When you’re having fun with words, anything is possible: Paul’s Create a Crossword Tour 2013… the story so far

What would life be like if it were the norm to play games with words, every day? Like when we hear a funny joke, or see a great newspaper headline brilliantly playing on words, when words become our playthings we can’t wait to tell people about what we’ve seen or heard, and to share the fun.

This is what is happening as a result of all the great efforts of word lovers across the country and beyond. New friendships are being formed, a fresh excitement about playing with words is being created, and we’re having a whole lot of laughs too!

It’s just the beginning of a year of celebrations for the crossword. From 2014 onward, we’ll all be seeing words in a totally new light, as we create new word-loving communities, having fun together.

We decided to begin this journey with the idea of a tour around the country, so this is the story of one week of my crossword travels to many great locations around the country (cities and towns below).

In the following eight posts, you can read all about the whole tour, location by location, and have a go at the puzzles we created together. You can either read the whole article or choose a location from the list below.

The Brighton Puzzle Story

The Bristol Puzzle Story

The Dorset Puzzle Story (Poole)

The Oxford Puzzle Story

The Shropshire Puzzle Story (Shrewsbury)

The Liverpool Puzzle Story

The Manchester Puzzle Story

The London Puzzle Story

Start of the tour and how the tour works

This is where it all begins – The ‘Create a Crossword Tour, 2013’.

This is the first chapter of our story, the story of what crosswords can cause locally, nationally, and across the world.

Heading out of Brighton I’m on my way at the start of a big adventure.

Awaiting me around the country is an extraordinary team of crossword-loving friends around the country, who have kindly invited me to their localities to play a crossword game.

These great people have given up their free time, and pulled out all the stops to ensure there is a hired space every night of the seven-stop tour.

Each local community of word lovers will be creating a crossword all about their local city or county, and sharing all the things about their area they love the most. And agreements in newspapers across the country are already in place to publicise the tour, and to publish the puzzles we create. You can also download and attempt the puzzles from crosswordcentenary.com

The format of the crossword events simply consists of:

  1. Brainstorming loads of words about the guests’ favourite city.
  2. Fitting many of them into a grid, and then filling up the rest of the grid together, working as a team.
  3. Writing clues together, with only a few being cryptic (as not everyone can solve cryptic crosswords – yet) the rest of the clues being of the straight variety.

Here’s a great film produced by Jonathan Hall of the Liverpool puzzle evening:

http://vimeopro.com/user14251946/create-a-crossword

Thank you – and what’s next….

Thank you so much to all those who hosted our wonderful events, to all those who pressed the local press relentlessly, and above all to my guests who attended our shows.

For those of you who weren’t able to make it, or simply weren’t aware of the tour, DON’T WORRY. Please just subscribe to crosswordcentenary.com to receive news of further events during the year. I intend to do more tours later in the year, and I’d love the opportunity to meet you.

But for the moment, this is the end of the tour. Back home to Brighton, my lovely wife Taline and our beautiful baby Aram.

This is only the beginning. This is the beginning of a movement that will bring fun with words to the world. I’d love you to join in. Do stay in touch, because….

Further down the line we shall be forming teams, founding word-lovers’ clubs, some may open word game cafes, with a puzzle provided every morning for clients to solve. Others will simply enjoy the process of creating puzzles among themselves; with family and friends, about all the things they love. A football-based puzzle, a birders’ puzzle; a puzzle written by and about one’s family…  There couldn’t be a better opportunity to share what’s important to you, and to learn about what’s important to friends and family we love.

It’s about connection. It’s about friendship.

Subscribe to crosswordcentenary.com to find out what’s happening next.

And spread the word.

Much love and respect,

John Halpern (aka Paul)

The Brighton Puzzle Story

A couple of weeks before our tour, we’d tested the format in my home city of Brighton.

At the lovely Jane ‘Bombane’s’ restaurant in George Street, Jane, a great friend and crossword fanatic was kind enough to offer her downstairs space, in which she hosts inspiring events throughout the year.

It soon became clear on beginning the show that we were onto a winner. People were immediately being creative, and enjoying juggling letters, seeing magic in everyday words they’d never seen before.

And much like people in parks get talking when walking their dogs, crosswords are simply providing the access to communication.  They’re getting people talking, relaxing, and connecting. The great food helps too, and Jane is also a brilliant host, popping round to each table, offering assistance and a smile to all our guests. I’ve had so much fun, and can’t wait to start the tour.

Here is a link to an article in Brighton’s Argus

http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/10103351.Get_cross_with_Brighton_words/

And here is the puzzle for you to try!

