Every so often crosswords seem to pop out of their niche and appear in various other arenas. Here’s three.
I heard of a new book this week: What Lot’s Wife Saw by Ioanna Bourazopoulou. The author is Greek (though I guess that might be obvious), and she’s branched out into novels from plays. The book has won a number of awards in Greece, and this is her first appearance in English. The arc of the story – based on a whole two-and-a-half chapters and some blurb skimming – seems to be dystopian future fiction meets Dan Brown but readably so. The crossword link comes from the fact that the hero is the world’s greatest crossword setter, an expatriate Brit* living in Paris (which, like Vienna, is now a seaport after some unusual conniption in the Med). He has a weekly slot in a newspaper, and his name is Phileas Book. (You can say Jules Verne as much as you like: I was hooked at the PHIleas bit.) The crossword itself seems a bit implausible, as the solver has to imagine themselves inside the 3D object the grid represents to solve it. Less plausibly still, the author seems to believe that this one weekly crossword would suffice for Mr Book to live – albeit frugally – in Paris. Still, it is fiction, after all.
Second item: TEDxAlbertopolis is on at the Royal Albert Hall this week, with John Halpern’s contribution on crosswords to the fore. There’s a special puzzle, of course, which can find below photos and videos on the associated blog here. Only saw the crossword for the first time this morning, so I can’t say anything about solving it. As indeed I shouldn’t – go off and have a look for yourself.
The final item is what has guided the choice of puzzle to put up on the blog this week. In 2011 I was asked if I’d like to set a puzzle to support the research being undertaken at Buckingham University on the cognitive impact of crossword solving. There’s an awful lot of discussion about crosswords warding off dementia and similar, but relatively little analysis of how that might be done (if indeed it is). One way is to look at how seasoned (and otherwise) solvers approach the solving process, what techniques they use, what leaps of insight they make, and so on. And to do that, you need a puzzle your test solvers haven’t seen before, which is where I came in.
The research hasn’t been published yet, but papers have been presented at various conferences, and when that happens, sometimes the local press gets hold of the story. Given the level of journalistic interest in finding things to keep dementia at bay (only this morning I was reading that cocoa does so), there is often a generally positive article to follow. Here’s the Sydney Morning Herald of a week or so ago. Given the recent coverage, it seemed a good time to put the puzzle in question up on the blog. You can find a copy of the recent Buckingham University press release about the research on the Times for the Times blog. You can find another blogger’s musings on the topic here.
*Update from the further shores of Chapter 8: no, a Frenchman, but an Anglophone one, if not quite, I suspect, an Anglophile.