Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Word Chase

I had another crossword published in yesterday's Independent. I think I've had 14 or 15 puzzles published now, mostly as Bluth in the Indy but also in the Telegraph where I started setting a wee while ago as Django.

Most of my crosswords aren't themed, but yesterday's was. I tweeted about the fact that it was themed... and shortly afterwards, this was trending... 

Coincidence? Could it possibly be that The Independent crossword is that powerful?

Well... of course it isn't. The Chase was on TV. But... The Chase was the theme for my puzzle yesterday.

As you can see, I got the nicknames for all of The Chasers into the grid - (The) Governess, Beast, Dark Destroyer, Sinner/Man, Vixen and Menace. And I put Chase at the heart of it all. Bradley Walsh wasn't an answer to any of the clues, but I did hide his name in the grid for good measure.

None of the clues related to the show. Someone who'd never seen The Chase would have been just as able to solve it as someone who was a devoted fan. But it was there for anyone who found it.

As well as being my third themed puzzle it was the first of mine to include a Nina. Nina is the crossword jargon for a hidden word or words. In this case, Bradley Walsh is a Nina. They're called Ninas after the American caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld who used to hide the word, Nina - his daughter's name - in all of his drawings.

But I digress. Like I say, most of my crosswords aren't themed. But my next one will  be as well. Sort of.

On Friday night, I'm going to be joining the setter best known as Paul for an online zoom event. We'll all be setting a themed crossword together - on the topic of Madness. (The band... not the current malaise)

It's free to join. If that sounds like your sort of thing, you can sign up for it here.

While it's free to join, we're doing it in order to raise some money for Great Ormond Street Hospital. If you feel able to afford it, we'd really appreciate anything you can donate at


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Homes Under The Hammer Crossword The World Needs Right Now

Yesterday's Independent cryptic crossword contained something of a tribute to one of my favourite TV shows... Homes Under The Hammer...

Before I go any further, I ought to say that this post is obviously going to contain spoilers. If you like cryptic crosswords and you think you might like to try this one... you can it's here.

Whenever I mention that I've set a crossword I get quite a few people expressing their surprise. I'm not surprised that they're surprised. I know it's an odd career turn. For what it's worth, I blogged about it a few weeks ago here. Anyway, seeing as some of the people reading this won't know that I'm a setter of crosswords, it's probably worth me clarifying that this isn't a post about something I spotted, so much as something I've done. I set crosswords for the Indy under the name Bluth.

Now... back to yesterday's crossword.
Using a couple of clues to get the title of the show in wasn't enough... if you're going to mention Homes Under The Hammer, I think you've got to mention the main man, Martin Roberts. But how best to describe him... I think this does the job...

But if you're mentioning one of the presenters... surely the others deserve a mention as well!


What about Dion Dublin and Martel Maxwell?

Don't worry... I had them covered too...

At which point, I know what you're thinking.

Yes. I have got too much time on my hands.

But also. What about Lucy Alexander?

She co-presented the show with Martin for 13 years before her connection with the series was brought to an untimely end due to... um... advertising carpets.

Well... there's a clue to explain that...

 Of course, it's impossible to think about Homes Under The Hammer without thinking about the show's incredible Literal Music Selection...

I might well have mentioned it once or twice before now myself...

So, obviously that had to be in the crossword too...

What more could I add? Well... a sprinkling of other clues that relate to the show... I'm sure there was an episode where they showed an ugly new-build making money in between some short VTs about a motel...

There must have been a few episodes where a couple have fallen out because one of them bought a property without seeing it - always read the legal pack! And when they knock through, well, there's always a bit of rubble...

Of course, they feature all the big auctioneers on HUTH.

I mean, yeah, they're normally called Graham, but in the world of property auctioneering, I'm pretty sure these guys represent the big league...

And they auction all sorts of properties... and some people buy because their heart is set on a particular location and, of course, they get renovated in all sorts of styles...

Of course, some of you won't be familiar with the show... but I'm sure you'll agree that the...

