Taking The Plunge   Leave a comment

Memories can be triggered by the unlikeliest of things, and so it was this weekend after our annual (actually just the second) Sloggers and Betters meeting in Macclesfield. Last year’s event was a great success, especially because of the musical entertainment on Friday evening, but Saturday felt a little anticlimactic. I was entirely sure why – the typical S&B format of small groups sitting at pub tables, chatting and solving crosswords has never left me feeling that something more was needed.

Anyway, something compelled me to think of adding an extra dimension to it, and a Q&A session seemed a good candidate; easy to organise, no extravagant resources needed. And it was brilliant. Tons of great questions, and a trio of panellists with enough variety of experience to give different angles in every answer. Selfishly I took over one question and asked my colleagues how they got started, because it’s something that always fascinated me. Once we’re ‘up and running’ as professional setters we have a lot in common in terms of what we do on a daily basis, but we have little or nothing in common in the days before we make that decision to set our first cryptic.

Yesterday evening, after bidding farewell to the last of the weekend’s guests, I had an odd, unbidden thought, even though it’s based on something I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. Namely, that there is a point at which the involvement with cryptic crosswords changes from a casual interest to a sort of relationship, a commitment. Like any relationship, you expect the ups and downs, the days when you don’t seem to get along with each other. If the relationship is strong enough, you give each other a bit of space and somehow come back into it with just that smidgin of extra determination to make it work.

As I begin writing this next bit, I’m still not sure exactly how I’m going to tie it in with crosswords, but last night I began to think about something. Not the relationship, but the build-up. You see, here’s the thing. I can look back on three specific relationships. One was an utter disaster which lasted only a month or so and, if I’m honest, I could hardly call a relationship. One was great and lasted about five years. The last of the three also lasted five years but, in retrospect, was probably wrong from the outset. They were very different in their nature, but what they had in common was around two years of a very gradual moving towards each other, which accelerated in the last month or so. Hindsight has allowed me to realise that I really don’t care about the relationships.

The very best times, despite the insecurity, fear, uncertainty, teenager-ish shyness… they were those brief periods before we actually got together. When we sort of knew we were in love with each other but didn’t want to say or do anything that might come across as jumping the gun. How easy it would be, before he/she gets on that bus, to gently touch the arm and say “Don’t go”. And ruin everything.

The main reason I’ve struggled to equate this to crossword setting is that my path into it was slightly unusual. I was desperate to escape a job I hated, partly because (bearing in mind I’d already joined The Times) it was hindering my progress to other newspapers. I can’t say that situation was unique, only that it probably isn’t the norm. Even getting onto The Times came about because a few people in the know told me I should do it, so I never had that terrifying experience of – equivalent example time – saying to her “I love you” and then just hoping for the best.

For most unpublished setters, I imagine there must be a huge fear of rejection; that, when one editor turns you down, it must be because you’re not good enough. All I can say is that if you’ve plucked up the courage to submit in the first place you have already overcome the worst fear. You really don’t need to think about that again. Go away, do some more work on your technique, send puzzles out to more/different test solvers, talk to the pros – you’ll find us surprisingly welcoming in that regard. Rejection is never pleasant, but it gives you better armour against the next.

Ultimately, I guess the relationship build-up period finds its match here. Eventually, if you can prove yourself, you’ll get in somewhere. Working for money will have its pleasures, of course, but never forget how and why you got there.

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Posted July 10, 2017 by Anax in Uncategorized

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