In the last few weeks, there have been a number of ‘history-of-the-crossword’ books published in anticipation of the centenary next month. If you’ve looked through all of them, it is impossible to avoid the Rev John Graham (aka Araucaria). It’s a puzzle of his that structures Alan Connor’s book, John Halpern recounts his own awed first meeting with the man, and an anxious David Astle is able to bring his book to its 2013 conclusion with an Araucaria puzzle.
That puzzle was – well, notorious isn’t quite the word – notable for its announcement of the setter’s terminal cancer. Its first appearance in One Across led to a reprint in The Guardian, and the news was out to the widest audience. From then on, it has been a simple matter of time, although Araucaria continued to supply puzzles with scarcely undiminished vigour.. (I recently downloaded the composer Elliott Carter’s 103rd birthday concert – the producer of the recording commented that he’d rather decided Carter was immortal. Araucaria was cut from the same cloth.)
But in the last few weeks, the Saturday slot in The Guardian has been filled by others, and One Across hasn’t had its headline pair. And so today’s news isn’t unexpected.
I cut my teeth on Custos (Alec Robins) and Araucaria was at the other end of the clueing spectrum. But the frisson of knowing an Araucaria double or jumbo was lined up for the Bank Holiday or that an Alphabetical Jigsaw might pop up on any Saturday was unavoidable. It was the exemplification of what you could actually do with the contents of a crossword grid. If it’s not quite what got me into crosswords, it’s very much the glue that kept me there.
Ave atque vale.