Tag Archives: how to write a cryptic crossword

Queer Fish

Dots of sand in a bath-tub of aquamarine, sugar-coated in submerged ink-blot
bombs and chanterelles of coral. The Maldives.

Just married. Off on honeymoon. Plenty of time together. Everything is
glorious. Not a chink of distance between us. That is, until we get too much
time to just sunbathe and natter.

T: Know any good jokes?
J: Hmmm, what’s yellow and dangerous?
T: I don’t know, what’s yellow and dangerous?
J: Shark-infested custard.
T: Pause
T: Pause
T: Pause
T: Why would sharks be found in custard?

My heart sinks. What a question to ask! Doesn’t she get it? Doesn’t she get
ME? Is this the beginning of the end?

J: They aren’t found in custard. That’s why it’s funny.
T: Pretty unlikely, though. But condensed milk might be possible?

Phew, I am relieved. We are similar after all.

I do like to pen a puzzle on the subject of visited destinations. Northern
Ireland and New York provided recent themes. So what might one write about
The Maldives? That solvers will know. After all, a friend did recently
published a ‘General Knowledge’ puzzle based on the rivers of Siberia. Git.

Fishes of The Maldives: ‘Stronger bony leg’ is an anagram of the ‘Bluntnose
Gregory’. ‘Fascism held kids’ works out as ‘Dick’s damselfish’.

I think I’ve had far too much sun. Home to (from what I’ve heard on the
news) a temporarily blighted Blighty.

Solvers generally dislike obscurities. And rightly so. Haddock and chips for
me tonight.

Best wishes,

Mr John Halpern (now married), aka Paul


Midnight snacks

Many years ago, pre-publication in The Guardian, I remember telling the
great Araucaria that I’d begun waking in the middle of the night with entire
clues written, blindly scrabbling for paper and pencil. Nowadays, my
subconscious is kinder to me, and allows me to do my thinking post-cock

But concentration and inspiration are elusive things.

The other night my better half was to stir with an artistic flash of
lightning. She is a painter, and a half-formed masterpiece had evidently

Many somnambulists would have shuffled to the fridge for a chicken leg. A
footballer would perhaps have reached for chewing gum.

At this point, dear solvers, I should unburden myself of a minor confession.
I snore. Occasionally (I like to think). It has never bothered me, but
marrying at the age of 44, as I am to do in just a few weeks, perhaps it has

So my wife-to-be hadn’t been hankering for a chicken leg, but perhaps it had
been the thought of gum that was the catalyst for her next move.

Sometimes the realisation of an error alights like the thud of an
walked-into unopened glass patio door. However, in those magical hours
between dusk and dawn, the enlightenment is a slow burner.

Convenient though this snack may have proved, the wax adorning one’s
earplugs is an unfamiliar and possibly, at least at first, welcome flavour.
At second, it is, I am told, most unwelcome. A considerable amount of
furrow-browed thought had evidently gone into the identification of the
offending nibbles. Perhaps she had been in the world of comparison between
these objects and a gastronomic creation from my own considerable

‘Giving great joy, earplugs in, for chewing (10)’ Pleasuring it may be for
some, but I’ll stick to gum or a chicken leg.

Best wishes,

John (Paul)

Shredded Tweet.

What do birds eat for breakfast?

Tweetabix? Cock pops, quite possibly? Sugar puffins? Or an owl of

And for lunch or dinner?

Chicken chat served with Dijon bustard, a mynah grebe salad and a finch of
salt, all washed down with a swift bittern?

Too much to swallow, perhaps? If I could find an adept cuckoo could pull it
off, the critics would be raven about it!

(Incidentally, one of my favourite clues ever was by the late, great
Bunthorne: ‘Bird, but not a blue tit? (9)’*

But what does all the rest of this have to do with crosswords?

Well, having peeped warily past the dark curtain of the parallel universe
frequented by us despicable setters, I strongly feel it’s time for us all to
join the real world (if indeed there is one).

Tweeting has arrived. Frankly, I don’t understand it. But many lovely people
have been kind enough to follow me, and the least I can do in their honour
is to spend a little time spouting nonsense in a weekly blog.

So do please tell me what you’d like to hear about from the world of cryptic
crossword setting. Thank you!

Best wishes,

John (Paul)


Pen or pencil?

I use a pen. I know, I really shouldn’t. My mum uses one of those special
pens with a little rubber on top, in case of little accidents. Many use a

For me a pencil is joyless. The friction of graphite onto fresh newsprint
leaves me cold. The grey of tedium, of leaden skies, of duty.

But a standard ballpoint? Now you’re talking. In fact, I think I get a
little turned on by the effortless glide of the black – always black –
instrument (I shall refrain from using the word ‘tool’).

All my workings and scribbles adorn the designated spaces beside the grid:
the rings of to-be-rearranged potential anagram characters, the long phrases
by which I check the mechanics of a complex charade or some such; the
occasional oaths spat upon the page to clear the frenzied mind.

And all this leaves a glorious grid into which I can meticulously inscribe
the solutions – only when I am absolutely sure they are correct.

And the joy of filling in that last elusive entry. It is done. I may not be
able to solve all the clues life presents to me, nor even when I have
cracked them am I sure I’ve solved them as they were meant to be solved.

But here, in my crossword, I know. Here is an oasis of certainty. And am I
feeling a little smug? You betcha!

Best wishes,

John (Paul)