A Knight’s Tale (105: Two Solutions And Fan Mail)

‘A Suitable Boy’, Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel, a magnificent saga of an Indian family, came up in conversation early in 2015. Although not normally a name-dropper, I just had to mention that I had received a very complimentary letter from the author a dozen years before.

The Times Listener Crosswords were ones that I enjoyed setting during a period of about twenty years. They are termed ‘advanced cryptics’ as they are very difficult both to create and to solve. The clue solving was often the easy part, as there is always a final twist that requires further thought and activity. One of my devices was to involve solvers in producing a drawing at the end. ‘Four-Letter Word’ was one of these that earned the praise of Mr Seth.

The solution, published on 2nd November, for reasons that will become apparent, didn’t have much printed in the grid.

I am fully aware that most of my readers will not be familiar with cryptic crosswords, so I will not bother you with the clues. It is the theme I would like to offer.

The drawing I wanted to create needed flowing curves. How on earth was I to manage this on a typical square grid? It was after six months thought that I hit upon the idea of using hexagons in a honeycomb. That particular device was not original, but I like to think the use to which I put it was.

Four-letter Word 001

Focussing on the preamble and the grid, and ignoring the clue column, this is what solvers were presented with:

The preamble is the paragraph on the left beneath the title. It explains what is required in addition to solving the clues. The grid is where the answers are written.

Four-letter Word 003

Examples of entries given in the above illustration are 30 REGRET, 31 RIPPLE, and 32 PENNON.

Four-letter Word 002

Once the whole grid has been completed and the correct sequence of letters blocked in, an outline that could be a cat is produced. I have used a highlighter to make it stand out. The initial letters of the 8 letter answers, in clue order, spell out CHESHIRE, helping to identify Lewis Carroll’s character. For clarity I have not confused the issue with a fully completed grid.


With a little artist’s licence, solvers will have reproduced a suggestion of Sir John Tenniel’s famous illustration to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Four-letter Word 004

In that story, the creature disappears leaving its GRIN. Thus, according to the preamble’s instructions, solvers, having used a pencil, are to rub out everything but the four-letter word appearing above hexagon 38. This location is shown in the entry examples given above.

Finally in this episode of my memoirs I can reveal the answer to a puzzle presented in https://derrickjknight.com/2022/02/18/a-knights-tale-104-mordreds-development-and-various-publications/


  1. These are fabulous, Derrick! Wowza! Your brain is a gem…your wordsmithing is top-notch…your creativity is artistic! You’ve used your brain and abilities to challenge other people’s brains! 🙂
    Loving crosswords so much…this is so exciting to me! Way to go, Derrick! 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  2. Obviously it’s way beyond me, Graham occasionally did the Cryptic, I remember his delighted shouts of YES and his explanations… also beyond me!

    I haven’t read the book A Suitable boy, but I watched the television adaption last year and loved it.

    1. Our local U3A ran a course on Cryptic crosswords. I optimistically toddled along to them and was spat out the other side, a broken woman!

  3. Richard loves to do cryptic crosswords and always enjoys the Times ones. At present he is working his way through a book of Telegraph ones that he says are easier than the Times ones. He taught me how to do cryptic puzzles and I really enjoy the challenge though I probably would come unstuck with the Listener puzzles! What a brilliant brain you have!

  4. Snap! I’m rereading Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass at the moment. My illustrated copy gifted to me by my aunt for my seventh birthday. The Cheshire cat has made its appearance – and disappearance – and soon we get to Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I can understand the poem of the Jaberwocky more readily than cryptic crosswords, no matter what is hidden in their construction!

  5. Perhaps the only thing that’s keeping me from discontinuing the subscription to the physical newspaper is the section containing cartoon clips and word puzzles (‘Spellathon’ and scramble are a favourite). But I have gradually stopped reading the cartoons —I guess I have become morose— and I had quit the crossword about a decade back. Your crossword puzzle is both exquisite and intriguing. Somewhere in that mesmerising story by Lewis Carroll, Cheshire Cat has observed, ’Only a few find the way, some don’t recognize it when they do – some… don’t ever want to.’

  6. To be honest, I can’t even follow your explanation of these puzzles, let alone solve one. However: I love the Cheshire Cat. I’ve always amused myself with the thought that the Cat’s way might be my preferred way of leaving this world: slowly fading away, until there’s nothing left but a smile.

  7. Fabulous! Derrick, I believe you must have been a celebrity to those who followed you. The people who did these puzzles of yours had to be so curious about the mind that created them. If there were social media in those days, people would be posting their successes and failures like they are now doing with Wordle.

  8. Oh but what did Mr. Seth say? I assume he praised the cleverness of the puzzle. I would have been delighted with this one in a Sunday crossword, as I would have recognized the image from the drawing, which in my mind is iconic, and the fact that the final puzzle is to remove the cat but for the grin- well, that is wonderful. Well done, Derrick. Certainly worth name-dropping over.

      1. That is sad, to lose correspondence that you may have wanted to keep. I received a great gift when my grandmother was at the end of her life. She had saved all the letters I wrote her in my lifetime, and gave them to me in a box. What a special opportunity to glimpse my younger self. I never would have been able to hang on to old letters during all those years.

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