Crossword blog: Simon Evans and Paul's collaboration over the Lake District

Alan Connor
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Jim Holden/Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: Jim Holden/Alamy Stock Photo

We’ve recently been sharing recommendations of events involving puzzles and sundry cryptic activities. Most have involved solving; now it’s time for some setting.

As longtime solvers know, the Guardian setter John Halpern uses the name Paul rather than something fanciful as a tribute: Paul was John’s brother; he died aged 27. As another kind of tribute, Paul the setter is hosting a series of events over the next couple of months where famous faces create themed puzzles in real time and those of us looking on make a charitable donation.

Participants include Susan Tully, Will Shortz, Sophie Winkleman and Alastair Hignell … and also the comedians Rob Deering, Dave Gorman and Simon Evans. Let’s speak to the last of these, who has chosen the Lake District as his theme and Farms for City Children as his charity.

Hello Simon! First-time setter?

I set a puzzle for the Law Faculty newspaper at Southampton University in about 1984. They were very popular and we all tried to complete at least one broadsheet crossword a day. I can’t remember any of the clues, though.

I devised the odd clue for friends for a few years afterwards, but I don’t think I had another one published.

Until now. Have you been solving more since Covid-19 reached our lives?

I don’t spend nearly enough time doing them lately. I’d really like to get back into the habit. I waste time on Twitter instead.

Do you think wrangling words for a living makes cluing easier?

There is a small overlap between cluing and writing jokes, although jokes delivered on stage generally have to be rather more direct. Good tweets are often like crossword clues, though: clever wordplay works very well in that format. I’ve discussed this many times with one of the medium’s masters, @mooseallain.

Simon Evans at home.
Simon Evans at home. Photograph: Jim Holden/Alamy Stock Photo

If I were in your shoes, I’d be happy putting unpromising words such as LOUGHRIGG into the grid on the basis that Paul would help me out if I got stuck. Same?

I’ve long given up hope that I can embarrass Paul with a supposedly tricky word. He’s always got something up his sleeve. I’m much more interested in impressing him with my thematic organisation.

You, Steve Pemberton, John Finnemore, Rob Deering, Gorman. It can’t just be all the time you spend waiting around. What is it with cryptics and comics?

I think comedians are drawn to double meanings. The ones we have to use on stage usually operate at a slightly different frequency than those which are most satisfying in a crossword, and the reveal is less subtle, but misdirection is still the key.

Finally, we have been sharing Healing Music Recorded in 2020-21 to Accompany a Solve or Even Listen to. Any recommendations?

I like Bruckner Motets! Is that too pretentious?

It is not. And here is an isolated Darin Cash, performing an arrangement by Ralph Sauer.

Many thanks to Simon. The setting will happen from 7pm to 9pm on Thursday 21 January

The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book by Alan Connor can be ordered from the Guardian Bookshop and is partly but not predominantly cryptic

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