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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.


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.

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Friends’ Meeting House

November 2015


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. 


Click here for directions


Gift Vouchers


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.


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?

Present and future



Quality, fairness and difficulty

Ximenean “rules” and Libertarians

Annotation [1] clue-oriented

Wordplay types: characteristics,

   usefulness, indicators, pitfalls

   and relative difficulty


Annotation [2] solution-oriented


One-part exceptions

&Lits and Semi&Lits


Surface readings

Exercises and examples



American, British and other types

Symmetry and fairness

Creating a grid from scratch:

   patterns, blocks and traditional

   filling strategy

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

Specialist knowledge

Team exercise


The creative process


Ten steps: start to publication

The making of a Boatman puzzle

Who becomes a setter?

Developing a style

Working patterns

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

House style

The role of the editor

A long-term plan

Learning to evaluate your work

The relationship between setter

   and solver

Seeing a puzzle from the solver’s

   point of view

Taking comments

Self-criticism and persistence

Default principles

Will you be rich and famous?



Books, websites & blogs, Twitter

   names, 1 Across and games


Students’ work

Constructive criticism and

   individual advice

Share an example of a completed

   puzzle, a work in progress or

   an idea for a theme

Suggestions for follow-up

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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 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

CustomCryptic Crosswords.com

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