Anyway... if you're the kind of person who is interested in cryptic crosswords but is put off by the lack of content relating to daytime TV property shows, this was all for you.

Or maybe the bit of the Venn diagram showing people who are interested in cryptic crosswords and HUTH has only one occupant... in which case this was all for me.


Monday, June 22, 2020

Bluth Will Out

The video here contains spoilers for those of you who might want to solve a cryptic crossword... so you might want to read the rest of the blog and come back to it. Or not. It's your call.

When I write or talk about cryptic crosswords I'm so eager not to exclude anyone and so aware that to many people cryptics appear to be entirely impenetrable and very-much-not-for-them, that I find myself apologising and peppering my words with little, I-mean-I-know-it's-niche-but phrases to try and make it all okay. Which is silly. Because there's no reason why everything anyone does should be for everyone. It's absolutely fine to like something that others don't and if I was writing about a band I loved I wouldn't think, Oh... I'd better make the people who like other sorts of music know that I know this isn't their thing... I'd just get on with it.

Which is what I'm going to try and do with cryptic crosswords from here on in. I like cryptic crosswords. I started doing them when I was a kid. I didn't like the fact that there was a little corner of the newspaper that didn't make sense to me and so I started trying to solve them. I'd hold on to the paper until the next day and go through the answers and try to work out in reverse why the solutions were indeed the solutions. And slowly it started to reveal itself to me. I'm still not the best solver in the world - not by a stretch - but I can have a fair crack at most that you see in a daily paper.

There are lots of books and websites that try to demystify the process and I think they can be useful - but I think taking them apart and trying to work it out for yourself is still the best way to proceed initially. If you start with the simple premise that pretty much every clue is: Definition + some wordplay to help you work out the answer (or vice versa) you'll probably find you can edge your way in. Even if you simply start by trying to guess as to which bit is the definition.

I did write about cryptics in Googlewhack Adventure , where the fact that I'd won the Everyman Crossword competition one week became a part of the story. After that was published, I was asked to write the foreword to the Observer book of Everyman Crosswords that came out in 2006.

Cruciverbalists find each other out. I first met Mrs Gorman when I was a guest on a radio show that she was working on. When her boss later found out that the two of us were going on a date, he decided to take it upon himself to teach her the ways of the cryptic crossword as he thought it would help us click. The ruse didn't last long. It didn't stop us clicking.

When I was making Genius on Radio 4, the head of Radio Entertainment was a man called John Pidgeon. John was a remarkable bloke. His first career was as a rock journalist. Then there was radio. And then, in retirement he became a cryptic crossword setter. He compiled for the Telegraph under the name Petitjean.

I always fancied I might try and make a go of something similar in my retirement. I've always dabbled with writing clues here and there and while I knew I had a lot to learn, it seemed like the sort of thing I would have a tilt at at some point.

And then lockdown happened. And I had a bit of time. Not enough time to do any proper work as anyone else who has spent/is spending their lockdown with a four year old can probably attest. But little bits of time here and there that allow the mind to wander.

And so, in a sort of forced early-retirement, I shuffled together a sort of crossword and - with nothing better to do - I posted it on Twitter.

It was received far better than I was expecting. A couple of setters I admire offered me advice and encouragement. A special mention here has to go to Tramp who got in touch. He holds a special place in my heart because, around the time we stopped doing Modern Life Is Goodish, he included this clue...

... in this puzzle. If you've read this far, you'll already have a good idea quite how thrilling that was to discover.

Also amongst the replies was this...

Mike is the crossword editor for the Independent. So... I got in touch to see if he'd be happy for me to submit a crossword if I could generate one with a better grid. (And in spite of my introductory paragraph, I won't bore any of the none-crossword types who might still be reading with quite why the grid was so terrible)

Anyway, long-story-still-too-long, one thing led to another and in April I had to come up with a pen name for my first published crossword. I went with Bluth, partly because, I'm told that in Gaelic, Gorm means Blue and An means The (and who needs the es) but mainly because I always loved Arrested Development and was eating a frozen banana at the time.

