, af­ter him, Ximenes, both named af­ter Span­ish in­quisi­tors.

Ximenes was Der­rick Som­er­set Macnutt, who taught me Greek, not a happy ex­peri- ence for ei­ther of us.

He was one of a school that favoured strict rules for cross­words, which he em­bod­ied in a book call Ximenes On The Art Of The Crossword, pub­lished in 1966.

Some set­ters still stick to th­ese rules.

Oth­ers favour the far more lib­er­tar­ian style em­bod­ied in the work of John Gra­ham, Arau­caria of the Guardian, who died last month.

Gra­ham was an or­tho­dox Angli­can min­is­ter, but in crossword terms he was a joy­ous heretic, who, strict Xime­neans might have con­sid­ered, de­served to be burned at the stake.

Most of his Guardian faith­ful will tell you there never was, and never will be, a set­ter to match Arau­caria. But some of the younger set­ters, who re­vere him as the mas­ter, take even greater lib­er­ties from time to time.

That’s not to say they don’t ob­serve rules. It is still the case, in most in­stances, that a clue will con­tain a def­i­ni­tion, equiv­a­lent to the word or words you need to in­stall, and a cryptic vari­a­tion to point you to­wards it.

Or of­ten, at first, away from it: since this is a world in which fiendish is a term of ap­proval and the work of its best pro­tag­o­nists is ad­mired for a phe­nom­e­non, rare in most trades, that might be called hon­est de­cep­tion.

In his 2003 book Pretty Girl in Crim­son Rose, Sandy Bal­four de­scribes his girl­friend’s strug­gles to get him to solve cryptic cross­words.

“That,” she says, re­ject­ing a prof­fered so­lu­tion, “is what they want you to think it means.”

A clue may in­clude the words “Greek char­ac­ter”, which will usu­ally in­di­cate the pres­ence of such let­ters as mu, nu or pi.

Yet, the let­ters you need in this case may make up the name Plato.

Some of the tricks of the trade are now an­cient.

The use, for in­stance, of ana­grams, whose pres­ence is of­ten in­di­cated by words such as man­gled, messy or mu­ti­lated.

Hugh Stephen­son, the Guardian’s crossword ed­i­tor, has three pages list­ing such de­vices in his book Se­crets of the Set­ters.

Some en­thu­si­asts dis­par­age the ana­gram, yet it helps the solver to get the game un­der way, and at its best can be an en­rich­ment of life – as when carthorse yields orches­tra, or Manch­ester City foot­ball club be­comes syn­thetic cream (they were play­ing that way at the time), or Brit­ney Spears, Pres­by­te­ri­ans.

There are also stan­dard clichés which solvers soon spot – a sol­dier may give you RE, or per­haps GI; an L may give you a learner (as in L plates for learner driv­ers), al­though it might also mean left, large, lake or Latin. Stephen­son lists th­ese, too.

One quickly learns to dis­trust a word like flower, which may mean a daisy or daf­fodil, but may mean a river (rivers flow: ged­dit?)

Yet what makes a good set­ter is above all, in­ge­nu­ity and in­ven­tion; so brand new tricks are en­ter­ing the lan­guage of cross­words all the time.

And it’s when a set­ter comes up with a clue that baf­fles you for 45 min­utes and makes you gasp when you solve it that the plea­sure of cross­words reaches its peak.

There were sev­eral in the Guardian prize crossword a week ago, con­cocted by Paul, a de­vout Arau­car­ian. For in­stance, the unXime­nean “Tommy Cooper” (1,4,2,7,4) the an­swer to which I can say, since the com­pe­ti­tion is closed, is “a name to con­jure with”.

Our hero to­day, Arthur Wynne (born Ever­ton 1871, died Clear­wa­ter, Florida 1945) would surely have mar­velled at that. – Guardian News & Me­dia

Men­tal dex­ter­ity: a Sun­day Wash­ing­ton Post crossword puz­zle. It was the cre­ation of arthur Wynne. On the Sun­day be­fore christ­mas in 1913, he in­vented a puz­zle he called a word cross. — Photo aFP

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