Fri 25 Mar 2005
To lunch last week with a group of crossword setters and solvers known as "the Gruntlings". Many distinguished composers were present, including Dumpynose from the Spectator (now why did he choose that pseudonym?), but I was most delighted to meet Roy Dean who sets puzzles for the Times and who holds the world record for the fastest verified solution of the Times puzzle.
Roy won the first Times Crossword Competition in 1970 and decided to take his "solving speeds" seriously. At the time he was living in Bromley and had a 23-minute train journey into London each day. At first that was his target, but soon he was trying to complete the puzzle before the train reached Brixton, then Herne Hill and so on. Soon he would solve the puzzle in the five minutes between arriving at the station and the time his train departed. He wrote to the Times saying so, and at 6am on the day the letter was published, the BBC invited him into the Today programme studio to cross swords with Brian Redhead.
And then - without warning - Redhead invited him to solve that morning's puzzle. It was a Saturday, and the puzzle should have been difficult. Roy's heart sank as Redhead started the stopwatch. But an incredible three minutes and 45 seconds later Roy had completed the puzzle, live on air, and his name was destined for the Guinness Book of Records, where it first appeared in 1972.
Roy's charming book, Mainly in Fun, published by The Book Guild, lists some of his favourite clues. But when pressed he drew my attention to this one, which he set in the Times in January: "Silicone Valley? (8)"