The Brighton Puzzle

Day 1: The Bristol Puzzle Story, Monday Feb 4, 2013

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Our host is Kaz Pasiecznik, what a guy – he is a crossword tutor and accountant, in that order, and has brought 43 people to a café in Bristol on a Monday night – some feat. A new friend for me too.

There is a buzz from start to finish, and the Bristol Puzzle is complete. Almost everyone in the room has written a clue for the first time, and everyone is feeling pretty good about life.

Here’s some coverage in Bristol:

http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/crossword-setter-John-Halpern-visits-Bristol/story-17938642-detail/story.html#axzz2M1Vonvv2

And here is the puzzle for you to try!

The Bristol Puzzle

Day 2: The Dorset Puzzle Story (Poole), Tuesday Feb 5, 2013

Durdle Door

Our amiable host Ken Beveridge has worked hard to rouse the local community, and a smaller-than-Bristol, but equally enthusiastic, band arrives at The Cow, Parkstone in Poole.

Some words from Ken:

‘It may be a little known fact that 2013 is the 100th anniversary of the crossword. The very first crossword was published in the Comic Section of the New York World, created by an English journalist, Arthur Wynne, and published on 21 December 1913.

To celebrate the occasion, John Halpern, a noted crossword setter with The Guardian, The Independent, The Times and The Financial Times, is touring the country, telling crossword related anecdotes and helping solvers create a crossword puzzle relating to whichever part of the country in which he finds himself.

His tour arrived at Poole on Tuesday, 5th  February and his talk took place in The Cow in Ashley Cross. The guests really enjoyed  this unique crossword creation experience.

The participants came up with over 30 words which, to them, were reminiscent or peculiar to Dorset. Suggestions ranged from Durdle Door to Corfe Castle; Harry Redknapp to Sandbanks. None of which made it in to the final grid. Many more did however.

Once enough words were recorded, they were then inserted where possible in to the selected grid. Apparently there are innumerable grids to choose from – the group had a choice of two.

John went on to explain the intricacies of finding words to fill in some of the spaces created by our proposed words; mainly by the use of some extremely clever computer software.

Once the grid was completed each person there was asked to set clues for two or three of the words using both cryptic and easy clues. There were more than a few very clever, very witty and very funny suggestions. My favourite was an anagram for Cerne Abbas Giant – Big Erect Bananas!!

After an enthralling two hours a complete Dorset themed crossword was produced.’

Thank you so much to Ken, and also to his son Stuart for producing a brilliant tour poster. Furthermore, Ken also got me an interview on Radio Solent the morning before the Poole event. I popped in to the BBC’s Radio Bristol studios – for I’d still been in Bristol early that morning – to talk about fun with crosswords, oblivious to the fact that Solent’s listeners had been playing crossword games all morning on the show, and had written clues for me to solve LIVE! Gosh, I’m really not the best solver in the world, so it was a bit of a concern (!)  but the livewire presenter Julian Clegg thankfully gave me _ R _ C _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _T to start. I forget the clue, but the definition described someone who loves crosswords. Got it? Cruciverbalist!

And here is the puzzle for you to try!

The Dorset Puzzle

Day 3: The Oxford Puzzle Story, Wednesday Feb 6, 2013

Bridge of Sighs

Oxford Mail article: http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/10184406.Mark_ups_and_downs_of_crossword_history/

Kim Osmond is a total delight. The zesty Oxford jazz singer showed up at Oxford station after a long day, and muttering mild, yet entertaining oaths at the wayward student cyclists en route, we arrived at the Cape of Good Hope pub on the Iffley Road. The din of the kitchen staff behind us wasn’t going to stop us enjoying making friends and having fun.

And here is the puzzle for you to try!

The Oxford Puzzle

Day 4: The Shropshire Puzzle Story, Thursday Feb 7, 2013

Ironbridge

Well, guess what, my big sis set this one up. She’s always been great at putting on a party, though one such left more than one cigarette burn on our piano.  Here are some words from Alison:

‘My brother John lives and breathes crosswords, so when an email popped up buzzing with amazing ideas to promote this year’s crossword centenary I was easily persuaded (as a solver myself) to host an event in Shrewsbury.

Despite assurances that the only requirements were tea, coffee and a copious supply of rubber-ended pencils, I felt compelled to rustle up (with the aid of sous-chef Cathy, an avid Paul fan), some chocolate brownies and butterfly cakes. Most of these were wolfed down by John on the night. I think he had been so frantically busy with events and editing that he had forgotten to eat that week!

