Crossword addicts--and for many of us solving crosswords is indeed an addiction--may be broadly divided into two camps: those who delight in flexing their general knowledge or lexical ability to identify synonyms and those who relish the challenge of unravelling labyrinthine cryptic clues, daily pitting their wits against Sphinx-like riddlers. There are many in both categories who simply refuse to rely on secondary references to track down the final answers to clues that have confounded them, preferring an honourable defeat to shallow victory. But few would deny that resort to a reference book can prevent a sleepless night.
For the Masterminds, a handy desk encyclopaedia (Hutchinson's, for example) or thesaurus (such as Roget's) normally may be trusted to dig them out of trouble, and resort to such books may be justified on the grounds of scholarly research or enlightenment. For the others, relief from the irritation of the uncompleted matrix can prove more tricky. The enigma of the impenetrable clue can remain elusive--is the answer an anagram, a literary allusion, or (a dastardly ruse deployed increasingly by compilers of The Times crossword) is it simply a word you're unlikely ever to have come across? Another common problem for the latter is "getting the wrong end of the stick", whereby the solvers make an initial assumption about the nature of the clue which, if incorrect, can serve to blind them to any alternative interpretation.
The compilers of The Oxford Paperback Crossword Dictionary may be congratulated on creating a tome that should provide succour for any addict crucified by a mystifying Four Across or depressed by a devious One Down. By deploying a simple piece of lateral thinking combined with the wonders of computerisation, they have interrogated the venerable Oxford English Dictionary database and assembled a listing of words, with no definitions, by letter length (2- to 16-letter words) and organised therein alphabetically; thus l-n-f-s- (8) can be identified in a matter of seconds as lungfish; with slightly more application-t-p-o- (7) is revealed as a tiptoe. It would be wrong of me to imply that this technique is an innovation; most crossword dictionaries, such as The Collins Gem Crossword Dictionary, have used a similar approach, often organised thematically, but never before has the size and range of the English canon been so thoroughly analysed--the book boasts over 215,000 entries. The list includes an inspired selection of proper names (eg Nootka, Gandhiesque), compound words, variant spellings (judgement/judgment), irregular plurals (alibi/alibis), common phrases (as it were), abbreviations and hyphenated, solid and broken word forms, providing a formidable tool with which to thwart the most abstruse clue-setter. And therein lies a fringe benefit for, as the eye glides down the columns of type (printed in user-friendly 6-point sans serif), the absence of any syntactical logic to the order of the words produces an effect similar to the daily fix of surrealism enjoyed by the cryptic crossword addict; here, taken at random: bifurcation ... bigbusiness ... bilaterally ... bilberrying ... or sposhy ... spoton ... spotty ... spouse .... The Oxford Paperback Crossword Dictionary is indeed a boon, a joy and (pace Appollinaire, Artaud and Burroughs) an extraordinary reading experience in its own right. --Andrew Heritage
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.