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Donkin's World: Tickety Boo

Author and Journalist Richard Donkin is convinced that crossword compilers occupy a world of their own, cloaked in their own thoughts and imagery drawn from gentler days.

Do please visit Richard's well-stocked Web site

Details of his book Blood, Sweat and Tears which is acclaimed world-wide can be found here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Sweat-Tears-Evolution-Work/dp/1587990768/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214554429&sr=1-2

Crossword compilers are a funny lot. I think that mostly they must sit in darkened rooms and live in the Isle of Man, http://www.iomguide.com/ or possibly Southwold, without television. They seem to occupy a space in time at least thirty years behind the rest of us.

For example, when was the last time you described yourself as "tickety boo?" Yet this was the answer to "six down" in today's Daily Telegraph crossword. Funnily enough it appeared also in a DT crossword just three days earlier (eight down, Saturday). Coincidence or plagiarism? I suspect the former since the crosswords will be submitted well in advance.

It is nevertheless typical of the archaic phrases beloved of compilers. You would never find modern street idiom here, more the language used in Ealing comedies. When did you last call a cabinet a "closet" (two down)? It was a word popularly used by my Auntie Joyce when I was a child, but it's no longer in common usage today.

Beyond crosswords the only time I have noticed old fashioned English phrases in print has been when reading Indian newspapers where, typically, an evasive government minister, might be described in a report as "beating about the bush."

In Telegraph crosswords I can't recall seeing any words that reflect the world of the new media, such as "emoticon," or "avatar" or "webcam" or even "blog." Perhaps there is an assumption, rightly or wrongly, that to include such words would befuddle half of the newspaper's readership. But what about the younger readers who might not even possess a suit, never mind entertain the prospect of getting in to their "glad rags" (28 across)?

I never saw the crossword compilers at the FT but came across one or two at the Yorkshire Post. One of them, a refined-looking woman, would glide in to the office wearing a cloak, rather like the model in the Scottish Widows advertisement who looks far too young to be widowed. Except the compiler was older and looked more like a spinster (again a rarely used word today but perfect crossword fodder). On reflection I suppose the comparison fails, apart from the cloak, although the YP compiler didn't wear a hood either.

But here she is http://www.scottishwidows.co.uk/about_us/who_we_are/calendar_2008-08.html working on that Saturday clue: Mark to obey disconcertingly! That is satisfactory (7-3). Or was it today's clue: Fine cook Betty, I fancy 7-3)?

Anyway it left me with a lasting impression that crossword compilers occupy a world of their own, cloaked in their own thoughts and imagery drawn from gentler days. I wonder if they mix much?

There are times I feel so angry about a badly framed clue that I would be quite happy to drag the compiler before a firing squad. Yet sometimes an elegant clue such as eight down today - "this might produce fir cone(7)" (conifer) - leaves me breathless with admiration.

I dislike those who use such obscure words that I suspect are also unknown to the compiler. Compilers who resort to such behaviour should be dismissed without references.

Yet I doubt whether most newspaper editors ever pay much attention to their crosswords. Yes, they know that the crossword is a "must have" but do they realise just how significant they are - that the crossword is a vital feature in retaining readership? Had I cared about the FT crossword I might not have cancelled my subscription. http://www.richarddonkin.com/blog/2008/07/no-commentno-ft.html


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