A riddler wrapped up in an enigma (5,7)

Sat, Apr 10, 2010, 01:00

Derek Crozier:DEREK CROZIER, who has died aged 92, delighted cruciverbalists and puzzled novices for 67 years as compiler of the Crosaire crossword in The Irish Times. Of those who failed to solve the puzzles he set, he said: “It’s splendid to think that there are people who from time to time would love to wring my neck.” And he cheerfully admitted that he never solved a crossword in his life.

It all began in 1942 when he found his wife Marjorie trying to solve a puzzle from a book of crosswords. He said he could devise more challenging tests, and put pen to paper.

At that year’s Irish TimesChristmas party in the Pearl Bar in Dublin’s Fleet Street, journalist Jack White introduced him to editor Bertie Smyllie, who was tickled by one of Crozier’s jokes.

Crozier mentioned his new-found hobby and volunteered to compile crosswords for the paper. The first puzzle appeared on March 13th, 1943.

“Dad never repeated the joke to me – it was probably unrepeatable,” his son Brian said this week.

The name Crosaire was inspired by the then common road signs bearing the Irish “crosaire” (crossroads), and Crozier delighted in the play on his own name.

Initially the old-style cryptic crossword appeared once a week, on Saturdays, with his wife filling in the grids and him conjuring up the clues. A Wednesday crossword was added in 1950, Tuesdays were added in 1955 and since 1982 it has been published six days a week.

Writer Liz Nugent this week recalled certain Crosaire clues that stood out. One was A Lone Star, 5,5, the answer to which was Greta Garbo “because she said ‘I want to be alone’.”

Dubliner Bob Laird inherited the Crosaire habit from his father, who did the crossword for 59 years. “My father died about four years ago. We knew he was starting to deteriorate when he stopped doing the crossword.”

Born in Dublin in 1917, Derek Crozier was the son of Thomas Francis Crozier and his wife Isobel Morna (née Pollock). He attended Castle Park preparatory school in Dalkey and later was a pupil at Repton School in Derbyshire.

He joined the administrative staff at Guinness’s brewery, completing his studies at Trinity College Dublin; he secured his BA in 1940. In 1948 he moved to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where he farmed tobacco and maize in Sinoia, now Chinhoyi. The income from his crosswords was a big help.

“Whatever small importance the crosswords may have had for Irish Times readers, they certainly became of the greatest importance to us,” he said. “They were our only, slender means of support while I was learning to become a tobacco farmer.”

Active in local affairs, he stood unsuccessfully for election to parliament against a Rhodesian Front candidate. The party he stood for was virtually wiped out by the RF, led by Ian Smith.

Crozier gave up farming and began teaching English at the Jesuit-run St George’s College in Harare in 1963; he resigned in 1989. By this time independent Zimbabwe was in existence, following a bitter civil war precipitated by Smith’s unilateral declaration of independence from Britain.

On the 50th anniversary of the crossword, he and his wife travelled to Dublin for his appearance on The Late Late Show. A readers’ forum was limited to 400 people selected in a raffle, which left many Crosaire fans disappointed.

In this newspaper, Seán MacConnell (a Simplex man) reported how he “sat in awe watching Crosaire creator Derek Crozier communicate with his fans . . . For two solid hours in the ballroom of Jurys Hotel in Dublin, he fielded question after question from his followers, including five people who had been coping with Crosaire crosswords since the first one was published, 50 years ago”.

The Irish Timescrossword editor Lorna Kernan, on the puzzle’s 60th anniversary, recalled some Crosaire afficionados she had encountered: “The Canadian who clicked in every day to the Irish Times website; the Dutchman in Waterford who considered it the best way to improve his English; the woman who wanted to join the Crosaire club so badly that she organised family members to speed into D’Olier Street to pick up a couple of copies of Mary O’Brien’s Clueing in on Crosaire article to accompany her and the hubby on a sunshine-cum-Crosaire-initiation holiday.”

Also in 2003 a correspondent to the letters page hailed Crozier, “without whom I probably would never have known the meaning of words such as: chela, melismata, desipient, paregoric, algedonic, usufruct, brummagem or lucubration.”

By the time of his 90th birthday, Crozier reckoned he had compiled 14,000 crosswords. He liked to compile one a day, and regularly managed one-and-a-half so as to keep ahead of deadlines.

Because of difficulties with Zimbabwe’s postal system he relied on friends and visitors to post bundles of puzzles to The Irish Timesoffice from Ireland and the UK or deliver them by hand.

He had a lifelong passion for trout fishing. He was busy compiling a crossword when taken ill last week; he died at Nyanga. He married, in 1940, Marjorie Burrows, who predeceased him in 1999; his sons Nicholas, Brian and Michael survive him.


John Derek Crozier: born November 12th, 1917; died April 3rd, 2010