Crossword blog: the man who solved 2,000 clues in a day

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Many solvers will have hoped that lockdown would give them more time for puzzles. Reality has a talent for getting in the way of such plans – unless you properly commit.

Guy Haslam committed. A “sometime setter” (as Aldhelm), the managing editor of the PuzzleLife magazines and the youngest winner of the Times’ crossword championship, he put aside 15 hours on a Sunday last month for non-stop solving, filling 71 grids with the answers to 2,000 clues and raising funds for St Christopher’s hospice in Sydenham, south-east London.

OK, 15 hours of solving. Were there moments where you doubted your sanity? Did your eyes go funny?

Certainly, getting up at 5.30am made me doubt my sanity. But yes: from time to time, it felt like I had tunnel vision. My concentration was similarly tested. The first hour or so crawled by, but after that I really wasn’t aware of time.

Why St Christopher’s?

St Christopher’s is the local hospice where I live. They’re in a severe financial predicament because they’ve closed their charity shops and there are no sponsored walks and so on. It was also in memory of a friend, Charlie, whom St Christopher’s looked after wonderfully in the last months of her life.



‘Internet and music allowed, but strictly no dictionary or thesaurus.’ Photograph: Guy Haslam

Have you broken a record?

I didn’t check, but I followed the Guinness guidelines for marathon events, like a five-minute break every hour.

Could you tell us your favourites of the couple of thousand you solved?

I marked the ones I liked as I went along [listed below; answers at the bottom]. The first isn’t particularly technically creative, but it made me giggle like a teenager.


Wild lark in bed, going down OK? (9)


Make fast roller a time saver at Wimbledon (10)


Colour dry clothing with it (4)


Distance of seafood outlet to west of loch (15)


Effects of soldier becoming extremely teary (7,8)

Did any particular types of clue start to grate?

I’m a big fan of the Times’ style, which is very rigorous; I find it difficult to spot individual setters. That said, if I never see another clue referencing the Reverend Spooner, I’ll be a happy solver …

What did you do when you got stuck?

It’s odd: I only got stuck about half a dozen times. I’d put the puzzle aside and start on the next. And it’s true: the brain chugs away in the background; when you return, a clue can suddenly click into place.

Guy Haslam solving a crossword puzzle



‘Running about 60 clues (approximately two crosswords) ahead of schedule.’ Photograph: Guy Haslam

Finally, I imagine your brain got more and more attuned to wordplay as the time went on, but concomitant tiredness meant your pace remained more or less steady. Am I imagining right?

Yes, absolutely. My estimate of 15 hours for 2,000 clues was very close – I ended with just over half an hour to spare. And the rate was steady throughout.

When I got tired, I entered that solving zone where you’re not consciously thinking of every element of a clue, but solving by reading. It’s difficult to explain to non-solvers, but I liken it to speaking a language. Competent speakers are good at the mechanics of another language, but still need to translate to and from their own, whereas speedy solvers become fluent in crosswordese and don’t need to think in “ordinary” English.

Fascinating and impressive. Many thanks to Guy. The answers to his favourite clues, and a link to the fundraising page, are below.

Our next conversation will, I hope, be about a timely puzzle that is well worth your time.

For new solvers, here is a collection of all our explainers, interviews and other helpful bits and bobs.



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