My grandfather was addicted to cryptic crosswords. My mother also attacked one every morning, finishing her last on the day she died.
Can the addiction be inherited? I am also in the grip of this strange affliction, which my grandfather called “one of the minor lunacies.”
This week I’ve had a triumph. Believe it or not, I got out the entire David Astle Sydney Morning Herald Friday cryptic crossword.
My mother died more than thirty years ago, but when I’m doing a crossword, her voice is insistently audible. “Did you try an anagram?” she asks me. Or in a more exasperated tone – “It’s an anagram, you fool!”
I did start off with an anagram. 17 ACROSS: “Awfully shy clique I left, making a sucking sound (8)“. Once I wrote down SHY CL – QUE (the I had to be left out), SQUELCHY leapt out.
Then I had a bit of luck. 25 ACROSS, 22 DOWN. “Nod to positive discrimination? (11, 6)” AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, what else?
I solved a few more, let my brain work on a couple as I went off to play croquet, and came back to the task later. Amazingly I found more and more solutions. Most Fridays I have to be content with a dozen. I really liked some clues in this puzzle. There is a real gasp of delight when a clue is funny, apt and decipherable. My favourite from this Friday is 19 ACROSS: “Increase delighted parasite (6)”. The answer? UPTICK.
I ACROSS is also pretty good. “Criticise what only A-list actors can do (4,5)”. The answer is PICK APART.
My father, who never learned the art of cryptic crosswords, failed to empathise with addicts. “How many hours of your life have you wasted on those things?” he would demand of my mother. She’d give a brief, unrepentant smile. Minor lunacies do not rate a major marital dispute.
My own husband is not bad at cryptics and has been known to help me out with a scientific or engineering term. This time, though, I found PLUTONIUM without resource to his authority.
I do use other autorities, a well-thumbed crossword dictionary, the Macquarie Dictionary online thesaurus, and when absolutely desperate, Dan’s word, a crossword-helper site. However, I solved this one without Dan. I was told about that site by three men who sit in a cafe in Glebe Point Road, opposite the library, every morning, solving the Herald crossword together.
There are worse ways to start a day. A couple of mates, a cup of coffee, a nice fresh pastry, and a cryptic crossword. Wouldn’t my grandfather have loved it!