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Crossword Masterclasses


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 and advanced solvers.


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 provide a window 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 or trying to get your work published, or whether you simply wish to develop an appreciation of cryptic crosswords 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.

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Friends’ Meeting House

Saturday 28 November 2015

09:30 to 16:00


After a series of great classes at this lovely venue in 2013 and 2014, we’ll return there in November. Drop me a line now to make sure of your place. 


Click here for directions


Gift Vouchers


Looking for ideas for a Christmas 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.


Residential Weekend



Summer 2016


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.


Further Afield


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.

Course Synopsis



Names and aims

Use of software

Why do people do crosswords?


A brief history of wordplay

Crossword prehistory

The first crosswords

The British conversion

Why Britain and not the US?



Ximenean “rules” and Libertarians

Issues & pitfalls in wordplay,

   definitions and surface readings

Why some clues become unfair or


Making clues harder or easier

Using misdirection

Two methods of annotation

What makes a clue good or just




American, British and other types

Symmetry, fairness and

   word-length frequency

Creating a grid from scratch

How they filled grids before


Choosing and filling a library grid Maximising theme usage



Why set crosswords with themes?

Critical and incidental themes

How Boatman themes work

Density and breadth of theme


The creative process

Research and working routines

Ten steps: start to publication

The making of a Boatman puzzle

Who becomes a setter?

Developing a style

Beyond competence, art


Setting as a profession

The mechanics of submitting

Having a long-term plan

Learning to evaluate your work

The setter and the solver

Will you be rich and famous?


Students’ work

Share an example of a completed puzzle, a work in progress or an idea for a theme, for group discussion and individual advice



Books, websites & blogs, Twitter

   names, 1 Across and games


Advanced Solvers


The class is not a solving workshop, but you can use it to learn how a crossword is put together and to get an insight into how compilers think. You’ll find out about the tricks that compilers use when they’re trying to throw you off the scent, and you’ll increase your pleasure whenever you see a really well-constructed grid or a clever theme.

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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

Would recommend

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Past Students


Look out for Daedalus, Bucko, Knut and Vigo in the Independent, Serpent in the Inquisitor, Soup, Serpent and Claret in 1 Across magazine and Claret, Skipjack, Soup, Spark, Vigo and Windsurfer as the bank of setters at

CustomCryptic Crosswords.com

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