Tests of transverbial tortuosity

Memorable extracts from an article by Edmund Akenhead, former Crossword Editor, Saturday, August 17th 1974

There must surely somewhere be a reader with a secret wish to buy a dog and call him Spot, purely for the pleasure, when evicting him into the garden, of saying “Out, damned Spot!”

It is probable that the crossword craze which migrated from America and began to take hold in this country some 50 years ago has greatly increased this tendency to play with words, so that today one instantly recognizes the ability of a cart-horse to wreck an orchestra, or that of a decorator to redesign the Trocadero, while we do not need to be told that an exploding grenade tends to derange a grandee, making him angered or even enraged.

A chopstick is seen not only as a singularly musical aid to eating in the Orient but also as comprising remarkably antonymous synonyms of the verb “to cleave”. Mary is famous not for reorganizing the army (since Myra has an equal claim) but as the girl who extended the oyster season by one month (by putting an r into May of course).

All this is nothing new. Shakespeare punned with the best of them: “Is this the fine of his fines … to have his fine pate full of fine dirt?” asks Hamlet concerning the skull of one who may have been a lawyer. Bacon was a master of the anagram, but whether that well-known word in Act 5 Scene 1 of Love’s Labour’s Lost was created as an anagram of “Hi ludi, F Baconis nati, tuiti orbi” (These plays, born of F. Bacon, are preserved for the world) or vice versa, I am not sure. There is no truth in the rumour that the size of The Times Jumbo Crossword, 27 squares by 27, was dictated by the length of this monster word honorificabilitudinitatibus.

To the making of crosswords there may be no end. I have read of a puzzle containing 40,000 squares and 8,496 clues in Serbo-Croat, but enough (or “un oeuf” as Smith Minor would say) is as good as a feast and I am not seriously contemplating a super-Jumbo of 58 squares by 58 with 1 Across “Village in Anglesey (58) even if pressed to do so for the bicentenary of The Daily Universal Register (The Times to you, gentle reader). The answer to that clue I shall refrain from giving in the interests of conserving newsprint and of avoiding a lightning strike by proofreaders.