By 7.30 a dozen or so like-minded people had turned up at Joseph Hayes Opticians (subtle plug!!) to meet the bu**er responsible for setting the devious cryptics they had been struggling with, obviously delighted to put a name to a face.

We had just settled down with steaming mugs, raring to go, when the Shropshire Star reporter arrived, wanting a photo of us with the “ideas” board (the places, people, landmarks etc in Shropshire that were important to us). So we all madly threw ideas out so that the poor man could get home for his supper. After that John reverted to plan A and gave us all a fascinating insight into how his marvellously warped mind works, always looking for the anagram or wordplay in everything he sees and hears. I think we were all astounded at the speed he can work out clues. Then, settling on the words we all felt essential to the essence of Shropshire (I really, really wanted Grope Lane included, but it was sadly too obscure), and choosing the grid that was best suited to word length we all chose a word to create a cryptic clue for. Great fun and exciting to have our work marked by the master himself! Finally, with gentle but firm guidance from John the grid was filled in with our cryptic creations and completed with normal words and quick clues. We had done it! The Shropshire Puzzle had a little bit of each of us in it and we all went home greatly inspired and happy to have done our little bit to spread the joys of crosswords.

A huge thank you to John for his incredibly hard work in making all these events across the country possible. More please!!’

And here is the puzzle for you to try!

The Shropshire Puzzle

Day 5: The Liverpool Puzzle Story, Friday Feb 8, 2013

The Liver Building

Just by all the publicity below, you can tell Liverpool was a little bit special. Of course, you could argue it is THE home of the crossword, what with Arthur Wynne, the first published setter, being from the city. But it also had two marvellous and delightful crossword fans as hosts, Alan Maycock, who worked tirelessly and did brilliantly to get maximum publicity from the Liverpool Echo, and Sue Taylor, energetic and dynamic and able to bring together a fine body of word-loving fans.

Some words from Sue:

‘8th Feb. Friday. 5 o`clock. List: white card, black markers, blu-tak, grid copies, sharp pencils (with rubbers), Thursday`s four-page Echo Crossword Supplement (thanks to Arthur Wynne being a Scouser and brig`s research and persistence) and a brother. Check. Drive.
 
The Belvedere Snug – fire glowing, John-`Paul` glowing. People gathering, cameras snapping, introductions made. Glasses raised. Arachne`s here with Nick, nescio`s made it. All in. Very `snuggly.`
 ”Got a grid, got a pencil? Yes? Let`s go.”  
JP defines the purpose of his tour. We`re a perfect audience. Hand-picked. Welcoming, warm, witty. He is inspiring.
 
 ”So… which words are important to Liverpudlians?”
 
John (at times, decodes The Accent and) scribes:
 
“Liver Birds!”
 ”Mersey?”
“Everton.”
“Pier Head.”
“Royal Iris.”
“Bessie Braddock?”
“Edge Hill.”
“The Belvedere”
“Justice.”  Murmured, thoughtful unanimity on this.
 
We select ten from dozens of suggestions and each is duly ringed, ready for the grid.
“Such and such will fit at 1 across…”  
“That`ll give us dinkydink at 3 down…” Lots of laughs, intent pencilling, a bit of rubbing out.
Time races. Software to fill the gaps we`re left with.
 
(Mr Halpern says that `arseholes` would fit at 22 across. “Ooooh, Sir!”  I`m  uncharacteristically all for it and blame the Guinness.)
 
Grid filled. Top-up break.  Clustering locals in the bar want to know have we “nearly effin` finished”  but they`re smiling. Ish.
“Nearly. Just the clues to do.”  
 
JUST the clues. I can`t clue. Too new. Everyone else can. Does.  Wonderfully.
 
8:35 pm :  ”The Liverpool Crossword is complete!” Cheers and whoops and  applause all round. We`ve had a ball.
And Tyrus has arrived … it`s a Three-Setter Thrill. And the night`s still young…

Articles in the Liverpool Echo, plus the video of the show:

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-communities/toxteth-dingle/toxteth-dingle-news/2013/02/08/crossword-centenary-celebration-to-mark-invention-by-liverpool-journalist-100252-32769637/

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2013/02/14/crossword-inventor-remembered-in-his-home-city-of-liverpool-100252-32806303/

http://vimeopro.com/user14251946/create-a-crossword

And here is the puzzle for you to try!

