Crossword coincidences have been on my mind this last month. Most of you will know the story of how eight top secret code words appeared as solutions in the Daily Telegraph crossword in the weeks immediately before the Normandy D-Day landings on 6 June 1944. These were Juno, Gold and Sword (the three British and Canadian assault beeches) and Omaha and Utah (the two American targets). On 27 May, Overlord (code for the entire operation) appeared, followed on 30 May by Mulberry (the floating harbours) and on 1 June Neptune (code for the naval assault operation).
The puzzles had been set by Leonard Dawe, headmaster of a school evacuated to Effingham in Surrey. Less well known is the earlier story that, on the day before the disastrous Dieppe raid in August 1942, involving 5,000 Canadian, 1,000 British and 50 American troops, most of whom were immediately killed or captured, Dieppe appeared as a Telegraph solution. In both cases MI5 descended like a ton of bricks, but finally chose to conclude that these were just ‘coincidences’.
With Dawe, this was not exactly true. He was wont to encourage some of his brighter pupils to fill in his blank grids for him. These lads used to go into town and mix with American and Canadian soldiers, who talked pretty freely about the coming invasion, slipping code words into their conversation. One 14-year-old in particular, Ronald French, jotted some of these down in notebooks, whence in due course they made it into the Telegraph. When Dawe was told the full story, he immediately confiscated and burned the books and made Ronald swear on the Bible that he would never tell a soul about the incident. He kept his oath until the mid-1980s, Dawe having died in 1963, aged 73. A fuller account of all this may be read in Val Gilbert’s collection of 80 years of Telegraph cryptic crosswords (Macmillan, 2004).
Our ‘coincidence’ concerns the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and his remarks about the Scottish National Party to Scottish Labour’s spring conference at Perth on 25 February. He likened SNP policy to the behaviour of those who use race or religion for political ends, though ‘only in the sense that it pits one part of the country against another’.
Two days later the Guardian published an opinion piece by Claire Heuchan, a Scottish black radical feminist studying for a PhD at Sterling University. Her view was that Sadiq was right in speaking out. ‘Someone has to say it: the parallels are clear. There is an obvious overlap between nationalism and racism: both mentalities are defined by a politics of us and them’, she wrote.
And then, on 1 March, we published a cryptic puzzle by Picaroon, where the consecutive, but unconnected, solutions to 12 and 14 across were STURGEON RACIST. If you are still following the story, you will not be surprised to be told that this was, unlike with Dawe, completely coincidental. The facts are as follows.
Picaroon sent me his puzzle on 2 October last year and I filed it without looking with his other offerings. I process puzzles in weekly batches of six, so I took this particular one and five others out of the drawer in mid-February, edited them and then wired them in to the Guardian in final form at 8am on 21 February. After that I thought no more about them and moved on to dealing with the following week’s puzzles. Neither I nor Picaroon read the Khan speech at Perth, nor the Heuchan opinion piece until people started rather urgently asking questions about the puzzle. As it happens, both of us rather admire Nicola Sturgeon, as being a party leader who is a cut above the others presently on offer, but that is neither here nor there. And, if you are still reluctant to believe that ‘STURGEON RACIST’ could possibly have been just a coincidence, let me tell you that the notion of being able to commission a new crossword puzzle on a Monday morning and to get an edited version of it into the paper’s computer system by the next day is for the birds.
Our setter Paul, who in other ways strikes me as being a sensible fellow, has decided to run the London marathon again on 23 April. He is doing so to raise money for Sense, the national charity that supports the deafblind. And he is doing so in memory of his older brother, named Paul, who died in 1989 at the age of 27 as a result of an accident in Snowdonia, from whom he took his Guardian nom de plume. And not just run the 26 miles and 385 yards involved. He has asked a friend to fill a crossword grid with 26 solutions (one for each mile of the marathon). At each mile post someone will hold up a board with a solution on it. Over the next mile our hero intends to set (in his head while running) a clue for that solution and dictate it into a small cassette recorder, strapped to one wrist. By the finishing line he should, on this basis, have produced a complete cryptic crossword.
My only role in all of this, apart from trying to persuade him that the idea is crazy, is to find a way of publishing the result, provided (that is) that the recorded clues are not just dehydrated gibberish. But he would be happy beyond words, if Guardian crossword enthusiasts (or indeed anyone of a charitable disposition) were willing to join in sponsoring him by donating to his Sense link, which is: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/J-Halpern1.
February’s Genius No 164 by Crucible had 21 correct entries on the first day and 248 by the deadline. Two of the first three correct entries received were from Australia. The first, in his now regular place, was ‘PSC’ at 01:54. In third place (a newcomer in this position) was ‘maaj’ from Brisbane at 07:10. Between them came another regular, ‘m1f’ from the UK at 02:36.
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