Bloggers Past ..
When Times for The Times began in 2006, founder Peter Biddlecombe wrote every blog himself. It did not take him long to work out that this could not be kept up indefinitely, and he sought help from some of his fellow solvers. Since then, there have been quite a number of volunteer bloggers (51, as at April 2022). Since these include at least four Times Crossword Champions, as well as runners-up, highly regarded setters, and various other crossword luminaries, it was felt important that their contributions should be recorded and remembered; hence this page, which includes at least a little information about virtually all our past bloggers. (There is information about our current bloggers, here)
These biographies are included with gratitude for past blogging contributions. Obviously, the information may no longer be entirely up-to-date! In 2019 JerryW tried to contact all past and present bloggers, to check and where necessary update their details, so the great majority of entries were correct as at August 2019.
33 past bloggers, as of August 2023:
7dPenguin (Ken Gillett) Jumbo Cryptics
Born 1959. I’m a software developer and live in Accrington, Lancashire. I started solving during my student years, being an occasional solver of The Guardian and Telegraph, usually in the pub on aSaturday lunchtime (with Penfold_61, a regular contributor to TfTT). I remained an occasional solver of the dailies until about 2004 when I paid my subscription to the Times and figured I’d better get my money’s worth by solving every day. It usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes to complete, often taking longer and occasionally less. My all-time best is 5:10. My weaknesses are many and various, but I have a real aversion towards old books and old music. I’d also vote to ban homophone clues because they rarely sound alike to me. I particularly dislike it when people think that not sounding an R in a word is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Why put it there, if you’re not going to?
I’m a regular attendee at the Times Crossword National Championships and was thoroughly delighted to once reach the grand final. I haven’t really troubled the leader board before or since though, but I usually do exceptionally well in the beer drinking round afterwards.
Apart from the wonderful world of crosswords, I like to go on walks, watch football (Blackburn Rovers) and bash my guitar in the forlorn hoping of getting something musical out of it. Although I no longer comment on here, I still find it a fantastic resource and visit you all every day. People tell me I should start commenting again and perhaps, one of these days, I will think of something worth saying. Updated Aug 2019
Ken was a founder blogger at TfTT, in 2006.
chrisw (Chris) Quick Cryptic
Having had the pleasure of meeting Tony Sever (all Cryptics most days in under 10 minutes) at a crossword ‘do’ in a bar somewhere in London, I am keenly aware of my inadequacies crossword-wise. His prowess, he says, comes from starting cryptics at a very young age (7 from a poor memory). My attempts at cryptics didn’t begin until I was two decades older by which time I would never be in the ‘solve 3 15x15s in an hour in competition’ bracket. Being a 15×15 novice I started reading the blog and finding how much it helped. When the Quick Cryptic came about and bloggers were sought I tentatively put my hand up rather
hoping I wouldn’t be needed. My first blog was Quick Cryptic 7 by Teazel on March 18th 2014 and I’ve settled into the Tuesday slot since then. All comments/posts to the blog are appreciated but I get particular pleasure from hearing from newbies/lurkers and especially the redoubtable SCC (the self and wryly named slow coach club). I see the Quick Cryptic as a fun puzzle which also helps people begin to appreciate the pleasure of cryptics and am very happy to help.
Daveperry (Dave Perry) Jumbo cryptic, ST Cryptic
Born in the summer of ’69, I’ve been doing cryptic crosswords since I was at school. My Dad’s always been keen on crosswords and puzzles of all kinds, the tougher the better. He often had a Times crossword next to him at the dinner table, and he would read the clues out for anyone to chip in with suggestions. I gradually picked up how they worked and started doing the Telegraph for myself. I moved on to the Times about 15 years ago, and I’ve been doing it off and on ever since. I tend to tackle the daily puzzle over my lunch-hour. I finish maybe 4 out of 5, in an average time of about 40-45 minutes I would guess. Certainly, anything under 30 minutes is a good day. I don’t usually get time to look at Saturday’s puzzles, but I do Sunday’s while waiting for my sons to finish their swimming lessons. I grew up in Essex, and went to University of Sussex to read Mathematics. I moved to South Manchester in my late twenties and have lived there ever since. I work in IT, writing web-based software. I am married with two kids, both boys. My strengths are probably Geography & Mythology. I’m reasonably good at Shakespeare, passable at Dickens, and downright awful at anything to do with politics or plants. I like clever anagrams, my favourite to date is one that cropped up in a recent Jumbo – ‘Tester of maths realm’ = ‘Fermat’s last theorem’. To a mathematician like me, that’s quite breathtaking.
