A long time ago, long before the world wide web was a gleam in CERN’s eye, I tried cryptic crosswords. I wasn’t so good at them. I found it damned difficult to grasp the tricks of the setters, mostly because the answers were not to hand—I generally bought papers irregularly, and would never buy the next day’s edition just to see a crossword’s solution.

I find sudoku easier. It requires logic, my profession requires logic, I use my day–to–day professional skills to solve sudoku puzzles. I can solve the utter bastards, usually. I rather like them, they give me a challenge over breakfast that exceeds the difficulty of putting food in mouth. First world problems, huh!

A while ago, I started playing sudoku regularly. Then I wanted more sudoku, more bastard puzzles. I decided to subscribe to a puzzle service. But which one?

image: la nuit de la culture

I read newspapers. I regard myself as politically off centre, and prefer newspapers that hold different opinions to mine. I would ideally like a newspaper that promotes no opinions, but such things don’t exist (a consequence of the human condition), so I prefer a newspaper that doesn’t pretend that it’s neutral—e.g. isn’t crude about its lying. I’m British, I prefer UK newspapers. Unfortunately, there are no left wing newspapers in the UK, except for one that is frankly potty. Most are foaming–at–the–mouth advocates of bigotry and cowardice, andor promote their owners’ interests over reporting, but there are exceptions. In the end I chose the Grauniad, the least worst, although it has severe faults, such as no comprehension of life outside surburbia. Paying for their puzzle service supports their investigative journalism.

So I paid for its puzzle app and found myself with twenty years of bastard sudokos to finish. Yay! But now I’ve finished them. I started going through the easier sudokus, but they bored me.

The puzzle app also offers cryptic crosswords, so I went back to them, more to learn than to solve. That’s why, if I can’t work out an answer, I’ll ask the app, and it’ll tell me. Because the answers are instantly available, I’m more than willing to make wild guesses—which aren’t so often wrong. I will sometimes have no idea of the possible answer, but suspect the word ends in –ED, or begins with IN–, etc., so just put those letters in and see what the app says about them. It’s all rather good!

I’ve been going through what the newspaper calls Quiptic puzzles, which are somewhat easier than the normal cryptic crosswords, supposédly. Although most clues make sense to me, I do still have some problems, particularly when I simply don’t see the connection between the cryptic part of the clue and the answer. Sometimes, I see no connection between the definition part of the clue and the answer either, but then I don’t own a copy of Dickie’s Disreputable Dictionary of Damaged English, or whatever the setters use to justify their bizarre definitions, so there will certainly be some correct definition that feel wrong to me.

But, equally, cryptic crosswords can be a joy. I learn strange new words. Some clues make me laugh out loud. Some answers make me laugh out loud.

I very rarely finish a crossword. There’s usually one or two clues I simply can’t solve. Worse, these are the ones with a very dubious definition, or no apparent connection between the clue and the answer. But this must be a common experience: after all, who would refuse to fill in answers they can solve?! Hopefully, one day, I’ll develop sufficient devious linguistic sarcasm to generally get the answers so get to the finish.