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Crossword blog: meet the Setter – Tees


Paul Bringloe has a dazzling array of pseudonyms, including Tees (Independent), Neo (Financial Times), Donnybrook (Telegraph Toughie) and Wurm (Times Quick Cryptic), as well as setting for the Times daily, jumbo and quintagram, the Telegraph daily, and various non-broadsheet newspapers. Let’s meet the setter.

Hello Paul. How did it all begin?

Yonks ago, I pranged my schnozzle in a football match and was treated at Odstock hospital near Salisbury [now renamed Salisbury District hospital]. Lying around was a half-finished puzzle by someone called Araucaria.

Crosswords are boring, I mused, so I checked this sentiment. The clues seemed really funny – almost Pythonesque, or Pinteresque – and included something such as, “Incredibly big nun caught student taking writing material without batting an eyelid (10)”.

UNBLINKING. I solved it immediately – by looking at the answer that had been penned in. It was actually not boring at all. So when I dragged myself and my restructured sniffer away from Mr Sawbones, I started solving Guardian puzzles with the help of a trombonist called Ged.

Eventually, I met Mike Rich, John Henderson, John Halpern and Albie Fiore (also RIP). Using my meagre talent, they somehow turned me into a setter.

When and where do you create your puzzles?

When: pretty much all the time, as I’m now a professional setter. Where: at home, in the company of a laptop, Maggie the cat, many a progressive rock or jazz album, a drum kit or two, a music computer, and a library that stretches right back to my time as an English undergraduate and to the garden fence.

You’ve said that you were thrown out of two ad agencies. Care to elaborate?

Go on, then. I was more or less disillusioned with capitalism (being a willing victim of my extremist college lecturers) before I joined Saatchi & Saatchi, so it was only a matter of time.

There was a drunken brawl, so that must have been sometime after 11am. Whether or not I was involved – I genuinely can’t remember – I was asked to leave. Gross misconduct, I’m pleased to say. I used to specialise in that.

I moved on merrily to Ogilvy, at the entirely disconnected Canary Wharf, did no ads at all, and got the heave-ho.

I see. I sometimes think about the surface image in your clue, ‘Catch on handlebar possibly causes pain in love area (9)’. Do you enjoy making the solver wince?

Absolutely: I frequently sing “Wincing Solvers” to the tune of Waltzing Matilda as I poach my kippers of a morning. I can do it to animals as well, as with, “My poor dog’s nose! (8)”. Have you tried wince, by the way? It sounds like it should be edible.

Paul Bringloe.
Paul Bringloe.

Um, not yet. I’ll give the answer below. How did you choose your pseudonyms?

Mainly panic. Tees was devised in that way. The Indy thing happened very fast, and I ran with whatever I could think of on the hoof. It was a homophone for “tease”, so people wondering whether I have ties to the north-east may be disappointed.

Neo was more considered, and a good ’un too in terms of its imagery. Wurm is Part C of Starship Trooper, a track on The Yes Album, and wurms can be wriggly. Donnybrook is a rowdy brawl. Back to Saatchi & Saatchi.

What are the tools of your trade?

Well you know, man: my brain and a pen. Except that it’s really Crossword Compiler. I fill grids manually in the sense that I’d never use a word list I couldn’t trust, and I like to avoid alternative spellings and obscure words – “like to”, please note. So there’s a lot of me in any grid.

Do you remember any of your early clues?

I do recall showing one to Enigmatist that I was sure would be the best thing anyone had ever written: “Features editor?” for PLASTIC SURGEON. At that point I was introduced to the concept of Ye Olde Chestnutte – and most crestfallen I was.

It’s a cracking clue, though. Finally, what do you think goes through a solver’s mind when she or he sees that it’s a puzzle by, say, Neo or Tees?

Probably: “Oh, not him again”. Actually, I’ve always been about once a month at the FT, but I’ve been doing a lot more for the Indy of late, and enjoying it.

You would imagine that the more prolific you become, the harder it is to maintain the entertainment level – but, from feedback, I’m doing OK. Being a pro is very good in that respect: you get a lot better very quickly when it’s all you do, and obviously you have more time to do it. And you get faster.

I have always been able to write “hard”, but I’ve been getting much better at writing “easy”. That’s essential for something like the Telegraph’s daily puzzle, where entertainment is the key rather than the preposterous cabbalism you find in some of my other puzzles. Difficulty for difficulty’s sake is something I abhor, even when, inevitably, I too from time to time transgress.

The answer to “My poor dog’s nose!” is GOODNESS; many thanks to Paul.

Socially Distant Orchestra Plays Stravinsky.

I also asked Paul for a contribution to our Healing Music Recorded in 2020-21 to Accompany a Solve or Even Listen to, which is why The Firebird is above.



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