Two Girls, One on Each Knee (7): The Puzzling, Playful World of the Crossword

My book to mark the centenary of the crossword is published today by Penguin. Here it is…


…in Kew Bookshop.

Reviews, etc: Sunday Times; Mail on Sunday; Spectator; Telegraph; Scotsman; Financial Times; Metro; Times; Herald; Globe & Mail.

Hear me: on The Verb and on Weekend.

From the blurb:

• How have crosswords helped international relations, caused a strike by welders, become embroiled with espionage and even caused a moral panic?

• What have Frank Sinatra, P. G. Wodehouse and Stephen Sondheim got to do with the humble grid?
• What connects Bletchley Park and the Daily Telegraph?
Two Girls One On Each Knee• Which famous fan starts each day with the Telegraph crossword and kippers?

On 21 December 2013, the crossword puzzle will be 100 years old. In the century since its birth, it has evolved into the world’s most popular intellectual pastime. In Two Girls, One on Each Knee, Alan Connor celebrates the wit, ingenuity and frustration of this addictive sport and how it has grown.
The story of the crossword takes us from the beaches of D-Day to the banks of the river Neva, via Fleet Street and the Old Bailey. It involves the most fiendish setters, such as Torquemada and Ximenes; famous fans (both real and imaginary) from P. G. Wodehouse to Frank Sinatra, Inspector Morse to Reggie Perrin. You’ll discover how crosswords have featured in films such as Brief Encounter and songs by Madness and Ian Dury; how they intersect with espionage, jokes, class and morality; and how they reflect back how our language and behaviour has changed over the last century. You’ll also discover how listening to white noise can help you do a crossword, why you should start in the bottom right-hand corner, and why cryptic crosswords are actually easier than quick (honestly).
This is a book about language and how it speaks to itself, twisting and transforming through cryptic clues before resolving itself, with a bit of luck, into an answer. Where else would you find words such as Intussuscept, Obtemperate, Zibet and Raisiny?

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

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5 Responses to Two Girls, One on Each Knee (7): The Puzzling, Playful World of the Crossword

  1. Cinnamon says:

    Enjoyed reading “Two girls”. Many interesting titbits. One question: What is the “deeply hidden message” hidden in the grid on Pg. 153 ? It doesn’t appear in the solutions, nor can anyone else I know find it.

    • admin says:

      Cinnamon, I’m afraid that I callously decided that the ninas wouldn’t appear in the answers. It’s a fiend, isn’t it? If you started with the I and got ITSNO, you were going in the right direction (for the moment). If it’s still eluding you (or if you enjoyed anything hidden in that or other chapters), do pop back and I’ll gladly hint further… [NB: I have no idea if this will appear in my name or – more likely – as “admin”.]

      • Cinnamon says:

        Hi, Alan,
        Yes, your email purported to be from “Admin”, but I know it’s from you. I really do appreciate you taking the trouble to reply. Yes, you are indeed callous and fiendish in not revealing the ninas in the book; and yes, I did get the “ITSNO” (pg 153) but alas, you’ve guessed it, I’ve got no further!
        I’ll try again because I’m curious and determined, so please don’t send me the solution just yet. I’ll definitely contact you if this defeats me.
        Thanks again, Alan.
        Best wishes,
        Fernanda (my real name).

      • Cinnamon says:

        Ah. Have finally solved the nina on Pg 153! Alan, it took ages; I was cutting tiny paper strips to cover horizontal, vertical or diagonal lines in an effort to gain different perspectives.
        We had bits of paper all over the place. Ridiculous and hilarious.
        My husband thought I’d completely lost it!
        In the end this didn’t help at all. I just found it by accident.

        Thanks for your input, though. Am encouraging others to read your book. Happy writing!

        Best wishes,

        • admin says:

          Oh good, Fernanda. Part of the “pleasure” of a nina is realising it’s been staring you in the face – even moreso with this piece of devilry from Phi (who is online here, by the way. I hope he shares my joy at the vision of a ticker-tape parade…

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