The Interactive Dishwasher
a.k.a. The Kitchen Sink
by Chris F.A. Johnson
John Aitken, 1936–2007
In February 1979, I was working for the Department of Information Services at the University of Toronto. The department published the University administration newspaper, The Bulletin and the alumni magazine, The Graduate. That month, the magazine hired a new editor, John Aitken, a former associate editor at Weekend magazine.
Shortly after his arrival, Aitken wrote an article for the Bulletin stating his desire to publish a cryptic crossword puzzle in the magazine, and asking members of the University community to submit puzzles. In the article he said that he had heard that cryptics were harder to compose than to solve.
At the time, I had never tried solving one. I had occasionally looked at the clues to the Globe & Mail's 40-Minute Test (as it was then called) and compared them with the answers published the next day. I had a fairly good idea of how they worked, but, I wondered, does anyone actually solve these things?
However, "harder to create than to solve"? That was a challenge! After reading the article, I sat down and threw together a small cryptic puzzle. Composed during my lunch hour, it was 9x9, full of errors and unacceptable clues.
John looked it over, solved those clues that were solvable (and some that, strictly speaking, weren't), and discussed it with me afterwards.
Over the next few months, I kept at it, producing at least one puzzle every week. John would solve each one and give me helpful comments and advice.
John changed the magazine from a tabloid (in format, not content) to a glossy magazine. The first issue in the new format carried a puzzle by Chris Redmond of the University of Waterloo. My first publishable puzzle appeared in the next issue (I look at it now and shudder). The puzzle in the third issue was a fiendishly difficult one by philosophy professor and poet Francis Sparshott. From the 4th issue, I became the regular cruciverbalist, and I continued for more than 10 years.
Thanks to John's support, encouragement and high standards, I learned to produce cryptic crosswords that could hold their own in any company: not the most challenging puzzles, but always fair, and, I hope, enjoyable to solve. Composing cryptic crossword puzzles has provided a major part of my income for more than 15 years.
John Aitken passed away in his sleep at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of October 4, 2007.