I saw a newspaper article the other day discussing the difficulty of not being tech-savvy in this modern age. Businesses and governments are continually shifting their services online, making it very hard for those who aren’t confident with a computer, tablet or smartphone to complete what used to be relatively easy tasks dealing with a human being at a service counter. The claim is always that online services are easier and quicker (and cheaper), however, I think that only applies to my generation and below. Even for me, an IT guy, computers only made their first appearance when I was at university. My dad, who died in the 1990s, never owned or used a computer. People of his generation tend to fall into three categories: non-users, reluctant users, or aided users. It’s very common for seniors to rely on younger family members to set things up and deal with problems when they arise. Unlike my children who have grown up with technology, older members of society have had to learn how to use it, and it’s not automatic.
There’s no doubt that technology, and specifically, the internet, has changed the way cryptic crossword devotees go about the solving process. I think back to my days as a 15-year-old working with an old encyclopaedia and its attached “book of words” as my only references. My vocabulary was limited, so I had to rely on the skill of The Guardian crossword setters to give me enough information to work out clues. Even though The Guardian crossword was originally published as a daily one, The Sun-Herald in NSW published it once a week. This suited my solving level perfectly, and I was very happy to take the week to complete the solve. In fact, finishing too early left me feeling a little ripped off. Chipping away at clues was often necessary and rewarding, with the occasional breakthrough providing regular thrills. I didn’t have solving tools at my disposal, in fact, I didn’t know such things existed until a long time after when I worked in Sydney not far from the Dymocks bookshop. Back then, Chambers published two helpful books for solvers. Chambers Crossword Completer, a book that contained all of the headwords in the Chambers Dictionary sorted by the first, third, fifth etc letters followed by a section sorted by second, fourth, sixth etc letters. This meant you could find every word that matched the B?C?E? letter sequence, for instance, fairly easily. Chambers Anagrams sorted every Chambers headword into alphabetical order, which meant if you had an anagram to solve, all you had to do sort the fodder’s letters and look up the sequence in the book. “end gear”, for instance, sorts to ADEEGNR, which would yield angered, derange, en garde, enraged, grandee and grenade. Before the internet, these books were the only way to delve deeper, but for me, they were always used as the last resort because the joy of solving is the battle and the challenge.
A well-written clue will provide you with the path to the answer as long as you are willing to take the time to explore. I have found that I usually create my own stumbling blocks by insisting that a clue works in a particular way, and refusing to deviate from that path. Once I relent and allow my mind to consider a clue in a different way, usually the answer isn’t far away. It takes trial and error, but it’s well worth the reward.