Crossword Reading Club: Artist and Quiz Master Frank Paul on The 12 Christmas Quiz | Crossword

Frank Paul's Twelve Christmas Quiz
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Frank Paul inhabits the fruitful cryptic ending of quizzes, as we’ve seen on Only Connect and The Answer Trap. He’s an artist – his book The Twelve Christmas Quiz also contains his illustrations and, for the first time of this length, his narration. Today is my chance to talk to Frank about the business of setting cryptic challenges.

Hello, Frank. Children’s stories are all about your imagination. Is this book a tribute to your favourites, or to those which are more easily usable as quizzes and puzzles?
My Home Alone inspired quiz is very much inspired by my childhood.

I was obsessed with Home Alone and Home Alone 2. I used to equip the house with traps to harass my mother. They mostly consisted of vast webs of string or tape that she could get tangled up in, but sometimes I left doors ajar with things balanced on them, or a string labeled PULL THIS STRING with something heavy attached to it. other end. I’m immensely relieved that I never hurt her.

The Twelve Christmas Quiz are available in the Guardian’s Bookstore.

Genghis, Kevin’s equivalent in my Home Alone-themed quiz, is probably the most sadistic and ruthless character in the book and I suspect it’s down to guilt for causing such alarming mayhem.

Other themes vary depending on what the source material means to me. I thoroughly enjoyed writing the pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, as I have loved these stories for many years, but I watched Die Hard for the first time to prepare the quiz compilation based on it. I enjoyed it a lot, but I was surprised that the words “die hard” were never mentioned in the movie.

It’s a shame, because the sequels would have probably followed suit. Now your puzzles remind me of those from the forgotten past, where you work out the rules as you go. Their problem is that they often require the solver to know, for example, the nickname of a Victorian Chancellor of the Exchequer. Your canvas is more modern and you also have more possibilities to play. Is a knowledge area disabled limits?
I make the required areas of knowledge as varied as possible. I like questions that require knowledge of various fields, partly because there’s humor in connecting things that are worlds apart.

I wouldn’t relegate a whole area of ​​knowledge as forbidden, but I avoid bad taste. There is a novel co-written by Steven Seagal called The Way of the Shadow Wolves, with quotes such as “A long wailing woman’s cry came from the house. They knew something bad was happening or was about to happen,” and “A pack of four-legged coyotes drove past John’s vehicle.” I thought it would be fun to have Seagal as an answer where you had to guess his identity with as few clues as possible. But the more I read about him, the more traumatically horrible his behavior seemed and I couldn’t in good conscience write a spin on him.

Unfortunately, the list that includes Seagal keeps growing. I think 12 Quiz has most of the devices I hope to come across, such as palindromes and rebuses. You also seem to have invented some. Would you be happy if others adopted them?
I would be pleased! Although palindromes are a familiar device in puns, a quiz where the answers combine to form a giant palindrome is, I believe, my own invention, and a few people have written palindromic rounds as a tribute, which I very flattered!

I also came up with a trick – not found in the book – where I give candidates a series of seemingly very specific descriptions that apply to two different answers. For instance:

The first word of this song’s title is in English and contains an apostrophe, while the rest of the title is in a southern European language. It is the signature song of a man with the surname Martin, although he is not one of the songwriters.

Someone presented a series of these questions I had written for a pub quiz, presumably warning candidates in advance that they could not write the same answer to more than one question. He kept it as a surprise that everyone had two answers, then repeated all the questions from the first half in the second half. Apparently people were confused at first, but it turned out great. I wish I had been there to see it. I get really excited when I think of a new idea for a trick, because sometimes it seems like I’ve exhausted all possibilities for puns.

We will reveal both songs at the end. You often give a solver multiple ways to enter a word. Are you, like me, content to turn in a scholarly clue while sneaking into something that makes it easier than it looks?
Yes, the penny drop moments are what I find most satisfying to experience as a solver and plan as a compiler. While a simple question to which you may or may not know the answer can be nice on its own (especially if you do knowing the answer and suspecting that others won’t), I prefer multilevel questions, and secreting a well-hidden clue is indeed a very pleasant thing.

Do you use hints to confirm that a piece of information is something people are likely to have heard of? I could search to verify that a TV show isn’t the one I only remember.
I use Wikipedia a lot, although I obsessively check facts afterwards. Since I use hidden messages and other hidden tricks in a question set, I usually think about quiz set answers before designing questions to match them. If I need a question for the answer “treasure”, for example, I search Wikipedia for “intitle:treasure” and the results at the top are usually the best known, although the correlation is not reliable.

I didn’t know you could do that. I tend to use a Google search like “ intitle:treasure”, replacing the Guardian or the BBC if things get too American on Wikipedia. What about culture chunks?
There’s a lot I don’t know about pop music – I never listened to it growing up, and have tried to follow it more in recent years, but it’s hard to catch up! And famous musicians can completely pass me by, so I sometimes use an act’s YouTube view count as a very rough estimate of their notoriety.

Yes, and Spotify is probably a better indicator of a song’s accessibility than its chart placement at the time. My favorite example is Brown Eyed Girl, who reached No. 60 (in 2013). I’m also interested in the slower pace of your questions. Your ideal solver, it seems to me, is happy to take a moment to absorb the clues you’ve given them. It’s a nice change of pace – likewise, can you imagine us solving as a group and putting our minds together?
Yeah, I think group solving might be the perfect way to do it. Because quizzes are multi-layered, they work well for people who engage and trigger each other.

Have you been tempted to omit both tips and answers and ask readers to continue to see who can solve without any help? Or maybe to make your next book more like The Kit Williams masquerade?
I was not tempted to omit the clues or answers, and I suspect that some players will attempt the puzzles without clues or answers anyway! This tends to be my problem when solving puzzles – I’m terrified that once I get a clue the right course of action will be blindingly obvious and I’ll realize that if I Had I only thought about the puzzle for a few more minutes, I would have worked it out more satisfactorily.

I haven’t made any firm plans for future books, but the Narnia-themed section of the Twelve Quiz has a choice aspect of your own adventure, with different characters leading to different puzzles, and I wonder if this format could be extended into an entire book, where the paths followed by the characters intersect and diverge.

I hope it is possible. Many thanks to Frank: the songs that correspond to the brief above are It’s Love and Living the crazy life. The twelve Christmas quizzes can be found in the Guardian Bookstore.

Uncommon Law By Ap Herbert
Uncommon Law by AP Herbert

Our next book

Suggestions for future book club readings are welcome. In the meantime, our next article is Chapter A Cross Action from AP Herbert’s 1935 collection of fictional law reports, Uncommon Law, which can be found on the Internet Archive and similar places.

Past Book Club Books

Find a collection of explanations, interviews and other useful material at

Alan Connor’s partly but not primarily cryptic shipping forecast puzzle book can be ordered from the Guardian Bookstore


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