Has any crossword addict got a time machine?
Memorable extracts from an article by Edmund Akenhead, former Crossword Editor, Saturday, August 19th 1978
It would be interesting to know how many of those airtight capsules containing sundry objects and records of our present civilization which are buried for the purpose of being dug up again some thousands of years hence by future archaeologists contain a complete copy of The Times. It would also be fascinating to borrow H.G. Wells’s time machine and a cloak of invisibility in order to watch those archaeologists and professors of Ancient English struggling to make sense of the Crossword, and debating whether they could persuade the Ministry of Palaeologodaedaly to finance further excavations in the hope of finding the next day’s issue with the solution.
If half of this year’s crossword competitors did not know that Mang is the bat in The Jungle Book I refer to this year’s Eliminator puzzle clue (“Tail-less fruit bat of the jungle”) imagine how such a clue would baffle future researchers (even if they saw that Mang equals Mango minus O); and if the acronymic “Time and relative dimension in space vehicle. Who told you? (6)” was the only clue to prevent last year’s champion from solving the same puzzle in 20 minutes, it would no doubt prove even more troublesome to those same researchers, unless, as seems within the bounds of possibility, Dr Who (with his Tardis) is still running on the box in AD 5000.
Contrariwise (to borrow Tweedledee’s favourite word) were our time-machine traveller to bring back a copy of The Times crossword from the distant future, presumably in three-dimensional or a more complicated form, I have no doubt that we should find it even less comprehensible than the Venerable Bede would find today’s puzzle.
Crossword addicts will be relieved to hear however that the Crossword will not be affected by any Tennysonian dippings into the future, even if over the years some innovations in clueing make their appearance. The acronym is not a new type of clue, but it is tending to appear more frequently nowadays; an example is “Shaving easily takes away tops of hair (4)” in which the “tops” of the first four words give us “seta” which is a stiff hair or bristle; then there is the occasional clue like “What odd parts to give a girl! (5)” for “Wanda” or “W” and “A” which are the first and third letters of “What”. I hope that our older as well as our younger customers are able to learn such new tricks without too much difficulty.
While on the subject of clues, I hope that the lady who wrote objecting to (inter alia) the too-frequent use of the name of a certain German town in crossword clues has noticed that for months now clues for “Essenes”, “essence”, “essential” and “delicatessen” have made no reference to the aforementioned German town: it may be remembered that the muse Erato was banned from the Crossword for a couple of years some time ago, but I cannot, madam, guarantee that the German town in question can be kept in exile for so long a time ‒ still we shall do our best to ensure that its future appearances are rarer than heretofore. These things seem to go in phases; time was when emmets and emus abounded in crosswords, but I do not think the The Times crossword has seen an emmet for years: for younger readers who do not know what an emmet is, it is of course a pismire, though I believe there is a shorter synonym which momentarily escapes me.