OXFORD is known as home to many of country’s most fiendishly clever crossword compilers.

But few of them can match Jonathan Crowther for staying power, with the 68-year-old having just completed his 2,000th crossword for The Observer Sunday newspaper.

Crossword solvers and setters from across the UK were among 130 guests who gathered at Wadham College, in Parks Road, to celebrate the milestone.

Mr Crowther, better known to cryptic crossword enthusiasts by his pseudonym Azed, produced his first crossword for The Observer in March 1972, when Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cam-eron was just five years old.

Mr Crowther has not missed a single week’s publication since then.

And he is viewed by Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter and other devotees of his challenging crosswords as “a giant” among puzzle setters.

Mr Crowther, of Garford Road, North Oxford, worked for the Oxford University Press for 35 years before retiring in 2000.

After becoming a devotee of the Ximenes crossword in The Observer as a teenager, at the age of 29 he was offered the chance to succeed Ximenes.

Guests at the special lunch for Mr Crowther included author Mr Dexter, who for many years set the crossword in our sister paper, The Oxford Times, Sir Jeremy Morse, the former chairman of Lloyds Bank who gave Mr Dexter the name of the Oxford detective who is his most famous character, and Richard Stilgoe, the songwriter famed for clever wordplay.

The event was organised by another well-known Oxford puzzle compiler, Don Manley, of Hayward Road, who supplies crosswords for The Independent, The Guardian and other national newspapers.

Mr Crowther said: “It was a great occasion. There were some wonderful tributes. It was quite blush-making.

“Some of the people I met have been with me from the start.

“That’s the most rewarding part of it. I have a very loyal band of solvers, who regard their Sunday crossword as a highlight of the week.”

He said he spends about 10 hours over the course of a week putting together the crossword, adding: “After all these years you get into a way of working.

“You don’t get sidelined by ideas that aren’t going to work. Writing the clues is what takes the time – that’s where the originality occurs.”

But there were no clues about any retirement plans, even after 38 years.

“I’m happy to carry on for as long as they want me to,” he said.

He said no-one should be puzzled by the number of crossword setters based in Oxford, adding: “It’s not really surprising in a university city like Oxford, although I wouldn’t say great brain power necessarily makes you good at crosswords.

“It’s something different and difficult to put your finger on. I think it comes down to a certain way of looking at words and not seeing just what is on the surface.”

The broadcaster and journalist Francis Wheen, who tackles Azed’s crossword every Sunday, said: “Jon-athan is like the best sort of schoolteacher, inspiring you to produce great work, because you so want to please him.”


    1. Always read the clues twice. Most cryptic clues have a surface meaning, but if you read it again it really means something quite different.

    2. Try to tackle the longer words first. They are often the easiest and once they are completed, the shorter words will follow.

    3. Remember, crossword setters sometimes use abbreviations.

    4. Sometimes clues are staring you in the face and you will find the answers are quite literally spelled out in the clue.

    5. Having said that, do not get too caught up in anagrams. Some occur but not all clues are anagram-based.