It’s funny the things that cross over from real life into blogland and the things that don’t. As I said before, I’m very bad at telling people about this blog; but I am also quite bad at telling my readers about some things that happen in real life. Viz: crosswords. I have got into the habit of starting each day with – well, first of all with a pot of tea and second of all with a conversation (see previous posts) but third of all – once I’ve checked email and Facebook – with the Guardian crossword.
I began these when I felt stymied in my work. Either no words came, or else the ones that did were dull and uninspiring; or they were interesting but like hair after washing I couldn’t do a thing with them (I’ve never understood that comment about hair, by the way) – anyway, I decided that a cryptic crossword would sharpen the wits and enable me to do more of the things I like doing with words – or more of the things that words like me to do with them.
At first it was hard. I’d been used to solving the Telegraph cryptic with a couple of co-conspirators: and let me tell you, doing the Guardian alone is a whole new quantum level of difficulty. The online-ness of it does help though, because one of the major drawbacks to a paper crossword is that you can’t make too many mistakes, wheresas with online crosswords you have a ‘check’ button so that you can try out different ideas without committing yourself. If all else fails, you can hit the ‘reveal’ button. So in some ways it’s easier.
And does it help with the words? Well it certainly gets the brain going in the morning, and I’m a lot better at solving them than I used to be. Cryptic clues help you to see words in a different way (a ‘flower,’ for example, is often a river) and to search your memory-banks for synonyms and your lateral brain-waves for homophones and lookalikes. There are many tricks crossword-compilers use to construct their clues; and I’m constantly finding out new ones. The Rev. Spooner is a staple, indicating that the beginnings of words have been swapped over. Anagrams are near-universal: you also find the ends or beginnings of words chopped off, or else alternate letters used. It’s a whole ‘nother language: it’s English but not as we know it – in fact there’s so much I could say about this that I’m going to go away and think about it and put it in a whole ‘nother post. Or maybe a series of posts.
Anyway, here’s the link if you want to try one yourself: I recommend the Quiptic if you’re new to these.