Anyway... on April 13th, Bluth was born and my first cryptic was published in the Independent. Sadly, petitjean is no longer around to see it - I think John would have got a kick out of me joining him in the field.

My second went in on May 6th.

And a third, last Saturday - June 20th

And this is where it gets a little strange. You see, there's a Youtube channel called Cracking The Cryptics... which I first became aware of when it was mentioned on the excellent Guardian Crossword Blog back in 2017

It's run by two incredibly good solvers, Simon Anthony and Mark Goodliffe - who is a twelve time (and reigning) Times Crossword Champion.

It's a thing. Trust me.

As it happens, over time their channel has become far more about sudoku and its variants than about crosswords... indeed, you might have heard of them recently as they appear to have had a surge of interest during lockdown leading to several news outlets labelling them a YouTube sensation and even a brief mention on Have I Got News For You.

Anyway... on Saturday I was alerted to the fact that they were going to upload a video of one of them solving my crossword. Mark tweeted:
Which is already thrilling. I mean... as I said before, Mark is a 12 times world champion crossword solver... so he knows his onions. But also, unlike with most of my other work, when you write a crossword, you don't imagine you'll get the chance to see how it goes down. And watching Simon tackle the crossword - watching the pennies drop and seeing him laugh as and when he found the humour that's in there was an unexpected joy.

And to top it all... the topical nature of two of the clues has meant I get a mention in the most recent post on the aforementioned, Guardian Crossword Blog.
And there's even this...

I mean... as lockdown projects go, it feels like it's doing okay. And I've no intention of stopping when life returns to normal. Bluth's having a lovely time. And I'm under no illusions that I've cracked it - there's an awful lot more to learn...

Thursday, April 16, 2020

YouTube: GormHub

So, I've decided to put a proper YouTube channel together. I'll use it to collect together clips from (and some complete episodes of) Modern Life Is Goodish and - in time - probably some new stuff too.

Anyway... someone I work with suggested a name and came up with the logo and, well, it seems nice enough.

Hope you enjoy the channel... it's here:

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Cause And Effect Aren't Always Easy To Discern

I will be sorry to see the end of this tour. I still hugely enjoy it every night. Not just the show, but also meeting the audience after the show, something I do wherever possible. So far on this tour, the only time I didn't do it was after the extra afternoon show in Cheltenham... but that's because we were doing two shows that day and we had to empty the theatre and then fill it up again about 15 minutes later...

I completely understand why not everyone does it - and in truth, if it wasn't for the technical side of my shows, I might not do it either. I come off stage and I'm knackered and the priority is to get to our hotel beds as soon as possible. But because it takes time to take the screen down and pack away all of our kit, I figure I might as well use that time to do something fun and that audiences seem to appreciate.

But every now and then, something happens to make me think about not doing it. It seems that, for some people, it's not enough and that leads to upset. And maybe if I didn't do it at all that would be avoided. I got a taste of one such thing this week... although it seemed to be a reaction to a show from over a year ago.

It started with an innocent tweet featuring a picture I'd taken backstage at the Everyman in Cheltenham last Sunday.

It really is what I had first thought when I used that loo before the show. As it goes, I was delighted to discover it wasn't and that the theatre were thoughtful enough to have their loos so well stocked. But the coincidence of the packaging resembling something else so familiar seemed odd. And lots of people seemed to agree. On a computer screen the text might be legible, but when I look at the image on my phone it still looks like a Terry's Chocolate Orange to me and I have to zoom in, in order to reveal it's true nature. I imagine lots of people on Twitter had to do the same.

But one person seemed to take offence.

Which is one of those Twitter moments that just makes you sigh. If it's possible to find offence on Twitter, someone will. My assumption is that they're imagining my tweet to have an undertone (or indeed, a heavy overtone) of old-fashioned, "ugh... periods... tampons... yuk!" Which isn't what I intended at all. So I thought a simple explanation would settle things down.

Reader, it did not settle things down.

