Saturday 30 January 2016

The Joy of Words and in particular Crosswords

From Portals to Words - portals are doorways into worlds that owes their shape to ideas and we are always trying to get a better grasp of those ideas by using words to describe them and then refining those words time and time again in order to try and adequately 'nail them'. To capture adequately the ideas. But ideas can be like slippery soap. And soap can in the end dissolve. Words and ideas are tricky things to deal with.

I have always loved words as instruments to express and clarify thoughts and ideas. The newspaper began to attract me when I was very young but I soon rejected it on the grounds that there were too many ideas and words I could not comprehend. Eventually, my vocabulary caught up enough to fall in love with newspapers and reading books, although my passion was intermittent. When I first came across the crossword in the newspaper - what we would now recognise as the Quick Crossword, the Simple Crossword - I tried it and failed to make much progress. I did not return for a long time.

It  wasn't until I was in my early twenties and working in my vacations in a Welsh pub that I began to marvel at the landlord's ability to master the Cryptic Crossword in the Guardian. He began to show  me some of the secrets of solving these wondrous puzzles but he was a very busy publican and I was less than comfortable in coming face-to-face with a skill I found difficult to master. But Glyn the Inn had sown the seeds.

By my 40s, I was hooked. Now, in my 60s, I've settled for the 'Everyman' Observer crossword as my cryptic crossword to solve each week and the Guardian 'Quick Crossword' as an occasional daily exercise. The satisfaction lies not only in instantly knowing the required word or fathoming the ways to work out the cryptic nature of the clue's components. It also lies in finding out what had escaped your attention or grasp or knowledge banks. Thanks to a World Wide Web site for crossword fans and my copy of Chambers Crossword Dictionary very little, if  anything, remains without solution. My knowledge banks and my skills level in this activity increase all the time.

That is a very satisfying feeling. Having an understanding of the world that matches the crossword setter's.  It was all the more humbling then in the autumn of last year to sit on the train returning from London to find that the Evening Standard Cryptic Crossword was beyond me. I would not be beaten. I  checked the answers online and began to practise on the daily online version that I had now  discovered. It took a week but eventually I was inside the setter's head. I now began to load up my completed crossword for a place on the Leaderboard that accompanied the daily online puzzle. By December, my moment of crowning glory came: with 2,010 points I  headed the All-time Leaderboard. But hubris followed. I'm still there, immortalised, in top place. But the site has developed technical issues and I can no longer load up my solution.

Still all the more time to discover wonderful things on other crosswords. Did you know, for instance,  a five-lettered word meaning 'icy cold': G?L?D. I didn't.  Until I did my research.  It's GELID.

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