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Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8)

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  170 ratings  ·  22 reviews
Think Word Freak with international flair. A nonfiction Ella Minnow Pea with a built-in book-length puzzle. Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) will enthrall (or obsess!) anyone interested in words.

Born and raised in South Africa, at age twenty-one journalist Sandy Balfour went into exile and began traveling the world. While hitchhiking through Nairobi, Cairo, and Moscow, be
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published February 24th 2003 by Tarcher (first published January 1st 2003)
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This is the book I foist on people who are interested in getting into cryptic crosswords. It's a wise, gentle memoir of multiculturalism in which Sandy Balfour, a TV producer, uses crosswords as the unlikely prism through which to write about leaving South Africa and making a new life for himself in London. It's very sweet and engaging and also serves nicely as a sort of 101 to the uniquely British style of cryptic crossword clue.

Balfour is taught originally by his girlfriend on the long journey
Theadra Chapman
Jul 07, 2008 rated it liked it
Not at all what I thought it would be. It's a very interesting and intellegent book. So much in fact, it made me feel very stupid. I like crosswords. Or at least I thought I did. I've since learned that I don't. I thought the idea of crossword clues was to help you immediatly identify the answer. "star of Forrest Gump" - Tom Hanks. This book showed me a world of people who scoff at those kinds of clues as childish.

Very well written. The history of crosswords and also the history of the author w
Nov 05, 2009 rated it liked it
The author's style was a bit melodramatic -- a plethora of one-line paragraphs, an insistent conviction that cryptics are bursting with narrative significance -- but it was enjoyable when he focused on the art of the crossword itself. I liked the inside perspective he got from interviewing setters of cryptics, and there is a small treasure of famous setters' "favorite clues" which are treated with appropriate admiration in the text.
Ineke van Mackelenbergh
Aug 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
An amusing ramble through life and putting together and solving crosswords, which shall remain well beyond my ken. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the insights into this complicated world of setting up and/or finding clues to crosswords.
I much enjoyed the travelogue of the countries visited and the author's writing style.
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
If you have even a passing interest in cryptic crosswords this is a great read. Highly recommended.
Kirsty Darbyshire

This book is listed as "a memoir of love, exile and crosswords". I came for the crosswords but I stayed for the love and the exile. This caught my eye when it was heavily reviewed when it came out a few months ago, I put it on my list of "books to look for when they turn up in paperback" but recently decided to reserve it at the library instead.

It's pretty good stuff, not my usual fare, but I do enjoy biography and especially autobiography so long as it's not coupled with celebrity. Balfour tel

Jul 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hate books that make me feel stupid. Not that this does, exactly, but it comes close.


Because I've never been able to do one of those cryptic crosswords. I can, and have, done the NYTimes crosswords (a moment's bragging: several I've done the Sunday in ink in less than an hour). But cryptics? Not a chance.

What the author here suggests is that might be in part because I don't understand the common language of the puzzle, or the setter. Now, in this memoir/instruction manual, he's talking ma
Feb 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have no idea where i got this book from, but i found it on my shelf, so i read it. I also have no idea who Sandy Balfour is, really. However, i really enjoyed the book. It is a memoir told through a story of crossword puzzles. I found the background stories (Balfour's life, revolution in South Africa, a bit of English life) to be interesting and well told. I also quite enjoyed the sprinkling of crossword clues, although with solution details, to be interesting. I have never really gotten into ...more
Richard Thompson
A memoir woven around the theme of cryptic crossword puzzles as a metaphor for everything. Balfour seems to have led an interesting enough life but we only get to see widely spaced snippets. He quotes some fun clues in the context of his discussions about crosswords and his portraits of some the star “setters” in the British crossword community are interesting, but he misses the mark (in my opinion) with some of his musings about the process of creating and solving cryptic puzzles, and his ongoi ...more
May 30, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, non-fiction
Always believed I was useless at cryptic crosswords and yet now I see there is a glimmer of hope if I was prepared to work at it.At least I have the logic to work out the reasoning once presented with the answer.I was delighted to solve a clue during the course of reading this book.Potty Trained (4) = Loco. It looks obvious now but my was I proud of myself.Some setters are fiendishly clever and I did gasp with amazement at how clever at times.Read for yourselves and see Amundsen's Forwarding Add ...more
Sarah Sammis
Jan 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pc, read-in-2004, released
I wish Balfour had concentrated more on his love of crosswords and less on the memoir. The crossword discussion and examples were fascinating and educational. I've learned a great deal on the art of solving the cryptic variety of crosswords. By the end of the book my chances of solving these clues had gone from none to slim. The deciding factor now is a matter of culture. So many of the clues in the British puzzles relate to British culture and/or slang as well they should. I'm fairing better wi ...more
May 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: lovers of memoirs and autobiographies
For those interested in cryptic crosswords, this is the book to read. Sandy Balfour creates this autobiography in the form of a cryptic crossword, pondering how to solve the cryptics and ending the book with a whole crossword about himself! This is a bona fide crossword that was placed into a newspaper – and if you can’t solve it, the solution is also provided.
Oh, and Sandy is a man ... pretty vain for his gender, methinks!
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
I didn’t know the history of the crossword…or the real difference between English and American crosswords. English crosswords are fascinating! The author's history as a South African and as a journalist around the world also made for very interesting reading – as did his personal relationship with his girlfriend and children.
Nick Davies
I found this a quirky and entertaining read - part memoir, part musing, part non-fiction regarding the art/science of crossword compilation - and it included one of my favourite clues ever - "Play Ankoolger" (4, 4, 2, 5). Pleasant as it was, I didn't get a massive amount of enjoyment from it over a length of time, as it was short and sweet.
Mar 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Not the best written but still very interesting account of a childhood in South Africa from the perspective of a man who grew up to become a puzzle writer. Cathy's Mom loved it and followed up personally with the suthor.
Nicole Hardy
Dec 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
If you ever wondered what cryptic crosswords are all about then try reading this little book. It might just inspire you to have a go at a cryptic puzzle, and it certainly gives some interesting pointers and background. Nicely packaged in a biographical tale too.
Rog Harrison
Feb 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
I can't say I enjoyed this book, but it was a mildly intriguing examination of the history and evolution of cryptic crosswords, a game I've never mastered.
Sep 25, 2016 rated it liked it

Secrets to crosswords
revealed through life travelogue;
sees beauty in clues.
Jan 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Loved the concept, loved the book.
Frangipani Marigold
Dec 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent introduction to crosswords for anybody who has travelled and questioned one's nationality.
Ben Deane
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