Custom Cryptic Crosswords


The bank of setters

All the setters on our bank are experienced in setting custom crosswords, and will be able to produce you an entertaining, witty and enjoyable puzzle.

Claret (Alan Townend, @claretxwords)

ClaretAlan cut his cryptic puzzle solving teeth in his teens in Burnley on the Daily Telegraph, moved on to whatever (broadsheet) paper was left late at night in the University common room and, since then, has been a regular Guardian solver for more decades than seems possible. He started setting in early 2013 for family and friends and now specialises in custom-themed and occasion-based puzzles. One puzzle for a father was ' of his best presents ever!'

He now lives in Kent where he works as an international telecommunications product consultant and is a visiting lecturer in business studies at the University of Greenwich. He also belongs to a local amateur dramatic group.

An old favourite Guardian setter, Rover, was a fan of Blackburn Rovers, so Alan’s choice of pseudonym is in tribute to his football team, Burnley, who are known as the Clarets.

Windsurfer (Jeff Robinson, @windsurferxword)

WindsurferJeff is a professional scientist, having completed a graduate course in Physiology and Biochemistry at Southampton University, and returning to gain a PhD in Microbial Biochemistry after a gap-year teaching English in Madrid. After six years performing cancer research, Jeff worked for twenty-years in industry. Subsequently, he set up his own consultancy, working for international clients in Britain, US, Canada, France, Australia, Japan and some other countries. He has caught the compiling bug in the last few years and has benefitted from generous advice and mentoring from Boatman, Enigmatist, Arachne, Araucaria and others. He has published puzzles in The Independent, Guardian cryptic, Genius and Quiptic slot (as Kite), 1 Across Magazine, alumni magazines, and on the Web blogs of Alberich and Big Dave.

The Windsurfer tag harks back to earlier days when Jeff was younger and fitter!



BoatmanBoatman (Ashley Knowles) was born in Lancashire, and tells people that he kept moving South (showing either persistence or lack of imagination) until he reached the Channel and had to stop - which made a lot more sense when he lived on a boat in Brighton Marina, so he really did live in the Channel.

Ashley spent most of his childhood in the Midlands, and went to an old-fashioned grammar school, where the masters still wore gowns; the pupils called the headmaster The Beak. He was interested first in science, then music, then maths, then the classics, then back to science. He could always learn languages easily, but didn’t get the point of English until much later. Then it was physics at Merton College (since you asked) followed by an MSC in operational research.

Ashley has lived in London and Brighton, and now (his family having outgrown the boating way of life) lives on the other side of the Downs, in Keymer, next to the creative village of Ditchling, with his artist wife, one daughter, a lazy greyhound and several neglected fish.

He's a reluctant commuter, and spends workdays in London. Look out for him on the Brighton line in the evening, though, and you may find him in his own world, happily compiling.

Serpent (Jason Crampton, @serpent_xwords)

Jason started solving crosswords at university. He started setting puzzles in 2014, with his first barred puzzles being published in 2015. He now sets regularly for The Independent and The Daily Telegraph (as Serpent), The Financial Times (Basilisk), The Guardian (Jack), and The Times. His barred puzzles appear regularly in the Inquisitor and Listener series and in the Magpie magazine (as Serpent). Jason has been part of the editorial team at the Magpie since 2017.

Jason is an Emeritus Professor of Information Security, having retired from academic life in 2020 to concentrate on crossword setting.

Soup (Hamish Symington)

SoupHamish has always been a fan of puzzles, to the extent (at the age of about six) of forcing his bleary-eyed and long-suffering father to do a word-search, logic problem or some other puzzle with him every morning when he woke up at 6am. He's been compiling crosswords for a couple of years, having been encouraged by Araucaria, from whom he commissioned a custom puzzle for his best man's wedding. After a while of setting for himself and friends, Hamish plucked up the courage to send two puzzles to Araucaria for comments, and is inordinately proud of the reply he received, saying they were 'really very good'. He now sets for this site, the Guardian’s daily and Genius series, and is the former editor of 1 Across magazine (a crossword magazine for subscribers, started by Araucaria).

Hamish lives in Cambridge. Having studied biochemistry as an undergraduate, he then trained as a graphic designer and worked as a freelance software developer; in October 2017 he went back to university to study for a PhD in plant sciences, specialising in pollination of strawberry plants, and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Plant Sciences. When he's not in the Botanic Garden or the lab, he can often be found singing with various choirs in Cambridge, being overambitious in the kitchen, or looking after his beehives or his daughter.

His pseudonym is a nod to Symingtons past; they were prominent packet soup manufacturers in Market Harborough. (Scott took some of their 'pea flour' to the Antarctic.)