Meet the crossword setter Anto – ‘I just had to get my street name back’ | Crosswords

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Anto has been setting quiptics (including today’s) and cryptics for the Guardian since 2015, so we are well overdue a meeting …

Hello! Why “Anto”?
My pseudonym harks back to a disappointed childhood. I was christened Anthony and my mother never wanted to shorten it. Living in working-class Dublin, I was soon being called Anto; I was delighted to have a “cool” street name, but my mother was horrified and at a family conference reluctantly agreed to allow Tony, to kill off Anto. So I just had to get my street name back.

What do you do for a living besides crosswords?
I am retired almost six years from a career in banking. On top of setting, I draw cartoons for the Phoenix magazine, an Irish publication similar to Private Eye, and I’m a keen photographer – I’ve just finished a two-year stint as president of the Dublin Camera Club.

Where do you create your puzzles?
We have converted a small bedroom into a study for crosswords, drawing and photo processing.

As with nearly all setters, ideas can crop up anywhere at any time: solving crosswords (I try two or three a day); reading; hearing something on the TV or radio. I carry a notebook to capture them and, once I’ve worked them through, I load them into crossword compiler. My database is extensive enough that for most grids I can autofill. But it doesn’t guarantee a balance of clue types, so I print it off and then work on it wherever I might find myself to broaden the clue range and the level of difficulty.

How do your cryptics differ from your quiptics?
With quiptics, I know the prime audience are solvers finding their way into cryptic crosswords. I take the view that – like other solvers – they would like to do cryptics “not because they are easy, but because they are hard”, as JFK might put it.

As a learning piece, I try to include a good cross-section of clue types and cryptic conventions, with some humour. I avoid obscure references, but will not patronise solvers by assuming that they haven’t got a decent basic vocabulary. I offer clues that provide a bit of a challenge, but such that, even if a solver doesn’t crack one, its construction is straightforward to explain. That’s how we all learned.

When [the crossword editor] Hugh [Stephenson] asked me to start contributing cryptic crosswords, he advised me against major changes in style or approach. However, I am more focused on entertainment and I have slightly upped the difficulty with more quirky definitions and references.

Do you have any favourites among your own clues?
Probably:

25ac He proved drug is the same; host agreed (8)

I do like a good anagram, so:

14/26ac Worry about being disturbed as taxi lets gent in (11,5)

And some direct indirection:

12d Regularly deliver iron – for this farmer obviously? (3,8)

I’ll give the answers below. I believe we share an interest in Anglo-Irish language differences.
Although it’s difficult for some to acknowledge, the Irish and the British have an enormous amount in common. Many of us are invested in the Premier League through a favourite team (mine is Spurs), we can all watch British TV (especially the soaps) and, in particular, I think we share a sense of humour. So I don’t find it too hard setting for a UK newspaper.

Where there can be difficulty is in pronunciation (making homophones tricky) and I am careful not to use phrases known in Ireland but unknown in Britain. For example, “stop the lights” is a common exclamation here at something surprising in conversation; it’s a catchphrase originating in an RTÉ quiz programme from the 60s called Quicksilver, but still in circulation today.

Finally, how do people respond when you tell them you’re a setter?
It tends to come up when I’m asked how I occupy myself in retirement. My reply is usually a package – compiling, cartooning and photography. “At least you’re keeping busy,” is the normal response.

If anyone picks up on compiling, many profess to liking crosswords, but as soon as they realise they are cryptic, it’s the usual mix: thinking I must be very clever and dismissing their own capacity to do them. And then they quickly find someone else to talk to!

Many thanks to Anto. The answers to the clues above are EINSTEIN [E (drug) = (is the same) MC (host) squared (agreed)], EXISTENTIAL ANGST [anagram] and OLD MCDONALD [every second letter of “deliver iron” gives EI EI O].

And here is Anto’s contribution to our collaborative playlist Healing Music Recorded in 2020-21 to Accompany a Solve or Even Listen to:

Anto: ‘This is a personal favourite from this year.
Rhiannon Giddens is an American multi-instrumental musician now living in Ireland with her partner Francesco Turrisi, from Italy, also a multi-instrumentalist.’

The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book by Alan Connor, which is partly but not predominantly cryptic, can be ordered from the Guardian Bookshop.

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