If I tell you that my other hobby is buses—hence three of my other pseudonyms as a crossword compiler: Anorak, Busman and Gozo—you will then have a flavour of the man. Which other compiler can claim to have written the Malta Bus Handbook? Why do I keep print copies of all my published puzzles, just in case someone wants a complete collection? Why do I possess every copy of Buses magazine since April 1961?
Individual compilers in the more recent past have influenced the development of the British crossword. From July 1971, the Spectator’s Jac (John Adelmare Caesar) single-handedly presented his own challenging thematic cryptic puzzles. Jac’s innovative approach was to offer a puzzle with “unclued lights” (solutions without clues) which solvers had to work out from the intersecting clued solutions in the grid, along with the cryptic help of the title. The Spectator continues to offer puzzles true to Jac’s style. Mass (Harold Massingham) and I (as Doc) were invited to join Jac in 1981. I now edit the series, too, with Columba (Antico in the Oldie), Dumpynose, Lavatch and Mr Magoo being the other team-members. Alec Robins (Custos in the Guardian, Zander in the Listener and as half of the Everyman series in the Observer) wrote the ground-breaking Teach Yourself Crosswords in 1975 which explained the appeal of and frustration of the British cryptic. Jonathan Crowther, as Azed in the Observer, succeeded Ximenes and has continued the tradition every Sunday since 1971. John Graham, as Araucaria in the Guardian and Cinephile in the Financial Times, broke away from the strict Ximenean rules to create his personal style, pushing the boundaries of cluing in cryptic puzzles, now carried on, especially, by his protégés John Henderson (Enigmatist) and John Halpern (Paul).
Compiling is dependent on the difficulty, style and standard of each puzzle. Most newspapers have a stock of standard grids for compilers to use. Other series (the Generalist in Prospect is among these) have no standard patterns and the compiler is free to devise the grid as they wish. When compiling the Generalist, I will always have decided on an interesting, arcane, archaic or amusing word or phrase to start off with and the grid evolves as I build up interlocking and cross-checking solutions. Sometimes I may hide a message in the puzzle. I did so in the October 2013 issue to commemorate the birth of my granddaughter. I always complete the grid before starting the cluing—though it may well be that a few of the solutions (especially in a cryptic puzzle) have been included because I have already dreamt up a “good” clue for them.
Cryptic crossword vocabulary has to be learnt. Everyday words adopt a wholly new meaning in clues—a river is a “flower,” in other words, something which “flows,” or it could be a “banker” as it has “banks”; a “topless gown” would lead to the solution “own,” because the initial letter has to be discarded.