Dhogg (David Hogg) Daily Cryptics, Mephisto
Born mid-1960s. Location: Glasgow Occupation: Accountant. I have been solving cryptics since I was 12, starting with the Dundee Courier. I moved on to the Scotsman and then the Times. My average solving time for a Times crossword is about 10-12 minutes, but I have had sub-5 minute successes on occasion. I now blog on Fifteensquared (as loonapick), but apart from the puzzles I cover, I don’t do a regular crossword now although I buy crossword collections as they are more flexible. In the 80s I qualified for the Scottish heat of the Times Crossword Championship on four (maybe five?) occasions, but could only attend one (poor student, don’t you know!). I came 36th. Nowadays, I regularly qualify for the Times Crossword Championship but can’t justify the cost of the trip to London and think they should rotate the venue a bit to give us Scots more of a chance. I haven’t got a lot of experience of barred crosswords, apart from my six-weekly Azed blog, but I try them occasionally. I compile a range of puzzles from mazes to cryptic crosswords. Not had a lot of luck with getting them published, but to be fair, I haven’t tried very hard either. I did have a puzzle published in Games, once.
Updated Aug 2019.
Dorosatt (Dorothy Satterfield)
Born mid-1950s. Born, raised, and still (still!) residing in Wilmington, Delaware. Discovered the British cryptic in the autumn of 1976, when a fellow grad student/puzzle addict tossed me a New York Magazine and told me to check out the puzzle on the last page. The heading was something like ‘World’s Toughest Crossword from the Sunday London Times’, and not a single clue made sense. All my friend could tell me was that this was the type of puzzle they did in Britain and it involved wordplay. I still remember the first clue I managed to solve: ‘Making a fuss bringing up first-born (7,4)’. I shouted out the answer, which was embarrassing, because I was on a crowded train heading for New York at the time. After that, we’d have a go at the puzzle every week; sometimes we’d even finish one. But when I left school, I stopped doing the puzzle, and didn’t start again until a few years ago, when I joined the Times Crossword Club. Through the Club, I discovered Peter Biddlecombe’s blog and I also bought a copy of Don Manley’s Crossword Manual. With all that help, and with daily practice, my solving time has improved considerably (say 45 to 90 minutes on average), but will probably never be fast, which is okay with me. I like to take my time over a good puzzle. I tend to linger lovingly over a finely-wrought clue. My goal is simply to finish within a reasonable amount of time, give my brain a good workout, perhaps learn something, and, above all, have fun.
