I love cryptic crosswords. A good cryptic crossword is a sublime thing - a true test of the intellect that combines wit, logic, vocabulary and knowledge - and solving one can be both the most frustrating exercise on the planet, as well as the most fulfilling. It's like charades and anagrams and scrabble and quizzing and IQ tests all rolled into one.
One of the things I miss the most in the US, therefore, is access to a good daily crossword. Pointless tests of trivia like the NY Times Crossword don't interest me much (and don't even get me started on Sudoku and other such children's games). I could, of course, put in the extra effort and download crosswords from elsewhere (I've done it on occassion) but it doesn't lessen the sense of deprivation. I hadn't even realised how much I missed these clever little grids until I opened the Eco Times yesterday morning and the sight of the crossword brought me almost to tears with nostalgia.
My all time favourite crossword memory is the crossword contest we used to have at WIMWI. Teams of three people each. A cryptic clue is put up on the board. Teams have 30 seconds in which to hit the buzzer. If no team gets the solution the clue is put in a reserve pool and can be called by any team at any time. Correct solutions are filled into the grid. Obviously, as the contest progresses, more and more of the crossword has been filled up, so cracking the clues becomes easier and the competition heats up. By the end of it all, you're living on pure adrenalin. It's the most amazing feeling in the world.
Don't get me wrong. I've done my share of debating and quizzing. I've participated in all sorts of lit contests - playing scrabble, dumb c, 20 questions / tinto, pictionary and (even) Who's Line is it Anyway competitively. But there's just nothing like the thrill of hearing a cryptic crossword clue and getting it in under 10 seconds without any letters to help you. Trust me.
The other thing that's fun, especially if you're as sadistic as I am, is setting crosswords. It's a terribly painful, long-winded exercise, because you not only have to come up with a grid of words that fits, you then need to come up with clever clues for each one - clues that will seem terribly foxing until the solver gets them, and entirely obvious once he / she does. A really inspired clue is like poetry. There's the same sense of the ineffable, the same desire for accuracy, the same attention to getting every word, every letter exactly right. And there's a great deal of fiendish delight in watching other people trying to crack your clues. Not that you don't want people to crack your clues. On the contrary, it's no fun if they don't eventually get it. You just want them to have to struggle - the joy comes equally from seeing their initial confusion and watching the smile of appreciation when they finally figure out what the word is.
No wonder all these evil geniuses, these brilliant psychopaths, invariably end up giving themselves away. It's not because of some Raskolnikovian desire to be punished. It's just that it's no fun coming up with so brilliant a plan, if you're not eventually found out.