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Commissioning a puzzle


A completely personal, custom puzzle is a great way to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, a corporate event or any other occasion Ö or do it just for fun. Having someone else provide the theme is fun for me, as well.


An individual custom crossword costs £300, which gives you a puzzle in an electronic format that gives a good approximation of the Guardian print layout, with solution and explanations, reflecting as much of your chosen theme as I can squeeze in. I normally need a couple of months to put together a puzzle that Iím happy with, but if you can give me more time, so much the better, especially around holiday times. Of course, do let me know if you need the puzzle for a particular date.


You can have a standard 15x15 grid or a special shape: if you do want a special shape, youíll need to provide some artwork, ideally in the form of a black silhouette in a bitmap file.




If youíd like to commission a puzzle, the first step is to send me an outline of the theme that you have in mind, with some background information about the recipient.


You may already have a list of words that youíd like me to use Ė in any case, see the Hints box for some suggestions. Itís helpful if you can add a very brief note to explain the significance of each word.




Unless I find the theme completely impossible, Iíll get back to you in a few days with some thoughts about how I might work up the puzzle to give you a sense of where Iím heading, and probably a few questions. At this stage, Iíll just want to make sure that I donít go down any blind alleys, so youíll be free to comment as much or as little as you like.


If youíre happy with my plan, itís now that Iíll ask you to pay.




Your completed crossword will arrive as a .pdf file containing two pages, with the crossword on the first page and the solution (with explanations of the wordplay) on the second. If you need the puzzle in a different format, just say.

Hints for creating†† a great puzzle


A really good themed puzzle has at least ten or a dozen theme words in it and (if Iím doing it) a few references to the theme elsewhere in the clues. But not every set of ten words will slot together, so itís very important to have some alternatives. There are no hard and fast rules, but a good approach is to make three lists:


A few key words that must be in the puzzle;


10 or more high priority words; and


At least another 10 words (or as many as you like) of lower priority.


You may like to think about people and places that are important to your subject, their job, interests, unusual catch phrases Ö Anything goes!


Instead of your key words, you might have a short quotation: phrases containing around 30 letters usually work well, though there is less flexibility for including other words in the puzzle.


Another approach is to suggest just one or two key words and leave the rest to me: for example, if the puzzle is for someone called White, then it could contain a number of words that are related to the colour white or contain the letters WHITE.


Above all, be light-hearted!

Give me problems.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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From recipients of Boatman bespoke puzzles


What a success your crossword has been Ö quite overwhelmed

Thanks for giving me such pleasure Ö I enjoyed it enormously Ö so personal Ö very special

Fabulous Ö what a lot of fun

A huge success

Loved the puzzle! ... stunned ... no idea that such a thing could be done ... in awe and very touched ... laughed his head off

Wow, this is brilliant! Ö such a unique piece ó just reading through the clues has been a (slightly surreal) delight!

Other ways to commission a puzzle


If Iím not available, or if your budget wouldnít cover my fees, I recommend that you look at


CustomCryptic Crosswords.com


In addition to giving you the choice of two other Guardian setters, this site gives you access to a bank of up-and-coming setters, all of whom have been on my Masterclass programme and who can create an elegant and witty puzzle for a very reasonable price.

© Copyright Ashley Knowles 2011-2016 | all rights reserved† | colour design by Bernadina Lloyd www.bernadinalloyd.co.uk

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