Dorsetjimbo (Jim Biggin) Mephisto (alternate weeks)
Born 1942 (you can do the sums). Introduced to The Telegraph cryptic crossword by my rather Edwardian aunt when I was 12 and she caught me kissing my cousin (those were the days). Moved on to The Times when I was 15 and have been doing it ever since. I’ve never been particularly fast (I can’t read and write at the same time apart from not having the brain power) and puzzles normally take me from 20 to 50 minutes. My all-time favourite puzzles were those set by Ximenes in the Sunday Observer and I’ve still got my tie somewhere. I’m retired now after spending most of my working life applying IT to insurance and finance. I wrote my first computer based actuarial valuation in 1964 using an ICL1301, which probably accounts for my sense of humour. For 18 years my wife Maureen and I were foster carers looking after teenagers until we retired from that in 2006, during which that same humour kept me sane. I now devote my time to local community affairs, golf and the Times crossword, of course. Updated February 2021. Jim sadly died in January 2021. See TfTT entry here
Fathippy (Marcos Fernandes) Cryptic Jumbo
Born – some time in the distant past – although a Mancunian by birth, lived my formative years on the outskirts of Lisbon, before returning to England for educational purposes, and the “standard” public school, Oxford, Merchant Bank start to life. Was always surrounded by the sorts of teachers who liked cryptics of one sort or another, and lessons were often put on hold to study a clue or two, although I never really regularly did any particular paper’s crossword until very recently. An occasional solver at university, and nothing but the bank holiday jumbos for many years, it was ironically the arrival of Sudoku that started me back on the regular Times cryptic. After retirement, some extra time of a day and having become bored of the rigid structure of the number games, I started doing the times xwd regularly at the beginning of 2009, stumbled upon Peter’s blog soon after, and that was it. Joined the crossword club, downloaded and printed a year’s worth of grids on the back of old bank statements, bought all the paperback books and set about aiming to be competitive at Cheltenham 2010. Managed to get about 40th in heat 2, which was about acceptable as “competitive”, so I plod on ever in awe of some of the knowledge and ability of some of the contributors on here. Current average speeds are about 20-25 mins, although I occasionally hit a wall on unknown content and suffer an unavoidable DNF – basically as a numbers man through and through, I have limited general knowledge especially on things like art, opera, flowers and foodstuff…. in fact, pretty much anything that isn’tbeer, football or rock music!
Updated Aug 2019
Foggyweb (Steve Payne) Daily Cryptics
I was a founder blogger at TfTT, blogging the Monday Cryptic from November 2006 to April 2009. I handed over to Kororareka and Vinyl1. Born in New Zealand in 1976, I moved to the UK in 1977 and began solving cryptic crosswords in the Guardian around 2000. I had only been solving the Times Crossword for about six months when I started blogging at TfTT. I got a lot better at solving during my time with the community; I enjoyed the support and fun, and the occasional face-to-face get-together. I worked as a maths teacher in the UK, and moved to Australia in 2011 where I now spend my time helping schools and businesses do more with technology.I no longer do a daily crossword, but I have Times, Guardian, and Listener crossword books that I pick up now and again. Updated Aug 2019.
Galspray (John Gallagher) Quick cryptic, Cryptic Jumbo
Introduced to crosswords by my dear old grandmother, I started to get the hang of cryptics via a puzzle in a Sydney daily in the 1980s. It had two sets of clues, cryptic and straightforward, for the same solutions, which enabled the novice solver to uncover a lot of the cryptic conventions by a process of reverse engineering. Just a plodder when it comes to solving, but definitely improved as a result of discovering TfTT some time around 2011 (I think). Struggled with the GK required in certain areas such as botany, literature, place names, food, poetry, modern history, ancient history, art, music, geography, chemistry, religion, languages and the classics. Red-hot on cricket and Australian fauna though. Always persevered and was eventually able to complete most daily puzzles within half an hour, only resorting to sandpaper when absolutely necessary. Currently taking a break from solving The Times, but will return to the site at a date yet to be determined. Updated Aug 2019
Born: mid-1980s. I live in West London and sit down at one o’clock to solve the daily cryptic. By profession I’m an auditor for bookmaking and casino software but I tend to use Scrabble and crosswords to take a break from poring over code. I started out with the Telegraph’s cryptic about nine years ago because my then-boss frequently left it only partially solved. I’ve now been solving the Times daily for a couple of years, and the Sunday Times Mephisto puzzle at weekends (timings: 20-40 minutes for a daily).
