Behind the scenes: who are the FT’s crossword compilers?
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Your setter/compiler handle/pseudonym/alter ego Julius.
Why? My original setter name in the Indy was Knut — after a celebrated polar bear cub in Berlin Zoo. My dear wife has an ursine nickname for me, and the Julius idea came from Bankhaus Julius Bär, the Swiss private bank now part of UBS.
Real name Rob Jacques.
Where are you? Freiburg, Black Forest, Germany (since 2007).
Years compiling Seven and a half years since my broadsheet debut in the Independent but mucked about for a couple of years before that, call it 10 in total.
And measured in number of crosswords, including the FT 480.
Full time or part-time with another job? I am retired.
Did your school mention crossword compiling in career discussions? I spent 30 years at the sharp end of trading rooms at four of the world’s biggest banks, decided to switch from numbers to letters in an effort to keep my brain ticking over.
Interactive crosswords on the FT app
Subscribers can now solve the FT’s Daily Cryptic, Polymath and FT Weekend crosswords on the iOS and Android apps
Who/what got you into cryptic crosswords? My father used to take the Sunday Express in the 1960s (when it was readable, just about) and I became fascinated by The Skeleton as a teenager. Later, I got into solving a daily cryptic on the train to work, which was always packed. I couldn’t ever manage to fold the paper in a way that I could read it, so the crossword in the bottom corner was the easiest bit to get at.
Walk us through your compiling strategy I walk a lot in the Black Forest (thank you Horst Jankowksi) and I generally get an idea when I am out and about for a theme, or a particular clue. As an aide-memoire, I send a cryptic WhatsApp message to my German wife, which always bewilders her.
So you think you’re hard I set a weekly cryptic for TES (formerly the Times Educational Supplement), which is pitched at the easier end and a monthly puzzle for the Telegraph Toughie series, which is not. With my FT and Indy puzzles, I consider my stuff to be in the middle.
The clue you wished you’d written From October’s Independent on Sunday (Hoskins): “Souls essentially dressed in rags?” (7) is still fresh in the mind, it is a great clue (answer below).
And the clue you’re glad you did “Nous avons choisi une maison en Normandie; first impressions?” (6) (answer below).
What’s the topic of conversation when you come across other compilers? I couldn’t single out anything, in particular. I have met lots of other compilers at social events and there isn’t a mono crossword theme to the conversations.
Any advice for solvers? Read the explanatory blogs on fifteensquared.net to get a fuller understanding of different techniques. The site is also invaluable for revealing hidden messages, themes, etc.
And for wannabe compilers? After you have finished and honed your puzzle, find a trusted friend to test-solve it for you and either upload it to mycrossword or send it to Big Dave. You will get constructive feedback. DON’T ignore it.
I went to a seminar hosted by Ashley Knowles (Boatman in the Guardian) back in 2013, which I found very helpful, met some nice people. He is still doing them. Recommended.
Your favourite/least favourite other word game I am currently enjoying Phrazle, which is one of the umpteen Wordle spin-offs and I still enjoy Wördl (the Austrian equivalent of Wordle). I cannot say I am a fan of the New York Times puzzles. The style leaves me cold, I am afraid.
Answers Paupers (u of souls in papers=rags); Acumen (simple acrostic, def=nous).