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Archive for the Category "Crosswords"

Weekend, Part I May 26

It was my birthday on Friday so, with work closed on Monday and Tuesday, I spent a pleasant weekend with friends in London.


Before heading to London, I went out for a drink in Glasgow (for the first time). There was much discussion of Star Wars and Doctor Who, and while I was there the news came through the Billie Piper will not be in the whole second series. It will be very interesting to see how the production team deal with that: a Rose clone, or a completely different type of companion?


Train Eavesdropping I
On the train down on Saturday morning, I overheard two Scottish pensioners who were reading a news story about the resignation of James Gray, briefly the Tories’ Shadow Scottish Secretary. Pointing out his Scottish roots, one of them said she knew his mother. They then commented, with a little disdain, that he was now based in Wiltshire.

Did the Indie‘s sudokus on the train, including the Super Sudoku which I’ve sense posted off.

Saturday evening consisted of watching a particularly fine episode of Doctor Who (review tomorrow, probably) and a trip to the pub. We didn’t stay in for Eurovision, although it occurs to me now that it’s probably for the best that we didn’t win as we’d surely end up with Patrick Kielty presenting it.

Which reminds me that we also caught some of the ITV2 coverage of Celebrity Sex Resort, which disappointing (and I’m not explaining why it was disappointing) wasn’t called Celebrity Love Island 2. I also found a small advert for the programme in my jacket pocket, which had sneaked in there when I was handed a small packet of Love Hearts by a young woman at London Bridge a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t looked at it and thought they were just promoting the sweets…

The thinking behind Celebrity 18-30 Holiday is pretty obviously flawed. Their first mistake was the assumption that Big Brother‘s success derives from people hoping to see contestants “getting it on”. Following this up with the idea that anything with celebrities (or, in this case, with the word in the title even if there aren’t any actual celebrities, e.g. Celebrity CatfightWrestling) will get a big audience and you’ve got a bit of a mess.

We also briefly considered whether Celebrity Wrestling would have been successful if it had better (B-list, say) contestants. Surely people would tune in in their millions for David Jason vs. Ross Kemp? Or Victoria Wood vs. Anna Friel?


Bummed around London most of the day – completing the Observer crossword and then mistakenly throwing it away – before heading back to watch more TV.

Train Eavesdropping II
The train was full of Chelsea fans (they’d been visiting Chelsea, where they weren’t from, obviously). They were merry but good natured, but I was rather unimpressed when the man sitting in front of me started singing sweary football songs in front of his young son, and even more so when his son joined in. They had started on what seemed to be a rather anti-semitic song about Tottenham Hotspur when I, fortunately, had to get off the train.

Was introduced to an actor friend of friends who was a very nice bloke and has done some Doctor Who audio work, and watched Channel 4’s Dispatches programme about Labour’s election tactics. Some of these were pretty minor – anyone who believed that the people sitting behind Blair when he made speeches were “real people” is a bit na├»ve. Their tactics to stop journalists questioning senior MPs, though, seemed little more than paranoia. I spotted a university friend who now works for a Labour MP playing an “endorser” at two different poster launches.

Here ends Part I. In Part II: guns and The Sun.

Numbers in boxes May 16

Sudoku has been a craze for a fortnight and already the backlash has begun. And quite rightly too.

The Independent has been printing several puzzles a day. More than one paper is shouting about big prize Sudoku competitions. The Guardian showed its commitmnet by printing one of its “original, hand-crafted” (as if that makes any difference) puzzles on every page of the G2 one day last week. We’re told that the puzzles are elegant, with hidden humour. “And then you realise with joy that there is a 9 in every corner.” Now I was as mathmetically menky as the next top-set geek at school, but oddly enough I still don’t find that particularly amusing.

In the last week, I must have completed nearly a dozen of these Japanese (or American, if you believe the Observer‘s expose) puzzles. The selection of starting numbers can vary the difficulty, but that aside once you’ve done one you’ve done them all. I hope it doesn’t sound immodest to shout that I polished off today’s Guardian Sudoku in around seven minutes this morning. That’s about the same length of time as it takes to tackle the quick crossword.

On Friday night, I sat in a bar in London with two friends working through that day’s Guardian cryptic crossword by Bunthorne, and after a few hours (and a little bit of mobile phone googling) completed it. The puzzle was built of a variety of clues, from anagrams to general knowledge to plays on words. Simon Hoggart chose this same puzzle as a comparison point in Saturday’s Guardian when he derided Sudoku:

When you’ve finished a Sudoku puzzle, you’ve got a box full of numbers. When you finish a good crossword, say by Araucaria, Paul, or Shed, you’ve got something of lasting beauty. Take Bunthorne’s clue yesterday (“can areas of study define a wit?” 1,1,6) that led to WC Fields, and a superb anagram (“I died, RIP: Hell hath no bar open the while, a disaster”), not only appropriate to Fields’s name, but containing his epitaph, “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” Which is why Sudoku will be forgotten by the end of the year.

