I can't say how well this book works for complete beginners, but I can say what it did for someone who had been gradually learning to do cryptic crosswords for about 10 years. When I read it, I could finish or nearly finish the Guardian and Times puzzles I was tackling but being self-taught, I sometimes solved clues without understanding them properly. This book (first edition) clarified my understanding of clues, and gave me the confidence to start tackling harder puzzles regularly, and to enter the Times Crossword Championship a year or two later. Three years after that I reached the National Final for the first time (1992), and on two later occasions I walked away with the trophy.
Other ways teaching may suit beginners better, but some of the criticisms in other reviews are just plain daft. To the person who complained about untaught indicators in test puzzles, I can only say that untaught indicators are what you have to deal with in real puzzles - learning to solve by rote is not a good way. Likewise including clue types previously learned in test puzzles - you have to learn to see what type a clue might be, not just to solve it when you know the type already.
Declaring an interest: I know Don Manley personally and he recommends a website of mine in the book.
on 1 January 2009
Firstly the good points. Manley does a reasonable job of explaining standard cryptic crossword clues and the tutorials are also helpful. Therefore the first third of the book is worthwhile.
Now, the bad. The two "crossword romps" and their solutions are a waste of space. Puzzles are abundant, so why fill up space with more? Over 30% of the book!
Manley fails to explain satisfactorily some of the answers to clues; perhaps they are obvious to him.
He confesses to being a Ximenean but cautions that many setters are not(Araucaria being a prime example). Therefore does this not render a large part of his advice moot?
He also eschews personal names. Ironically in a recent Guardian puzzle, as Pasquale, he egregiously breaks his own rules giving answers as Apollo, non-Ximenean, and Prince Charles, a person.
As a result of his book, I must admit that I look at clues more analytically but also more critically (not always helpful when the setter is a non-Ximenean, as is frequently the case).
The sections on advanced and special crosswords were of no help whatsoever. The only information that I got from them was that one had better have a wide knowledge of the existence of very obscure words. Little advice was offered on cracking the clues. Perhaps none exists, ones mind may have to work in this convoluted way! Certainly the book gave me no encouragement to venture beyond the standard, daily broadsheet cryptic.
The section on setting was of no use at all. I have tried setting puzzles and it is not easy to fill in the spaces, especially towards the end. Manley makes it sound simple. He uses his own grid and never addresses how to tackle one that is provided by a third party.
Manley's advice to editors seems to me just a combination of common-sense and plain good manners. Perhaps this is all that is required, but it is hardly the Crown Jewels.
On solving, Manley states that he always starts with a down clue, but never explains why. Is it obvious?
After 40+ years of cruciverbalism I had hoped for a breakthrough. Perhaps I was too optimistic and will have to struggle on unaided.
My final words to Manley are "Could do better".