The world-famous Telegraph Crossword may be almost a century old but, after more than 30,000 brain-teasers and approaching one million clues, it is still a rare event for us to welcome a new compiler to the series.
While records of the early days of our flagship crossword are sketchy, it’s unlikely that there have been more than 35 compilers in all that time. It’s not easy to find someone with the right mix of linguistic skills, humour and ability with words to join the ranks of our compilers, but today we welcome James Brydon, a language teacher from Hertfordshire, as our latest cruciverbal inquisitor.
Puzzles Editor Chris Lancaster makes it very clear that we are very selective when it comes to bringing on board a new setter for our Cryptic Crossword.
“It’s not easy to find someone who has the right mix of linguistic skills, lateral thinking, humour and ability with words to join the ranks of our compilers,” says Lancaster. “It takes somebody whose brain is wired in a very particular way, some would say a very strange way.”
I’m sure the many solvers who tackle the Telegraph Crossword each day would agree. Solvers of our Toughie Crosswords may be familiar with Brydon’s work under his pseudonym of Robyn, so will have insight into how his mind works.
Like many compilers, Brydon has been into crosswords since he was a teenager. “They seemed full of challenge and fascinating bits of knowledge I would never have heard about elsewhere,” he says. He remembers trying his best to create his own crosswords on hand-drawn squared paper; eventually, in his early 20s, he decided to submit some of his puzzles to a student newspaper.
Sadly he heard nothing back: “It’s most likely that someone simply put them in a drawer and promptly forgot all about them.” Soon after, he got his first puzzle published in the specialist crossword magazine 1 Across; 20 years later, he is still compiling.
Brydon’s puzzling process is based on iteration. As he explains: “I find the only way to come up with good ideas is to sit down, work, rework, edit and edit again. Some days things seem to flow quite easily, and other days everything is a battle, but it’s always a question of sticking to a routine and being prepared to put in the hours.
“More specifically, when filling a crossword grid I’ll always start with the long answers, looking for good wordplay possibilities before moving onto shorter answers, which are easier to clue.”
When he’s not compiling crosswords, Brydon’s day job is also firmly based within language. He teaches German, French and Mandarin, as well as trying to keep up with his knowledge of Serbian, as he lives in a bilingual household. Some mornings, I struggle to remember how to speak English, let alone anything else; with such knowledge of language, it’s no wonder that Brydon is so skilled with words.
Which of his own clues does Brydon like particularly?
Funnily enough, his choices exactly match those of our Puzzles Editor.
“I like the following clue for ‘wedding cake’ from my first Toughie,” says Brydon:
Serving for the match, Wade aced King, missing a shot (7,4)
Continuing with the sporting theme, Brydon’s second choice was written in the aftermath of England’s run to the final of the men’s 2020 European Championship:
Number of England fans, tolerance-wise, needing reform (5,8)
The answer? Sweet Caroline, which is an anagram of "tolerance-wise". With great clues like that already in the bag, we’re sure that Brydon will be testing, teasing and amusing our solvers for many years to come.
Brydon’s first Cryptic Crossword can be found on our brilliant new puzzles website, which is full to the brim with challenges for every level of skill and interest. For a slightly more difficult test of your solving abilities, why not try Robyn’s most recent Toughie Crossword?