Text Box: Crossword
Text Box: Home
Text Box: Class

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 may seem 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 discussion of compiling techniques with essential information about requirements for publication and the use of software, and looking at 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. Class sizes are kept small. You’ll receive individual attention and a critique of your work in progress, with suggestions of where to focus next.


In addition to your place in the class itself, you’ll receive over 250 pages of course material, written notes on your work and membership of an exclusive online community for news, support and clueing challenges.


These classes are a proven route into professional setting. 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.


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.

Text Box: E-mail

Booking and waiting list

Text Box: Bespoke
Text Box: What to
Text Box: About Me

Next Dates



Friends’ Meeting House

Late Spring 2018 TBC

09:30 to 16:00


You’ve just missed an exciting class at this lovely venue, but we’ll be returning here soon, so this is the time to make sure of your place - if you’re travelling from outside the Southeast, make a weekend of it and immerse yourself in one of the UK’s most vibrant coastal cities. 



Friends’ Meeting House

Advanced Workshop

Spring 2018 TBC

09:30 to 16:00


This will be a special session for past students, looking in more detail at the factors that make a difference between creative, interesting and merely competent puzzles and reviewing their progress in getting noticed as a new setter.


Click here for directions


Gift Vouchers


Looking for ideas for a      special 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.


Further Afield


I’ve run successful classes in Manchester, Birmingham and London, and I’ll set up more 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 fills



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?


Your work

Either share work in progress for

   discussion and individual advice

Or we can create a themed puzzle

   from scratch as a group



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.

Text Box: Guardian
Text Box: Click here to read Alan Connor’s
masterclass blog

Cryptics by


From students at the first 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

Text Box: Masterclass graduates
Text Box: Exclusive online community for past students

Past Students


Look out for Soup and Jack in the Guardian’s Genius slot; Julius in the Financial Times; Daedalus, Bucko, Knut, Vigo, S.park, Serpent and Dutch in the Independent; Soup, Serpent and Claret in 1 Across magazine; and Claret, Skipjack, Soup, Vigo and Windsurfer as the bank of setters at


Soup is also now the editor of 1 Across magazine.

© Copyright Ashley Knowles 2011-2016 | all rights reserved  | colour design by Bernadina Lloyd www.bernadinalloyd.co.uk

Text Box: Find Out
Text Box: Crossword Book