I've written about my nerves before (here, among other places
), but recently I've been affected more and more by something which seems to be akin to the golfer's "yips". What typically happens is that I've been making satisfactory progress on a fairly tricky puzzle, but I then come to a stand with the last two or three clues, and - in extreme cases - that stand turns into a complete mental block. One such extreme case happened just over a fortnight ago with Times crossword No. 25,776. Solving seemed to be progressing slowly but steadily: I'd solved 1ac (Chelsea lost after difficult run? (12) [STEEPLECHASE
]) straight off, dealt with the vocalophobia-inducing 8ac in which all the checked letters were As (Country work that is unaffected by setback (3,4) [AGA SAGA
]) and - with around 12 minutes on the clock and just three clues left to solve - was feeling reasonably confident.
Looking back, I can't really explain what happened next. The word that comes to mind is "brainstorm", but ODO defines this as "a moment in which one is suddenly unable to think clearly or act sensibly", and "a moment" doesn't do justice to the 18 or so minutes I spent struggling with three straightforward clues. Perhaps "blind panic" comes closer. I suppose part of the trouble was that I'd already attempted them two or three times unsuccessfully, and one of them appeared to be a foodie clue (Not much fruit? Pass round vegetables (7) [PEANUTS
]). But the others (Get out ring, brilliant one on which you'd make a wish? (8,4) [SHOOTING STAR
Refrain from encircling last bits of 26 (7) [ROUNDEL
]) really shouldn't have caused me any problem, even though I wasn't familiar with the definition used in the latter. I even thought of STAR straight away for the former, but for some reason I didn't take it any further until four or five minutes had passed and light finally dawned. I eventually solved the "fruit and veg" clue after another ten, but the "refrain" clue stumped me and I ended up putting in ROUNDAL, thus breaking my rule of never putting in words you haven't heard of unless truly desperate - though I suppose by that time I was truly desperate!
My first thought (once my poor addled brain had returned to some kind of normality) was that this was just another sign of incipient dementia. But then I remembered that something very similar had happened in the 1987 Championship final. I knew I was already a little past my prime by then, but otherwise the omens looked pretty good: I'd won the London A regional final; I'd finished equal 2nd with Michael Macdonald-Cooper in the1986 final and I hadn't been out of the top four in the final since 1978; I was well-placed after the first two puzzles; and I knew the third puzzle had been set by Joyce Cansfield, one of my favourite setters, whose puzzles I normally found very much to my taste. However, with four straightforward clues to go, I completely lost it, and was left with those four clues still unsolved when the 30 minutes was up. I can't explain what happened then any more than I can explain my failure a fortnight ago.
The situation is rather different from the golfer facing a short putt, since I don't know that the clues I'm stuck on are actually straightforward. In fact it's the uneasy suspicion that the setter has picked on something that I don't know (but everyone else does) that fuels the brainstorm/panic. Nevertheless these "solver's yips" can be equally debilitating. In normal cases, I recover sooner or later, sometimes in less than a minute. But all too often nowadays it seems to take significantly longer, and I worry that things are getting worse. Even in a comparatively successful week like the one just past, I was held up for a good five minutes at the end of Saturday's Times crossword (No. 25,789) by two clues which I actually had the correct solutions to but took an inexplicable amount of time to realise why they were correct. Do other solvers have the yips? And do the yips occasionally turn into full-blown brainstorms or panic attacks?
Current Location: Ealing
Current Mood: panicky