Helenougham (Helen Ougham) Cryptic Jumbo
I started solving cryptic puzzles in my teens in the early 1970s, when my mother wanted help with the “science clues”, and I was hooked pretty quickly. I first entered the Times National Crossword Competition when I was 17, and as I recall I came about 83rd out of 120 entrants in one of the London regional finals. I got somewhat better over the years, winning the championship in 1995 and again in 2006 when it resumed after a 5-year hiatus. I’ll tackle most cryptic puzzles, including Mephisto, Inquisitor, Azed, Listener and others as well as the broadsheet dailies. When I was working full-time as a plant scientist I had limited time for solving, but now that I’ve (kind of) retired that’s changed, and I’m enjoying the social side of crosswording too. When it comes to solving I’m reasonably good at clues with a science, technology, IT, medicine, literature or mythology slant, poor at pop music and sporting references and disgracefully ignorant about cricket! I live with my husband in Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales and in Kent in about equal proportions. Updated Aug 2019
Ilanc (Ilan Caron) Daily and ST Cryptics
Age: old enough to remember the 1966 world cup. Level: journeyman (Times and Guardian dailies, occasional Azed and Mephisto, and the rare Listener). Times speed: best 15 minutes, average: 45′-1 hour. Born in England but have lived overseas since I was 11 (since I was a sports-obsessed child, Brit cricket and rugby allusions are familiar but much modern britslang is unfamiliar). Cryptics in “The New Yorker” (97-99) were what got me going. Joined Google after spending many years at Microsoft. Updated Aug 2019
Ilan was a founder blogger at TfTT, in 2006
Johnhenderson (John Henderson)
John is best known as a well-regarded setter – Enigmatist in the Guardian, Nimrod in the Independent, Io in the FT and Elgar in the Telegraph Toughie. Since 2011, he has been the editor of the weekly Inquisitor puzzle in what used to be The Independent but is now the i. He started solving and setting crosswords at a very tender age, was strongly influenced by correspondence with Araucaria, and had his first Guardian puzzle published when he was fifteen; on March 29 2019 he marked 40 years as a Guardian setter with a celebratory puzzle. John won the Times Championship in 1996 and claims the fastest time for a competitor in the Times championship – 2:53. After working as a psychology lecturer, he became a full-time setter of crosswords and quizzes in 2003,. He is married to Jane Teather, also a well-known figure in cruciverbal circles, and by no means only for her bright pink hair. Watch out for her on “Only Connect” and similar TV programmes. Updated Aug 2019
Kororareka (Russel John, aka Koro) Daily Cryptics
Blogged alternate Mondays 13/4/2009 – 30/7/2012. Replaced by Ulaca, who is still blogging. Born 1953, Sydney. I was led into a life of crosswords by a wayward friend in high school. The Sunday Times (?) crossword was reproduced in a now defunct Sunday paper and it took a group of us all week to get a handful of clues, sometimes abetted by a Maths teacher. We’d gather clandestinely in the library and chuckle around the complete OED. This was Australia and anything resembling intellectual activity was frowned upon. During my misspent youth as a serious student I stopped doing them, mistakenly believing that life was too short for crosswords. I started doing the Times on a fairly regular basis again in the 90’s. The Times had changed; it was a post Ximenes world. Crosswords became a social event around the tea table at work. In retirement now, I’m a regular laptop solver, submitting my Times assiduously to The Leaderboard, if only to quantify my failing faculties.As I explained in my inaugural blog, I now live in Perth, Western Australia.I have been in and out of tertiary institutions for most of my life, on both sides of the lectern, interspersed with attempts at real life, busking, loft conversion, etc. All in all, a typical Australian career path. I taught statistics to those who would listen. Fortunately there weren’t many in that category, so I had a lot of free time. Rereading some of my blogs, it is obvious I enjoyed doing them, despite what became something of a routine. I stopped when Life said “Enough!”. Updated Aug 2019
Linxit (Andy Wallace) Saturday Cryptic
Born: 1963. I’ve been solving cryptics since I was about 12 helping my Dad with the Telegraph, moved on to the Times when I was in my mid-twenties. Entered Times Championships a couple of times in the nineties, best effort joint 66th in the Bristol regional final, 1992 I think. In 2006 I came 21st in Preliminary B.I do the Guardian most days too, the Spectator every week, and started doing the Listener every week at the beginning of last year. I also do Azed and/or EV if I’m finished early with the Listener. Average time for the Times is around 15-16 minutes, best ever around 5 minutes (started at Southampton station, finished by the time it got to Southampton Parkway, the next stop).
