A Problem Shared

Audience participation is something I am interested in including in my performance. My performance is self-aware and there is no fourth wall so I should certainly acknowledge the audience and include them when appropriate.

Regarding puzzle games, receiving help from others can be an interesting experience. Although working together makes these problems easier, that’s not necessarily what is always wanted. An example of this which I have witnessed comes from watching my grandparents playing solitaire on the computer. On a side note it is amusing that the etymology of the name “solitaire” comes from solitary, implying the game is to be played alone. Both my grandparents regularly played solitaire on the computer, but quite often when my grandmother played, my grandfather would stand over her shoulder watching, pointing out the best move to make, and saying “nope” at any mistakes, much to her frustration. The help that my grandfather was trying to provide had the best intentions but it would constantly irritate my grandmother every time. The satisfaction from puzzle solving is not always just in seeing the finished solution, but from knowing that we were able to work it out on our own. This experience is something I want to demonstrate in my performance. I plan to replicate the frustration of someone pestering whilst trying to solve a puzzle. In one section of my show I will have a sudoku puzzle on a whiteboard and invite a member of audience on stage to solve it. At the soonest moment of hesitation from the audience member I will question their ability to solve the puzzle. From there I will continue to criticise the audience member and put them under pressure as they attempt to solve it. This will be a good opportunity to use the words “TUT” and “WRONG”, and “ERASE” as a stage direction possibly. If I design the sudoku myself I can also make certain parts of it secretly impossible and then get annoyed when the audience member gets it wrong. Hopefully this will be another opportunity for adding to the humour of the piece. Teasing a member of the audience can be amusing as they are naive to what is going on and if the performer remains in control, the advantage of the performer knowing what’s going to happen next can have a great comical effect. It also breaks down the barrier between performer and audience, hopefully allowing the audience to feel comfortable enough to laugh.

Another moment where I hope to include the entire audience, is in a collective Rubik’s cube solving. After mixing up a Rubik’s cube, I will pass it round the audience telling everybody to turn it once, hopefully convincing people that by the time everyone turns it, it will be solved. I will convince the audience of this by talking about a scientific theory called the wisdom of crowds. The theory basically states that collective guesses average out as an accurate answer. It can be seen at fun fairs in “Guess the weight of the teddy bear” or “How many sweets in the jar?” style competitions. People’s guesses can hugely vary but when the average is calculated the result is always very close to the true answer. I have included a link to an article which explains the theory in more depth.


However, the idea that this can work with a Rubik’s cube is unproven and probably very unlikely. I will build it up like the experiment will work and the Rubik’s cube will be solved if everybody focuses on getting it right but I will be full prepared for it to seemingly go wrong. I think this moment will be amusing and bring the audience together because every single person will get to have a direct involvement. I don’t know how exactly the audience will react to this until the performance happens but I hope it will create a mixture of excitement about it going right and amusement about it going wrong.

A Problem Shared

Crossword Setting

The writing exercise I experimented with, creating a short monologue using all the words from a crossword, was a satisfying writing experience and worked well for keeping within the theme of my show whilst going onto tangents about different subjects. However, a standard crossword has such a variety words, some of which would be difficult to fit into my script without sounding awkwardly forced. For this reason, I decided to create a crossword myself, keeping in mind a rough idea of what my show would be about so I could ensure that all the words would be possible to fit into the narrative. I wanted to make sure I hid a “Nina” in the crossword that I could reveal at the end of the show. A “Nina” is when a word or phrase is hidden within a crossword. The concept is explained in further detail in this article:


After making a blank template crossword I firstly put the letters “I BEAT THE CUBE” down the diagonal which I would reveal at the end of the show after attempting to solve a Rubik’s cube.


From my earlier crossword monologue writing exercise, I liked how the word “EXIT” was used as a stage direction at the end. I wanted to possibly do this with some other words in the crossword I will use in the show. The first word I added to the crossword was “FIN” and I intend for this be the final word I complete the crossword with in the show without vocalising the word to show a clear end of the performance. The word “fin” is iconic for being used in cinematography to mean the end of a film. I also added the word “START” as a way of beginning my performance and then tried to add more words that could somehow be related to puzzles. As the crossword developed, this became harder as the range of words that would fit with the overlapping cells became more limited. Some of the words I’ve included such as “ICING”, “INDIA”, and “GOUDA” seemingly don’t have much relation to my topic so I will require some metaphors or tangents in order to fit them in. Playing with the use of words as stage directions, I would like “TUT” to be triggered by an actual tut and “ORGAN” to be triggered by the version of the Tetris theme played on an organ. The word “CUE” as a technical cue is also quite interesting and could lead to something quite metatextual within the script.

