Words about crosswords

Sid is currently working on this puzzle and, with the help of dictionaries, thesauruses (thesauri?) and web resources he's pretty sure he'll have a possible solution soon.  The lack of intersecting across and down lights just adds to the challenge.  From the blog of Riannan, another crossword enthusiast.

Helen is diffident about her talents with words, so her husband (that's me, Sid) has taken over these pages to describe some of her achievements.

I used to do crosswords myself now and then, but when you live with someone like Helen, it starts to feel like playing Chopsticks in the presence of Sviatoslav Richter (see top of page).

Helen consumes cryptic crosswords like Pavarotti consumes pasta.  And because she has to fit her crossword times around her very busy scientific schedule, she needs to be fast and accurate.

It helps that she has some unusual innate (or maybe acquired, who knows?) gifts - like, for example, being instantly (literally) able to tell you how many letters are in a given word.

The story of her winning the 2006 Times Crossword Championship is here. Subsequently she was much in demand by the media, both broadcast and print. She was asked to attempt four Times cryptic puzzles - from 1936, 1956, 1976 and 1996 - and write about her experiences for the Times special games supplement at Christmas 2006. And a few of her reflections on life, Aberystwyth and crosswords can be found on the Mid-Wales section of the BBC website.

Helen may be quite good at solving cryptic crosswords, but she doesn't have a very systematic approach to the process and doesn't devote as much time to this interest as she'd often like. Others can write more authoritatively on the subject, and Helen especially recommends the website maintained by Peter Biddlecombe, the Times Championship winner in 2000, which includes a section about the Championship. He also has   blogs where he and others record their experiences with assorted cryptic puzzles, lists of crossword-related books and websites, and much useful info about solving.

For those who enjoy really esoteric cryptic crosswords, full of obscure words and sometimes composed around special - often topical - themes, try the Crossword Club, which produces a monthly magazine containing two challenging puzzles, letters, book reviews and other crossword-related competitions. The website is fairly rudimentary but the postal and e-mail addresses can be found there. The magazine itself is normally distributed by post and e-mail.

For the toughest puzzles, though (not for beginners or the faint-hearted), you need to try the Listener crossword, so-called because until the early 90s it was published in the now-defunct magazine of that name. The Times rescued it, and it's now available in the print edition of the Times and through membership of the Times crossword club online, which also gives access to the daily Times cryptic puzzle and a number of others, including the Times Literary Supplement crossword, the weekend jumbo and other specials, and a members-only monthly puzzle. The site is plagued with not-infrequent technical problems and has an extremely unsatisfactory bulletin board, but it's still worth the membership fee.

The Times crossword club also provides a feature called "Race the Clock", which allows solvers to test themselves against the Times concise (non-cryptic, definition-only) puzzle for that day. Helen usually does well at this when it's a fairly tough puzzle but can't compete with the speed typists on easy ones, being - on a good day - a two-fingers-and-a-fist kind of keyboard operator. Tony Sever, who won the Times Championship in 1981, has an entertaining blog describing his experiences with Race-the-Clock.

The Guardian similarly gives access to its puzzles online by subscription only. The Telegraph has a Crossword Society, linked from here. In each case a range of cryptic and non-cryptic puzzles and other features is available. You could end up spending a lot of time and money if you subscribe to several of these services - on the other hand, it's harmless, good for the brain muscles, and you might even win some nice prizes!

Helen has one major remaining crossword ambition: to win the competition in the fortnightly UK satirical magazine Private Eye. The puzzle's a good cryptic one. The prize is 100. And every clue, or answer - sometimes both - is positively foul-mouthed, obscene and/or libellous. What more could you want?