Andy was a founder blogger at TfTT, starting in 2006, and the site maintainer from 2011 to 2017.
Mctext (Alec McHoul) Daily Cryptics
Born 1952. Started doing the daily Times in the sixth form in the UK in the late 60s. I was hopeless at it. Gradually got a bit better but only took a serious interest later in life as a means of alleviating the boredom of university administration. Also a fan of Guardian puzzles and attempting (dismally) to set puzzles in a similar style for a bit of occasional relief. Now a semi-retired professor — of what, they never told me — and living in a once-rural area SE of Perth, Western Australia.
Mr Magoo / i_am_magoo (Mark Goodliffe) Daily cryptics
Mr Magoo, born in 1965, is a multiple Times and Daily Telegraph Crossword Champion, as well as a national Sudoku champion. He has also won the Silver Solver Salver for the Listener crossword, and is a co-editor of The Magpie, a subscription magazine for those who like tough thematic crosswords (and numerical puzzles). He has launched a YouTube channel called Cracking the Cryptic, which occasionally vlogs crosswords, though its main focus has switched to Sudoku under public demand. Mark was a founder blogger at TfTT, in 2006. For more about his remarkable crossword solving skills and successes, see here, or here. Updated Aug 2019
Mohn2 (John McCabe) Cryptic Jumbo
Born 1971. Live on the Yorkshire coast. Most of my working life has been in IT/finance. Have been solving the Times crossword since the early 1990s, with a decade-long gap when I was overseas. Learned the basics from a book but never properly parsed my answers until I discovered TftT, meaning I have a longstanding, unbreakable biffing habit. Fastest time: somewhere around 3m10s. Average time: somewhere around 6-7m. Other crosswords: do all the Times puzzles (bar the O Tempora! offerings) and the Guardian/Indy/FT/Toughie cryptics. Achievements: have demonstrated a solid ability to have my name drawn out of a hat, by winning assorted cheques, pens, books, chocolates etc. over the years. Have made up the numbers a few times at the Championships. [including the numbers on the podium! Ed] Weaknesses: culture from just about any era, with one exception (see Strengths). Strengths: ’80s music, sport, maths, geography, cats. Updated Aug 2019
Neildubya (Neil Wellard) Daily Cryptic
Born: mid-1980s. I’ve been solving crosswords for about 14 years. Started with Guardian and stayed there until Aug 2006. Now a regular Independent and Times solver, and occasional Guardian puzzles thrown in for good measure. Average solving time now around 15 mins. Over the years I have occasional stabs at the Listener but these never last long. I also do the Cyclops puzzle in Private Eye and I have a long-standing ambition to compile a crossword using words and phrases only found in the Viz publication “Roger’s Profanisaurus”.One day…
Nick_the_novice (Nick Gifford) Quick Cryptic, ST Cryptic
Nick was a founder blogger of the Times Quick Cryptic, beginning with no. 3 on 12th March 2014. He finished 110 blogs later on May 16th 2018 with QC 1092, having also blogged a number of ST cryptic crosswords as well. Updated April 2022.
