Revelling in unnecessary lumber

Memorable extract from an article by Edmund Akenhead, former Times Crossword Editor, Saturday, March 4 1972

Our vainly struggling commuter battling with 1 Across must sometimes wonder what his faceless tormentors are really like. Were I to reveal that, of The Times crossword compilers, one is an author, another a secretary, another a solicitor and yet another a (modern) major-general, this would not help the reader to an understanding of what makes them tick.

It might be more significant if I were to disclose that one of their number is also a member of The Magic Circle, since the itch to mystify through a mixture of dexterity (whether digital or mental) and crafty misdirection is obviously one of the chief factors in the make-up of crossword composers. They are also, of course, sadists (although in the nicest possible way) and since all solvers appear to be masochists this leads to a rather beautiful relationship.

Also crossword makers are the exact opposite of the Great Detective. Those familiar with the memoirs of John H. Watson, MD, late of the Army Medical Department, Afghanistan, may remember that Sherlock Holmes had no knowledge of literature, philosophy and astronomy, refusing to clutter his mind with unnecessary lumber and caring nothing whether the earth went round the sun or round the moon. Crossword addicts, however, composers and solvers alike, cherish and revel in this unnecessary lumber.

What does the legend of Prometheus matter to the hard-headed Sherlock Holmes – Prometheus who was punished by Zeus by being chained to Mount Caucasus where an eagle ate his liver each day, the liver being renewed each night, until he was released by Hercules? To Sherlock Holmes, nothing. But to us the tale is fully justified not only as a horror comic but also as enabling one of these crossword gnomes, who shall be nameless, to give us “Prometheus bound, by the eagle, or unbound by Hercules” as a clue for “Delivered”.

This year the addicts have their third chance in the championship sponsored by Cutty Sark Scotch Whisky. In 1970, Mr Roy Dean emerged as the first champion after a two-day contest between about 300 competitiors in London. In 1971 the championship was extended into the provinces and two-day regional contests were held in Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, York, London, Edinburgh and Belfast. The final was held in London. Mr Dean, being in the United States, did not defend his title which was won by Mr James Atkins, who was the 1970 runner-up.

It may be asked, why a Crossword Championship? The solving of crosswords is a gentle intellectual recreation less suitable, it may be argued, as the subject of a championship contest than, say, the competitive pastimes of chess or bridge. The experience of 1970 and 1971, however, has shown that there are many keen crossword solvers who greatly enjoy the opportunity to meet one another and test their abilities, even although many may have little expectation of figuring in the regional prize lists.

It is for the benefit of these that the championship is chiefly being staged. The contests also give me a valuable opportunity of hearing the views of some of the keenest of Times crossword solvers.

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