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Simon’s clued up when it comes to crosswords
THE clue for One Across was: What do you do on trains? (10). The answer was: Crosswords. And if you were Simon Martin you’d have solved it in seconds.
Because Simon, a former RAF wing commander who lives at Upper Welland, near Malvern, is a crossword buff.
He’s compiled them for The Independent and the Daily Telegraph since 2005 and has now produced a booklet called Solving the Cryptic Crossword. His target market is people on trains.
“When I worked in London, all the commuters seemed to have their head in a crossword,” he said.
But there is a seismic shift from being able to solve all the clues to compiling them in the first place and for Simon, it all began shortly after he passed out from RAF Cranwell in 1971.
Up until then he had been an enthusiastic crossword student through his days at Dean Close, Cheltenham, Warwick University and Loughborough University of Technology.
“I suppose it all started in my mid-teens when my parents took the Daily Telegraph,” he said.
“After they’d read it, I would do the crossword.”
And there it might have stayed had not Simon joined the RAF – and the editor of the force’s monthly magazine heard that here was a man interested in crosswords.
“He told me the magazine had never had a crossword and would I like to compile one for it,” he said.
“So I thought I’d have a go.”
At this point it might be appropriate to explain the crossword compiler starts with a blank grid with some of the squares blacked out supplied by the publisher.
It is then up to him/her to produce clues with answers which fill in the remaining squares. If everything goes smoothly, it can all be done and dusted in 15 minutes.
“The ideal is to start at the top left and work your way down to the bottom right and everything fits,”
“But sometimes you can get in a real mess and end up looking for an answer that starts with a z and ends with a q. In that case you have to go back up the grid and work it out again. It can mean re-writing as many as half the clues.”
His RAF crossword compiling went so well that when he took early retirement from the service in 1990, he decided to take it to another level.
He joined the crossword department of The Independent newspaper to learn the ropes properly and discover how the professionals did it.
He compiled crosswords for the Saturday Independent Magazine/Weekend Review and since 2005, has produced more than 70 crosswords for the Daily Telegraph.
For 15 years in the 1990s/2000s, Simon also provided the annual Christmas and new year jumbo crossword for our sister paper the Malvern Gazette. As a day job, he is overseas director for the Royal Airforces Association.
Apparently, crossword aficionados can tell who has compiled a set of clues by their style.
“They may not know the person’s name,” Simon said, “but they can recognise if, for example, a Tuesday compiler’s crossword is used on a Monday.”
His style tends towards the “elegant” clue and he prefers to use everyday words and phrases rather than some of the more convoluted efforts that can be found.
One of which he is particularly proud is: “Response to Shane Warne’s spinners (6)”. The answer is, in fact, the word “Answer”.
Which is an anagram of “Warne’s”.
All clever stuff. He said: “I’ve always believed a good crossword is one that, while providing a challenge, is solvable by the many, rather than, perhaps, one that is over-complex using abstruse words and clueing only solvable by the few.”
Simon’s talent for the quizzical has led him in other directions too.
He is quizmaster for the Malvern branches of Save the Children and St Richard’s Hospice, Ledbury Heart Foundation and Worcester Festival Choral Society and is soon to perform the same duty for Malvern’s Inner Wheel club.
He is particularly keen to get young people involved in crosswords and his new booklet – which is not only ideal for beginners, but also serves as a memory aid for the more seasoned solver – uses all the latest technology.
It can be downloaded via the Apple App Store and has recently been launched on the Android market. About 500 people already have it on their Kindle devices.
Simon’s aim is to have everyone successfully completing crosswords, so, slightly bending an analogy, what is the only way to win at sport (4,3,5)? Game, set and match, of course.