Meet the Tutor: Susan Purcell
Here at the GI, we are lucky to have so many talented tutors who offer high quality and engaging courses on a whole host of subjects. We’d like to introduce you to crossword extraordinaire and editor, Susan Purcell, who teaches a variety of interactive crossword workshops.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. How did you get into the world of crosswords?
I was born and grew up in Liverpool. My parents were both keen crossword solvers and they bought two newspapers every day so that they could each indulge their passion. I don’t remember them explicitly teaching me how to solve crosswords, but I must have subconsciously imbibed the obsession!
I studied Russian and German at university and then taught for a few years before joining a publishing company that specialised in producing crosswords and other puzzles. I’ve always gained a great deal of enjoyment from doing cryptic crosswords – they certainly make long flights and train journeys less boring – so, when I retired after nearly twenty years at the company, I was keen to spread the word to others, hence my courses at The Guildford Institute.
What do you think some of the benefits of doing crosswords are?
Most cruciverbalists (crossword aficionados) appreciate the wit to be found in cryptic clues and, moreover, enjoy being baffled and bamboozled by them. Cryptic crosswords really do make you think creatively and laterally. In addition, they often introduce people to new words, or to new meanings of common words, so an improved vocabulary is another benefit.
For anyone new to cryptic crosswords, could you explain what they are and give any tips on how to get started with them?
In a cryptic crossword, the answer is contained in the clue; you don’t need to be brainy, nor do you need to have a good grasp of general knowledge – the answer is right there in front of you. It might not appear so on first glance, but there is logic and method to cryptic clues – you just have to learn the code.
For instance, take the clue ‘Actress from Germany, surprisingly (3,4)’. In crossword-speak, the word ‘surprisingly’ is telling you that this clue is based on an anagram. To arrive at the answer, unjumble the letters of ‘Germany’ and you discover that the actress ‘Meg Ryan’ is an anagram.
Or the clue ‘Still together (2,3,3,4)’. This is a double definition clue. The answer, ‘at the same time’, means both ‘still’ (as in ‘however, nevertheless’) and ‘together’ (simultaneously).
The answer to the clue ‘Metal concealed by environmentalist (4)’ is hidden within the clue itself. The answer is ‘iron’, concealed in the word ‘envIRONmentalist’.
The best way to get started with cryptic crosswords – apart from attending my beginners’ course at The Guildford Institute, of course – is to look at the answers (often in the next day’s newspaper) and work backwards to decipher the clue. If you do this every day, you’ll come on in leaps and bounds.
We know that you are a very experienced crossword compiler. Can you tell us how you go about doing this?
Crossword compilers start with an empty grid (the box of black and white squares); they don’t start with words and then add the black squares. It’s important to have a good knowledge of English spelling rules and word structure so that, for instance, you don’t end up having to find too many words that end in U or J in the bottom right corner of the grid. Certain words crop up frequently in crosswords; if you have _ T _ A or E_N_, Etna is one of the very few words that fits. Compilers try to avoid these ubiquitous crossword words.
When you’re not busy compiling crosswords or teaching, do you have any hobbies or interests that you enjoy?
I’m a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists and a member of the Society of Authors, so I spend a lot of my time writing. I am the author of the BBC’s Talk French Grammar, Talk German Grammar and other language-learning books.
What do you enjoy most about teaching at the GI?
I enjoy getting to meet the very interesting people who come along to the courses. I also appreciate working with such a nice bunch of staff, who always make everything go so smoothly. It’s a real pleasure being part of The Guildford Institute community.