Archive for the Crosswords Category


Posted in Art, Crosswords with tags , , on December 16, 2018 by telescoper

Having finished the Everyman crossword in this morning’s Observer, I was reading a review of some books about Pieter Bruegel in the Times Literary Supplement where I found mention of a piece by that artist also called Everyman.

Here is the work, an ink drawing on paper, of dimensions 20.9cm by 29.2 cm made in Antwerp in 1558 and currently in the British Museum.

According to the catalogue, the work is called Elck in Dutch, which means ‘each’ or ‘everyone’, but is usually known in English as ‘Everyman’.

The scenes in the drawing illustrate proverbs or sayings. The central proverb concerns Elck who vainly seeks himself in the objects of this world as he stands over a broken globe. With a lantern he searches through a pile of barrels and bales, a game board, cards and objects which signify the distractions of life.

To the right, two more Elck figures play tug of war with a rope, illustrating the saying, ‘each tugs for the longest end’.

In the background on a wall hangs a picture which continues the moral theme. It shows a fool sitting among a pile of broken household objects gazing at himself in a mirror. He is Nemo or Nobody, as the inscription below him informs us: ‘Nobody knows himself.

To me it seems that Elck is searching (no doubt in vain) for something worth keeping in the junkyard of human existence. Perhaps he should perhaps have a go at a crossword to cheer himself up?


Azed and Ireland

Posted in Crosswords, Maynooth with tags , , , on December 9, 2018 by telescoper

I had a nice surprise when I opened today’s Observer to the crossword page to find I had won a prize!

The solution to Azed 2423 printed in the paper is not, however, as I remember it.

Obviously there have been a few gremlins at the Observer.

Although I’ve been doing the Azed Crossword for the best part of twenty years this is actually the first time I’ve won the regular crossword prize, in which solvers just have to send in a completed puzzle and the winners’ names are drawn out of a hat, as opposed to the Competition puzzle (which occurs roughly every 4 weeks), in which solvers also have to supply a clue for one of the answers in the grid. It’s also worth saying that this is the first crossword prize I’ve won from Ireland. I have won a couple of other prizes (Everyman and the Times Literary Supplement) in the the past year, but I gave my address in Wales on both occasions as I was spending half time there and half in Maynooth for much of the past year.

Anyway, the prize is not a dictionary but £25 in book tokens, which should be enough to buy a dictionary should I feel the need. I think I may choose something else, however, assuming the tokens ever make it across to Ireland! I’ve not been impressed with the efficiency of the postal service to and from the UK so far…

According to the &lit archive I’ve been sending in entries for about 18 years. Since 3/4 of the Azed puzzles are of the regular type that means that if I’d done every puzzle correctly for that period I would have about 18 × 52 ×¾ ≈ 700 chances to win, which gives a crude estimate of the number of correct entries that must be sent in each week. In fact I’ve missed quite a few and probably made some mistakes. Nevertheless, a weekly entry of several hundred seems a reasonable order-of-magnitude guess. The number that enter the monthly competition is somewhat lower (around 200 usually). I don’t need to guess that – Azed himself supplies the numbers via the Azed Slip.

I’ve got a mediocre record in the Azed clue-setting Competition – I think I’m much better as a solver than a setter! – but have at least scored some successes and finished 15th (equal) in 2010/11. That turns out to have been my high-water mark, as I stopped doing the Azed puzzle regularly when I moved to Sussex in 2013, at which time I started doing the Beelzebub puzzle in the Independent on Sunday. I only re-started buying the Observer when the Independent stopped producing a print edition in March 2016.

So far I’ve struggled with the clue-writing, but I’ll soldier on with it and hopefully will hit some form at some point. Three puzzles into the latest season I’ve scored three HCs, which is at least consistent. Officially `HC’ means Highly Commended’ but I translate it as `Hard Cheese’. One needs to get a VHC (`Very Highly Commended’) at least to score points so I’m still just an `Also Ran’ this year. I got one VHC last year and hopefully can improve on that this time round, with ten puzzles still to go.

Incidentally, looking at the latest Azed Slip I notice that there are several solvers in Ireland. I’ve never noticed that before. I wonder how many have moved recently, like me?

Finally I think I’ll mention the winning clue in the last Azed Competition. The word to be clued was SPASMODICAL and the winning clue was:

À la PM’s disco dancing?

