Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Times Crossword Championship 2012- Part1

Here at last!
Having done the Mensa IBD meeting at Dubrovnik ( 6 wonderful days ) I was looking forward to spending a week in London with my daughter Priya. I had no specific plans to meet up with the crossword group I had met the previous year.
The previous year I had missed going to a pub quiz conducted by one John Henderson - highly recommended by Priya. This time around I was hopeful not to miss it. The same night, however, we had got tickets for  the  stage version of "Chariots of Fire" and that was a must-see. As there was time afterwords, we made our way to the White Hart at Whitechapel. The pub quiz had a few rounds left and I had a glimpse into how John skillfully constructed each round of questions with a common thread linking the answers.When it was over , I was introduced to John Henderson aka The Enigmatist - a master crossword setter and solver.

With the Enigmatist

 John is married to Jane Teather who is a regular crossword blogger at Fifteensquared
We had a nice chat regarding - what else ? - crosswords and cluing. It was then he casually mentioned that THE Times Crossword Championship was being held that Saturday! He was part of the organizing team and was not taking part AND he was responsible for 1 of the competition crosswords!
Ever since  I was hooked on the Times crossword ( featured in our NST ) I had read quite a bit about this legendary competition. John was the winner in 1996.I mentioned to Priya that we had to attend the competition.Turned out it was within walking distance from where she lived!
John kindly got our names and said that we would be invited as special guests and all we had to do was to inform security of our names!
Now crossword solving is not a spectator sport - and I'm sure that he was very happy at having us there and experiencing a rare treat. The fastest solvers as well as solvers who wanted to see how they fare in a competition - would be there. He mentioned that it was too late to accept new entries!
Being aware of the format - 2 heats and 1 final - each of them with 3 crosswords to solve in 1 hour - I knew that I did not have the speed to complete even 1 crossword in that time.

hmm, crosswords...

Saturday saw Priya and me in the Times office at Thomas More Square. There was quite a crowd waiting for the First Heat from 11am to 12pm.The atmosphere was relaxed but not boisterous. We saw John all suited up - The Invigilator , now.

1st heat of the Championship about to get underway

Soon, an announcement was made and 90 contestants got into the competition hall. There was an introduction by Richard Browne, the Times crossword editor. Then David Levy, the organizer , rattled out some of the rules - clear writing, no usage of any other blank paper and absolutely no phones ringing. With that, the competition began.

Sole Spectator

Twenty five minutes into the heats , we had the 1st submission. 3 crosswords with 90 clues  done in less than half an hour. Talk about fast! The hour drew near and the 1st heat was over. As the contestants went out for tea and snacks, Priya and I met up with a couple of old friends I had met the year before.They remembered me as Derek Harrison's friend. First was Oli Grant.

Oli and Jay

Chris Brougham was there , too. He mentioned that he was there mainly for the occasion and was not too worried about the clock. He made a comparison with a top level chef challenge where judgement was made on how fast one ate up the prepared food!

Chris and Priya

Soon, the results were announced - the first 12 would go into the finals.Oli made it!

Closest I'll come to...

to be continued......


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