JDE The Original South African Cryptic Crossword

I feel sorry for George Euvrard - and anyone else who has launched a book at the same time as The President’s Keepers. While Jacques Pauw’s explosive exposé has taken just about all the book spotlight, it’s not the only new book to contain secrets. Euvrard’s JDE The Original South African Cryptic Crossword contains about 2500 secrets - his secrets might not topple a president but they will give you some respite from South Africa’s grim state capture politics.  


Euvrard is a professor in the faculty of education at Rhodes University. He is also a cruciverbalist,a word magician who pull words out of thin air and, using sleight of hand, turns “fix fresh mint eggs” into “Griffiths Mxenge”.

Cruciverbalists are those mysterious people who compile crossword clues – their job is to mislead you. So when Euvrard’s clue suggests the six-letter solution is a South African flower, you might think “protea”, but you really ought to be thinking “Orange” - a flower is a plant but in crossword lingo it is also something that flows, such as a river.


I started solving cryptic crosswords when I was a copy sub at The Star, working the night-shift in 2001. During our lunch break at 9pm, the following day’s Business Day would be delivered - it was hot off the press. My goal was to be the first person in the country to complete the paper’s 30-minute cryptic crossword.


I soon became hooked on crack… let me start the sentence again before my parents freak out. I soon became hooked on cracking crosswords. It’s no surprise that every day millions of people around the world stick their noses into a grid to do battle with a cruciverbalist. A crossword is a battle of wits between you and the setter. Ultimately, setters are meant to lose but not before they have made you sweat, squirm and seethe until you crack their clue.


I blame the fact that I’m almost bald on the clue Segg (9,4), which  kept me awake for hours and had me tearing out my hair in frustration. I thought and thought so long it felt like my brain had turned into scrambled eggs.

The sense of achievement that comes with solving a clue is like eating a decadent chocolate brownie - but without the guilt. In just a few words clues tell stories, reveal secrets and hidden messages, make you smile, and stir up memories.


However, as much as I enjoyed the Business Day’s crosswords, the clues were very British. For example, the word Conservative in a clue would be code for Tory – so the solution for Short Conservative tale (5) would be Story – which is a synonym for tale and you get it by adding S (short) to TORY (Conservative).


Just about all the crosswords published in South African papers were compiled by British setters and, therefore, steeped in Britishisms. Cryptic crossword puzzles were invented in America a century ago, but they are more Blighty than Hugh Grant in a cardigan walking a corgi outside Buckingham Palace.


I longed for a South African crossword, so I was overjoyed when Euvrard’s Saffa-seasoned mind-benders came across my radar.  With clues and solutions sprinkled with words like lobola, hardegat, hayi, droewors, opskop, potjie, ngiyabonga, Pietmyvrou, moerkoffie, dagga and voetstoots, he has decolonised one of the last colonial outposts - the cryptic crossword.


Euvrard’s grid is a place where a synonym for appalling is kak and where Vaalies are welcome - probably the only place outside Gauteng, and where the oldest woman in South Africa is Mrs Ples. His clues refer to our sports stars – AB de Villiers and Doctor Khumalo – and icons who are our icons - like struggle heroes Griffiths Mxenge, Steve Biko and Albertina Sisulu and, of course, the most iconic icon of all, Statesman of decorum and élan (7) -   Mandela, which is hidden in the clue - decorumand élan.


Euvrard explained that because South African newspapers imported their puzzles form the UK only a small, privileged group of English-cultured South Africans had any hope of enjoying a pastime that is offered in their local paper.


He wanted to know: is it possible to create a South African crossword that remains true to the fascinating genre of the English cryptic crossword tradition, but is Afrocentric and thus more accessible, meaningful and enjoyable for most of our people?


His book is an extremely loud yebo.


His clues draw on the African context for perspective, content, language - and politics. Remember, when I said crosswords were a respite from South Africa’s state capture politics? Well, that’s not quite true. Euvrard compiled one particularly political puzzle that gets to the heart of state capture. It kicks off with Stories found in Guptataal ie skandaal (4), moves swiftly to Cyril rises out of the degeneracy? (4), and includes the worrying clue that, er, captures our president’s intentions: No 1 is in a dash to destroy (4).


This puzzle also includes references to dishonesty, reshuffling, being gatvol, tenders, siphon millions, heartless mismanagement, and the Unafrican National Congress.    


The 75 puzzles in JDE The Original South African Cryptic Crossword are a collection of the ones Euvrard compiled for the Mail & Guardian and his local paper in Grahamstown, Grocott’s Mail.


His clues are challenging and some will stump solvers for a while, but many will leave you with a smile and all of them will give you a sense of accomplishment when you crack them. Euvrard has included solutions, revealing the tools and techniques used so new solvers can see how to unlock the clue.

The book sells for R150 including postage, which works out at R2 a puzzle, or R1 per hour’s fun, or 6c a clue! Considering that crossword puzzles improve your vocabulary, boost your brain power, and are more entertaining than Netflix (and don’t chew up bandwidth), 6c a pop is not a bad investment at all.


Contact George at g.euvrard@ru.ac.za to order a copy.


Last Modified: Fri, 17 Jan 2020 10:19:22 SAST