Why Words Make Me Cross

Reading & Writing

Okay, I’ve a confession to make. I spend my life being creative with the English language, and I can’t, for the life of me, do word games – and this is the time of the year when they all come out. I stare at a crossword until my eyes drop out and fail to understand why ‘Small time mushroom that is seasonal fare (5,3) should be ‘MINCE PIE’. I mean, honestly, WTF? So the lovely article on seasonal crosswords here shot right over my head.

I’m rubbish at Scrabble, Boggle or even entry-level word games. My mother was a brilliant and obsessive crossword puzzle solver, and could fill the hardest ones out in just a few minutes, while I would still be struggling on my first clue. Stephen Sondheim famously invented loads of cryptic word games, which is why his movie ‘The Last of Sheila’ is the best murder mystery ever made. The killer’s name is even hidden in the title and the trailer.

Now a new generation of word games is available to play on your phone. And try as I might, I’m still rubbish. So here’s Larry Karaszewski on why ‘The Last of Sheila’ is so brilliantly written.

6 comments on “Why Words Make Me Cross”

  1. I’m the same. The only crossword clue I can do is: five letters, to egg on= toast.


    Merry Xmas!

  2. Lou Morgan says:

    I’m exactly the same: my mother could do crosswords in about five minutes flat, and a friend once spent an entire Sunday afternoon trying to teach me how to solve cryptic crosswords. I still can’t do them.

    And yes, I’m appalling at Scrabble and regularly lose to my husband, who (adding insult to injury) barely reads. My defence is that he’s a tactical player, always looking for the high scores, while I tend to get caught up on trying to do something interesting with a “W”…

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I have a set of hints on how to do cryptic crosses but I can’t really do it. North America tends to give a definition and those aren’t impossible. Scrabble is fine as long as you’re not playing with someone who knows all the three letter words with Q and no U or has ever been in a Scrabble club. A favourite of our choir director was rebus Christmas carols. You’d think that would be easy but we had quite a time trying to puzzle them out.

  4. Wendy Scott says:

    Echoing all the above. I read so much, yet present me with anything resembling anagram or similar and my brain simply turns to mush. I just can’t do them. Scrabble is a cursory attempt – I think the largest word I’ve managed is four letters. I can never think of anything. If nothing else, Mr Fowler, you are not alone.

  5. J F Norris says:

    I can figure out about 25% of the bizarre clues in British crosswords. I’ve never finished one in my life. I much prefer American style crosswords which have a combination of puzzle like clues and straight on definitions. But too many American crosswords are far too easy and unchallenging for me. And I agree with your WTF! That MINCE PIE clue is absurd. Small time = MIN, Mushroom = CEP, that is = I.E. (id est). Figuring out something like that is supposed to be fun? I’d get a migraine in about 30 minutes doing a crossword with clues like that. How many people would come up with CEP for mushroom? The amateur botanists and mycologists, I guess.

    The Last of Sheila is my favorite mystery movie of my teen years. It’s sheer genius and wizardry. Only Green for Danger can compete with it for the best cinematic version of a fair play mystery. In both movies all clues are presented to the viewer (as in the old fashioned puzzle style detective novels) and a brilliant person who has been paying attention can figure out the mystery.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Goodie! ‘The Last of Sheila’ was in our library so I have that until the 30th along with ‘The Lady Killers’ and ‘The Little Foxes’. All L titles because a shelver must have taken the word Last literally so I found it on the bottom L shelf.

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