NMS (Niall MacSweeney) Cryptic Jumbo
Born 1947, doing crosswords since teens, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, then a fallow period till the Indy was launched in 1986. Not among the really fast solvers, would solve a 15X15 in about 30 mins on average. Sees enjoying teasing clues out as more important than speed but it can be interesting to see relative solving times and compare them. Blogged from the very start (2006) – as nmsindy – on the fifteensquared site which covers Indy, FT and Guardian puzzles among others. Later lucky enough to get into setting, firstly in Listener and other thematic series, and then in 15X15, in Indy, (all as Raich) later FT (Gurney) and Times – both Quick Cryptic (Hurley) and main puzzle. This brought blogging to a natural end.Updated Aug 2019. Niall was a founder blogger of TfTT in 2006, on the Subs Bench initially
Oliviarhinebeck (Olivia) Daily and Quick cryptics, TLS
I’ve lived in New York since 1973 but was born and grew up in London. I’m a member of Lincoln’s Inn where I practised briefly and also a member of the NY Bar, and worked on Wall Street for some years where I met my husband. I started doing the Times cryptics by chance in my early 50s. I’d done a long overdue clearing out of some drawers and closets where I found a stack of the thin paper airmail version of The Times, left behind by my late father on his periodic visits. Many of them were unfinished so I set to work to complete them – there was something rather nice about the filled grids having both our handwriting. I can’t say how long it took, in many sessions and with much consultation of dictionary and thesaurus, but by the end I was hooked. I can’t remember which birthday it was but my elder daughter gave me a subscription to the Crossword Club back when it was £25 per annum. Things took off after that and I was able to improve both time and accuracy quite significantly although I will never be in the top tier of solvers. Some time fter that I discovered TFTT and came to know many of the characters here. I attended the 2013 Championships and managed not to make a complete fool of myself and met several of the people on this list.Now I just act as locum blogger occasionally. Blog history: QC January through March 2016. Relieved by William J.S. Saturday Cryptic March and April 2015 in place of Linxit who returned. TLS April 2016 through August 2017 in rotation with Sotira, Verlaine and Zabadak (this blog ceased with the end of the publication of the TLS puzzle by the club). Updated Aug 2019
Petebiddlecombe (Peter Biddlecombe) – Founder of this blog, in 2005
Born 1960, years of Times solving: since 1977 (with a gap c. 1978-83 when I defected to the Guardian)
Times best: 3’00” (22,954 – April 19 2005), Median time: 8:05 when last measured from a sample of puzzles (c. 2006), probably about 10 minutes now. Achievements: Times Championship Winner, 2000 and 2007, and in the final 7 other times in a total of 14 attempts. Also attempted Guardian xwd daily 1978-2006, Indie daily c. Sept 2006 – mid-2009, Various Telegraph puzzles c. 2008 onwards. Regular Azed solver, occasional clue comp entrant – best = a VHC for a Printers Devilry clue. Very patchy Listener record at present – got about 25-30 puzzles right in about 3 years, early to mid-1990s. Occasional setter of puzzles but mostly for tiny audiences so far. As of this year, I have a Church Times puzzle as my biggest success. Occasional solver of US-style non-cryptic puzzles, currently daily solver of Times Two non-cryptic puzzle. I do some SuDoku and other ‘Japanese puzzles’, but way below Championship standard.
Peter started this blog back in 2005 and ran it on his own for the first nine months. He was then joined by other bloggers but continued to remain the administrator and main contributor. At the beginning of 2011 he was taken on by the Sunday Times to replace Barbara Hall as their crossword editor and was therefore obliged to curtail his involvement with the blog. Updated Aug 2019
Richardvg (Richard) Daily Cryptic
Born: late-1950s. Times solving speed: about half again as long as Peter Biddlecombe. Graduated from solving the Telegraph to the Times in 1972. Gave up the Times on change of ownership in 1981; survived for a decade or so on Guardian and Listener puzzles. Now back to a daily Times habit.
