Is 'A ragman (anag) (7)' fair as a Quick clue?

Advance notice: Maskarade’s bank holiday special will be published on Saturday 26 August.


The issue of the place of anagrams in the Quick puzzles has surfaced again this summer. The majority of those expressing a view seem either to dislike them or to dislike them intensely. But I hope it will not cause offence if I say that it is hard to judge whether or not this majority is a representative sample of those who turn to the Guardian Quick for pleasure. Human nature being what it is, it is easier for Disgruntled of Highbury and Islington to hit the keyboard to register ‘dislike’ than for Satisfied of Salford to do so spontaneously to register a positive ‘like’.

So, dropping any pretence that I am neutral on this subject, here are three reasons why I think that, within acceptable limits, anagrams have a proper place in Quick crosswords. First, (as it says on the label) these are crossword puzzles. They are not general knowledge quizzes. The Guardian Weekend publishes an excellent GK quiz each Saturday, set by Thomas Eaton, which is to be found online as well and is an anagram-free zone. However, the anagram has always been an essential part of the game of crosswords, which is all about patterns of letters. Solving an anagram does not involve any specific or specialised knowledge, only an ability to spot these patterns. The job is, of course, made easier by the way in which the solutions to cross-checking clues can help you on your way.

Second, an anagram offers a neat way of providing a helpful additional definition of the required solution. Thus ‘Peril (6)’ could mean hazard, menace or threat and ‘Mum (6) could mean mother. But ‘Garden (anag) – peril (6)’ can only be DANGER and ‘Enlist (anag) – mum (6)’ is clearly SILENT.

Third, an anagram makes it possible for a setter to include words or phrases as solutions that would otherwise be hard or impossible to clue without long and clumsy wording. In a Quick crossword, I am not sure how you could clue CLEAR THE DECKS in a concise and fair way. But ‘Prepare for action – these crackled (anag) (5,3,5)’ gives a clear signpost to the solution.


We all instinctively know that doing crosswords is good for the brain, but it still is nice to have serious medical research to prove it. In case you missed the proceedings of the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, held this year in London in July, they included the presentation of the results of a major research project undertaken jointly by the Exeter University Medical School and Kings College London, using data from more than 17,000 healthy people aged between 50 and 96. The tests clearly indicated that in speed of grammatical reasoning and accuracy of short-term memory people regularly doing crosswords and other word puzzles have a brain function equivalent that of someone 10 years younger than themselves. Sadly, there was no data produced specifically on the therapeutic value to the brain of solving anagrams.


I have failed for four months to give my normal reports on the outcome of the Genius puzzles. New names have appeared in the ‘first past the post’ frame, notably Toots, who seems to have a quite exceptional turn of solving speed. Here are the results:

No 166 by Picaroon for April – Toots at 00:33, PSC in Australia at 01:53, Douglas K. at 02:09, m1f at 03:02 and Pete C. at 03:18. No more came in before 9am, with 43 correct entries on the first day (3 April) and 282 by the deadline.

No 167 by Paul for May – Toots at 01:05, m1f at 02:10, PSC in Australia at 02:14 and PC3542 at 02:37. There were 30 correct entries by the end of the first day (1 May) and 265 by the deadline.

No 168 by Boatman for June – Toots at 02:11 and m1f at 05:14. No more came in before 12 noon, with only eight correct entries on the first day (5 June) and 138 by the deadline.

No 169 by Jack for July – Toots at 00:48 and PSC in Australia at 02:31. No more came in before 08:00, with 18 correct entries on the first day (3 July) and 241 by the deadline.


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