Tributes flow as 'genius' crossword-setter dies


TRIBUTES HAVE been paid to the compiler of The Irish TimesCrosaire crossword, Derek Crozier, following his death on Saturday at the age of 92.

Crozier compiled cryptic crosswords for the newspaper for 67 years, the first of which appeared on March 13th, 1943. A memorial service is to take place in St George’s College in Harare, Zimbabwe on Friday, where Crozier taught for over 25 years after he and his family moved to southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in 1948.

Yesterday, fans paid tribute to Crozier, describing him as a crossword genius. “There’s one clue that I remember from years back, that I’ve never gotten out of my head,” says San Francisco-based William Ernest Butler, author of the unofficial Irish Times Crosaire Blog ( “The clue was just a run of letters: aknogoelr.” Give up? The answer: “look back in anger”.

For Butler, Crozier was “like your favourite school teacher”, whose unique style marked him out from other crossword writers. “There were a couple of big names in the British crossword world who came up with some new rules, after which crosswords all started to adhere to those rules. But anybody who was going to put rules on Derek Crozier – he wasn’t going to listen to them.”

Butler, whose personal Crosaire record is about eight minutes, has been doing it for some 40 years, a habit he inherited from his father. “Because it’s been around for so long, it’s been passed on from generation to generation,” says Butler, who gets Crosaire fans from as far afield as India and Colombia on his blog. “Because it’s been around so long, it’s got this old world charm that no other crossword has in the world.”

In Ireland, tech consultant Damian Bannon recalls his introduction to Crosaire from his college days, some 20 years ago.

“There were a few of us who would do it in college. We used to race each other to see who’d finish first.” And though he has been known to complete them in 15 minutes, “There are times when you think, my God, how did he come up with that one?”

Singer and filmmaker Nick Kelly began his Crosaire addiction while killing time on film shoots. “I’d do the Crosaire in the bath. If I was having a clever day – if I got it out to within about three or four clues – I’d come out of the bath thinking: ‘I’m capable of doing my job competently today’. Other days I’d get stuck, and only get about 10 clues in, and I’d feel I couldn’t be trusted to do anything serious.”

For Kelly, there’s a romantic aspect to the relationship between the crossword setter and the solver, and he will find Crozier hard to replace. “I’ve grown accustomed to his ways,” he admits. “When you look at a Guardianor Telegraphcrossword, you realise there’s a completely different person setting it.” He sees Crozier’s death as the end of an Irish institution. “He really added to the quality of my life considerably.”

For writer Liz Nugent, the Crosaire became an important part of her routine since 20 years ago. “Certain clues would even stick out in my mind.” One such was A Lone Star, 5,5. The answer? “Greta Garbo, because she said ‘I want to be alone’.” Another clue of three words – Valo and lour – had her stumped. The answer? “Discretion, because both are better parts of valour. He was a total genius.”

Dubliner Bob Laird got to meet Crozier when he was in Dublin for Crosaire’s 50th anniversary in 1993. “The number of people who were envious: guys that work with me who regarded him as their hero.” Laird inherited his 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.”

He found himself near tears to hear of Crozier’s death. “He’ll be well remembered, which I suppose is all anyone can hope for. He has such a fan club, so many people who’ve enjoyed the challenge.”