I’ll carry on doing the Guardian‘s daily Sudoku: it’s on page 2 so I do it on my way past. I may even be tempted to try a prize puzzle. But I’d always rather solve a handful of clues of in Araucaria crossword than successfully fill 81 squares with numbers.

Weekend Apr 22

So, my weekend of General Election action.

The flight south was very bumpy. Turbulence is my number one reason for not flying. If the trains were quicker and cheaper, I’d happily stick to land-based transport. As well as being uncomfortable, the flight was late.

As I was working on the Guardian crossword, waiting for the shuttle bus from Luton airport to the station to leave, someone sat next to me. “Hello, Will,” she said casually. One of those “small world” moments: it was Kat Fletcher, recently re-elected President of the National Union of Students, returning from a conference in Belfast. I told her that my blog was getting a significant proportion of hits from people in domains searching on her name. It does seem to disturb people when I say things like that.

We had a good chat, catching up on events since we last bumped into each other (at LibDem autumn party conference), including the various controversies within NUS and which General Election candidates we were out campaigning for.

At Kings Cross, we went our separate ways and I returned to the crossword. Araucaria doesn’t usually appear on a Friday and his crossword had a note at the top: “A 70th birthday tribute.” A quick flick through to the Guardian birthdays identified the subject of the crossword as Alan Plater, or 16 6 10: “Birth/dayboy/Alan”. I’ll dig out my favourite clue from the puzzle at some point. I had to Google an Alan Plater bibliography to help me (I’d never heard of The Coalhouse Door) and managed about half the puzzle in the end.

Up bright and early on Saturday to go Blackfriars to meet The Boat. With banners on the sides (including "Labour sells students down the river"), campaign material loaded and big LibDem diamonds up on deck, we headed off up to the Thames to Westminster. There we were met by a big crowd of LibDems plus TV cameras and journalists, including BBC News.
Four of us on the boat -  all photos by Peter BancroftScrap Fees banner and Winning for Students diamond
We then travelled down to Greenwich and dropped off Chris, the candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich, and Lord Dholakia. Then back to Westminster to disembark and distribute postcards and newspapers. We stopped at Downing Street and then headed on to Bloomsbury to deliver our student newspaper to halls of residence.
Ready to deliver newspapersAt Downing Street
A late lunch and a quick committee meeting at ULU before heading off to Lewisham to Dan‘s for pizza, Doctor Who (more on that later) and a club.

After breakfast and a first stab at the Observer prize crossword, I headed to Orpington. By the end of the very long bus journey, I’d seen a swathe of orange Chris Maines diamonds and completed the crossword. (Note to self: Post prize crossword asap.) I did some delivery before being assigned to printing duties. A few hours and several thousands leaflets later, I had a particularly large and tasty dinner.

Monday morning, breakfast from McDonald’s and a visit from the leader’s battlebus. I spotted myself on the news (on several channels) holding a big diamond behind Charles Kennedy’s head while he and Chris walked to and from the police station they were visiting. Some of the students from Orpington College were really keen to see Charles and had their photos taken with our big LibDem diamonds. Once the battlebuses (one for Charles and staff, one for the press) had headed off, I delivered some more leaflets. Then lunch with a group of helpers – including Eric Lubbock, aka Lord Avebury, who was Orpington’s MP in the 1960s – and off to Luton for another bumpy flight. Monday’s Guardian crossword – by Rufus, I think – filled my time on the aeroplane, bus and train home and I polished off that one too. By then, my back was starting to play up and I was stuck at home Tuesday, knocking back Panadol I’d bought at the airport.

Maestro! Apr 01

Chuffed this morning as, after several weeks of trying (of which my previous best clue, and the vilest, was “She enjoys lurid finger without you (10)”*), I’ve merited a mention on Sandy Balfour‘s competition page.

Each Friday, in the Guardian G2 supplement, Sandy sets readers a word to be clued. Last week, he asked for crossword clues for the word MAESTRO. I toyed with Mae West and Vanessa Mae (as it were), but settled on an anagram, which made the top ten:

Great artist, possibly Old Master (7)

This week’s challenge is SECOND CHILDHOOD.

(*Click on for the answer) more…

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