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Icon of the month: Crossword

James Cary


The black and white squares, the little numbers in the corner - a crossword looks simple, but can be stunningly complex. Even the so-called quick crosswords, which can be doubly infuriating since they are meant to be 'easy'.

The Times has just published its 25,000th crossword - and has rightly made a fuss about it. Few things raise the hackles of readers more than fiddling about with the crossword (phone-hacking scandals notwithstanding). It'd be interesting to see what would happen to the circulation of a national newspaper if it dropped the crossword altogether. A dramatic fall in sales, one would imagine. Crosswords are sacred cows. Touch them at your peril.

Critics of these word puzzles say they are totally pointless, being zero-sum games. A setter takes an hour or two fitting words into a grid. They then take another hour or two to compose clues to encrypt them. The crossword cracker then spends minutes or hours reversing the process. Nothing useful takes place. Why bother?

Cruciverbalists retort that regular decrypting keeps their brain active, encourages knowledge and develops word-power. And they are fun. These are all perfectly good reasons to defend the crosswords. But is all that can be said for them?

Perhaps not. The skills required to do the Crossword are not altogether different from the skills required to read the Bible - and also listen to Jesus himself.  The Bible is a book of words, and not averse to the odd bit  wordplay. You even get some acrostics in the Psalms.

And like all decent literature, the Bible is cryptic. Its meaning is not immediately obvious and requires time and thought to uncover. There are some clear commands and instructions that are not intended to be ambiguous. But the Bible is mostly made up of stories, parables and poems that could have a number of possible meanings. Jesus was explicit about the fact that he used parables so that some people would not understand - those who weren't prepared to work out the meaning of what he said. Undoubtedly some did cough and splutter at his cryptic clues, just like anti-crossword folk do when they read out 1 Across in a sarcastic tone followed by the exclamation 'Come on, what the heck is that supposed to mean?' They are blind to the delights of the cryptic crossword.

To some, all this will seem odd because if the Bible is from God and contains all the knowledge you need to be saved or glorify Christ - for want of better phrases - why isn't the text shorter, clearer and more obvious? Maybe a leaflet containing John 3:16, some bits of Genesis and  Exodus, a happy psalm, a sad psalm, a gospel, Acts-Lite and an Anthology of Pauline epistles, and the end bit of Revelation. Job done, surely?

Obviously not. God knows what he's doing and he's given us a Bible that is rich and complex. It's not a set of instructions but a book for a community of believers. We work what it means together. So it should be no surprise that doing a crossword is often much more fun when done with others, peering over shoulders, cradling a coffee.

This is why crosswords are superior to Sudoko. How can you help someone do a number puzzle. Those are the rules. Off you go. Maybe a few hints, and that's it. But crosswords are a lifetime of learning, and sharing. 25,000 more, please.
 Adam was made to work - and to go from glory to glory. Did Adam need to work or he'd starve? No, there were seed bearing plants that were good for food. He and his descendants didn't need to work to stay alive since there was no sin - or death. So why work? If he hadn't sinned, would Adam have been wondering around looking for things to do? No. We work because we're made to work. And when we fulfill our function, or step into our destiny, we derive the deepest of joys and satisfy our innermost cravings. We don't work because we have to. We work because that's what we are. And in doing crosswords, I think, we experience a foretaste of that work - joyful work for its own sake. Crosswords are wonderful work. And I plan to do them for eternity. n


Neil Warren

Straight to the point and well written! Why can't everyone else be like this?

Posted: 06 December 2011

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