Before the Internet, cryptic crosswords inhabited an arcane and mysterious world populated by pedestal-mounted Latin scholars, and it’s fantastic that the old myths have been swept away. Contrary to those myths, we setters are actually a pretty normal bunch of gals and guys. Only a small percentage of us have beards; I’m almost certain none of the gals do.
Through forums and blogs we now inhabit an open world in which solvers and setters exchange ideas, tips, experiences, even the occasional mild expletive. The secrets are out and, of course, we want to use the medium to bring even more of us together, to share the love. Instructional gatherings are part of that, and a couple of setters have bravely ventured into it.
Perhaps inevitably, I’ve been asked if I would consider doing the same, but it’s not for me. Let’s put aside the fact that I just don’t see myself as a public speaker, or able to formulate and script such a thing. I’m jealous of those who can.
No, I just don’t believe I have the right to tell people how to construct clues, and in that belief I’m backed up by simple arithmetic. It is very difficult to identify precisely how many active cryptic setters there are, but it will be in the hundreds so let’s pluck an arbitrary figure of 300. Each of us is different in terms of style and approach to working, and for each of us (all being well and equal) we have 1 solver in 300 for whom our work is ideally suited. For the other 299 my clues might be impenetrable, too easy, too hard or just rubbish. Who am I to tell them that, in reality, that 1 person in 300 has got it right and that my way of doings things should be followed by the other 299? It’s nonsense.
That takes me back to the formulation and scripting, and why I couldn’t do it. To my mind the only way of doing the job correctly is to cover every style from loose Libertarian to extreme Ximenean, and that is a vast amount of information; almost entirely technical, horrifically dull and, perhaps worst, repeatedly contradictory.
I’ll stick to what I’ve got, and just keep doing what I do – hopefully never changing – for that minuscule corner of the market whose expectations match mine. Going on a crusade to convert everyone else is fanciful and selfish, especially as I want every other setter out there to have their equal share of solvers.