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Times Books blog

The Consolation of Cogitation by David Parfitt


Of the many ways in which words may be put to use, few are more entertaining than their role in puzzles. But during these days of lockdown and social distancing, should we be focusing our energies on something as trivial as a puzzle? I would argue that they are, in fact, now more important than ever.

Puzzles are a wonderful form of escapism, and in The Times it is evident that readers are turning to our section for some light relief from other parts of the paper. There is only so much time you can dwell on the situation in the wider world, and focusing on the challenge presented by a crossword is a great way of releasing your mind from other concerns. Even before the current crisis, much had been said about the benefit of “mindfulness” techniques for mental relaxation — and I have certainly found that there are few better activities for this than a puzzle.

The lockdown has also presented us with hours on end to fill without recourse to the world outside our homes. Word puzzles are a fantastic way of spending this time gainfully, allowing solvers to expand their vocabulary and delight in the ingenuity of the puzzle setter. For their size, puzzles also offer solvers many hours of enjoyment. One Listener crossword (printed in The Times on a Saturday) may even keep a solver hard at work for a few days! 

In these strange times, it is often the small, familiar pleasures in life that keep us going. And we all know that there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of putting that last letter in a crossword grid or finally untangling that anagram that previously refused to submit.

Over the last few weeks, our Times Puzzles newsletter has seen a surge in interest. Here are a couple of word puzzles from our regular Head Scratcher feature from the newsletter, which will hopefully prove my points above (solutions below).

Can you answer the five concise clues below using the letters in HARPERCOLLINS only?

1 City of NW England (8)

2 Hero of Greek myth (8)

3 Chemical element (8)

4 Fine ceramic material (9)

5 One presiding over a meeting (11)

Can you work out the five words from the letters given? The solutions are all listed in Collins English Dictionary.

1 _HUB_ _ _

2 _ _LGR_ _

3 _ _ _FOD_ _

4 _ _ _KAC_ _

5 _ _ _DSW_ _ _

Can you find a single answer that can follow the first word and precede the second word in each of the pairs below?

1 Dog ___ Back

2 Witch ___ Who

3 Fast ___ Suit

4 Easy ___ Ball

5 Cold ___ Bench















1 Fight

2 Doctor

3 Track

4 Meat

5 Front

Written by David Parfitt

Puzzles Editor of The Times and inventor of Quintagram