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CRYPTIC CROSSWORD PUZZLE COLLECTION (article first published : 2007-03-30)

Published by Struik, Cryptic Crossword Puzzle Collection is compiled by Marinda Ehlers and Mary Lewis.

Reviewing a book of this nature is not easy. There is bound to be the usual variety of good and bad clues and nominating which are - and which are not - is often bound to be subjective.

As someone who has been solving cryptics for nearly 40 years, I found many of the answers mystifying. The ladies do not identify anagrams in the usual way but one can become accustomed to that. Annoying are the clues that ramble on for up to up to 20 words; clues should be as short and pithy as possible and the use of extraneous words just muddies one’s thinking dishonestly.

Moreover, a clue should make sense within itself, even though the compiler is perfectly entitled to try and steer one into a unilateral way of thinking. An example:

Will the courgette lose its fragile ego but reinvent itself when it sees the textile worker? (6)

A very long clue for a six-letter answer! What the ladies want you to do is remove the letters e, g and o from “courgette” and sort the remaining letters (reinvent) into “cutter”. But how can a courgette have an ego? How can it “see” a textile worker? Such a clue is belaboured and, ultimately, nonsense. Such contrived clues only serve to irritate; crosswords are supposed to be entertaining.

The plethora of long clues and the space they occupy inevitably means that there is less space on the page for the grid. The grids are therefore maddeningly small. One must remember that most cruciverbalists are not young and trying to write tiny letters into tiny boxes is a further irritation.

Cryptic Crossword Puzzle Collection is not without merit, but I think I’d rather stick to crosswords from the Daily Telegraph. - Frank Graham




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