They started as a way of celebrating the centenary of the crossword in 2013, and now they’re an institution: they’re my Masterclasses for aspiring setters.
Compiling puzzles is not the black art that it seems to be. You need to know some basic techniques, and you need some structure to the way you work. Those things can be learned, as long as you have the type of mind that reads “Car Park” but pictures fish sailing a boat, a carp-ark.
These classes aim to provide a route into the arcane world of professional setting, combining essential information about compiling techniques, requirements for publication and the use of software with discussion of issues such as quality and fairness, developing a style and managing the creative process.
You can look forward to a stimulating day with a group of people representing a range of experience from relative newcomers to those who are nearly ready to have their work published. Each class includes individual and group exercises and concludes with an opportunity for you to present your own work in progress for constructive criticism and individual advice.
Whether you are just starting out as a compiler, trying to get your work published or simply wishing to develop a talent for your own satisfaction, this could be for you.
The cost for the one-day class is £150, including lunch, drinks and snacks. More details of the new residential weekend on the right ...
In addition to your place in the class itself, you’ll receive 200 pages of course material, written notes on your work (if you’re able to submit a puzzle of your own) and membership of an exclusive online community for news, support, clueing challenges and the possibility of becoming one of the team behind www.customcrypticcrosswords.com.
Please follow the e-mail link at the top of the page to book your place and for details of how to pay, or to join the waiting list for future classes.
Friends’ Meeting House
We had two great classes at this lovely venue in 2014, and will return there on a Saturday in November. Drop me a line now to make sure of your place.
Looking for ideas for a birthday present?
If you’d like to buy your loved one a place on one of my Masterclasses, I’ll reserve a provisional slot for them, which they can change if they wish. I’ll also send you some material that you can print out and give to them as part of their present.
Here’s a new idea: we meet up at my old college, where you’ll eat in the fabulous 13th century hall and spend two full days talking about crosswords. We’ll cover everything that the one-day class covers and much more, with lots of games, compiling challenges and in-depth development of your own work.
The cost will be in the region of £550 including accommodation and all meals, and there’ll be packages for partners from £200.
I need at least four students to make this work: could you be one of them? If you think you might be interested, please get in touch as soon as possible so that I can make the arrangements.
I’ll set up more classes wherever there are aspiring setters who’d like to come to them. If that describes you, please drop me a line, then let your friends know and put them in touch with me too, so that I know where to look.
Be My Agent
If you believe that your part of the country is crying out for a Masterclass, or if you’re involved in organising a series of events such as a festival that could include a Masterclass as part of its programme, why not be my agent? There’s very little work involved, so do get in touch and we can talk about the details.
Names and aims
Use of software
Why do people do crosswords?
A brief history of wordplay
The first crosswords
The British conversion
Why Britain and not the US?
Present and future
Quality, fairness and difficulty
Ximenean “rules” and Libertarians
Annotation  clue-oriented
Wordplay types: characteristics,
usefulness, indicators, pitfalls
and relative difficulty
Annotation  solution-oriented
&Lits and Semi&Lits
Exercises and examples
American, British and other types
Symmetry and fairness
Creating a grid from scratch:
patterns, blocks and traditional
Choosing and filling a library grid Maximising theme usage
Why set crosswords with themes?
Critical and incidental themes
Types of theme
Difficulty and satisfaction
How Boatman themes work
Density and breadth of theme
The creative process
Ten steps: start to publication
The making of a Boatman puzzle
Who becomes a setter?
Developing a style
Is compiling an art or a craft?
What is creativity?
What does inspiration feel like?
Setting as a profession
How to choose a pseudonym
The mechanics of submitting
The role of the editor
A long-term plan
Learning to evaluate your work
The relationship between setter
Seeing a puzzle from the solver’s
point of view
Self-criticism and persistence
Will you be rich and famous?
Books, websites & blogs, Twitter
names, 1 Across and games
Constructive criticism and
Share an example of a completed
puzzle, a work in progress or
an idea for a theme
Suggestions for follow-up
From students at the first two Crossword Masterclasses
A very enjoyable and inspiring day
Excellent day, loads of useful information
Great day ... such a complete course
Fab day … exactly what I was hoping for
Good to meet people who are trying to learn to play the same instrument and also get an insight into a maestro's approach
Absolutely brilliant … I really feel ready to step up a level now
I'm really happy I signed up for this. I definitely feel motivated to keep going on my crossword setting quest
Value for money
Look out for Daedalus, Bucko and Knut in the Independent, Serpent in the Inquisitor, Soup and Serpent in 1 Across magazine and Claret, Skipjack, Soup, Spark, Vigo and Windsurfer as the bank of setters at
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