Two Girls, One on Each Knee: The Puzzling, Playful World of the Crossword — a Penguin Paperback

5 June 2014

My book about crosswords, Two Girls, One on Each Knee, is out today as a paperback.

Two Girls One on Each Knee

It costs no more than £8.99, and I have removed an error, one concerning the PG Wodehouse story with the strawberries. It now begins with some commendations:

‘Connor’s wry, good-natured tone and his commitment to the serious business of play make him the perfect guide to a great pastime’ John Gallagher, Telegraph

‘Alan Connor’s charming, fascinating history of how the crossword went from a space filler in the back section of an American newspaper to one of the world’s most ubiquitous and addictive habits – he estimates that in Britain some 14.7m people do a crossword at least once a week – is the guide you have been waiting for. In a single, gloriously decipherable chapter he lays out with perfect clarity the entire range of rules and devices through which cryptic clues work their magic’ Robert Collins, Sunday Times

‘Connor’s scholarly knowledge doesn’t stop him extolling the vocabulary of The Simpsons. The solution to the title, by the way, is ‘patella’.’ Ben Felsenburg, Metro

No crossword addict, be they a compiler or a solver, can ignore itAlan Taylor, Herald

‘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 connections with the trains (one line in the US used to carry dictionaries)’ Carl Wilkinson, Financial Times

‘The brilliant new book on crosswords . . .  Delivers fun galore whether you’re a doer or a duffer . . . Two Girls, One on Each Knee consists of a series of short, sparky chapters on topics as various as ‘Crosswords and detective fiction’, ‘Can machines do crosswords?’ and ‘The many ways of being rude in a crossword’. . . And this is also the guiding principle of his book — it favours the byway over the highway, and can never say no to a red herring’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

‘This book shows you, among other things, how speaking aloud unpromising phrases such as ‘Tooting Carmen’ and ‘Servants Tease’ can yield obvious answers, and how sociable the crossword is. Of course, it can be tackled alone, and in Brief Encounter, it represents the antithesis of the longed-for romance, but it’s also perhaps fun to tackle with two or more heads rather than one’ Michael Caines, The Times Literary Supplement

‘Connor writes with great flair . . . it is nice to dip in and out of his entertaining essays’ Don Manley, Church Times

‘It is the relationship between setter and solver, between words and fun which provides the narrative thrust for Two Girls, One on Each Knee … ‘The experience of reading this book’, Connor says in the preamble, ‘should be equivalent to that of solving a cryptic puzzle…’ In fact it is rather better; it does not demand as much of the reader as a good puzzle does of the solver, but it delivers far more of its own accord. It is witty, charming, encyclopaedic and highly readable – and it can be read in any order. Take a chapter or a paragraph, a puzzle or a clue. In each the reader will find something to intrigue and delightSandy Balfour, Spectator

‘A wonderful little book that looks at the fascinating, often baffling world of the cryptic crossword. What connects Bletchley Park and the Daily Telegraph? And why should you always start in the bottom right-hand corner? Most of all, it’s a celebration of languageJon Stock, Daily Telegraph

Delightful . . .
Verdict: Top rating for odd number of celebrities (4,5)’ Brandon Robshaw, Independent on Sunday

A joyous paean to the history of puzzlement and an essential guidePD Smith, The Guardian

Delightful celebration of crosswords’ The Observer

‘A glorious guide that explains the history and universal appeal of the crossword’ Sunday Times, 100 Best Books for the Beach

You can buy it from your local bookshop, or from Penguin, Waterstones, Amazon, on Kindle, via Google etc…

Only Connect for BBC Two

13 July 2015

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Series 11 of Only Connect, with me in the question-editor chair, begins tonight on BBC Two at 8.30pm.

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Charlie Brooker’s Election Wipe | BBC2

30 April 2015

I am a proud member of Team Election Wipe, the fruits of whose labours will be broadcast shortly before the polls open.

Charlie Brooker’s 2014 Wipe | BBC2

22 December 2014

I am a proud member of Team 2014 Wipe, the fruit of whose toil will be on BBC Two on 30 December:

Update 29 Jan 2015: The new series of Weekly Wipe begins tonight:

Board Games | The Guardian

13 December 2014
games

A short piece for the Guardian about “the best board games you’ve never heard of“:

Cosmic Encounter: Ignore the name. And the scifi-flavoured box. This is a strategy game, but the brilliance is that each player can utterly break the rules in a different way. One might be permitted to play out of turn; another might be allowed to declare themselves the winner if they go out first. What you do, and who you trust, is determined far more by this rule-breaking than by the straightforward mechanics underneath. The possible combinations of these disruptive powers mean that each time you play, it’s a thoroughly new experience – and each time, it’s the greatest board game you’ve ever played.

Why Nick Drake’s is music of comfort, not of despair | BBC News

25 November 2014

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On the 40th anniversary of Nick Drake‘s death, a short piece for the BBC News Magazine:

His first album, the pastoral Five Leaves Left, correspondingly begins with the lines: ‘Time has told me you’re a rare, rare find / A troubled cure for a troubled mind’.

The second, Bryter Layter, is purposefully upbeat and the last, Pink Moon, ends: ‘So look, see the sights, the endless summer nights / And go play the game that you learned from the morning’. This is music of comfort, not of despair; rebirth, not death.

Here’s the documentary mentioned, A Skin Too Few:

And there’s a John Peel version of my favourite track, Cello Song, at the Guardian.