Monday, 14 March 2011

A Display Of Lights (9)

Val Gilbert

You've got to have a system. I can't imagine going through life without one: simply 'buying' books when I decide to buy them, and 'reading' them when I decide to read them? It's implausible, to say the least.

Having said that, I don't think systems necessarily help; they're just a lot of fun. In fact, if you completely reinvent your system every few months as I do, you're most likely making yourself far less efficient. But: fun.

The last couple of years, my reading has been largely dependent on serendipity. Book fairs, vouchers, spur-of-the-moments and heartfelt recommendations have taken me, non-linear and unshaven, to strange and inconsistent places.

The latest system is a reaction to that. Book-buying was frozen as of 1st January 2011; the To Be Read shelf was edited/pruned/decimated; the rejects were carried (pallbeared) to the nearest Oxfam; the survivors stand in line, waiting to be devoured.

(Once the survivors are gone, I will return to the new favourites the last two years of exploration have unearthed, and a few older favourites, read new works by each and every, discover what my taste actually involves.)

I'm working through the surviors now, and they are a strange breed. They are books I have bought over the last couple of years but never read, but, come crunch-time, they are the ones too interestiong or enticing to be dismissed. They are books like A Display Of Lights (9), an enthusiast's biography of the six most influential cryptic crossword setters in the history of The Daily Telegraph.

When I call the author an enthusiast, I don't mean he is an amateur -- only that he loves his subject and ends many, many sentences with exclamation marks! Val Gilbert (!) was in fact Crossword Editor at the Telegraph  for 30 years, and a good number of the select six he writes about were colleagues of his at some time or other. But it is the cryptic crossword, not its setters, that is his real passion.

And who can blame him? Take this (apparently contraversial) gem from Douglas Barnard:

Burns 'em in boxes (8)

Cremates! 'em in boxes = EM in CRATES = CREMATES = burns 'em in boxes!

It turns out you can't write about crptics without getting enthusiastic. I will leave you with two items:

1. The title of the book is itself a cryptic clue, and the answer is, unfathomably, CROSSWORD. Answers on a postcard.

2. I made my friend a cryptic crossword for his last birthday, and here is my favourite clue: Be agile without me, I'm a dog (6) Can you answer?


  1. Hmmm. You have me stumped on that question, "Be agile without me, I'm a dog".

  2. Beagle [be agile minus i (me) = beagle qed)
    But I really don't get
    A display of lights = crossword
    Any thoughts?