NEXT week, we will publish our usual Christmas jumbo crossword. It should have been No. 1501, but I wanted a double celebration by making it No. 1500; so today we take the opportunity to look back to No. 1, which I set for Christmas 1989.
In the 29 years we’ve been going, we have published puzzles by a mixture of professional crossworders (not all churchgoers) and readers (including a couple of canons and a few plain Revs).
Some of the puzzles I have virtually rewritten; others require the lightest editorial touch, and a few no touch at all. One or two novices have used the Church Times connection to embellish their CVs and get accepted by national newspapers.
Would-be setters are always judged on their own merits, but those who send in puzzles of the wrong size on lousy diagrams really don’t stand a chance. Over the years, I have been helped by two extra checkers, first my Oxford neighbour John Chavasse (from a famous family), and then Geoff Millin, another setter. Despite our efforts, the occasional blunder gets through, but at least Golden Lane gets to know that there really are some solvers out there.
What makes our crossword different from many others is its churchy flavour, of course. I occasionally have to ask setters to give “cathedral” and “evensong” a rest, and suggest that they instead delve into church history, hymns, and the Bible. (We don’t mind obscure Old Testament characters as long as they are clearly clued.)
We like a bit of humour, too, and don’t mind hinting at clerical indiscretion. We are definitely allowed a joke at the expense of any wing of the Church. Bob (the Revd Robert D.) Carter is very good at poking fun, and always brings a smile to my face.
One Oxford setter, who shall be nameless, wrote quite awful clues, but came up with an exceptional gem: “System of unbelief — shame it is wrong (7)” for “atheism”. She was delighted to have had her name in our paper much more frequently than her distinguished college-chaplain husband.
Her mentor, whom I met at a book launch in Lambeth Palace, told me that crosswords were “a waste of time”, an observation that left me lost for words — something that I cannot afford to be when I sit down at my computer to set the next puzzle.
Those of you who solve newspaper puzzles may have noticed that our dailies now offer much more variety in terms of vocabulary and difficulty. I suppose we are closer to The Daily Telegraph than to The Times or The Guardian — strictly in crossword terms, of course. Without making our clues too convoluted, we want you to finish the puzzles.
That said, No. 1 looks easier than next week’s No. 1500, which has been put together by the first four setters of our long series. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.