Chris Philpot TV Production & Digital Marketing

Never a Cross Word

Originally published on my personal blog on the 11th of January 2014.

Do you have a few spare minutes to while away this weekend? If so, I heartily recommend pitting your wits against the following crossword puzzle. It was constructed by George Barany, chemistry professor at the University of Minnesota and crossword compiler extraordinaire, as part of #PuzzlesLive, an online event organised by the team behind the iOS crossword app Puzzazz. If you have the app, you can even complete the puzzle on your phone or tablet via this special Puzzazz link; alternatively, right click on the image below and select ‘Print’ if you're happiest solving with a biro in your grasp.

Rather than standard straight clues or conventional cryptic clues, this unusual crossword boasts clues in two forms: puns, where the clue is a playfully worded definition of the answer; and anagrams, where one half of the clue is a synonym of a word or phrase which can be constructed from the letters in the remaining words in the clue. Once you've grappled with it for long enough, read on for a link to the solution – and plenty of spoilers!

Puzzazz #PuzzlesLive crossword puzzle number 15, compiled by George Barany.
Image source: Puzzazz. Published under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence.

I've been a fan of cryptic crosswords since my early teens, when I read an article called “How to Solve 'The Times' Crossword” on the website h2g2 – a sort of forerunner to Wikipedia that used to be hosted and curated by the BBC, until their online budget was slashed. I digress: it is solely that article which I have to thank for helping me to see how these seemingly indecipherable sentences could possibly be translated into a recognisable word or phrase. The notion that each clue was in fact two clues, with one half defining the answer and the other half alluding to it through wordplay, suddenly made sense.

The Sun newspaper is famous for its third page, but it was the puzzle page for which I bought it for several years. When I was learning how to solve cryptic crossword clues in the wild, their Two-Speed crosswords were a great help. Each grid came with two sets of clues, one straight and one cryptic, but each with the same solution. This meant that if I got stuck on a cryptic clue, I could look at the straight clue to work out the answer, and then return to the cryptic clue knowing which half was the definition. I've since graduated to the i paper, but a good crossword puzzle remains a staple of my day. I particularly enjoyed solving the one above, for reasons which will become readily apparent.

It seems an arrogant thing to say, but I really like my name. And why not? I've only got one of them, so I may as well come to enjoy it. (Please also see my previous post about the origins of the surname Philpot.) The only level on which my name is perhaps a little disappointing is its disproportionate ratio of consonants to vowels, which limits its potential for wordplay… well, at least beyond puerile nicknames that shan't be published on my personal website any time soon!

On New Year's Eve, after one too many alcoholic beverages to remember how alcohol makes me witter, I was chatting with a friend about how I'd like to the subject of a crossword puzzle, just to see how my name would be clued. The following day, I saw a tweet from Puzzazz detailing their #PuzzlesLive challenge, in which members of the public could ask expert compilers to build a puzzle concealing a word or phrase of their choice. And so, if you'll pardon my egotism, I challenged Puzzazz to construct a crossword containing my name. With George's help, they delivered.

I hadn't considered splitting my name across multiple solutions, with each syllable clued individually. If you look at the grid again you'll notice that there are two runs of shaded squares: the first five cells (a.k.a. “lights”) of the nine-letter word at 8 across, and seven cells spanning the whole of the four letter word at 19 across and the three adjacent cells at the start of 20 across. George has cleverly highlighted the first five letters of (spoilers!) CHRISTMAS in the third row of the grid, and then PHIL/POTPOURRI further down. I consider that a challenge completed with aplomb!

You can learn more about the puzzle above, including the thinking behind its construction, on George Barany's website. Thoughtfully, George has also provided an annotated solution with links to more information about many of the answers. Many thanks to George and Puzzazz for fulfilling my bizarre (and less than selfless!) request.

I can't claim to be much of a cruciverballist, but here's a final, bonus clue for all involved:

Regularly encircle townies for informal congratulations (4,3)

(The answer? Taking the ‘regular’ letters in “encircle townies” gives nice one, which is my informal way of saying “Thank you”!)