I’ve been talking recently about the different sorts of crosswords I’ve written over the years, both cryptic and non-cryptic. There’s one category that takes a large amount of experience and expertise to be able to construct, the personalised (or bespoke) crossword. These are done for such events as a significant birthday , an anniversary, or possibly a wedding (I wrote a wedding crossword for my daughter that guests filled in during the reception and the MCs referred to in order to tie the whole thing in). There’s a fundamental problem with personalised crosswords: the time and effort needed to construct one (no matter what types of clues are required) is far greater than any regular cryptic yet no-one wants to pay for that time and effort. Try and think of any personlised present, that is, one made especially for you to your specifications with your input, a one-off that no-one else will ever be able to reproduce. How much money would you expect to pay?
Let me talk you through the process of building a bespoke puzzle:
*Some of the variables are: size, shape, cryptic or non-cryptic, pictures included
1. To make a personalised crossword you need words that relate to the subject(s). The more words, the better the crossword. You need a huge list of words to fill an entire crossword, so I supply a questionnaire to the puzzle requester covering every area of people’s lives I can think of. Everything from names of relatives, their nicknames, pets names, places they have lived, work/profession-related information, family holidays, stories, favourite things – anything that I can write a clue for. This info has to be sourced secretly to keep the crossword a surprise.
2. Once I get the questionnaire back I need to make a list of words and keep track of how they relate to the subject so I can write clues later. I also extrapolate, trying to expand the number of words I can use in the crossword.
3. To maximise the number of pertinent words in the crossword, I build a freeform crossword of the requested size (sometimes it’s for a greeting card, other times A4 to be framed etc), and get the software to use my list to fill it with as many words as possible. Although to result isn’t symmetrical, I try my best to obey the crossing-letters rule so that solving isn’t difficult. The software always returns a puzzle that requires tailoring to fill holes and to balance out the content, so much tinkering goes on. Also, I identify some keywords in my list that must be included, so I keep playing with the software until I get the content I need.
4. If pictures can be used, I use them to fill the holes in the puzzle, and usually it’s possible to place them somewhere near related clues.
5. Once I’m happy with the content I’ll write the clues in the requested style being mindful of the limited space available.
6. The draft crossword is then sent to the requester for proofing.
7. Once changes are completed and approval is given, a final copy is produced in the format asked for by the requester.
The most I’ve received for this kind of work is $100. Is it worth the time and effort?
|Across||Answers and Clues||Explanations|
|Rejected case not brought to a conclusion by gentleman (4-3)||(CAS)E + TOFF|
|Pilot handling operation with pressure is not firm (6)||FLY outside (OP + P)|
|Opening not held in secret is public (5)||C(OVERT)|
|Between two parties at an important time in programme (9)||(AT + ERA) inside BILL|
|Time troubles pilot primarily in aerobatic manoeuvre (8)||T + AILS + (P)ILOT + IN|
|Data recorder, one active in forest regions (6)||Double Definition|
|Selling alcohol after closing of pubs (4)||ALE after PUB(S)|
|A mother says the wrong thing about “no exceptions” (9)||(A + MA + LIES) outside NO|
|Worry about each general professional not under contract (4,5)||FRET outside (EA + GEN)|
|Worker sometimes contacted retired coppers at the centre (4)||MET reversed + COP(P)ERS|
|Letters of guru in edition may be irrecoverable (6)||guRU IN EDition|
|Navigation one group included in separate section of book (8)||(I + LOT) inside PAGE|
|Grand German state securing new, remodelled part of London (9)||G + (REICH outside anagram of NEW)|
|Conceal client’s head pain (5)||(C)LIENT + ACHE|
|Methodology, say, lacking a check (6)||(SAY minus A) + STEM|
|Tough band gathered in a corrupt place (7)||RING inside STY|
|Down||Answers and Clues||Explanations|
|Commandeer place where birds may be kept ultimately (2-3)||COOP + KEP(T)|
|Food store behind place is upset with express courier service (7,8)||DELI after anagram of PLACE IS + VERY|
|Nothing but rough, endless sex is dull? (6)||O + anagram of BUT + (SE)X|
|Manufacture a building block mostly in lot (9)||[A + (BRIC)K] insiide FATE|
|Refine a collection of data (4)||Double Definition|
|Reorganised platoon, including one extra (8)||I inside anagram of PLATOON|
|Hawker’s worker most likely worked for peer cleaning (9,6)||Anagram of FOR PEER CLEANING|
|Fur seal, moving around quietly, becomes suddenly active (6,2)||Anagram of FUR SEAL outside P|
|Franchise’s timeless stuff inspired frenzy? (8)||(STUFF minus T) + RAGE|
|Birds cost less cold hard cash possibly (9)||(COST minus C) + RICHES|
|Pole attached to mesh is red (8)||CABER + NET|
|Agree with surly sort about operating clubs (6)||CUR outside (ON + C)|
|Division of many men eventually moved up the other side (5)||manY MEN Eventually reversed|
|Aria not included in remake of familiar movie (4)||Anagram of FAMILIAR minus ARIA|