Everyday I return from work to find my mum stooped over her phone at the kitchen table, scratching her head as she ponders over the days brain teasing challenge. She has embarked on a new daily tradition, solving one of The Telegraph’s clues of their cryptic crosswords. A challenge issued in her WhatsApp group of wonderfully whimsical women has become somewhat of a sport, and one that provides good spectator opportunities. Maybe one day it may evolve into the whole crossword, but for now it’s just the one daunting clue. Personally, I have no ability and no idea how to explain the challenging predicament, and instead of applauding her determination and skill to solve it, choose to mock it. It does bring out some charming characteristics of my mum as she contemplates the question whist carrying on with her day. Circling the kitchen as she competitively considers the cue, desiring to be the first of the mighty mothers to determine the mystery, she will graze on whatever treats or shopping have been left defenceless in her zone of nibble-rich thinking. Picking away, crumb by crumb, every time she meanders past a slice of cake or an unguarded baguette she reluctantly consumes the majority of the vulnerable food, before inevitably blaming it on my dad. Problem persisting, with a stomach satisfied by snacks she will suspend the search to stop for her evening fix of ‘The Chase’. As Bradley Walsh quizzes his contestants whilst my parents eagerly engage by shouting their own answers, occasionally one of the questions transmitted from the telly will stir something in the back of my mum’s mind spawning the eureka moment needed to work out the equivocal riddle.
Sometimes, a government of the mothers will join forces and amalgamate their shared intellect in hope of solving the bewildering conundrum. It’s a slow, beautiful process as one by one they each repeat the question, the first saying it normally before the rest echo the phrase, placing the stress on a different syllable each time in hope of unearthing the secret to the mystery. If no sparks catch from this wonderous method, the wise group may try and chant it together, maybe multiple times with the aspiration of integrating intellect to unravel the enigma. Perhaps if they gathered around a simmering cauldron the answer would magically unveil itself, or it would be a recreation of Macbeth’s opening scene, it’s a fine line. Sipping at gin and tonics, re-reading the clue between thoughtful stares into the distance, one of the group may have a spirited epiphany and announce the answer, or hazard a hopeful guess but on the rare occasion that it eludes them, back up is required.
My brother has often fallen victim to my mum’s beckons as she begins to run out of inspiration. Coming home to revise for his university exams in peace and at this stressful time, he has instead found himself easy prey for an interrupting mother keen on quickly resolving her dilemma. Utilising another brain and another thought process the two of them go back and forth in staring at the question and wandering around the kitchen, as if a clue could be concealed in the dishwasher or under a plate. Sometimes this routine continues into the evening, and that is when the serious reinforcement comes into play. With decades of experience in the puzzle pages of the newspaper, a wealthy bank of general knowledge quiz facts and an unparalleled ability to quote articles of The Telegraph, my Grandad serves as the trump card. Of course, it would be rude to get straight into the brainteaser that has troubled her all day, so my mum would warm him up with current affairs small talk and chat about the state of Arsenal football club before casually prying into the days puzzle. Before my mum could even finish listing all of her guesses that failed to fit, Grandad would come up with the goods, disassembling the cryptic clue, shattering the charade and revealing the simple answer. I’m not sure whether it is down to his sharp mind, years of training or just if the Telegraph are recycling clues from the past, but he seems to unearth the answer almost instantly, every time. And every time he does, it is met with the same reaction from his daughter. A satisfied sigh followed by an ebullient mimic of the answer. Stating it is so obvious, so easy, and an astonished acknowledgment of disbelief she herself could not solve it, my mum then continues to say the clue and the answer over and over again, so that if it is in fact recycled by the newspaper, she’ll nail it then. Embellished with the new information, she triumphantly wields her phone to declare to her group chat that she (alone) has wisely worked out the days challenge and now with balance restored to the world, she can relax until the next morning, when it all starts again.