Behind the scenes: who are the FT’s crossword compilers?

Your setter/compiler handle/pseudonym/alter ego Buccaneer. 

Why? I had been Picaroon at the Guardian for years, and some solvers referred to me there as “the pirate”, so I ran with the idea.

Real name: James Brydon.

Where are you? I live in St Albans.

Years compiling I had my first crossword published in the national press in 2004, in the Spectator. 

And measured in number of crosswords Across all of the national broadsheets, I have now published close to 700 cryptic crosswords.

Full time or part-time with another job? Compiling is my main job now, but I still teach some French, German and Mandarin Chinese, as well.

Did your school mention crossword compiling in career discussions? Oddly — and probably wisely — no.

Who/what got you into cryptic crosswords? I got hooked on them as a teenager. They seemed full of challenge and fascinating bits of knowledge I would never have heard about elsewhere. 

Interactive crosswords on the FT app

Subscribers can now solve the FT’s Daily Cryptic, Polymath and FT Weekend crosswords on the iOS and Android apps

Walk us through your compiling strategy It is definitely a question of sitting down and working consistently, not of waiting for inspiration. I always start with trying to find good clues for long answers, preferably avoiding anagrams as they are the easiest kind of clues to construct. At first, I look for good ideas: misdirection, striking images, funny ideas etc. Then, as a believer that crosswords are not simply a riddle but have technical and aesthetic qualities as well, I will spend time polishing the clues, aiming for accuracy, elegance and succinctness. 

So you think you’re hard When I was hired by the FT, Colin Inman, the crossword editor, said he would like puzzles to be accessible to a good cross-section of solvers. I have tried to stick to that, inasmuch as it is possible to judge these things. 

The clue you wished you’d written Where to start? I like this one from Arachne in the Guardian: “Two idiots stripped Mini’s bumpers off” (9) (Answer below).

And the clue you’re glad you did Following the Euros final, I was happy with the very topical: “Number of England fans, tolerance-wise, needing reform” (5,8) (Answer below).

What’s the topic of conversation when you come across other compilers? I don’t think I have actually met one face to face since before the pandemic, unfortunately!

Any advice for solvers? A crossword is like a garden path sentence, so the trick for solving is to isolate individual words in the clue and work out how their meanings might be different from how they appear in the surface reading. 

And for wannabe compilers? Pay careful attention to grammatical and lexical precision first of all as it is the basis for everything else. And be persistent! 

Your favourite/least favourite other word game To be honest, the only other things I play are chess and the piano. 

Answers Assassins, Sweet Caroline (anagram of tolerance wise).

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