December 20, 2013 6:59 pm

Two Girls, One on Each Knee, by Alan Connor

Two Girls, One on Each Knee: The Puzzling Past of the Cryptic Crossword, by Alan Connor, Particular, RRP£12.99, 320 pages

 

The crossword appeared for the first time on December 21 1913. It has since become a fixture of popular culture, providing an outlet for jokes and dissent and offering a short-hand for intellectual ability. It has even been discussed in the House of Commons.

Connor’s book is cleverly constructed around an initial cryptic crossword in which each clue provides the title of a chapter. And each chapter can be read independently of the others. There is something to entertain even the most infrequent dabbler, from a primer on how to actually do a cryptic crossword to the puzzle’s famous fans – The Queen, Sepp Blatter and Frank Sinatra among them – and its connection with trains (one line in the US used to carry dictionaries).

As Connor writes in this history of the puzzle on its centenary: “A love of crosswords is also a love of language – albeit a love that enjoys seeing the object of its affections toyed with, tickled and flipped upside-down.”

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