Richard was a founder blogger at TfTT, in 2006
Sabine_tk Daily Cryptic
I started trying to figure out cryptic crosswords when I was about twelve – I used to cut the puzzle out of the newspaper and take it to school to study surreptitiously during classes. I was already heavily addicted to puzzles at that age and would spend hours working on books of cryptograms or logic problems, but nowadays only crosswords really hold my interest. I do the Times – where I’d guess my average solving time is around 12 minutes – and the Listener, which I usually manage to finish. I also subscribe to The Magpie, where I rarely finish anything. The rest of the time I’m a writer and computer programmer. My best subjects are books, pop music, popular culture generally – I’m pretty shallow – and computer games; not a terribly useful collection for solving the Times. Areas of especially woeful ignorance are religion, anything military, and food and drink. I also misspell Italian words with dismaying regularity.
sghanson/ Simon Hanson / Since 2009
Born 1957, and have been solving crosswords since the mid 1970s afterbeing introduced to them by my parents who were regular solvers. Various spells of commuting to London for work led to the Times crossword becoming a daily habit (addiction?) which shows no sign of abating. I also attempt the Times weekend puzzles and various others that I find in other publications. I have competed in several Times Crossword Championship finals, twice coming second to Mark Goodliffe, who wins nearly every year.
I am a retired Chartered Accountant but still keep my financial brain working as treasurer for a Macmillan Cancer Support fund-raising committee, and a local fishing association. Retirement has given me more time to enjoy other interests including fishing, gardening and photography.
Sotira (Sarah) TLS crossword
I’ve been contributing to TfTT since 2008, mostly as a commenter. I did have a stint for a couple of years as a first reserve for the daily blogs, and more recently I was a regular TLS blogger before that puzzle was removed from The Times Crossword Club fold. I’ve taken part in The Times Crossword Champs a few times, with a best finish of 26th in one of the 2 preliminary rounds. I’m strictly a ‘peloton’ solver .. quite good, but not really good enough to trouble those in pursuit of brightly coloured jerseys. I live in West Cornwall, surrounded by daffodil fields and Cornish people. Updated Aug 2019
Talbinho (Neil Talbott) Daily and ST Cryptics
Born: 1981. Years of Times solving: since about 1998 (before when The Telegraph and The Leicester Mercury provided a grounding). Times speed: Median time around 8 mins; sub-5 on a very good day, 15+ on the toughest days. Best time ever is 2m 39s, probably never to be beaten. Times accuracy (without references): An average of a couple of mistakes per month. Other crosswords: The Listener (every week); the Magpie (when time allows); other dailies occasionally. Weaknesses: Opera, theatre, literature, artists, botany/zoology. (Oh, and Polish prime ministers). Crosswording achievements: A couple of second places to Mark Goodliffe in the Times Crossword Championship. Listener Crossword ‘Silver Salver’ winner and second-longest all-correct streak (410 to Simon Long’s 412…). Some published crosswords (Listener/Magpie) under the pseudonyms Venator and Elint. Interests outside crosswords: Long-distance fell running and mountain racing; rowing, and coaching rowing; puzzle hunts; playing the tuba; supporting Leicester City.
Updated Aug 2019 Neil was a founder blogger of TfTT, in 2006
The_od Mephisto, Cryptic Jumbos
Born: c. 1960 – Solving cryptics since my teens, spent pre-teens looking over Dad’s shoulder at the Telegraph. I was weaned on a diet of Azed, The Listener and the much-mourned Games & Puzzles magazine. Never really managed to get any good at the Times, and from 2001-2006, I rarely attempted it. However, the revival of the Championship has inspired me to try and improve! I hope my contributions to the Community may show how practice (whilst not making perfect!) can bring that improvement. I am already trying to implement some of the top tips from the speed merchants. Since resuming solving, and monitoring my progress via Peter’s blog, I have found that my current times are around double his (but I can still come a complete cropper – and often do!). Best time ever 6:24, some 8 years ago. Let’s see if we can get better than that! Weaknesses: Literature. I must be one of the most unread crossword solvers around. I can count the number of fiction books I have read on the fingers of one hand (maths was more my bag), and of those 7 books none is likely to feature in a Times clue. Also poor on Geography. Other crosswords: Azed, The Listener (occasional solver over last few years), Magpie subscriber. I have become hooked on Race The Clock for the T2, although Race The Calendar would be more appropriate for me.
