Thursday 10 April 2008

Treat Edinburgh male badly? Get lost

(If you’ve never attempted to complete or compile a cryptic crossword this will make no sense to you at all, I’m afraid. All “clues” have the same answer, though, if that helps?)

Buy a newspaper and find the crossword. Ignore the clues and simply start filling in the squares with words. Just be sure that everything makes sense and joins up together nicely. This can sometimes take a surprisingly long time. 

Right, now that you’ve got a completed crossword grid, you just need to make up clues for all the words (or names, places, events etc) you’ve filled it with. I used to be quite good at this, really, until I became an insufferable tosser – a problem that persists to this day, regrettably. 


Distressingly nude bather with broken arm and shattered leg found it horribly easy to get lost here? (3, 7, 8 letters)

And I suppose you could leave it at that. It’s a reasonably well-constructed clue, if a little one-dimensional. Plus, it makes a kind of sense all by itself, which is always nice. Come to think of it, I’m quite pleased with that clue, actually.

Distressingly rude barman with ghastly teeth swallows top gin and half of lime to produce passageway to oblivion. (3, 7, 8 cetra cetra)

That’s what I’m saying. I can never just leave things be. I should move on now, you see, and start constructing a clue for my next answer, but the need to tinker and elaborate is simply overwhelming. 

Following Tommy’s first letter, Hermione is completely gutted, mixing alcohol in bed with a tramp, initially, before disorderly Irish republicans reach north and break legs. Abandoning the south, they could get lost here. (cetra blah)

There comes a point, I suppose, when a crossword clue is barely recognisable as such. That last version, in capable hands, might very well supply the bare bones for a reasonable short story. As a clue, however, it leaves a lot to be desired. 

I could try to rein in these pseudo-literary exertions with the straightforward, though wholly inelegant:

Initially, tragic Hermione, empty bottles everywhere, regrets maddeningly unhealthy dalliance as tramp retches into ashtray – naughty girl loses everything. Can she ever come back from this?

Ay ay ay. Train’s moving again and I need to look out the window. The next pointlessly elongated anti-clue of a clue was starting to take shape: first two lucky characters managed to abandon Lutheran bedlam (losing David’s head and sheared sheep and…) Blah.

But yes, anyway, that’s pretty much why I would never have made the grade as a crossword compiler, as if you could ever properly make yourself care.

I should offer a cheap plastic Portuguese pen - or something less expensive, maybe - as a reward for the first correct answer received (by email), although that’s maybe taking things too far.

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