Anax – The Live Show? Testing the water…   5 comments

My dear friend Eric Westbrook sent me an email to ask if I had any plans to do a clue-writing course in the New Year, an idea which was vaguely mooted some time ago and which, I’m sorry to say, I’d sort of forgotten about.

It’s an attractive proposition but one I’m very nervous about, so I’m using this blog to sound out opinion. The most important question, of course, is ‘Would anyone turn up?’ There are further questions about what format such an event should take – it needs to be instructional and informative but it needs to be fun as well. So let’s start with a few questions, to which your answers are extremely welcome.

1) Would you come, and would you be happy to pay a cost-covering charge? I don’t anticipate payment myself, but the venue would cost and I’d like to offer refreshments – buffet, drinks.

2) Where? Birmingham seems ideal as it’s so central geographically. Then again, you could say London is more central demographically. I’m open to suggestions. As for the venue type, I’m not sure. A pub doesn’t seem particularly suitable – sufficient demand could result in unreasonable space requirements, pub rooms seldom have a “conference-friendly” shape, and extraneous noise also has the potential to foul things up.

3) What would we do? On its own, a talk about how cryptic clues work would be dry and mechanical, so how do we liven things up? A Q&A session would be good of course. A crossword to solve would be terrible… a room full of silent, deep-in-thought solvers has no appeal whatsoever. Some other interactive clue-writing exercise? All suggestions are welcome!

Going back to that question about whether or not people would turn up, I ask it because I find it rather difficult to imagine myself as a “draw” for solvers. Major players such as Don Manley, Roger Squires, John Graham, John Halpern, John Henderson are huge names with long-established reputations. Although I set for several newspapers I’m still the new guy on the block and I sense that the response to An Evening With Anax will be An Evening With Who?

So please do let me have your thoughts!

Talking of Eric Westbrook, I’m delighted to announce that the 1012 3D Crosswords Calendar is now on sale, raising money for Children in Need and RNIB. And yes, it’s got an Anax puzzle. Full details here:


Posted November 17, 2011 by Anax in Newsification

5 responses to “Anax – The Live Show? Testing the water…

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  1. Dean

    I have done something similar, but on a very small scale – delivered to a few colleagues at work. It wasn’t intended to teach peopke how to clue; it was a solving course. Light-hearted clues, open format to allow questions, and a prize crossword at the end procured a decent amount of praise from my co-workers.

    I would not recommend a pub, as they can be noisy and difficult to lay out appropriately. What about a golf club or bowling club function room, which you may get free if they think bar and possibly food sales would compensate?

    I’m sure with your experience and knowledge, the course would be far from dry.


  2. I’d come. Am happy with either Birmingham or London. Maybe, depending on numbers, give a few words to clue, then try and work in groups to work out different clue types eg CD, container, charade, acrostic etc and then present results against other groups after a while. Thereby people get an insight into other setters’ thought processes. Was also thinking in terms of games. Something like the game where you have a word/character on your head and have to guess it. Maybe set each other clues to the names.
    What I would really love would be some sort of guidance for how to get a job setting for a publication, any leads, tips, contacts etc.

    You might want to alert people on COW to this, you may get a good response.

    Happy to pay also.

  3. I’d be interested, particularly if it was in London. Birmingham not impossible.

    I agree that some interactive/group sessions would be interesting and I’d also be fascinated to learn how the professional side of the business works.

  4. I’m trying to consider these questions and understand your reticence.Let’s do the easy one first.

    2) Both Birmingham or London are well appointed geographically. Looking previously at the trains to Derby from Kent they are not so bad either (if booked in advance) so London toDerby is not a problem (about 1hr40).
    Regarding venue I would say it would depend on the objectives. A pub (whilst there are nothing wrong with them!) could be too intrusive as suggested. There might also be the chance of an inevitable slide into a S&B Beer-a-thon which would not be conducive to a structured course. I like Loonapick’s idea of an e.g. Sport/social club with facilities that can privide refreshments but not necessarily at the same time.

    1) I personally would come and would be happy to pay a charge for the venue/food and your time too. Although there would likely be a lot of solving experience (and some setting/clue writing experience I guess) in the audience you would still be hosting and adding the ‘pro’ perspective with all that this entails (greater understanding of the process is the least of it!). Your time should be paid assuming it is a content driven learning experience (i.e NOT an S&B!)

    3) What do we talk about?. Crumbs!. I would say that the first thing to do is target the audience (as I am sure that you have). The back page of the DT always has courses for Bridge advertised for absolute beginners, intermediate and advanced. I am guessing that your ideas are leaning towards the latter two as there are boos available for learning and you don;t necessarily want to sart with the question “What is a cryptic crossword”.
    I recently attended an Advanced course where the attendees were polled via email on their preferred subject matter and a series of informal/pre-prepared modules were given in response. It was reasonably fluid; if the consensus was that the subject deserved more time then the topic was discussed in more detail – easy with 6 people but not with 30!. I would suggest that certain bullet point topics were offered e.g. Review of common types with good examples, Xim/Lib differences with good examples (these two might be dry but can be short and sweet!), Setting (style and review for common errors) and grid fill (I have been trying and can’t even approach a grid without fear, trepidation and ultimately frustration!). This section could be as big or as small as people required but subject matter might be tricky.
    A Q&A might be fun but should be time-minded else it rambles over the rest of the afternoon. This might include some clue writing tasks. I hesitate to say the Bullshit Bingo Word of Brainstorming but that is effectively the task. Peraps Blue Sky Thinking (Ugh!)

    Finally – Are you a ‘Draw’. I would say yes. The Indy/FT 255 presence is well known and very well appreciated as far as I can see, the Elkamere in the Toughie seems to be going down very well and the Time experience, whilst anonymous, has a considerable draw given some particular puzzles (I am thinking Tim Moorey’s book for example). Problem is there are a limited number (although we all hope increasing) of these people. Only good for a couple of gigs!
    It’s difficult to judge the draw factor outside of the Crozzy community – anyone might struggle to get newbies in on a learn about it course but the success of this is marketing I suppose.

    Shall I stop rambling now? Hope that helps at least in crystallising some thoughts.

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