Okay. Maybe she's unfamiliar with the packaging of a Terry's Chocolate Orange? Maybe she thinks my tweet means that I looked inside the box and saw the tampons and thought they looked like chocolates. Well, surely sight of the box and an understanding that it is really quite similar would explain things...

Reader, it did not explain things...

This strikes me as a slightly odd reply as we seem to have left the topic of whether or not two similarly sized and similarly coloured boxes look alike and moved on to new territory. It seems my correspondent has some more long-standing grievance with me... dating back to the Wolverhampton tour date. Which was nearly a year ago.

Sometimes the tour dates can all blur into one, but the Wolverhampton show remains pretty clear in my memory for a number of reasons. The show had originally been booked in to the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton. But the Civic Hall needed to be rewired and had problems with asbestos and so all of their events - including the Grand Slam of Darts and shows by me, Jason Manford, Joe Lycett and Sarah Millican were moved to a new venue, Aldersley Leisure Village, 10 miles outside the city centre. There were plenty of discussions about whether the new venue - a large sports complex - would have the required lighting/staging/sound system to cope with our show - but in the end they persuaded us that it would all be in order. And it was. They effectively built a complete theatre rig inside a huge sports hall.

The idea that I'd expressed any sense of being too good for the audience (that included my Mum, two of my brothers, a sister-in-law, a niece and a nephew) seemed peculiar because... well, because I've simply never felt it, let alone expressed it. So I wanted to know where this was coming from.

All of which seems most peculiar. Because it contains quite specific details. Of course, I know it's possible that someone didn't enjoy the show. But the idea that I'd actually said - or otherwise conveyed - that the Wolverhampton audience was shit and that every other audience had been better just doesn't make sense. I mean, I know it just didn't happen. It's entirely possible that I referred to the change of venue and called it 'Not Wolverhampton' or somesuch... and maybe someone had hugely misunderstood what that meant. But the idea that I'd dissed it, them and noted that other audiences were better... nah... there's no way anyone could come away from the show thinking I'd done that.

Of course, other people were joining in the conversation at this stage. And my correspondent was giving them short shrift.

I mean... you can't really say, 'Fuck you too' to someone who hasn't said, 'Fuck you' first. And the same person also received a reply to say.

Which repeats the idea that I had somehow attacked that night's audience - or at least some of them - for coming to the show and that I'd said they were a low point. Which I didn't. Because they weren't. And because I wouldn't, even if they were.

And when TV's Helen Chamberlain explained that she'd thought the photo was of a Terry's Chocolate Orange... she too was given short shrift...

Now all of what I've described so far is, I'm sure, a fairly common occurrence on Twitter. Someone takes offence, digs their heels in and lets loose with their anger. It clearly happens all the time.

But it made me wonder if she had mentioned it at the time. Maybe if she had I would discover what had actually happened to give her such a different impression of the night. So I used Twitter's advanced search feature to look it up.

And I found this... which, as I started reading, made me think that maybe something had happened after all and I was the one with a dodgy recollection...

Really! I have no memory of losing my shit on stage. How have I blocked that out? How have I failed to remember some, awful, on stage rant? Oh... read on... it turns out I haven't.

So it turns out that the person who remembers the show as such a disaster and feels so slighted by the whole experience was actually tweeting a couple of hours after the show to say that she'd enjoyed it and would be booking my next tour too.

I gather she's since tweeted that the show was good and that it was my attitude after the show that was so upsetting. (I can't corroborate this as she has now blocked me.)

That's what I meant when I said I sometimes pause to consider whether I should bother to meet people after the shows. I mean, if it can be taken this badly...

But then again... if it's true that I did or said something after the show to upset her, it would suggest it was something I did after 1.11am that night. Which seems unlikely, as at that point I was in the passenger seat of the tour van as we did a night drive to London after that particular show.

But maybe I did say something that upset her and it's only after she'd dwelt on it a while that the upset overtook any other emotional response to the night. Although... that would make this  tweet from February just a little strange also...
Quite how it's possible to have loved a show on the night, still have fond memories of it three months later, but to then decide you hated it a further nine months on is beyond me. I mean... it can't honestly be just because I think one box looks like another, can it?

