The Crossword Century: 100 Years of Witty Wordplay, Ingenious Puzzles, and Linguistic Mischief for Gotham

3 July 2014

Amusing and informative
— Pultizer-winner Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

such a fun read
— Dinesh Ramde, Washington Times

the_crossword_century_alan_connorMy book about the fun of crosswords, The Crossword Century: 100 Years of Witty Wordplay, Ingenious Puzzles, and Linguistic Mischief, has been published by Gotham.

A couple of responses…

“Alan Connor’s Crossword Century is a fun and fascinating tale of language, commerce, culture and play. Before reading this book, I didn’t have a clue about the crossword’s checkered past. Now I can see its extraordinary future, too.”

— John Pollack, author of The Pun Also Rises and Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation and Sell Your Greatest Ideas

“If you love language and history and marvel at the genius of puzzles, codes, and game design, Alan Connor’s deep dive into the crossword will keep you smiling and eagerly turning pages. Connor playfully explores the history of the beloved, gamified fever dream of sentences, definitions, letters, and words that is the modern crossword and reveals the dance that strange invention has enjoyed with its caretakers across history. If you adore words and wordplay, if you see language as an endless mutating jungle of puzzles and experimentation, you need this book in your life.”

— David McRaney, author of You Are Not so Smart and You Are Now Less Dumb

…some press…

…and the reviews of the British edition as a word cloud:

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It is available at your local bookshop, or at IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Books-A-Million, The Book Depository, iTunes, and so on.

And… it contains a puzzle by Brendan Emmett Quigley.

Listen: Think, from KERA

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.

The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows for the BBC

9 October 2014

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A piece for the BBC about how Brian Wilson and Tony Asher composed God Only Knows.

These conversations were fractured. Wilson, who had been denied a childhood, would break off to show Asher his mechanical parrots or to watch episodes of Flipper, an “aquatic Lassie” series about a dolphin which invariably reduced him to tears.

In time, Wilson played Asher the pieces of music he had in mind for an album called Pet Sounds and Asher essayed some lyrics to fit the themes Wilson had in mind. When they got to God Only Knows, things didn’t start well. Wilson felt that “I may not always love you” was absolutely the wrong way to kick off a love song. Too negative, he insisted.

Indebted to Nick Kent’s The Dark Stuff, Kingsley Abbott’s Pet Sounds: The Greatest Album of the Twentieth Century, Timothy White’s The Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the Southern Californian Experience and Brian Wilson’s Wouldn’t it be Nice: My Own Story (with Todd Gold (and Eugene E Landy)).

How to Win at Quizzes, and Solve Cryptic Crosswords, for the Guardian

13 September 2014

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Two pieces in today’s Do Something supplement: How to win quizzes – from pub contests to Mastermind and How to solve a cryptic crossword.

Also, I will be signing Two Girls, One on Each Knee (7) at the reception for the keynote of the Chiswick Book Festival this evening.

  • 6.00pm, Sat 13 Sept: Festival Drinks Reception
  • St Michael & All Angels Parish Hall, Bath Road, London W4 1TT
  • Tickets

Only Connect — Now on BBC Two

28 August 2014
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Series ten of Only Connect, with me in the question-editor chair, begins on BBC Two on Mon 1 September 2014 at 20:30.

Ary Barroso’s Aquarela do Brasil for BBC News

25 June 2014
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A piece for the BBC News Magazine about Aquarela do Brasil:

One rainy night in 1939, he wrote the opening lines of Aquarela do Brasil (Watercolour of Brazil): “Brasil, meu Brasil brasileiro.” This translates as “Brazil, my Brazilian Brazil”. Never have four words been more Brazilian, before or since.

The censors had issues with some colloquialisms and a folksy reference to tambourines, but Barroso persuaded them that his “samba exaltacao” was modern and patriotic enough to meet their exacting requirements.

I thoroughly enjoyed Misha Glenny’s radio documentary The Making of Brazil, Bryan McCann’s book Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil and Scott L. Baugh’s reference work Latino American Cinema: An Encyclopedia of Movies, Stars, Concepts, and Trends. I am indebted; they are recommended.

My favourite versions:

And here’s that Disney, and Ze Carioca alive and well in 2014:

A Talk at the York Festival of Ideas

16 June 2014
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I’m giving a talk about crosswords at the York Festival of Ideas:

Update 20 June: Thank you to everyone at the festival and the university. The slides are here: