In Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8)
, award-winning documentary filmmaker Sandy Balfour traces the history of his longstanding fascination with the construction and solving of crosswords, and searches deeper, into the multiplicity of languages, and the relationship between setter and solver that at first appears cruel and combative, but establishes itself as empathetic and playful.
On the way, he reflects on matters less cerebral: his early life in Apartheid-era South Africa, his transplantation to Britain, the travels and tribulations of international filmmaking, and a personal journey to fatherhood; all the time both burdened and enabled by the seemingly conflicting modes of thinking--unfettered and rebellious, pedantic and disciplined--that characterise the successful cryptic crossword. The book is studded with cryptic clues (thankfully, and instructively solved later), and culminates in a crossword set by the author's chief tormentor, and hero, Araucaria, of the Guardian, which appeared in the newspaper to celebrate Balfour's 40th birthday.
Balfour writes in an easy, discursive style, and while it's doubtful that complete newcomers to cryptic puzzles will find him an entirely suitable tutor (try instead How To Do The Times Crossword), he is at least blessed with a wonderful capacity to enthuse. Crossword regulars should seek no more elaborate invitation than the challenge of the book's title. --Alex Hankin
'A book to make writers curse themselves for not having thought of the idea first
A delight.' -- Alan Coren
'As enigmatic and pleasurable as a prefect crossword clue, gradually yielding up the hidden meanings that elucidate the mystery of love.' -- Francis Wheen
'Enganing, informative, funny and full of heart - a crossword story to excite solvers and non-solvers alike.' -- Will Shortz, Crossword Editor, New York Times
'Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) is like a great crossword clue - I couldn't put it down until I worked it out.' -- Clive James
'Witty and ingenious.' -- Doris Lessing