by Andrew Gigacz
In recent weeks there have been some vicious rumours, spread mainly by some of our young whippersnapper Almanackers, that I once broke my nose whilst completing a Sudoku puzzle.
I would like to use this forum to set the record straight about such unfounded, malicious allegations. These charges have been extremely hurtful to both me and my family and I wish now to put these rumours to bed. (I was hoping to do it through Woman’s Day for a hefty fee but the call hasn’t come.)
I categorically state, and do so without any fear of retribution, that I have NEVER EVER had my nose broken as the result of doing a Sudoko.
In fact it was a cryptic crossword.
Many people have asked me how it is possible to break one’s nose doing a cryptic crossword. To which my reply is: well, it was the Friday one and in those days they were renowned for being by far the hardest one of the week. (Fortunately those ones have recently switched to Saturdays meaning I can at least claim to have sustained the injury via some sort of weekend sporting sojourn.)
So how did it happen?
If you’re a regular puzzler you’ll know the frustration that comes with getting a long way towards completing a puzzle but being stumped by the last clue or two. So it was for me on that fateful day. After beginning the crossword over my morning coffee, I had made good headway on the train to work. A couple of clues solved here and there during the working day and I was looking good the polish the cryptic off, in toto, on the train ride home. This would be a rare achievement for a notoriously challenging puzzle.
The train trip home saw further progress made but, upon arriving at my station, I had two clues left to solve. The challenge for me was to solve them both before reaching my front gate. That left me a seven minute walk to achieve the dream.
Now despite many claims to the contrary, I am not an idiot. I did not cross any roads with my head buried in the newspaper. At each intersection I did just as Hector the Cat had taught me to 35 years earlier: stopped at the curb, looked to the right, looked to the left, looked to the right again. Then when the road was clear of traffic, I walked straight across. (Type in “Hector the Cat” on You Tube if you have no idea what I’m talking about.)
No injury was sustained by doing something as silly as that.
The killer “punch” came as I was on the final clue, and just about to turn into my street. I have been known to trip on footpaths on occasion and some cruel people attribute this to my clumsiness. It is not true. I believe such events have been precipitated by two factors: surface imperfections and my ultra-efficient walking style. As any (other) elite sportsperson will acknowledge, achieving the ultimate relies heavily on efficiency of technique. So when I walk along a footpath I lift my feet only as high as is required on a flat surface.
And that was my mistake.
While I demand perfection from myself, I should have remembered that not everyone can attain that peak. A slight ridge in the footpath was all it took to bring down the effortless glide that is my walk home while doing the cryptic crossword.
My foot clipped that ridge and my body, my crossword and my pen began to sprawl downwards.
What happened in the next second is a little unclear to me. One, or both of the following things happened: (a) as I tried to regain my balance, a secondary trip occurred, preventing me from putting my hands out to cushion my fall; (b) I was so concerned for the crossword that rather than put my hands out to protect my face I actually tucked them in to protect the puzzle.
Either way, my nose collided with the footpath at full force. Fortunately a woman had been coming in the opposite direction and she had seen it all. When she finally managed to stop laughing, she helped me to my feet and asked if I was OK. I wasn’t. I had blood streaming from my nose and was feeling pretty groggy. But I told her I was and staggered the remaining 100 yards home.
I cleaned myself up as best as I could but I was not a pretty sight in the days and weeks to come. Arriving at work the following Monday I had my “you should’ve seen how the other guy ended up” lines ready but I didn’t use them. I was proud to have taken one on the chin – or nose in this case – for those of us who dare to take on one of the most extreme sporting challenges of all – the cryptic crossword.