‘Subscription Crosswords’ was established by Araucaria in April 1984, for Guardian readers and devotees of his puzzles. It featured four crosswords every month, along with the previous month’s solutions, and was eagerly subscribed to by many who couldn’t get enough of his gentle humour and wit. In late 1984, Christine Jones bought the business which produced these monthly puzzles and worked with Araucaria until his death in 2013. During these years, they also jointly published four collections of ‘Araucaria Crosswords’ with Chambers Harrop. Christine continues to marshal the puzzles into a publishable format to this day.
In 1986, when Araucaria became a ‘senior citizen’, he teamed up with John Henderson (Enigmatist, Io, Elgar, Nimrod and more), compiling jointly for the next eight years under John’s editorship, changing name and format to the ‘1 Across’ we know and love today in 1991.
John’s puzzling career was burgeoning, though, and in 1994 he reluctantly relinquished the editorship to the late Michael Rich (Rico, Ploutos, Dives), who was then Crossword Editor of The Listener. April 2000 saw further changes, with Tom Johnson (Gozo, Busman, Didymus, Maskarade) taking the helm. Tom has compiled for the Spectator as Doc since July 1981, holding the Editorship since 1999, and also sets puzzles for the Guardian, Financial Times, Telegraph (Toughie), Prospect Magazine, New Statesman, the Cricketer, and the Puzzler magazine, amongst others, notably setting the Guardian’s special bank holiday puzzles, once the sole preserve of Araucaria.
In October 2016, finding that the time commitments from the various other outlets for which he was compiling were becoming too pressing, Tom stepped down as editor, handing the reins to Hamish Symington (also known as ‘Soup’). Hamish has compiled for 1 Across for a number of years and, to date, has featured on various crossword sites, as well as for the Guardian Genius puzzle.
1 Across is a rare source of interesting and ingenious speciality and thematic puzzles by professional and amateur compilers. Many may be known to you from their published work; others are up and coming in the world of crossword setting. What all our puzzles share, though, is a high quality and an entertaining take on the norm.
Puzzles may be ‘normal’ blocked grids, barred, blank, circular, Scrabble boards… often, anything goes! Many puzzles have Ninas; most have more overt themes. One puzzle every month is a Prize Puzzle, with a prize of a book voucher generously donated by Oxford University Press.
Who was ‘Araucaria’?
‘Araucaria’ was the pseudonym of the Revd John Graham. He was born in Oxford, read classics at King’s College, Cambridge, leaving to join the RAF in 1941. In 1949 he joined the staff of St Chad’s College, Durham, as Chaplain and Tutor where he stayed until his marriage in 1952. After posts in Aldershot, Reading, and London he became a vicar in Huntingdonshire.
His first puzzle for The Guardian appeared in July 1958; at that time setters were anonymous, but in December 1970 pseudonyms were introduced and Araucaria was born. He began compiling crosswords full-time in the late 1970s when his divorce lost him his living as a clergyman. He was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 2005 New Year’s Honours, for services to the newspaper industry, and died in 2013, aged 92.
John Graham’s clue-writing style made him one of the best-loved of all setters. His style is sometimes referred to as ‘Araucarian’; in it – to a degree – “anything goes” as long as the answer can be readily and unambiguously determined. Widely admired for his clever use of cross-references and special themes, his clues often included long anagrams, with his favourite appearing in a Christmas puzzle: ‘O hark the herald angels sing the boy’s descent which lifted up the world’, an anagram of ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground’. Another much-quoted example is ‘Poetical scene has chaste Lord Archer vegetating’ which yields ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, the title of Rupert Brooke’s poem, and the home of Lord Archer who at the time was lying low after unfavourable newspaper coverage.