An enjoyable and stimulating pastime
Solving cryptic crosswords is fun to do and provides a good work out for the mind. It exercises the memory and thinking skills — such as analysis, deduction and lateral thinking — and stimulates an interest in words, language and general knowledge.
It’s a great activity for u3as, giving members the opportunity to share their learning and enjoyment of solving puzzles.
About the subject adviser
My name is Henry Howarth and I have taught over 700 u3a members how to solve cryptic crosswords. Some of the people I have taught have set up crossword groups in their u3as.
I am also the author of Learn How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords: A Course for Beginners and the app Learn Cryptic Crosswords.
My website has information about learning cryptic crosswords: www.czdcrosswords.co.uk
Cryptic Crossword groups in u3as
In May 2022 there were more than 121 u3a crossword groups in the UK.
Most groups are focussed on solving puzzles and these may be for improvers only, for beginners only, or cater for both. A few groups also set puzzles and this may be the main focus of the group.
An opportunity for all
Anyone can learn how to solve cryptic clues, and with practice develop their skills further. This is an activity that has appeal among third agers, and there will be enough interest in most u3as to support a group.
The start-up leaflet provides practical guidance on getting a crossword group underway:
u3a crossword courses for beginners
There are two crossword courses for beginners that have been used at u3as:
Cryptic Crosswords: Introduction to the Basics developed by Nicola Harris (Midhurst u3a)
Learn How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords: A Course for Beginners developed by Henry Howarth (Bournemouth u3a)
Cryptic Crosswords: Introduction to the Basics
Midhurst u3a member Nicola Harris, author of publishing industry textbook Basic Editing, has for several years been developing and teaching a course entitled Cryptic Crosswords: Introduction to the Basics. Over 8 sessions of around 2 hours each, through a wealth of structured exercises and examples, it introduces a small group (ideally 6-8 people) to the joys and frustrations of learning the new language of Crosswordese.
This course is now available on licence for other u3a tutors to use free of charge. The tutor needs to be reasonably competent; students can be beginners. A good deal of effort and printing out is required of the tutor.
‘We were very pleased with the way the course went and the participants enjoyed themselves. ... [They] often commented about the amount of preparation work in the course, and we credited this to your efforts.’ (Lancing & Sompting u3a)
Learn How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords: A Course for Beginners
This course has been used by a number of group leaders and taught to many u3a members.
It starts with the simplest ideas and easiest types of clue and builds step by step to the advanced aspects of solving through six modules. Each topic is followed by exercises and practice clues, each module ends with specially designed practice puzzles and there is also a comprehensive set of reference tools.
“I have finished the weekend Telegraph crossword for the first time ever. Am thrilled, your course is super.” Pauline Manson, Poole u3a 2016.
Learn How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords u3a course guide Learn How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords U3A course guide (335.16 KB)
The course book contains all the course content. The first chapter is available as a sample for download.
Learn How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords chapter 1 Learn How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords chapter 1 (419.13 KB)