They started as a way of celebrating the centenary of the crossword in 2013, and now they’re an institution: they’re my Masterclasses for aspiring setters and advanced solvers.
Compiling puzzles is not the black art that it may seem to be. You need to know some basic techniques, and you need some structure to the way you work. Those things can be learned, as long as you have the type of mind that reads “Car Park” but pictures fish sailing a boat, a carp-ark.
These classes provide a window into the arcane world of professional setting, combining discussion of compiling techniques with essential information about requirements for publication and the use of software, and looking at issues such as quality and fairness, developing a style and managing the creative process.
You can look forward to a stimulating day with a group of people representing a range of experience from relative newcomers to those who are nearly ready to have their work published. Class sizes are kept small. You’ll receive individual attention and a critique of your work in progress, with suggestions of where to focus next.
In addition to your place in the class itself, you’ll receive over 250 pages of course material, written notes on your work and membership of an exclusive online community for news, support and clueing challenges.
These classes are a proven route into professional setting. Whether you are just starting out as a compiler or trying to get your work published, or whether you simply wish to develop an appreciation of cryptic crosswords for your own satisfaction, this could be for you.
The cost for the one-day class is £150, including lunch, drinks and snacks.
Follow the e-mail link at the top of the page to book your place and for details of how to pay, or to join the waiting list for future classes.
Booking and waiting list
Friends’ Meeting House
Late Spring 2018 TBC
09:30 to 16:00
You’ve just missed an exciting class at this lovely venue, but we’ll be returning here soon, so this is the time to make sure of your place - if you’re travelling from outside the Southeast, make a weekend of it and immerse yourself in one of the UK’s most vibrant coastal cities.
Friends’ Meeting House
Spring 2018 TBC
09:30 to 16:00
This will be a special session for past students, looking in more detail at the factors that make a difference between creative, interesting and merely competent puzzles and reviewing their progress in getting noticed as a new setter.
Looking for ideas for a special present?
If you’d like to buy your loved one a place on one of my Masterclasses, I’ll reserve a provisional slot for them, which they can change if they wish. I’ll also send you some material that you can print out and give to them as part of their present.
I’ve run successful classes in Manchester, Birmingham and London, and I’ll set up more wherever there are aspiring setters who’d like to come to them. If that describes you, please drop me a line, then let your friends know and put them in touch with me too, so that I know where to look.
Be My Agent
If you believe that your part of the country is crying out for a Masterclass, or if you’re involved in organising a series of events such as a festival that could include a Masterclass as part of its programme, why not be my agent? There’s very little work involved, so do get in touch and we can talk about the details.
Names and aims
Use of software
Why do people do crosswords?
A brief history of wordplay
The first crosswords
The British conversion
Why Britain and not the US?
Ximenean “rules” and Libertarians
Issues & pitfalls in wordplay,
definitions and surface readings
Why some clues become unfair or
Making clues harder or easier
Two methods of annotation
What makes a clue good or just
American, British and other types
Symmetry, fairness and
Creating a grid from scratch
How they filled grids before
Choosing and filling a library grid Maximising theme fills
Why set crosswords with themes?
Critical and incidental themes
How Boatman themes work
Density and breadth of theme
The creative process
Research and working routines
Ten steps: start to publication
The making of a Boatman puzzle
Who becomes a setter?
Developing a style
Beyond competence, art
Setting as a profession
The mechanics of submitting
Having a long-term plan
Learning to evaluate your work
The setter and the solver
Will you be rich and famous?
Either share work in progress for
discussion and individual advice
Or we can create a themed puzzle
from scratch as a group
Books, websites & blogs, Twitter
names, 1 Across and games
The class is not a solving workshop, but you can use it to learn how a crossword is put together and to get an insight into how compilers think. You’ll find out about the tricks that compilers use when they’re trying to throw you off the scent, and you’ll increase your pleasure whenever you see a really well-constructed grid or a clever theme.
From students at the first Crossword Masterclasses
A very enjoyable and inspiring day
Excellent day, loads of useful information
Great day ... such a complete course
Fab day … exactly what I was hoping for
Good to meet people who are trying to learn to play the same instrument and also get an insight into a maestro's approach
Absolutely brilliant … I really feel ready to step up a level now
I'm really happy I signed up for this. I definitely feel motivated to keep going on my crossword setting quest
Value for money
Look out for Soup and Jack in the Guardian’s Genius slot; Julius in the Financial Times; Daedalus, Bucko, Knut, Vigo, S.park, Serpent and Dutch in the Independent; Soup, Serpent and Claret in 1 Across magazine; and Claret, Skipjack, Soup, Vigo and Windsurfer as the bank of setters at
Soup is also now the editor of 1 Across magazine.
© Copyright Ashley Knowles 2011-2016 | all rights reserved | colour design by Bernadina Lloyd www.bernadinalloyd.co.uk