31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 16 July 2001
When I heard that the new edition of Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword by D S Macnutt was available I was so excited that I had to tell everyone. I now have the book and I am even more enthusiastic.
Swallowtail Books have done a magnificent job in reproducing the book in an authentic font and with the original diagrams. The foreword by Colin Dexter echoes many of my own feelings. When I was a student in the late sixties I was very proud of my solving abilities and could usually finish the Guardian puzzle during the tube journey from Kentish Town to Warren Street. When I came across the puzzles of Ximenes it was as if I had entered a different universe. For weeks I attempted the puzzles without solving more than a half dozen clues. By the time I came upon his book in a public library, and developed my solving skills, Ximenes was no more and Azed had taken over. I read the book from cover to cover and continued to borrow it for many years. Recently I have been searching the book-shops for a copy, but in vain.
Dexter calls this book 'a seminal treatise' and its influence on the world of cruviverbalism was immense. Ximenes unfurls his banner on the very first page when he says that the purpose of the book is "the ambitious one - perhaps too ambitious - of trying to arrive at a system of principles which can make the crossword more enjoyable and rewarding to solvers". The early chapters deal with the history of crosswords and the coming of the cryptic clue before going on to diagram composition and types of clue. In the chapter Crossword Principles he acknowledges his debt to Afrit (A F Ritchie), who made the first moves towards fair clueing but still used unsymmetrical grids.
My favourite chapters are those in which Ximenes talks through the composition of an Everyman and a Ximenes puzzle, from designing the grid to writing the clues. Here you can follow the processes of a superb mind. His personality shines through as he writes the clues, stopping for elevenses and lunch. By 10.45 he is about to give up. "we've been a bit slow so far. What about taking a bit of exercise, and continuing after lunch and a rest! Let's play a few holes of golf: there should be time before lunch." At 3 p.m. he returns to his task, "pleasantly tired in body and refreshed in mind". He has to write a clue to HOUSEWIFE. "With "sew" in the middle, this screams for an "& lit." clue. "How to sew if..."? "She's got, we hear the way to sew...". If E? Not easy to finish it. Try again. Hou(r)-sew-I-Fe (Fe=iron). "I have most of the time to stitch - then I iron." That's nice and perfectly sound." Indeed it is.
The book ends with ten fine puzzles, including ones by Torquemada, Afrit and Ximenes himself. This is far more than a treatise, Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword is thought-provoking and a pleasure to read.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2001
Since reading a library copy some years ago, I have been scouring second-hand bookshops for a copy of "Ximenes On The Art Of The Crossword" to no avail, so I am delighted to see this reprint at last. Although Don Manley's "Chambers Crossword Manual" is an excellent companion for solvers and setters alike, Ximenes' work is by far the most comprehensive for anyone seriously interested in cryptic crossword construction. The granddaddy of "fair setting" covers everything from grid construction to clue mechanics in unsurpassed detail. 'Ximenean' setters are sometimes criticised for their pedantry, but readers of this seminal work will come to appreciate that the construction of enjoyable, rewarding and *fair* puzzles is both an art and a science. I hope Swallowtail Books will follow this release with reprints of other long-out-of-print cruciverbal classics from the likes of Afrit and Torquemada.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
I've been reading 'how to solve' books to help my brave, determined but limited proficiency.
I turned to this one after having read others on the market and can see that this is the original, the template, for all those books dissecting clue types and devices and walking you through puzzles.
As I understand it, 'Ximenes' is the first to write down basic rules of fair play in this cruel but amusing pass-time. That such rules are flouted and twisted by revered setters such as Araucaria matters not one jot. They are there and it is good to have them there, as reassuring (and as heeded) as UN weapons inspectors.
The book is written with wit and panache, and you cringe before a towering intelligence (albeit a kind, fatherly one, who at times breaks his narrative to tell you to go and have a cup of tea or a lie down). The sections where the writer guides you through the creation of a relatively simple (Everyman) puzzle and those diabolical Azed things I won't even look at yet, are fascinating and illuminating.
Order this book. It's worth the wait.