Crossword Masterclasses

They started as a way of celebrating the centenary of the crossword in 2013, and now they’re an institution: they’re my Masterclasses for aspiring setters and advanced solvers.

Compiling puzzles is not the black art that it may seem to be. You need to know some basic techniques, and you need some structure to the way you work. Those things can be learned, as long as you have the type of mind that reads “Car Park” but pictures fish sailing a boat, a carp-ark.

You can look forward to a stimulating day with a group of people representing a range of experience from relative newcomers to those who are nearly ready to have their work published. Class sizes are kept small. You’ll receive individual attention and a critique of your work in progress, with suggestions of where to focus next.

In addition to your place in the class itself, you’ll receive over 250 pages of course material, written notes on your work and membership of an exclusive online community for news, support and clueing challenges.

The intensive one-day class for aspiring setters and advanced solvers costs £150, including lunch, drinks and snacks, and the advanced class for previous masterclass graduates costs £120.

Fun for Solvers Too

If you’re an advanced solver, you can enjoy seeing how a crossword is put together and getting an insight into how compilers think. You’ll find out about the tricks that compilers use when they’re trying to throw you off the scent, and you’ll increase your pleasure whenever you see a really well-constructed grid or a clever theme. Think of it this way: if you love music, you can enjoy seeing an instrumental masterclass, even if you don’t play yourself.

Alan Connor’s Blog

Excellent day, loads of useful information

Great day … such a complete course

Good to meet people who are trying to learn to play the same instrument and also get an insight into a maestro’s approach

Absolutely brilliant … I really feel ready to step up a level now

I’m really happy I signed up for this. I definitely feel motivated to keep going on my crossword setting quest

Next Dates


Friends’ Meeting House

One-Day Masterclass

Late Spring 2018 TBC

09:30 to 16:00

We’ll be returning to this lovely venue soon, so this is the time to make sure of your place – if you’re travelling from outside the Southeast, make a weekend of it and immerse yourself in one of the UK’s most vibrant coastal cities.


Friends’ Meeting House

Advanced Workshop

Spring 2018 TBC

09:30 to 16:00

This will be a special session for past students – I’ll contact all the past students who are currently on the waiting list for this session to confirm the date very soon.

Brighton Friends Meeting House

My favourite venue for classes: the Meeting House is in a quiet corner of the historic centre of Brighton, where we have our own room for the day and lunch is brought to us by one of the characterful local cafés.

Click here for directions

Further Afield

Over the last few years, I’ve run successful classes in Manchester, Birmingham and London, and I’ll set up more wherever there are aspiring setters who’d like to come to them. If that describes you, please drop me a line, then let your friends know and put them in touch with me too, so that I know where to look.

Confirm Your Place

Click here to buy a place on the next class in my online shop – this will guarantee you a place, whether or not the date of the next class has been announced. If the date hasn’t been announced yet, I’ll do my best to give you a chance to influence the choice.

Questions and Provisional Reservations

For more information about the classes, or if you have any questions about whether they’d be suitable for you, to put your name on the waiting list or make a provisional reservation without a final commitment, just drop me a line using this form.

Course Content

One-Day Masterclass

  • A brief history of wordplay
  • Why do people do crosswords?
  • Crossword Compiler and other software
  • Ximenean and Libertarian traditions
  • Issues and pitfalls with common types of wordplay
  • Definition and surface reading
  • Two methods of annotation
  • Creating a grid from scratch
  • How setters filled grids before computers
  • Strategies for filling a library grid
  • Introduction to themes
  • Publication basics
  • Your work in progress
  • Resources

Advanced Workshop for Masterclass Graduates

  • The differences between creative, interesting and merely competent puzzles
  • Unusual types of wordplay
  • Misdirection
  • Alternative software for grid filling
  • Maximising theme grid fills
  • Issues with and attractions of types of theme
  • Managing the creative process
  • Developing a style
  • Setting as a profession
  • Your progress in getting noticed as a new setter
  • Beyond competence: the crossword as art form

This is a general indication of the material that we cover in each of the sessions. In practice, the content is driven by the interests and experience of the students on the day, and every class is unique.