Last week we set you an exclusive crossword for Father’s Day, created by Alan Connor. And here are the answers…
It should read..FATHERS DAY!
This is a book about having fun with words. Jumbling them, tumbling them, hiding and sneaking them into unexpected places, making riddles, jokes and poetry in the form of crossword clues. A love of crosswords is also a love of language – albeit a love that enjoys seeing the object of its affections toyed with, tickled and flipped upside-down.
Crossword puzzles are a silly, playful way of taking English and making it into a game. And they have been doing so since 21 December 1913, when the world’s first crossword appeared in an American newspaper – although lovers of language had been deriving pleasure from wordplay long before then, of course. However, it was the crossword that came to supersede all other puzzles. It has become a cornerstone of almost all newspapers, and, for many, a fondly anticipated daily appointment.
For some time, the puzzle lived in the form of what we might today call the ‘concise’ crossword, each answer viii Two Girls, One On Each Knee indicated by a simple definition. But when Britain caught on to the appeal of the crossword in the 1920s, a small group of pioneering setters teased it into different forms, most notably the cryptic, in which each definition is hidden inside devious and frolicsome wordplay.
What all crosswords have in common is the pleasure of identifying what the setter is asking for and seeing the answers mesh with each other until the puzzle is finished. For a century, the commuter has whiled away journeys and parents have passed on tips and tricks in the hope that each grid tackled will be correctly filled. Currently, 14.7 million people in the UK do battle with a crossword at least once a week.
In Two Girls, One on Each Knee, we’ll be looking at the playfulness, the humour and the frustration of the crossword in all its forms, and how the world of the puzzle has overlapped with espionage and humour, current affairs and literature. We’ll see fictional crossword encounters, such as Reginald Perrin locked into eternal rivalry with a fellow commuter and Inspector Morse finding inspiration after solving an especially fiendish clue. And we’ll see crosswords from the real world: the one which seemed to predict the outcome of a presidential election and the ones which appeared to be giving away the secrets of D-Day.
We’ll look at how clues tantalize those who are addicted to puzzles by sending the solver on wild-goose chases, by appearing to be rude when they (most definitely) are not and by stubbornly withholding their real meanings until the penny drops.
And we ask questions about the experience of solving: why do some people try to finish crosswords as quickly as possible? Can computers crack cryptic clues? And does wordplay really stave off dementia? The experience of reading this book should be equivalent to that of solving a cryptic puzzle, taking you on overlapping journeys. As with the clues in a crossword, you can read the book in any order you like. You can, if you like, start at the beginning. Or you can delve in anywhere you fancy the look of and then flick backwards and forwards at your whim. Like crossword clues, the chapters are of different lengths and tones; they cross paths with each other and then proceed in their own directions. And each is followed by a little extra detail (as if in brackets).
The structure is determined by the puzzle you’ll find on pp. xii–xiii. Each clue leads, naturally enough, to an answer, and each answer is the title of a chapter – so you should avoid skipping forward immediately if you want to dodge the spoilers. The answers and those to the clues that crop up along the way, are at the end. The clues are written by the setter known as Araucaria, a retired churchman considered a friend by many solvers who have never met him but who are devoted to his irreverent, humorous style. For me, I am flattered and unduly honoured by the collaboration.
And what about the title? Two Girls, One on Each Knee is itself a cryptic clue, and one that has an exalted place in the history of the crossword. But first, how does it work? Well, like all cryptic clues, it has an apparent meaning, or surface reading: it suggests a grandmother and her grandchildren relaxing on Christmas morning – or, less cosily, perhaps a warlord celebrating at a banquet. Put a letter count after the same phrase, though, and the words begin to yield what lies beneath:
Two girls, one on each knee (7)
The first two words give you what crossworders call the wordplay; the rest of the clue is the definition. They both lead you to the answer, but by different routes. With wordplay, you do just as it says : play about with the words and see what comes into your mind. (If you’re thinking about the names of two girls, you’re on the right track.) With the definition: well, it’s easy to see what the setter’s looking for – once you’ve got the answer. In this case, it’s the medical name for the kneecap:
Two girls one on each knee
See? And why is this clue so celebrated? Answer: it was the two-millionth clue written by Roger Squires, who was named in The Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most prolific crossword setter. It was published in the Telegraph.
(Cryptic Crossword no. 25,303) on 14 May 2007, and many people say it is their favourite cryptic clue. Roger’s clues sum up the playfulness and ingenuity of cryptic solvers and setters and I’m very grateful to him for allowing me to use it as the title. So onwards, to celebrate the centenary of crosswords, and revel in their wit, deceit and mischief.
Are you ready?