Monday, September 14, 2009

Garson Hampfield, Crossword Inker

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Question: Who is the most underappreciated member of the crossword design team?
Answer: The crossword inker.

If you haven't heard about crossword inking before, then you must watch this brilliant video in which Garson Hampfield, crossword inker, expounds on the intricacies of this esoteric art. (Run time: 6.45mins)  



Update: In case you’re wondering, this is meant to be a parody, with a lot of fake details. Please view it in that spirit!

Ashok, a big thank you for pointing this video out to me. I've seen it thrice and found new gems each time.

Crossword setters – what do you say? ;)

Interviews with Michael A. Charles, the creator of this video – here and here.

Update 2: Tony, crossword constructor who prefers making grids on the computer to employing a human "Box Team", points out that Chad Bumfry's framed masterpiece doesn't have its checking right! See the grid for yourself:

Grid Inked By Chad Bumfry

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8 comments

Chaturvasi said...

I, for one, have indeed seen a crossword inker.

I was working in Indian Express (now New Indian Express) and, as a member of the editorial staff, used to issue crossword copy to the Press. But the crossword was a syndicated feature and I suspect that the grids that we received were done on the PC.

However, when I moved to The Hindu, which uses an original crossword from the 1970s, I was not in charge of the puzzle but I had a chance of seeing an artist create the crossword grid on his drawing board.

Well done, of course.

My mind goes back to the late 1970s when I sent some six puzzles to The Evening News of London. I made fill-in grids and the solution grids using a combination of instruments: scale, pencil, ball-point pen and fountain pen (not even Indian ink which the artists use).

I was always timorous about using the ruler for the vertical and horizontal lines and was looking for "squared" paper. The chidren in the primary schools in those days did have this sort of paper but the squares were too large and quite useless for the purpose of crossword grids.

One day I saw students of a city college use special paper with smaller squares. I got stationery from there to creat my grids.

Special paper was a novelty in those days. Now, with so many big stationery stores, you perhaps get what you want.

With the PCs having become so common now, we don't sweat over creating grids. Everything is done in a jiffy. But the thrills and the spills (yes, occasionally a big blob of ink would fall on a half-done grid and we have had to start all over again!) of the yesteryear can never be forgotten.

The MEANDERthal man said...

Probably because I was born in the "computer generation" and also because I used to hate art classes (the art teacher used to hate me equally), I fail to see the significance of this :)

I saw the video only once I'll try and guess the gems ;)

1) Lady Gridmen
2) The $200 worth grid has three consecutive unches.

Shuchi said...

Hi CV Sir, Thanks a lot for sharing that. I was very curious to know how much of this video was based in fact.

@Tony, That's like a real setter, to spot 3 consecutive unches in a picture of a grid in an animated video! Notice the cost? "Believe me, it's well-insured. This one drawing is worth almost $200."

I thought Garson Hampfield's voiceover was excellent. His embarrassed pauses when he's talking about the "lady gridmen" with "emotional uh issues", or the way his voice cracks towards the end.

My favourite section is when he compares the works of inkers Richard Hubler and Manuel Oscaredo. The former's black squares 'subdued, ironic, self-aware', while Oscaredo's fiery Latino temperament is reflected in aggressive corners and 'deep moody blacks'!

Shuchi said...

A Google search brought me to an interview with Michael A. Charles, the creator of this video. Read it here.

Chaturvasi said...

I did notice the three consecutive unches in the 13x13 grid when I saw this video months ago.

Well, the very same cyclically symmetrical grid is one of 12 grids used by a record-holding setter for the past several decades for the syndicated crossword in New Indian Express published in southern India.

I cannot say whether this inker did the job for the UK syndicate (which now anyway distributes the crosswords electronically) but he might have just taken it from a paper as the said crossword is widely distributed the world over, including Canada.

Incidentally, not only Manna but one other THC setter uses a grid where there are three consecutive unches.

Chaturvasi said...

PS: I trawled through the NIE epaper editions and managed to find it.

Visit
http://epaper.expressbuzz.com/NE/NE/2009/09/07/INDEX.SHTML

In the thumbnails on the panel at right, scroll down to the US Open page and click on it.

The grid is at bottom right.

maddy said...

The beauty of the video lies in the fact that you had to issue a disclaimer stating that it is meant to be a parody. The humor is so subtle,layered and understated that one can't be blamed for feeling bad for Mr Garson :).

I sure will get a conscience prick the next time I click the 'match prop' button on my excel sheet for duplicating a grid to solve a non-interactive online cross word.

Worser still, My empathy for Mr Hampfield has resulted in "emotional uh issues" which has totally put me off interactive online crosswords.

P.S - Tony, Please send me a hand-inked grid of TIB 18 by post. And while you are at it, I would like to see your "fiery Mallu temperament" reflected in it.

The MEANDERthal man said...

A similar gem to the grid explanations on Amit Varma's blog - Rothko - but this one is real.

@Maddy
You remember that movie in which Mukesh makes a really random painting in 2 minutes and gives a very high sounding and believable explanation? The name of the movie eludes me now. Totally ROTFL stuff.