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London Times Crossword

2010 August 14
by Gordon Reid

Today I finished the London Times Crossword, and the first thing I wanted to do was to phone Pat McBryde in Scotland to announce this unusual event. Pat could sit down with the Times and solve the crossword in half an hour or less – every day. Several times she came close to winning (and once won in the pairs section with Bishop Ted Luscombe) the Times annual national crossword competition. It was she who got me hooked on what another Scottish Bishop (Alastair Haggart) called sheer time wasting.

But Pat died last year, and I can only hope my triumphant whoop was heard in Heaven.

Bishop Haggart may have been right about wasting time, but I doubt it. A crossword like the Times’s covers such a range of subjects and requires such a lot of lateral thinking that I am sure it helps keep my mind from total stagnation.

In today’s (successful, remember!) crossword, I had to have at least some knowledge of Greek mythology, pastry-making, computers, proverbs, card games, Near Eastern history, Italian geography, English novels, French composers. Now, those who know me will laugh at such claims (at least as far as computers and pastry-making go) but I hasten to add that it is not a deep knowledge that is required but more a mind that is “a picker up of unconsidered trifles”. That may explain why Bishop Haggart disapproved – his was a mind that knew some subjects deeply and brilliantly, but had no idea about lots of others.

Ah well, when you next hear me say “I have a lot of paper work to get through” you will know that some of it is the Times Crossword – well it is printed on paper!

One Response leave one →
  1. Paul Emmons permalink
    August 16, 2010

    Not that I wish to demean your achievement in the least (I never even attempt newspaper crossword puzzles, knowing how easily they would defeat me). But the biologist Rupert Sheldrake claims that the London Times crossword puzzle is slightly easier for those in the western hemisphere to work out than it is for those in Britain, for the simple reason that by the time we attempt it, so many in Greenwich Mean Time have already solved it. Perhaps we could think of him as a sincere Platonist, except that the influence goes both ways: living specimens of a form make an ongoing contribution to it. Once a single human being learns a skill, by that very fact it becomes easier for all other human beings to learn, even if they never communicate directly.

    This seems to be true in many cases. For several years after Einstein articulated the theory of special relativity, it was said that the others who understood it could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Now it is familiar to everyone with a degree in physics. In music history, the organ technique of J.S. Bach, or the piano technique of Beethoven and Liszt, or Marcel Dupre’s playing the entire organ works of Bach from memory, were all astonishing in their day. Today many other performers can do the same with relatively little fanfare.

    Me thinking here (although I’d hardly be the first): If Sheldrake is correct, then it is rather unsettling to contemplate that this metaphysical influence would apply to bad things as well as good things. Every murder, for instance, would make it a little easier for the rest of us to commit murder. If he is correct, then he has explained what Christians have always known as original sin.

    Sheldrake is interesting partly because, although many of his colleagues dismiss him as a heretic (to say the least) biologically, he is (unlike many of them) quite orthodox theologically: a practicing Church of England man who sent his children to Sunday school. Perhaps he has some Hindu spirituality as well, since as a young man doing research in India, he lived in Bede Griffiths’s community. At any rate, he is passionate in maintaining that to dismiss certain observations simply because current materialistic paradigms cannot explain them is unscientific.

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