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on 10 November 2013
This book certainly would make a good present for a crossword-loving friend or family member. With its tasteful cover and erudite subject this is perfect for a coffee table. However, I also recommend reading it! It's good: well-written, fun and informative. It is also challenging - but it's up to you how challenging you want to make it. Some chapters I read quickly, others in detail - poring over sentences and not moving on until I understood them fully and had solved their clues. And there are lots of clues in this book. The table of contents is a crossword. Even the index contains clues! I was going to describe this as a 'concept' book, but that has a specific meaning in publishing, and this most certainly isn't a children's book.

The 'Preamble' says that the book is like solving a cryptic puzzle, and that you can read it in any order. This put me off at first as I am something of a traditionalist when it comes to reading a book - I like to start at the beginning and read each word in turn until I reach the end. In fact that's what I did, and I don't think I missed out by doing that. However I can see how some readers might want to pick-and-choose from the chapters- in particular, if you already know how to tackle cryptic clues then you might find some of the earlier chapters a bit suck-eggs-ish.

Which brings me on to a question I pondered while reading this book: is it aimed at a dabbler like me (think P.G. Wodehouse rather than M.R James) or a crossword aficionado? I think it is trying for both, and in my (dabbler's) opinion it succeeds. It is packed full of facts and anecdotes, told in a chatty, entertaining style. It seems meticulously researched - I doubt there's a crossword fact, or reference in history, politics or popular culture that Connor has missed.
Some sections are undoubtedly challenging for a dabbler, but then so are cryptic crosswords and if you don't like those you wouldn't be here.
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on 9 January 2014
Witty and erudite and always interesting, as is Sandy Balfour's earlier charming book on crosswords (PRETTY GIRL IN CRIMSON ROSE (8)) BY BALFOUR, SANDY[ AUTHOR ]Paperback 03-2004 which shares so much with this one, so I thought I'd give that one a plug in this review as no other reviewer so far has given it a mention. Despite the solitary nature of their hobby, both books suggest that solvers are also interesting people with a quirkily lateral view of the world.
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on 31 March 2017
I think I'll be a lot better at cryptics now, having read this!
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on 30 May 2017
Essential for crossword addicts
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on 19 December 2013
A well-written chronicle of cryptic crosswords.

A must-have for the bookshelf that celebrates the centenary of a wonderfully challenging and mind-stretching hobby.
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on 28 November 2016
Very funny
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on 18 April 2017
Excellent
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on 25 December 2013
I've enjoyed reading this book, full of snippets of information on the history of crosswords, details of crossword setters themselves and types of clues with lots of examples. Which is where I wish I had bought the print version rather than the Kindle version. The answers to these example clues are, as usual , at the back of the book, and it is not that easy to flip between the two on a Kindle. If I'd known there were as many as there are I would definitely have bought the print version. However, a recommended read.
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on 7 December 2013
Elegant, absorbing and beautifully written and produced, this is the Christmas present I will be giving to all my crossword obsessed friends,whilst jealously guarding my own copy. It celebrates a hundred years of the world's most popular intellectual pastime and is engaging playful and, most importantly, consistently kind. It has given hope even to this inept and elementary puzzler.
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How can you not love a book that brings together Stephen Sondheim, Georges Perec and the Two Ronnies?

Though I'm not particularly good at cryptic crosswords - knowing enough to adore Araucaria but generally have to look a few clues up online, and I'll never join the 'done in twenty minutes' or even an hour, club - I loved it. That's because the book's strength is all the stuff it has in it which isn't totally about crosswords - a discussion of what being a bit too keen on crosswords might signify in film script shorthand (cue a lovely essay on Brief Encounter); a totally brill first chapter on the evolution of PG Wodehouse's relationship with crosswords, both fictional and in reality; a very entertaining dip into the murky scientific waters around claims that doing the crossword will stave off dementia.

Alan Connor's book is a great Christmassy sort of gift book, but it's also really beautifully written and constructed - he seems to me to have taken the same care over it as a good setter would over a set of clues. His sentences are lovely, his sense of humour very entertaining, and at the same time he seems to have an inexhaustible supply of funny crossword trivia (good sketches off the telly involving crosswords, people who've asked for crosswords on Desert Island Discs, etc etc).

There's also a lot more detail about setters, structures, what happens when things are misclued, and stuff like that probably of interest only to keen crossword solvers; in fact the only possible criticism I could make of the book is one touched on by the other reviewer - who is meant to buy the book - beginners, or experts? But I think on the whole the book is SO enjoyable that any fairly intelligent person would really love it.

(I was also glad of a chapter that finally explained the totally bonkers 'Listener' Crossword to me, and regalvanised my resolve about never actually trying to do one. Though I'm not sure it should have been quite so early in the book. The Listener actually came BEFORE the chapter on basic clue solving, which I thought could be interpreted as just plain cruel...)
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