You’re likely unaware that I’m a crossword fan. Not the general knowledge, where the answers could be just about anything. You know, the ones that have a clue such as ‘Flower (5)’ Daisy? Aster? Help me out here.

I like cryptic crosswords, and in my world ‘flower’ might mean a river or stream, or a bloom. The thing is though, there are some conventions, and if you follow them you’ll get the answer even if it’s not a word you’re familiar with. Things can be tough, but they are fair.

Generally they’re fair once you’ve got a handle on how the compiler’s mind works. Some are heavy users of anagrams. Some use a lot of wordplay. Some will nest answers into the clue itself. You just need to work out how they’re operating. If you’ve been doing them regularly as I have for more years than I care to remember, you can even look at the compiler’s name and know exactly how you need to think, because you know their style.

Apart from one, the dreaded ‘Araucaria’ who used to be a bit of a nemesis for me when he compiled for the Guardian. I’d see his name and go what Richard Adams would call tharn. Complete brain freeze.

When I was married my dad in law and I would tackle the crosswords together, and even he, a man of the cloth, could be moved to say, ‘Damn!’ at the very sight of the dreaded name. Especially the Bank Holiday specials where you might have two interlocking grids of lights, themed clues running throughout, occasional unclued lights… The list of tricks that old Araucaria used was seemingly unlimited.

Eventually, after a few false starts, we’d begin to make progress, and as I say the old puzzler was complex but fair. He never cheated; work from first principles and you would in theory get there in the end.

Best bit about it was that my dad in law actually knew the wily old devil. He was a retired clergyman who lived just down the road, and like the DiL was a Canon at St Alban’s cathedral.

DiL would never tell me Araucaria’s true identity in case I went and firebombed his house.

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