A Knight’s Tale (103: The 3D Crossword And Gander)

For something like two years in the early 1990s I worked on producing a 3D 15×15 cryptic crossword.  Mike Kindred and I had been commissioned to set one.  As he was the half of our partnership best able to tackle the construction of the grid I left that to Mike.  What he created was forty five interlocking grids in our pre-computerised existence.  All I had to do was put the words in and write the clues.  I needed to ensure that each word could be read as if running through a cube.  This involved hand-drawn grids on huge sheets of paper.  The black squares were comparatively easy.  Those that required the entry of letters had to be large enough to contain various options and I had constantly to check that what I wanted to put in one grid would appear in the right places in interlocking ones.  The eraser was an essential tool.  If I have lost you in the technicalities of this, imagine what it did to my head, as I spread my working sheets across the tables in the trains from Newark to Kings Cross; or on the floor or desk at home.  I also required space for lots of dictionaries from which to find words that would fit.

Eventually my task was complete. Following the generally accepted grid construction rules requiring a fair distribution of letters and black squares, it was the first ever 3D crossword which didn’t have too many rows of blank spaces. Someone then had to be found to write the computer programme capable of reproducing this original work.  We wouldn’t have started on the mammoth venture had we not been assured this would be forthcoming.  A disappointment was, however, in store.  This would cost £25,000, which was beyond the means of the man who had presented us with the project.  It never saw the light of day.

Derrick c1993

In about 1993, whilst I was sitting in my study in Newark, probably speaking to Mike about current progress, Becky, camera in hand, stuck her head round the door and produced this photograph.

I had discovered the Listener crossword puzzle when The Times took it over in the early nineties.  Solvers who successfully completed each of the 52 puzzles in a year were rewarded with an invitation to attend.  After Mike Kindred and I realised we were never going to earn our admission that way, we began to set puzzles ourselves.  Mike never did attend, but I enjoyed several of the annual gatherings which take place in different cities throughout the UK.

John Green, who, as a labour of love, checked all submitted solutions, sent all received comments to the setters.  There are many comments.  One of my proudest moments was opening a most complimentary letter of approval from Vikram Seth. The puzzle which earned this will be featured in due course. On one occasion one of my clues was inadvertently omitted from the published puzzle.  I received a plain postcard from Georgie Johnson.  It read, simply, ‘was Mordred (my pseudonym), poor bastard, really one clue short of a crossword?’.  There began a correspondence friendship.  In those days, we didn’t have computers, so we communicated by post.  Jessica suggested I should invite this delightfully witty penfriend to a dinner.  Georgie came to York.  Since we had never met, we arranged to convene in the hotel bar.  I sat waiting with a pint of beer until in walked a most elegant woman who had the poise and looks to have been photographed by Patrick Litchfield in her youth.  ‘That can’t be her’, I thought.  She looked across the room, turned and walked out.  ‘Ah, well,’ I thought.  Then she came back in and I noticed she was clutching a copy of ‘Chambers Cryptic Crosswords’,which had been our identification signal.  After she joined me she confessed that she had thought ‘that can’t be him.  He must be an actor or something’.  We enjoyed a most pleasant evening which lasted well into the small hours.  In the twenty first century we continued our correspondence by e-mail.

Georgie, to whom I am indebted for a number of the ideas for my advanced cryptic crosswords, chose the name Morgan for her setter’s pseudonym. Like me, fascinated by Arthurian legend, she thus paid tribute to Morgan le Fay, the mythical king’s evil sister. It is of course traditional for some compilers to select the nomenclature of an evil character by which to be known. The far more famous Torquemada comes to mind. Some would say that Morgan le Fay was the aunt of Mordred, whose name I had chosen. Georgie and I briefly collaborated as Gander, a linking of the end of her nom de plume followed by the beginning of my Christian name. 


  1. Heck of a story. I’m glad you found that fortuitous picture. Look like quite the anticipatory lad with your curls and greying hair., I’m in awe of anyone that can create crossword puzzles. I can solve a few, but that is where it ends and begins.

  2. A wonderful flashback to your earlier days. You must have a great mathmatical brain to keep all that straight. I loved the story of you meeting Georgie! Great post!

  3. That really sounds like a complicated task.
    I remember that I had to create a simple cross word once and I had a lot of trouble finding words that fit…
    …imagining having to do that in 3D, I’d probably go crazy. 🙂

  4. I got a kick out of the header photo. Was the tee-shirt an original? My mind may have just blown a fuse at just the thought of a three-dimensional crossword puzzle.

  5. This delightful reminiscence is exactly what I need on a night when the thunder came tantalizingly near, the wind stregthened, the temperature cooled by ten degrees … only to all come to nothing. I am enjoying your journey, Derrick.

  6. OH! and HA! This was so interesting AND so much fun to read! What great memories for you! And think of all the people who enjoyed your puzzles!
    Love that photo!
    I’ve enjoyed all word games and word puzzles since I was a wee one. As a mom, and teacher, I often made up crossword puzzles, word searches, word jumbles, etc., for my kids, and students, to enjoy.
    “one clue short of a crossword” made me snort-laugh! 😀
    PS…”She loved crosswords. They buried her six down and three across.” (I saw this on a coffee mug!) 😀

  7. I’m fond enough of crossword puzzles, and occasionally will indulge in the one offered by the Sunday Times, but the thought of constructing one is more than I can imagine. I suppose the closest analogy might be a really good game of Scrabble, but that’s still a far cry from what you and your friend were able to accomplish!

  8. I enjoyed reading this very much, especially the part about meeting Georgie. It sounds like a lot of fun and making the puzzles had to be great exercise for your brain.

  9. This instalment is one of the most riveting accounts you have posted. It’s a pity the elaborate 3D crossword couldn’t be programmed for computers. The exchanges with celebrities are fascinating. Rendezvous with Georgie culminating in a lasting friendship was a very pleasant outcome of the enterprise.

      1. I am. I am trying. That book of mine is pre-sales May/out in Sept and while I’m far more comfortable promoting others work, I know I cannot be invisible. I’ve been trying to put things out there, for the sake of that and also to keep ticking along. Mostly though aside the Psychotherapy work I have been engrossed in a return to editing, I’m far more comfortable behind the scenes than in front of them, and the only social media site I can bear is WP, the others just … urgh I can’t. Anyway I’m working for Indie Blu(e) of course, although we’re doing less in 2022. After the blow-out madness of three 500+ anthologies last year and several stand-alones. I’m working for Borderless, not sure if you ever read those, but they’re long diatribes on my part, a good excuse to write prose. I just got taken on with Parcham, an Indian-based magazine, as well as my regular work for The Pine Cone Review. I am bad about posting about that work because since leaving WP I cannot reblog easily and have to do it manually. Anyway … keeps me really busy and whilst I still have relapses with my stomach and am definitely not like I used to be, I feel over-all I am FAR better, and am so grateful for that. I’m still paying off the debt of the medical bills so it’s my hope I can carry on forward. thank you – for everything – and the gift of your friendship – which I cherish.

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