PS: I've covered up her username and avatar in this post for good reasons. I know it's possible to search for her. Please don't tweet her or try to get involved. I'm not sharing this story because I wish her any ill-will. The last thing I want is to cause a pile-on. I just wanted to share this oddity from my point of view. If anything, I think the take home message is that words expressed in anger are often not to be taken at face value. Although the inability of people to step back and see that perhaps they have the wrong end of the stick does seem to be quite a thing on Twitter in particular and doesn't seem particularly healthy. I do kind of doubt that she'll be booking for my next tour as promised

If you want to come along to this tour, you have a small number of opportunities left. Weston Super-Mare on Thursday, Guildford on Friday, Northampton on Sunday and London on Tuesday. Come along and maybe you too will enjoy yourself on the night only to convince yourself that you hated it by this time next year!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

On the road and on the box...

I'm thoroughly enjoying being back on tour.  We've just finished the first week of this final leg of touring with the show, With Great Powerpoint Comes Great Responsibilitypoint... so if you came along to see the show in Aldershot, Wrexham, Liverpool, Derry/Londonderry, Belfast or Salisbury - thank you. There are now just 20 shows to go on (well 21 because we've added a matinee in Cheltenham) and I will be genuinely sorry to wave goodbye to it. It's such a fun show to perform.

I'm very much looking forward to this show's first visits to Sheffield, Doncaster, Halifax, Aberystwyth, Yeovil, Worthing, Dorking, Torquay, Reading, Dudley, Scarborough, Middlesbrough, Shanklin, Basingstoke and Weston Super Mare - as well as taking it back to Cambridge, Guildford, Northampton and London. 

Tour dates for the third and final leg of the tour.
There's been a seven month gap between the second leg of the tour and this one so it came as something of a relief to discover that I still know the show inside out. The reason for the seven month break was that we needed to take time out to make the new series for Dave. When people ask me why I use powerpoint, I always explain that its big advantage is that it broadens the range of topics I can discuss. When I look back through the 36 episodes of Modern Life Is Goodish and the last three tour shows and think about how much material has been chewed up, it's impossible to imagine making most of it work using words alone. I could talk about the ideas but it would sound like I was exaggerating or making things up when often, a big part of what moves the audience to laughter in those bits is the proof that I'm doing nothing of the sort, that idiocy was hiding in plain sight.

A part of the appeal of Terms And Conditions Apply, for me, is that it allows other people to discuss those topics too. In the first episode my guests are the spectacular Sara Barron, Phil Wang and Richard Osman.

The show is launching on Monday, October 21st and will be on Monday nights at 10pm for eight weeks.
I loved making it and I hope you'll enjoy watching it too. The guests across the eight episodes will also include Katherine Ryan, Jimmy Carr, Rose Matafeo, Sally Phillips, Ed Gamble, Sophie Duker, Phill Jupitus, Zoe Lyons, David O'Doherty, Desiree Burch, Jessica Knappett, Darren Harriott, Rufus Hound, Suzi Ruffell, Cariad Lloyd, Marcus Brigstocke and Jess Fostekew.

During the last few series of Modern Life Is Goodish, I often used to run competitions for my mailing list, giving away things from the show. Shirts, mostly. I intend to do the same again with this series. I thought I'd mention it here so that anyone who isn't on the mailing list already can subscribe before the series starts. I'm not sure when I'll get round to setting the first competition up, what with all the travelling in the days before the show launches, but I'll give away the shirt I'm wearing in this trailer...


Thursday, October 3, 2019

Terms & Conditions Apply...

We've just started the third (and final) leg of the tour, With Great Powerpoint Comes Great Responsibilitypoint... and there's a reason there was quite a long gap between the second and third leg. I stopped in order to make something new. It's a new show for Dave.

Here's the trailer:

From the moment I decided to call time on Modern Life Is Goodish... the channel and I started discussing what else we could do instead. And this is what we came up with. I hope you'll like it.