John Galbraith Graham
|John Graham, aka Araucaria|
John Graham in 2013
Graham was raised in Oxford, where his father, Eric Graham, held the post of dean of Oriel College. After attending St Edward's School, Oxford, he obtained a place to read classics at Kings College, Cambridge, leaving to join the RAF when the Second World War began. After the war he returned to Kings to read theology. In 1949 he joined the staff of St Chad's College, Durham as Chaplain and Tutor where he worked until 1952. On Graham’s departure the Principal, Theo Wetherall, paying tribute to his good nature, wrote that ‘he squandered his sensitive taste and knowledge of Classics on 1B Greek with unfailing patience enlivened by rare expressions of nausea’. He later became a vicar in Huntingdonshire.
Writing his first puzzle for The Guardian in July 1958, he eventually took to compiling crosswords full-time when his divorce in the late 1970s lost him his living as a clergyman (he was reinstated after the death of his first wife). In December 1970, The Guardian began publishing its crosswords under the pseudonyms of their compilers, at which point Graham selected the name "Araucaria".
Besides Araucaria's cryptic crosswords in the Guardian, for which he produces around six per month, he also sets around a third of the quick crosswords for the Guardian, cryptic crosswords as Cinephile in the Financial Times and puzzles for other publications.
He takes his pseudonym from the monkey-puzzle tree, whose Latin name is Araucaria. Another name for this tree is the "Chile Pine", of which "Cinephile" is an anagram, demonstrating his love for film.
In July 2011 Graham was the subject of the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs.
The December 2012 issue of 1 Across magazine (which he founded in 1984) printed an Araucaria puzzle which revealed that Graham has oesophageal cancer, which is being treated with palliative care. The puzzle was reprinted as Guardian cryptic No. 25,842 on 11 January 2013. The puzzle had a supplementary narrative beginning "Araucaria has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15". Those who solved the puzzle found the answer to 18 was cancer, to 19 oesophagus, and to 13 15 palliative care. Other clues had answers such as "Macmillan Nurse", "stent", "chemotherapy", "endoscopy" and "sunset". Araucaria said this particular puzzle had not taken him very long, adding that a crossword had seemed the most fitting way to make the announcement. "It seemed the natural thing to do somehow," he said. "It just seemed right."
Graham's clue-writing style has made him one of the best-loved of all setters. His style falls into a grouping sometimes referred to as "Araucarian" in which – to a degree – "anything goes" as long as the answer can be readily and unambiguously determined. This style, of which The Guardian's Bunthorne was another notable exponent, contrasts with the more rigid "Ximenean" style in which strict clue-writing rules must be adhered to.
Widely admired for his clever use of cross-references and special themes, he is usually called upon to produce the extra-large puzzles printed in the Guardian on bank holidays; these sometimes even include two grids, with complicated rules governing the placing of answers in each.
He is also credited with creating a new format of crossword, the "alphabetical jigsaw" in which the clues are labelled with letters rather than numbers, and the grid has no markers to indicate the placement of solutions. Instead the clues are arranged in alphabetical order of their answer — usually labelled with the beginning letter, with either one or two clues for each letter. The answers are to be placed "jigsaw-wise, however they may fit," though of course only one arrangement will work. These puzzles have been christened 'araubeticals' by fans on the crossword website www.fifteensquared.net. Araucaria's clues to the alphabetical jigsaws are often in the form of rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter. In a few puzzles, an additional clue is given which describes a phrase or set of words placed around the edge of the grid (alternate squares of the perimeter being black) to give a starting point for placing some of the answers.
His clues often include long anagrams, with his favourite appearing in a Christmas puzzle:
- O hark the herald angels sing the boy’s descent which lifted up the world,
an anagram of "While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground".
Another much-quoted example of his brilliance in clue-setting is the following:
- Poetical scene has surprisingly chaste Lord Archer vegetating (3, 3, 8, 12)
which yields "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester". This is the title of a poem by Rupert Brooke. The anagram was a topical reference to Jeffrey Archer who was the vicarage's current owner and was lying low there at the time following a sex scandal.
Several collections of his crosswords have been published. His crosswords have also been included in many other compilations, not listed here.
- Monkey Puzzles (2002)
- Monkey Puzzles volume 2 (2004)
- Chambers Book of Araucaria Crosswords Volume 1 (2003)
- Chambers Book of Araucaria Crosswords Volume 2 (2005)
- Chambers Book of Araucaria Crosswords Volume 3 (2006)
- Who's Who 1949, Adam & Charles Black, London
- "The Monkey Puzzler". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-03-04.
- Keegan, William (2006-11-12). "Review:Collins A-Z of Crosswords". London: The Observer. Retrieved 2007-03-04.
- "Space explorer honoured with CBE". London: BBC. 2004-12-31. Retrieved 2007-03-04.
- Jones, Sam (11 January 2013). "Crossword master Araucaria reveals in puzzle that he is dying of cancer". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 12 January 2013.
- "Guardian cryptic crossword No. 25,842". The Guardian. 11 January 2013. Retrieved 2013-01-12.
- "Araucaria crossword setter gives cancer clue". BBC News (BBC). 12 January 2013. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
- Alan Connor (25 December 2009). "Why UK families tackle the Christmas cryptic crossword". BBC News. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
- "The Monkey Puzzler" - 80th birthday tribute from The Guardian.