About the Bloggers
Chris Lancaster – 37, tall, sets under the pseudonym of Samuel
I have been doing The Listener crossword on and off (mainly off) since I was about 16. I am now slightly older, and finally have a lot of time on my hands to devote to this beauty and others like it. In its honour, I created the Crossword Database (sorry about the plug). I try and complete The Listener, Inquisitor and Enigmatic Variations every week, with about a 90% success rate (which translates into a 0.1% prize rate). Unfortunately, Crossword magazine and Magpie demand more time than even I have. I treat all these puzzles like treasure hunts where, well not to put too fine a point on it, anything goes in trying to get to the elusive pot of gold … except of course asking someone else. I have no qualms about using Bradford’s or Chambers Crossword Dictionaries or about Googling whatever seems appropriate. I’m hoping that doing a Listener blog every few weeks and an EV blog every third week (at Fifteensquared) will improve my powers of recall which old(ish) age is beginning to hack away at.
On the non-crosswording front I play golf and tinker with computery stuff. I grew up with William Hartnell’s Doctor Who and Monty Python, but feel at home in the 21st century with David Tennant’s Doctor (and now Matt Smith), Little Britain (and now Fly With Me) and the League of Gentlemen (and now Psychoville).
Charles and Shirley
We are the Junior 8 x 8 coffee time easy clues team, a nuclear physicist (CERN) married to a ski-instructress cum language teacher who speaks lots of languages (mostly badly). The name comes from the Two Ronnies sketch which aptly illustrates our method of bungling through Listener crosswords – usually barking up the wrong creek without an iron – so to speak. We live up in the mountains above Geneva. Shirley sets (your teeth on edge – probably because of their simplicity) under the pseudonym Chalicea. We only recently rose to the heights of attempting the Listener.
I was born in Belfast (Sept 1952), bred in Surbiton, Surrey (from 1956) and with a degree in Chemistry from Leeds University (1974) worked for nearly 30 years in electronic ceramics based in North Hertfordshire. In 2003, my job went to Chennai and I opted to retire and remain in Hitchin, on the eastern edge of the Chilterns. Retirement has not meant the absence of work; I run a Residents’ Association, do some gardening and then there are all these crosswords.
My crossword career started with the back page of the London Evening News circa 1960, I have fond memories of the Sunday Express Skeleton and then it was largely the Guardian and Times daily cryptic – I particularly liked the Guardian’s Bank Holiday specials, usually set by Araucaria, and an introduction to thematic puzzles.
My obsession with the Listener started in the mid eighties when I found second-hand but pristine copies of the first and third Penguin collections (1970 & 1980). I went on to regularly photocopy likely looking puzzles from The Listener magazine in the library, especially the numerical ones, and have attempted and retain on file every puzzle from the Times era bar No.3105 (unavailable in Fort William – I was distraught).
I am deeply nostalgic about my early years with the Listener. As with the majority of solvers, I was totally alone so it was similar to doing the puzzles under exam conditions except for the free access to reference works – the Monday lunchtime visit to the library became routine and more than once I have trawled through an entire Shakespeare play looking for a quotation. I did briefly have two telephone contacts for hints in Hitchin, tracked down after they were named prize-winners, but one died and the other lost interest. Puzzles would often take the best part of a week to crack and perhaps five grids a year remained blank or all but blank. My reading suffered and I went from two to three novels per week down to half a dozen per year! My much-thumbed copy of Chambers was as revered as any Bible.
However, as with everything, performance improves with practice and the Listener today is something that I can generally complete within three to four hours, usually on a Saturday afternoon with the backdrop of BBC Radio 4 playing. I do make the odd mistake but the blank grid is now totally unknown.
I am glad that I got to know the Listener before the arrival of the Internet since for a solver starting today the experience can never again be as intense as it once was. Opportunities for collusion are now readily available for the weak-willed and anagrams may be unscrambled and quotations found in split seconds. On the positive side, powerful programs enable the setting of some spectacular thematic puzzles and I get to write this blog. I have a penchant for producing and adding diagrams, which gives me as much pleasure as the crosswords themselves, so I particularly like multifaceted thematic puzzles although the numerical ones remain my top favourites. I rather like non-standard clues and my most feared definition is plant.
I do regularly check puzzles (not usually the Listener) and will offer suggestions for improvement to clues but have no ambition to be a setter myself. There again, perhaps one day I shall think of the perfect theme.
I started doing Listener Crosswords in the early 90s because there was a rather nice watch on offer. Never got the watch but has won a few dictionaries, encyclopedias and a pretty pen. Gets within spitting distance of an all-correct most years but can never be bothered to proof-read his entries. Originally a professional pianist, he organises Sunday night Knitting Concerts in Putney where the audience are positively encouraged to bring something to do whilst they listen to a concert – be that knitting, reading or, indeed, finshing the Listener Crossword if, of course, you haven’t finished it by Sunday evening …
Joe Oppenheimer – sets under the pseudonym of Parsnip
Andrew Varney – Likes dressing up as a badger
Duncan Horne – currently all correct for Magpie year 6
Oli Grant – doctor who laces his blogs with tales of blood and guts in an A&E department near you
Simon Long – Silver Salver Winner
Steve Mulligan – 36, not as tall, sets under the pseudonym of Stan
and so on… this to be replaced with real biographies of the real bloggers!