The Liverpool Puzzle

Day 6: The Manchester Puzzle, Saturday Feb 9, 2013

Manchester Town Hall

Manchester was great, because we had a great location in the Anthony Burgess Museum, suggested by a great friend Nigel Stonier, but I messed up a bit with not having someone on the ground to pull in the crowds. Nevertheless, a small but intimate group produced a fabulous crossword, and the Manchester Evening News were great too in giving it pretty good coverage, including publishing the puzzle itself. To date, the finished puzzles have been published in the Manchester, and also in Brighton’s Argus, the Shropshire Star and the Liverpool Echo.

Here is a link to an article in the Manchester Evening News:

Manchester Evening News article

Here is the puzzle for you to try!

The Manchester Puzzle

Day 7: The London Puzzle, Sunday Feb 10, 2013

The Thames and Westminster

Nearly home! I lived in London for fifteen years before marrying a Brighton girl in 2011, and it seemed appropriate to be invited by the dynamic duo of Francesca E. and Virginia P. to host the last date of our tour at their splendid home in North London.

Here are some words from Francesca:

‘John Halpern – aka cryptic crossword super-setter Paul from the Guardian – has been doing his bit to publicise the centenary of the publication of the first cryptic crossword. His year of celebration events kicked off in style with the mass creation of a London-themed cryptic crossword. Twenty crossword fanatics of all ages gathered in North London, delighted to meet one of the crossword legends of our time. The challenge was to create a brand new cryptic crossword where nearly all the words referred to London themes or attractions – in just two hours. It was hard to believe he could pull it off, but indeed he did. The finished product included the words Tate Modern, Great Fire, Shard, Tower, Boris Bike, Big Ben, Harrods, Eros, Old Bailey and Mind The Gap, – and even got in a reference to wombling (although sadly not Wimbledon Common). Participants explained the captivating lure of the cryptic crossword, and why they braved the snow to get there. These complex puzzles, once mastered, provide delight for a lifetime. John’s year of events can be found at crosswordcentenary.com – if you’ve always wanted to do the cryptic crossword, this is your big chance’.

And here is the puzzle for you to try!

The London Puzzle

Thank you so much to all those who hosted our wonderful events, to all those who pressed the local press relentlessly, and above all to my guests who attended our shows.

For those of you who weren’t able to make it, or simply weren’t aware of the tour, DON’T WORRY. Please just subscribe to crosswordcentenary.com to receive news of further events during the year. I intend to do more tours later in the year, and I’d love the opportunity to meet you.

But for the moment, this is the end of the tour. Back home to Brighton, my lovely wife Taline and our beautiful baby Aram.

This is only the beginning. This is the beginning of a movement that will bring fun with words to the world. I’d love you to join in. Do stay in touch, because….

Further down the line we shall be forming teams, founding word-lovers’ clubs, some may open word game cafes, with a puzzle provided every morning for clients to solve. Others will simply enjoy the process of creating puzzles among themselves; with family and friends, about all the things they love. A football-based puzzle, a birders’ puzzle; a puzzle written by and about one’s family…  There couldn’t be a better opportunity to share what’s important to you, and to learn about what’s important to friends and family we love.

It’s about connection. It’s about friendship.

Subscribe to crosswordcentenary.com to find out what’s happening next.

And spread the word.

Much love and respect,

John Halpern (aka Paul)

 

 

Mudd Revisited January 26, 2013

Memories. I had one once – but where did I put it?

Anyhow, poster Sil mentioned that a clue for Claret seemed familar. Not to me! I’m sure, however, we write the same clue twice in the same month sometimes, and also we submit our puzzles to the newspaperrs’ crossword editors some time in advance, usually months, perhaps a year. It is inevitable that puzzles written a year apart, with similar clues, get published a week apart.

Oh, and sometimes we simply get it wrong, and carelessly use an anagram indictaor twice in the same puzzle, or an initials idea, or whatever. I wish sometimes I weren’t human – being a raccoon looks fun, and I’d get to sniff round others’ bins all day. Right up my street.

Some setters have filing systems for clues. I don’t. Perhaps I should. But perhaps then I’d lose the essence of why I went into this business in the first place. It wasn’t for the money, nor for the screaming groupies. I love playing with words, and starting from scratch the world seems full of possibility – and that’s both fun and inspiring.

Very briefly, in this puzzle, I think I may actually have written a good clue! It’s rare one looks back and says, ‘gosh, that was ok’, but:

‘English shrub so thorny? (8)’ for ROSEBUSH, almost seems like it was written by a pro! I must be improving.

Have a great day,

John Halpern (Mudd)