Useful tips for budding Crossword Designers and prospective Entrants to my new 90×90 Crossword Competition designed to commemorate 90 years (shortly) since the very first Times crossword

  – by David Akenhead author of The Times Computer Crossword

Brian Greer, I fondly remember as an exceptional talent in writing crosswords for both my father and John Grant, and indeed, in his own right when he took over from John in 1994 as Crossword Editor with a couple of super millennium publications thereafter, The Times Crossword 2000 and The Times Crossword Masterclass the latter including suitable material I was happy to offer him from the crossword Archive.

And for the icing on the cake, he compiled his wonderful Mammoth Diamond Jubilee Crossword to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of The Times crossword, on 1st February 1990, 60 years on from the very first Times crossword compiled by Adrian Bell and published in The Times on 1st February 1930.

It is my intention now to extend this noble tradition to the forthcoming occasion on the 1st February 2020 when the crossword will have ticked up 90 years, with my new competition inviting as many who are interested, to submit to me suitable cryptic renditions for a seemingly daunting 90×90 crossword, until we realise, gentle readers, that Brian has already given you a huge leg up!

Because his 45×45 design is a wonderful base to start for anyone really, eager to get into this game, and as I did as a student with my own father’s 27×27 Jumbos back in the early seventies when I was training as a teacher in nearby Cheltenham, and stayed with him at The Old House in the intervening holidays, keen to do my bit helping to proof his large workload as well as submit my own designs, two of which, I am proud to say, he accepted!

Allow me to illustrate how easy and fun my competition can become to anyone really, thus inclined, and for newcomers in particular. Experts ignore this article, please!

Simple rule of thumb in this business, is we first design the grids (usually symmetrical), then we fill in the solutions, probably starting with the longest first and working downwards, simple reason being that as they reduce they become less demanding! Then we clue accordingly.

However, with Brian’s grid in front of you on this website we can take some glorious short cuts, and you don’t need to be computer savvy either! All you need to do when you submit your entry, is give me the across/down grid reference for each clue/solution – with a simple x,y coordinate, and I will translate all your solutions onto my own digital template 90×90 grid ready and waiting for you! You don’t need to send me a copy of the grid either, just the grid coordinates, and if I experience any difficulties with your entry, (no extra charge), I will be happy to email you via our new internal webmail:

Permit me to illustrate with three simple examples from Brian’s wonderful puzzle, and I apologise to seasoned solvers and compilers who probably do not need any assistance here, and with no desire to spoil their enjoyment of his puzzle either!

Let’s have a look first at a couple of border clues and solutions, and where better than

1 across and 13 across

1 ac Proverbial statement of relative solidarity (23 letters) BLOODISTHICKERTHANWATER (then black – symbol?) (grid reference x,y = 1,1)

13 ac Our team extended 1200 of the Romans (21 letters) MARYLEBONECRICKETCLUB (grid reference x,y = 25,1)

Translated to a 90×90 grid in this case we double everything but remain with just 2 across clues viz:


But the number of down clues has doubled!

Now your task becomes apparent in all its splendour, and your variations can be welcome if your design requires splits with additional clues/solutions in the space available.

Now we go to the middle of the show and Brian’s pièce de résistance!

185 ac Pooh’s reason for difficulty with this puzzle (45 letters)


Double that and you have the extent of the challenge from both above and below, but I hope, like Pooh, you’ll give it a shot! Remember you have all the potential solution lengths available to you in both Brian’s grid and the accompanying clue lists.

Happy puzzling! David Akenhead

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