Cryptic Crosswords with Rory Motion reviewed by Patrick McGuckin

This review was written by a member of the Ilkley Literature Festival review team. The Review Team take part in a special reviewing workshop at the start of the Festival before attending Festival events.


I need to get this out quickly, I loved this event! It’s one of the best I’ve ever attended at the Ilkley literature festival!

A larger venue would have been good, as there was evidently a lot of demand for this workshop on how to solve cryptic crosswords. This session started in a great way as a fantastic slice of Victoria sponge and a cup of tea was served to everyone by the staff at the Clarke Foley Centre.

Rory Motion is a performance poet. He has also been enthusiastically solving cryptic crosswords for over 50 years. Having been taught by his parents how to solve them he was keen to pass on tips to those of us often left bemused by this most esoteric of puzzles. He explained that he felt it helped his mother’s mind keep active in the last years of her life. They would solve crosswords together as he looked after her.

I had feared that I would end up looking silly at this event, but discovered that most of the people there were also in the position of being baffled by them too.

The workshop took the format of working through the complete puzzle from the Observer newspaper. What became clear is that there is an arcane language and established tradition in some of these clues. For example a clue containing the word “information” will often have the syllable ‘gen’ as part of the answer. This is only something you would either come to know from experience, or from a workshop like this.

We were taught how to look for the many pointers for anagrams. Some were obvious such as ‘shake’ or ‘churn’ but some we would never have got such as ‘in criminal’. We also learnt that some of the more devious crossword setters include false pointers.

There were many groans and moans from the audience as we worked through the answers. Rory Motion did break up the session with a comic poem which also acted as a trailer for a performance he was doing later that day.

The session was a little rushed towards the end as we tried to complete the crossword within the hour, another fifteen minutes would have been better. However we left knowing many of the techniques and rituals of the cryptic crossword and were eager to start tackling the puzzles straight away.

Patrick McGuckin has lived in Ilkley for 18 years and attended Ilkley Literature Festival for most of those years. Since attending the Review Writing Workshop a few years ago on a whi his has regularly reviewed events for the Festival. Patrick also reviews performances at Ilkley Playhouse for Ilkley Gazette.


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