Neo: The Cryptic Crossword Compiler

Unveiling the Journey and Strategies of an FT Crossword Setter

Crossword puzzles have always fascinated puzzle enthusiasts, challenging their wit, creativity, and problem-solving skills. But have you ever wondered about the individuals who craft these mind-bending puzzles? Today, we step behind the scenes to meet Neo, one of the esteemed crossword compilers at the Financial Times (FT).

Neo, known by his pseudonym, draws inspiration from the iconic movie “The Matrix” to represent his crossword compiler alter ego. Just like the intricate world of matrices, crosswords captivate Neo’s imagination, making it a suitable choice.

 In this blog post, we delve into Neo’s journey, strategies, and love for the art of crossword compilation.

A Journey of Dedication and Resilience

Neo, whose real name is Paul Bringloe, lives in Bromley, Kent, an area that holds a special place in his heart due to his family ties. His passion for crossword compilation sparked in 1990 when he decided to take a leap of faith and submit his very first crossword to The Times. Though the response he received from the crossword editor, John Grant, was exasperated and critical, it did not deter Neo’s determination.

Over the years, Neo has published approximately 5,034 crosswords, with 224 of them gracing the pages of the esteemed FT. Initially pursuing crossword compilation as a hobby, Neo later transitioned into full-time dedication, refining his skills and honing his craft. His journey from humble beginnings to becoming a renowned crossword setter is a testament to his perseverance and love for the art of crosswords.

Unveiling the Compilation Strategy

Creating a high-quality crossword requires: 

  • Skill
  • Precision, and 
  • A well-defined strategy

Neo shares his compilation process, taking us through the steps that bring a crossword puzzle to life. It all starts with a blank grid, onto which Neo places suitable words, building the puzzle’s foundation. As he progresses, Neo simultaneously crafts clues, striving to nail them on the first attempt. 

However, if perfection eludes him, he allows the dough to rise, kneads it again, and edits until the puzzle reaches its full potential. Ultimately, the final touches are a part of the job of the brilliant editorial team, who polish the crossword before it goes in for publication.

Neo’s experience and expertise enable him to produce high-quality puzzles within a day if there is a need to do it. The efficiency gained from years of practice and dedication is a testament to his commitment to delivering top-notch crosswords to the FT readership.

The Delicate Balance: Crafting Clues of Medium Strength

One of the challenges compilers face is striking the right balance of difficulty. Neo tailors his puzzles to the FT’s requirements, aiming for a medium level of complexity. However, he remains humble, acknowledging that advising on difficulty levels is a nuanced task. 

Neo appreciates the diverse styles showcased in the FT and holds his fellow colleagues in high regard, recognizing their collective brilliance.

Favorite Clues and Advice for Solvers and Aspiring Compilers

When asked about his favorite clues, Neo shares a pair that showcases the beauty of cryptic crossword construction. “The jungly mass one cleaves (7)” and “One does associate with poachers at last catching game (4)” both demonstrate Neo’s flair for wordplay and the art of constructing intricate and satisfying clues.

For solvers, Neo’s advice is simple: keep solving! Solvers play an integral role in the crossword community, and without their engagement, compilers like Neo wouldn’t have an audience to captivate. 

As for aspiring compilers, Neo offers one crucial tip: refrain from sending your very first crossword attempt to The Times, a lesson learned from his own experience.

The World of Words and Crosswords

While Neo’s focus remains primarily on crossword compilation, his passion for words extends beyond puzzles. Although he doesn’t actively participate in other word games throughout the year, he indulges in reading extensively. As he ponders the concept, Neo wonders if James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” might be considered a word game itself, given its enigmatic clues that have yet to be fully deciphered.

As we conclude our conversation with Neo, we gain a deeper appreciation for the dedicated and talented individuals who craft the crosswords we all love so much. Behind the scenes, crossword compilers like Neo invest their creativity, time, and passion into constructing puzzles that challenge and entertain us.

Next time you tackle an FT crossword, take a moment to appreciate the expertise and artistry of Neo and his fellow crossword compilers. Together, they craft puzzles that ignite our minds, test our knowledge, and remind us of the joy found within the world of words.

Original article source: Behind the scenes: who are the FT’s crossword compilers? By Roger Blitz,