In the mid-1980s, there was an article in this masthead next to the cryptic crossword on how to attempt to decipher this type of puzzle. Thanks to that inspiration, I have now completed cryptic crosswords for nearly 40 years: individually, with colleagues, friends, partner and husband.
You’ve seen them. At work, on holiday, waiting for an appointment, at the airport, at home. Solvers flexing their brain organ, pumping muscle tissue. Why? To stretch their mind and its boundaries. To acquire knowledge out of their usual comfort zones. To challenge their brain with new information. And, as I’ve become more senior and frail, these crosswords still sing to me.
In our new world, of so many notifications sent our way, in all its different media, mediums and devices, we are encouraged to skim in our “fomo” for information. Enter the cryptic crossword, promoting a sense of stillness and mindfulness through the required focus and concentration.
We live in an age where reading between the lines and beyond the words should be more relied upon to understand the true intent of the scribe.
We know that having fun makes learning easier. And that in many jobs, there is less time to connect in a personal way. Cryptic crosswords provide a connection between colleagues beyond their work, during coffee breaks, lunches and snippets of time where one needs to think of something else.
I taught for 33 years in government secondary schools, and one end-of-year activity with me was students learning to decipher clues and write their own cryptic crosswords.
The sparkle in the eye when an answer is recognised is a connection made, in the relationship and in the brain. The sense of achievement upon completion of an entire cryptic crossword is the ultimate goal for all solvers.
It’s teamwork that promotes a healthy culture of learning and problem-solving together.
It can identify how someone thinks, which can be very beneficial when certain roles or situations arise in the work environment and a certain thinking style and performance is needed.
The easier cryptic crosswords can be completed with assistance from companion clues in the neighbouring Quick crossword. Then there’s the cryptic with setter’s initials so that you know who it is you are tackling. Then there are ones with no setter initials, leaving you none the wiser where they might be coming from.
Reading the setter, understanding their character and decoding how someone thinks is a large part of what it is about. The setter’s character, their backstory or stem, and where they are coming from are crucial in the speed and mind frame you choose as the solver to determine the answers.
Solving cryptic posers teach you about yourself and those around you attempting to crack the code. It shines a light on how you best problem-solve and in which areas you could improve. Alone, with others, when in a relaxed environment, when pressed for time, under pressure.
You don’t know what you might learn about yourself, others and the world. May cryptics provide you with many years of joy.
By : Shirley Barbara-Heyworth
Whether to take your mind off work at the end of a long day, or to just take a mental break over lunch, tackling a cryptic crossword is a great way to unwind with something that is both fun and challenging!
The difference between a cryptic crossword and a regular crossword is that the route to finding solutions to a cryptic crossword is more convoluted. Whereas a regular crossword is a straightforward exercise in thinking of synonyms – words with similar meanings to those in the clues, it’s not clear initially with a cryptic crossword what part of each clue you need to find a synonym for.
And when you work that out, the answer you come up with has to fit with all the other parts of the clue. But the more you do them, the easier it becomes because you get to know the setter’s style. This is why many people often have a preferred crossword in a particular newspaper or magazine.
If you’re not used to doing crosswords, then you might want to get used to thinking about synonyms by doing regular crosswords first, and then working your way towards the cryptic sort.
There’s also a more serious side to crosswords. Along with other cognitive activities such as learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, or playing cards, doing crosswords is one of the brain-training skills that is thought to help reduce the risk of dementia and delay its symptoms.
By keeping the brain active as we get older, scientists think that we might be able to reduce the amount of brain cell damage associated with dementia and even grow new connections between brain cells.
Doing crosswords, therefore, might help your brain keep working better for longer.1 So instead of turning on the tv or watching TikTok, get out a crossword and get that grey matter working!
- Brief History of Crossword Puzzles”. American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.
- The Strange World of the Crossword (excerpt)”.
- The story of how cryptic crosswords crossed the Atlantic”. The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
- This Time It’s Crosswords (Not Cross Words) That Surface From Sondheim”. The New York Times. Archived from the original on 11 November 2020. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
- Remnick, David. “Introducing The New Yorker Crossword Puzzle”. The New Yorker. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
- Cryptic crossword abbreviations”. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
- Crossword 847 answers and explanations”. New Zealand Listener.
- “One of Dr Ghil’ad Zuckermann’s Cryptic Crosswords”.
- “Tenglish crossword”. Crossword Unclued, 29 September 2012.
- “Kannada crosswords: Prajavani, Udayavani, Kannada Prabha”. Crossword Unclued, 22 August 2012.
- “Prize Hindi Puzzle: Here’s Our Winner”.
- Il cruciverba più difficile del mondo”. Il Fatto Quotidiano.
- The Times crossword the man who began it all”. The Times. London. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
- “The Bugle Audio Crossword”. The Times UK.
- Acrostic Creators”. Wordplay: The Crossword Blog of The New York Times. Retrieved 21 October 2009.
- The Puzzler: Sections”. The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- “THE HINDU CROSSWORD CORNER: THC Setters”.
- “Remembering Admiral Katari, the first crossword setter of The Hindu”.
- Carrying the Crosaire”. The Irish Times. The Irish Times. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
- No Cross Words”. The Nation. Retrieved 1 August 2020.
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