Tag Archives: john halpern

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)

Playing Footsie.

Football. Switched off yet?

Twenty-two prima donnas, but not an aria in sight.

I once wrote the clue ‘The ultimate character wearing a strip (5) In its
aftermath, my mother did actually ask ‘who’s Gazza?’. And I admire her for

Of course, Gaza is not a strip, but lies within the strip – I should know
better, in so many ways. I was young and foolish. These days I am older, and

Should you, dear solver, be expected to know who Gazza is, though? Well,
perhaps, perhaps not. But sometimes certain subjects lend themselves to fun

The fact that the talented songstress Britney Spears is an anagram of
‘Presbyterians’ is too good to miss, surely? Perhaps some might not have
appreciated the entirely themed Britney songs puzzle in The Guardian a few
years back, including such timeless classics as ‘Baby One More Time’, ‘Born
To Make You Happy’ and ‘Oops!… I Did It Again’.

And another subject seemingly ripe for a Guardian crossword theme, the
British political outfit the ‘Monster Raving Loony Party’ and its
charismatic leader Screaming Lord Sutch. Tragically, Lord Sutch committed
suicide the day after my puzzle was published – selfishly, I can only hope
my work proved not to be the final straw.

And ‘Osama’ and ‘Obama’ are famously only a letter away, but perhaps I
shouldn’t go there either.

As for Manchester United manager ‘Sir Alex Ferguson’ – anagram of ‘ref
using…’ well you can work the rest out yourself.

Maybe I should play it safe and stick to Shakespeare and Chaucer
references…. I only wish I had the erudition!

Best wishes,

John (Paul)