Achievements: As far as The Times goes, I have never managed 100% in a Regional Qualifier! Closest I came was one error when I did not know the composer Hindemith (oh yes, Classical Music – another weakness!). So my top crossword achievement has to be an all-correct Listener year back in the 90’s.
The_od was a founder blogger at TfTT in 2006, on the Subs Bench initially
TonySever (Tony Sever) TLS Crossword
Born 1944 in Scarborough, Yorkshire. Have lived in Ealing, West London since 1970. Career spent designing and writing computer software with ICL or its predecessors, subsidiaries and successors (between school and university I was programming the ICT 1301 before dorsetjimbo got his hands on it). Started solving the crossword in The Rainbow – or was it Chicks’ Own? – at around 5. Progressed, with considerable help from my older brother and sister, to Everybody’s and The Yorkshire Post at 6 or 7. First tackled The Listener crossword and Ximenes while at school, and have been solving the daily cryptic in The Times regularly since I was 18 – fastest time 3:54, some years ago! Have competed in the Times Championship every year since it began in 1970, reaching the final 20 times between 1975 and 2009, and winning once (in 1981). Competed regularly at Race the Clock, [now the daily concise crossword] and cover that in a separate blog. Slowing with age, though a competitive streak persists. Have been tackling the TLS puzzle since I discovered it was available online in early 2009, and blogging it (along with Andy Wallace) since early 2010. Added in 2023: Tony died peacefully in hospital after a short illness, on 4 March 2023 – see this Times for the Times posting.
Topicaltim (Tim Hall) Daily and Jumbo Cryptics
Born 1966. In something that seems, in retrospect, like a rather clichéd scene from Inspector Morse, I learned the intricacies of The Times crossword over post-essay drinks in the back bar of the King’s Arms, Oxford, with my tutor (he was one of the many people who finished runner-up to John Sykes in the days when he dominated the annual championship). This was back in the 1980s, when the pub was (and I hope, still is) full of clever people who like to complete the puzzle before their first pint has disappeared; these days, the liquid lunches are much less frequent, so the puzzle is more likely to be done with my breakfast cup of tea. I was a keen, if irregular solver until it became possible to solve online; since then, daily practice has got me to the point where my personal challenge on any given day is to take less than 2 Magoos (my preferred unit of solving time, see mr_magoo above for more info). I was delighted to discover this community, which has meant that solving is once more a social activity, just as it was when I started. Updated Aug 2019
verlaine / Matthew / Daily, Jumbo, Club Monthly
Born in Metz, and educated at the Lycée Impérial Bonaparte in Paris… no wait, that’s the other one. The rascal who goes by the name of verlaine on TfTT is actually known as Matthew to the police, and “thesunneversets” while commenting in the Times Puzzle Club, for obscure reasons that even he does not fully understand. His first TfTT blog was in May 2014, taking over the Friday slot from jackkt, and he was deeply shocked when he realised just now that he’d been doing this gig for 5 years now, he can tell you. His achievements include a second place finish in the 2018 Times Champs thanks solely to a rare mistake by the great Magoo, and being able to blog a 15×15, a Jumbo and a Club Monthly all in the space of the same few hours due to how poor he is at scheduling these duties.
Yfyap (Uncle Yap) Daily Cryptics
Born 1946. Discovered cryptic crossword when I attended University of Newcastle inthe early 70’s. Literally thrown into the deep end as The Times was then half-priced for registered students (Yes, I paid two new pence for Times and claimed back half every three months). Now a retired Chartered Accountant living in Kuala Lumpur, my daily diet consists of Times, Guardian, Independent and FT, with the occasional Azed, Mephisto and Cyclops thrown in. Started setting a weekly cryptic crossword puzzle in a Malaysian Sunday paper which ran for more than 3 years. Currently on the Financial Times panel of setters as Sayang.
Updated Aug 2019