Last night I travelled to another planet. Sitting in a long, narrow room bursting at the seams with puzzle and palindrome addicts, I wondered where these people had been hiding? Out of body experience? No, just another Wheeler Centre offering. I had come to the session David Astle: Confessions of a Wordaholic.
Father holds six over least arrangement. (5, 5) A gibberish sentence for many of us, but an irresistible clue for those in the thrall of cryptic crosswords. And in the Australian scene, there are none more cryptic, more revered and more dastardly than the man known as DA.
To celebrate the launch of his new book Puzzled, meet David Astle and find out why Geoffrey Rush calls him the ‘Sergeant Pepper of cryptic crosswords’.
As Harriet Veitch said in her Sydney Morning Herald article:
It’s scary inside David Astle’s brain. It’s stuffed full of words endlessly doing things. Palindromes and semordnilap run back and forth, spoonerisms climb up and own, thickets of anagrams form and reform and the tendrils of double meanings reach out to trip the unwary.
Even Astle occasionally wants to get out. “If anyone finds the exit, could you let me know? I’d like a rest sometimes.”
Despite the fact that I am not a puzzle person, that even when shown the answer , I remain puzzled, it was an immensely enjoyable and mentally exhilarating hour. I had expected David to be – dare I say it – more of a geek, considering the intensity of his word obsession, but in fact, he is very sociable and entertaining, with a sharpened intellect and almost incapable of leaving a word alone, set on automatic pilot to continuously pull words apart, stretch them into new meanings and possibilities. In David’s own words, his gift for word play is ‘like synesthesia, only instead of seeing colours, I just see acrobatic letters’.
David’s new book, Puzzled, is surprisingly thick. Apart from chapters of clues, Puzzled is also a insight into David’s life and ‘how a seemingly normal boy from Sydney’s northern suburbs turned into a man whom people curse on a regular basis’ (Harriet Veitch).
Thankyou, Wheeler Centre, for providing the opportunity to meet in person so many diverse and fascinating people. For free!