David Hill: A devious way of getting from A to B, via J, W and Q

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Don't have a clue? You're not alone.  Photo / Getty Images
Don't have a clue? You're not alone. Photo / Getty Images

Biologists argue that evolution proceeds via natural selection. Wrong. Cryptic crosswords prove that in the case of many Homo sapiens, it works via UNnatural selection.

Call Me Old-Fashioned: 9 letters (megaphone), but cryptic crosswords suggest that in a scarily large proportion of the human race, neural pathways have mutated into neural mazes.

Conventional crosswords give you the satisfaction of solid facts. William Wordsworth and his Family ate Two Meals of This Each Day: 8 letters (porridge). It's an answer that sits reassuring and sturdy - like the cereal. You can bring it up in dinner-table chat - unlike the cereal.

Okay, both cryptic and sensible crosswords use language and thought to get from A to B. But cryptics get there via J, W and Q - in that order.

I dislike cryptic crosswords because they're not British. Because they're silly. Because I can't do them.

Not British? While conventional crossword clues and answers are bluff, honest, Anglo-Saxon, cryptic equivalents are foreign and devious. Change that last word; they're Small Insect's Truncated Reception Apparatus: 3 letters. Yes, deviant.

I dislike cryptics also because of the body language they encourage. Sensible crossword solvers sit four-square, head down, eyes fixed, face solemn. Cryptic solvers sit forward then back then upright then sideways, head ceilingwards, eyes darting, face triumphant. I want to Half a Forced Start: 4 letters (kick) them.

I distrust cryptic crosswords the way an outsider distrusts any group of initiates. Cryptic cultists have the same smug air of accomplishment as people who've gone through childbirth, except that in the latter pastime, the path from conception to production is a good deal less Deformed Childhood Toy: 7 letters (twisted).

I also resent the double standard cryptics create. Ring up friends to tell them that Observe the Cook in Hot Water: 6 letters is Seethe, and you're an enthusiast. Ring them up to announce that The Warmest of America's Great Lakes: 4 letters is Erie, and you're a bore. Where's the Logic : 9 letters (syllogism) in that?

Cryptic crosswords are indeed full of wit. But it should be used sparingly like caviar, not spread around like marmalade.

One function of cryptics is supposedly to help fight Alzheimer's. Seems to me that spending your senior years working out Looking Back at Oneself With French Ending: 6 letters (memoir) is more a case of Event Pronounced Evil in the Caribbean: 11 letters (dysfunction). The only time I've felt any empathy towards cryptic crosswords and their devotees was when I read about the English commuter who always kept his day's copy of the Times, and spent the evening memorising the answers to its puzzles.

Next morning on the train, with paper carefully folded so nobody could read the date, he would blaze through the cryptic at light speed, while the rest of the carriage watched in awe. That was truly an example of how to be Finally I Own Underground Poetry: 10 letters (subversive).

And if I may pre-empt the thousands of cryptophiles about to reach for their High-Class Pelvic Communicator: 6 letters (laptop), I acknowledge right now that when it comes to appreciation of such a pastime, I'm a total Cranium With No Sensation: 9 letters (numbskull).

David Hill is a writer and reviewer from Taranaki.

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