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4 minutes or four hours?

July 26, 2014


A year or two back, my younger daughter gave me a present, 'Dear Dad, from you to me' , one of those gift shop gifts which are very well intentionedy, but, alas, time is so short that they can often gather dust and never be completed. I decided a while ago that I wouldn't let this happen, and would aim to complete it for Sophie, Alice and Tom, so whenever they want to, they could find out a bit more about their Dad. So, I have set up a private blog, to which only family have access, and have been posting to it during our summer 2013 holidays and subsequently. Many of these postings are personal, and best kept private for the family only, but those which are less private will also be posted on my main blog.


Last night, I went out for dinner with two of our closest friends, and also with the wife's mother. A widow, her husband was the reason that after a break of thirty years, a few years ago I got back into doing the Daily Telegraph prize cryptic crossword.

Thirty five years ago, when doing my A levels at Bolton School during 'study periods' (which we called 'free periods) I got into the habit of doing the cryptic crosswords Mon-Fri, and, after a year or so of learning, eventually progressing to the Saturday prize crossword. Eventually, I entered the prize competition more or less every week, and indeed won the prize on, if I recall, two occasions.

Eventually, boredom got in, and to stave off boredom, I changed to add an element of competition, aimed to solve each puzzle within ten minutes, and eventually aiming for within five minutes. Not always achieved, but achieved fairly frequently. (And, to show it is both a matter of habit, and a matter of complexity of the puzzles, I could never get more than a handful of The Times crossword).

Roll forward to a few years ago, when the couple told me that he was passionate about the Telegraph cryptic puzzle. So, I started again; didn't quite get into it, because at the time I was addicted to Sudoku (I am now a signed up member of Sudoku anonymous- the problem for me on these too was they became competitive, became compulsive, and I made every effort to solve the most intricate ones in the same five or ten minutes: the enjoyment vanished, and I realised they were just pointless puzzles).

Eventually I got back into crosswords, but only on Saturdays. Alas, the ravages of time and lack of regularity now means that 20 mins is typical, 30 mins not unusual, and on some occasions I can't solve them. Maybe things aren't the same nowadays? However, today for the third time this year I solved the puzzle in below five minutes, though alas 'not really'.


It took me four more hours (during which I was of course doing other things!) before the lightbulb moment occurred and I appreciated why FACTOR was indeed the answer to 20A: Key player as something that may affect the result (6). I was mis-directed by the well constructed 'surface' of the clue- the surface being how the clue reads plainly- and, of course, misdirection is one of the arts of compilers. Eventually, I twigged it: 'key player' should be scanned as two separate words, with key being the musical key F, and a player being a stage actor.

So, did I solve the puzzle in record time or not? Not really, but it is still nice to do on occasion.

Crossword lovers like to have favourite and least liked clues: today, my favourite was 4D, a line in Merchant of Venice for handsome youth, were the misdirection was pretty: not Antonio or some other character from Shakespeare's play, but Marco Polo, a merchant from Venice, with A and L(ine) wrapped around it. The joy of crosswords is appreciating such cleverness by the setter.


Created 20/7/14, but posting deferred a week due to the due date for entries for the weekly competition. ( for fairness, not that I expect to win, since I believe that thousands enter every Saturday- the number no doubt increased because entries can be by email. No stamp needed.



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