I’ve solved cryptic crosswords for many years – it’s how I met my best man – and in 2012 I tried my hand at setting them. My first efforts were terrible, but Araucaria (a legend of the crosswording world) said some nice things about them and was encouraging. A lot of practice later, I now set puzzles for fun, for 1 Across magazine (started by Araucaria, and of which I was editor until I started my Research Fellowship), for the Guardian’s Genius series and the daily newspaper (e.g. this puzzle), as custom puzzles for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas presents etc., and I sometimes set 3D crossword puzzles, which take the artform in a whole new dimension (quite literally!). I was commissioned to set a puzzle for the author Anthony Horowitz, as a present from his editor to mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first in the series of Alex Rider novels; he commented that ‘it took me a while to crack – and it was a joy’. I also set a puzzle for the Guardian to commemorate Araucaria’s 100th birthday, joining forces with Enigmatist.

My style can best be described as ‘anything goes’ – I don’t always stick to ‘the rules’, but try to make puzzles which are interesting, enjoyable, and fun. For the Guardian’s Genius series, I try to make puzzles which make the solver think ‘he’s done what?‘, often writing computer programs to generate lists of words which match particular criteria (eg all the words which alternate consonant, vowel, consonant, vowel, etc., all the words which contain a number, like ALONE or WEIGHTLIFTER, all the words which, when the letters are cycled from last to first, give new words (ALLOY -> LOYAL), and so on. For the custom puzzles, I can usually get about half to two-thirds of the clues or solutions themed, sometimes including words which are only relevant to the person for whom it’s been commissioned (recent notable words include GLOTGLUT, the target’s childhood way of saying ‘chocolate’ which they’ve continued using to adulthood; another was the target’s nickname, LEGALLY WANIEL).

You can try my puzzles in the Guardian’s Genius series or on Alberich’s website (1 and 2 – the second being an ‘alphabetical jigsaw’ where the clues must be fitted into the grid jigsaw-wise, wherever they will go – an added ‘bonus’ (which in reality just makes it harder to set) is that the clues are in iambic pentameter rhyming couplets). You can also have a look at 1 Across, the monthly crossword magazine which I used to edit. If you’re interested in commissioning a puzzle, then contact me.

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