Sunday, 16 October 2011

Crazy Profession

So, how does one become a puzzle writer? This is a question I hear a lot, especially after someone asks me what I do, and the usual double-take, LOL!

There's no real point in my life where I can say "That's when I decided to be a puzzle writer." I was always writing little books of crafts and activities for my younger brothers and sisters, which often included little mazes or other puzzles (and indexes, funnily enough, but that's a story for later!). I spent a great deal of time in hospital and immobilised in body plaster as a child (I was born with hip dysplasia), and I suppose that set the pattern for me for a lot of drawing, reading, and doing kid's activity books. My parents got me a subscription to the excellent children's magazine Cricket, which I received from its very first issue. I especially loved the puzzle pages.

As a teen, I remember having a soma cube, tangrams, jigsaws, and of course Rubik's Cube, later on. I often solved crosswords and word searches. In fact I still have a soma cube on my desk now!

Career-wise I always loved science, and the 'puzzle solving' nature of it ... finding an unknown, and (hopefully) solving it. I studied science at the Australian National University, but had to withdraw from my studies mid-way for medical reasons (severe RSI in both hands). After I recovered, I decided to study graphic design (again, problem-solving, in a different arena). I completed my studies in 1987.

In the late-1980s / early 1990s, the Australian Women's Weekly magazine used to run a competition which was to make your own crossword in an empty grid (placing your own black squares) with a fixed set of words, to get the highest score (difficult letters like Z, J and X scored more highly than common letters like E, T and N, and longer words scored better than shorter). I loved the challenge, and used to do this puzzle all the time. I often entered the competition (but never won!).

When my son was young, in the late 1980s, my dad and I wrote a ridiculously complicated and far- too-difficult puzzle book, called The Old Riddle Book. I did illustrations for it, and we worked long and hard on the complex and interwoven puzzles. This project was great fun, and started me thinking more about how to write puzzles, what constituted a fair puzzle, and so on. I don't think this book will ever see the light of day, it was unfairly hard, but — hmmmm — maybe I could put a couple of the better puzzles up here for you to try!

In 1992 I discovered this weather-beaten old book at Berkelouw's Book Barn in Berrima — Alec Robins' 1975 classic Crosswords, in the 'Teach Yourself Books' series. This book was mainly all about how to write cryptic clues, but also covered a history of crosswords, different types of crosswords, how to construct crossword grids in general, and fair play principles. This book was a really important find for me, and started me thinking about puzzles more seriously. I started to practice writing crosswords, and training myself — there aren't any formal courses, after all!

So that's about my early days, and getting into the area ... I'll cover my further 'training' soon!


  1. you indexed the books you wrote as a child? that is so cool!
    also, I like your blog's background/wallpaper - very groovy :-)

  2. Yes, it's totally bizarre, my mum brought one of them up to me recently, astonished that I'd written indexes even back as a kid! LOL! I wrote an index for a microwave cookbook, for my (future) mother-in-law when I was about 18, too!

    And thanks, yeah, bright colours, oranges, and swirls — what could be better?!

  3. I'd love to see some of your too hard puzzles.
    I have a couple of Gyles Brandreth's Almost Impossible crossword books - why I bought a second when the first one had almost no clues answered, I'll never know, but knowing there's a challenge waiting for me in idle moments is very pleasant.

  4. Gyles Brandreth is awesome, isn't he? I've got his Joy of Lex book, which is great!

    And thanks Loani :)

  5. It is in your blood, puzzling!!! I like crossword puzzles, I do the one in the paper every day to keep my brain working. My best time is 4 minutes!! I am in awe of your puzzle making ability. I once made an index of all the actors who were in both Doctor Who and Blake's 7. I had way too much time on my hands in the early 1908s.

  6. I love words! I'm looking forward to following your blog.


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