Elk arse vet and more fun with words

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Words are my trade, of course. I use them to inform, scare, amuse and confuse. Cross words and crosswords. Long before I was a writer though, words have always held a fascination for me: palindromes and anagrams especially, and playing around with words for cryptic crossword clues, have always been sources of casual amusement. Obscure word meanings too.

Power of Words

Elk arse vet is of course an anagram of my name, and it’s a rather splendid one at that. Anagrams are one of the many tools of the crossword compiler.

There are a few conventions a good compiler will observe:

  • Cryptic crosswords are typically 15 x 15 grids; concise puzzles 13 x 13 in size.

  • The grid should be rotationally symmetrical along at least one diagonal axis, preferably both.

  • It’s considered bad form to have too many unconnected ‘lights’: a light is a white square – to be filled in – and more than two consecutive orphan lights is generally thought unfair to the solver.

  • Often puzzles have an additional feature or aim, achievable upon completion of the puzzle.

My speciality was always cryptic puzzles and I’d incorporate a little ‘Easter egg,’ in the form of a pun or play on words in the initial two, three or four clues. The title of the puzzle would furthermore hold a clue to the keywords / theme.

Once a grid is filled with words (the solution), the most fun for the compiler is to be had in compiling the clues. Some of my all time favourites (answers to follow):

1. MIX (5,8)
2. GSGE (9,4)
3. (4,3,3,1,4)
4. Powered flight (9)

I still do the odd commissioned or themed puzzle for freelance clients, but fewer of my own. Nevertheless, it’s still fun to play with words when I’m out: I see a word and encrypt it, such is the way of my mind. For example (and any solver of cryptic crosswords will know the conventions, so the compiling rationale doesn’t require explanation):

Original thoughts

5. Five in Christmas story (5)
6. Thoughts confused in aside (5)
7. Authors, pens and pencils (7)
8. Own hospital at end of short road (4)

(There’s at least one anagram in there).

One of the main characters in my latest book (which contains at least two Easter Eggs) has a palindromic name: Hannah. Other, longer palindromes are available, but probably not anyone’s names:

A man, a plan, a canal: Panama! (probably the most well known).
Mr. Owl ate my metal worm.
A santa lived as a devil at NASA
Dammit, I’m mad.
Was it a rat I saw?
Do geese see God?
Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas.

(That last one is a personal favourite).

A few literary devices aside, I don’t seek to confuse with my fiction writing. I’m not an elitist who uses obscure words for the sake of it, when a more accessible one will do. There are rare occasions though, where a word’s meaning is so specific that there’s no better alternative. In those instances, I’ll explain the word within the context of the story. I’ve yet to use them yet, but these have been a few favourites I’ve discovered recently:

Morosoph: A learned fool. Type of: fool, muggins, sap, saphead, tomfool. A person who lacks good judgement (e.g. Boris Johnson).

Epeolatry: An over-fondness for words.

Lalochezia: Relief derived from swearing.

These are some of the things I do, besides actually writing. I read, I learn, and I write, especially when I’m clearing my mind between books. And today I’m starting to plot the next one: The journey of two quiet and otherwise unknown people, who made a real difference to a lot of others.

Cyrus Song is available now.

Solutions:

1. Roman numerals
2. Scrambled eggs
3. Have not got a clue
4. Escalator

5. Novel
6. Ideas
7. Writers
8. Have

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