The word `dancing’ here is an anagram indicator, and the previous letters (A+LA+PMS+DISCO) form an anagram of the target word. A different wording of the clue acts as the definition, suggesting that Theresa May’s dancing at the Tory Party Conference was spasmodical. This type of clue is described as `anag. &lit’ (meaning `anagram’ and literally what it says). Undoubtedly, &lit clues are very difficult to construct, and the anagram in the above clue is extremely clever. Whether you think the &lit constitutes a fair definition of SPASMODICAL is a matter of taste. It’s perhaps a bit borderline, but probably saved by the `?’ at the end which traditionally implies some sort of funny business with the definition. In any case, this one is far less controversial than some of the others I’ve seen. For example, here it a prize-winning clue for SUBORDINATELY:

As in ‘B-role’ duty possibly

Here `possibly’ is the anagram indicator, which is fair enough, but for me the surface reading barely makes sense. Azed is the only judge, however, and he generally does seem to cut people quite a bit of slack when they attempt this type of clue.

Everyman in Cardiff, Azed in Maynooth

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords on July 8, 2018 by telescoper

As soon as I’d finished today’s Everyman Crossword in the Observer (which, together with a cup of coffee, is how I get my brain in gear on Sunday mornings) I walked into town to get the bus to Cardiff Airport. After some confusion (caused by an event called the Velothon) I managed to locate the correct bus stop and I was on my way back to Maynooth. It was very warm today in Cardiff and the airport was very busy, but at least the air conditioning was working so it was quite cool inside the departure lounge.

The flight was half an hour late, and very full, but I got a window seat over the wing. I took the picture as we passed over Cardigan Bay. If you look closely you can see the Llŷn Peninsula off in the distance.

I got back to Maynooth via the Hopper Bus from Dublin Airport at about 4pm, did a bit of shopping, and then had a go at the Observer’s Azed crossword. This is usually a far stiffer challenge than Everyman, and is the puzzle I usually do on Sunday evenings. Today’s wasn’t too tricky though.

I think however, that this is the first time I have done crosswords from the same paper on the same day either side of the Irish sea!

Past Crossword Prize

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords on June 30, 2018 by telescoper

I was tidying up my desk at home this morning in preparation for the big move when I came across this little cutting. I think this was the first crossword prize I ever won, from the Guardian. Note that the reward back then was a (Swiss) watch rather than the succession of dictionaries I’ve collected in the subsequent years. If I recall correctly they sent me a catalogue from which to pick a watch.

The current Guardian Prize crossword is number 27549, and the one in the picture is 19742; according to my calculations that must have been published about 25 years ago, which fits with the location of Bethnal Green, where I lived from 1991 to 1998…

If anyone can find out exactly when Guardian Prize Crossword No. 19742 was published and, more importantly, who the setter was, I’d be very interested!

Dictionary Distribution Day

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Crosswords, Uncategorized on January 30, 2018 by telescoper

This set of dictionaries arrived last week while I was in Maynooth.

These – along with £15 in book tokens which arrived a while ago – form the prize for the Everyman Crossword competition in the Observer I won earlier this month.

Fortunately, my friendly neighbours accepted delivery of the books while I was out and I collected the parcel from them last night after work. I took them into work today and distributed them gratis to deserving members of the School of Physics & Astronomy before my first Physics of the Early Universe lecture this morning. I’ve got plenty of dictionaries already, you see.

I wonder if I’ll win any more before I move to Ireland?

The Crossword Puzzle Sketch

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , on January 13, 2018 by telescoper

Fifty years old, and starring the wonderful Beryl Reid, here’s a classic sketch about (of all things) … crosswords!

New Year’s Eve Post

Posted in Crosswords on December 31, 2017 by telescoper

Well, this year has been rounded off nicely with a win in the Everyman Crossword Competition:

In due course I’ll be distributing largesse in the form of a new set of dictionaries like these..

Other than that, it’s chucking it down here in Cardiff so the rest of New Year’s Eve will involve me staying in, drinking a cocktail or two, eating steak and chips with a nice bottle of Amarone, and doing today’s  Azed puzzle.

Let me just take this opportunity to wish you all out there a happy, peaceful, and prosperous 2018!