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.
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.