For Colin Dexter, the thrill of successfully completing a crossword can be easily explained: “It’s a triumph in your own mind. You sit down with the crossword each morning over a boiled egg and you try to finish it before you finish the egg. And if you do so, then you get the feeling that the day has started off awfully well.”
And such is the writer’s love for cryptic puzzles that when it came to his most famous creations, Dexter sought inspiration from two notable clue setters: “Inspector Morse is named after Sir Jeremy Morse, who I got to know in the 1950s when he started doing the Ximenes crossword in The Observer,” he explains. “And Dorothy Taylor wrote the The Observer’s Everyman crossword for years under the name Mrs B Lewis. So that’s the origin of Morse’s bagman.”
Crosswords have, of course, always been synonymous with the fictional world of Endeavour Morse, usually providing the mental jog that sets the detective on the path to catching a killer. Murder here is often treated as a code that needs cracking, with the emphasis on the quirks of the sleuth rather than any associated psychological horrors.
For Endeavour writer Russell Lewis, whose prequel drama returns this week for a fresh four-part run on ITV, crosswords and whodunnits can both be treated as duel.
“It’s a matching of one mind against a fiendish opponent. Murder mysteries are like crossword clues in that the setter seeks to obscure their intention and actively misdirect the solver from the truth. That’s part of the reason why crosswords appeal to Endeavour. Plus they are, for the most part, a solitary pursuit.”
And with Morse’s Oxford seemingly filled with villains keen on anagrams and wordplay, do the mental workouts to be found within the pages of newspapers help hone our detective’s skills? “They’re good training into getting into the mind of someone else,” Lewis agrees. “Certainly, crossword setters have their own little foibles and tricks that they like to play. So it’s a fine-tuning of the deductive antennae for Endeavour.”
But what of Shaun Evans, the actor currently playing DC Endeavour Morse? Is he as skilled a cruciverbalist as his character? “I’m terrible,” he admits. “I’m getting better at the opera, but no better at the crosswords.
“But Endeavour’s mind definitely works in a specific way. He has this imaginative, intuitive and cryptic way of working things out about human behaviour. It makes him an outsider wherever he goes and he is quite a melancholy person, but his talents are very useful when it comes to solving crimes.”
So to see whether you have the potential to be as intelligent as Morse, try this trio of cryptic puzzlers hand-picked by Colin Dexter: “Three prize-winning clues that in the early stages of my own experiences with crosswords brought me the greatest joy. Good puzzling!” says the author.
Colin Dexter’s All-Time Favourite Crossword Clues…
1. Nothing squared is cubed (3)
2. Bar of soap (6, 6)
3. We’ll get excited with Ring seat (10)
The new series of Endeavour begins on Sunday at 8:00pm on ITV