David Astle (Allen & Unwin) 2015, 308pp, RRP $22.99
Astle, legendary crossword setter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and an author of several books on wordplay themes (no less than Geoffrey Rush has described him as “The Sergeant Pepper of cryptic crosswords), here offers what might look like a straightforward history of the crossword, and yet it’s far more deliciously esoteric than that.
Constructed as 100 mini-chapters, chronicling myriad avenues and diversions in the development of the crossword from 1913 until 2013, with each section beginning with new words that came into use in that particular year (1913 offers movie, vitamin, jazz and conscious) and a puzzle to crack (1913: three letters, ‘the fibre of a gomuti palm’), this manages to rope in an enormously rich and frequently weird selection of tangents. There’s Arthur Wynne’s original ideas to kick off, yet this is followed by crossword-related anecdotes drawn from TV’s M*A*S*H, Dad’s Army, One Foot In The Grave and The Hour, original Superman comics, Madness’ late hit Cardiac Arrest, a German murder mystery, cabin fever on an oil rig in Bass Strait, a selection of international variants from New Zealand, The Czech Republic, China and beyond, Russia’s answer to Wheel Of Fortune, and details about the lives of prominent cruciverbalists and indeed Astle’s own.
Written in a witty style perhaps intended to offset how enraging some of the puzzles can be (and note that at least one, the theatrically-derived clue from 1946, is truly impossible: an unknown number of letters, ‘Assyrian bubble and squeak’), Astle’s latest should prove great fun for avid crossword lovers, although haters of the form might feel a bit boxed in.
This title is available through the Allen & Unwin website. Click HERE to purchase your copy.