My Full Cryptic

Once I had my finished crossword, I needed to go back and write clues for the crossword so that the puzzle element was there. I decided to make it a cryptic crossword as I personally have a fascination with the wordplay of cryptic crosswords and brings the game more into the realm of puzzle solving rather than general knowledge. I have never written my own cryptic clues before so this was a new fun challenge for me. As I wrote each clue I discussed them with my friends to check they parsed well and after my first draft I sent the blank crossword and clues to friends and family that identified as veteran cryptic crossword players. I received confirmation that the crossword was solvable and took onboard notes to change some wording to help them parse better.


  1. Decorating interior of attic in gold
  2. Rowing badly without yours truly isn’t right
  3. Better to be united between two rings
  4. Settle westbound loser against the east
  5. Complex riddle solver!
  6. Trim hedges without a husband
  7. Fishy fiver ends European economy
  8. Hear suspicion in the air of a shelter
  9. Cyborg animal has a harmonica
  10. Why study before you’re prepared?
  11. Carbon number?
  12. Conquer endless hurricane
  13. Maybe Lancelot didn’t have much to tidy
  14. Wembley doctor must aid
  15. Eliminate unusual route around the front of Lincoln’s university
  16. It makes sense to weirdly coil around George the first
  17. Begin to feature before tea
  18. Sounds like I will walk


  1. In aid, strangely, of the country
  2. I dunno about the backup plan to go inwards
  3. Dug a curious hole inside the cheese
  4. Inside a ship, a dog or cat ascends the staircase
  5. Row up on a boat and pray
  6. Germany initially uses bizarre estimate
  7. Gets odder around the queen that’s organised
  8. Forget English after ages
  9. Exclaiming contempt back and forth
  10. It’s preferable for me to share the cards!
  11. Beckett’s goal!
  12. My signal to come in is after “Pea!”
  13. For initially reading statements, this looks yielding
  14. Randomly rush mob into shape
  15. Deck daughter into automobiles
  16. Big fizzy lager
  17. Approximately one hundred and one on a ruined arc
  18. Egg custard starters in pastry completes the puzzle

I won’t explain every clue in this blog post but I do have some favourites:

Complex riddle solver (7) = OEDIPUS = Two definitions: Complex (Oedipus complex) + Riddle Solver (Oedipus was famously the first to solve the riddle of the Sphinx)

I like the briefness of the clue and that it makes sense as a statement. Also as a lover of puns, I’m quite fond of clues that have double meanings.

Big fizzy lager (5) = LARGE = “fizzy” indicates an anagram of (LAGER)

Another short and simple clue with a fun anagram indicator. Some fizzy lager is also interesting imagery.

Beckett’s goal (7) = ENDGAME = Two definitions: A play by Beckett + Goal

One for the drama students.

For initially reading statements, this looks yielding (7) = FIRSTLY = F[or] I[nitially] R[eading] S[tatements] T[his] L[ooks] Y[ielding]

The whole clue is both a straight definition and an indicator of an acronym.

Fishy fiver ends European economy (3) = FIN = Five definitions: Part of a fish + Slang for a five-dollar bill + Icon for the end of a film + Abbreviation for Finnish + Abbreviation for financial

Clues with double meanings are common place in cryptic crosswords, triple meanings are rare, but a quintuple meaning is something I’ve only seen once before and thought was really clever so when I saw an opportunity to write my own, I had to include it.

Explaining how cryptic clues something I really enjoy doing and demonstrates the obsession with puzzle solving, even if I do come across like a smart alec. I would definitely like to quickly explain at least one clue in the show as I do think it is something that’s interesting to an audience. My performance touches on the human desire for knowledge out so it is important that I provide opportunities in my show for the audience to feel that. I was originally planning on having the crossword physically printed out, propped up during the performance for me to fill in with a pen as I say each word. However, I think it would be more feasible for me to have the crossword projected at the back of the space. This would save me from constantly having to move over for every word, it would be faster, and I could somehow animate the wordplay of the clues. This will be something I will try out in future experimental technical rehearsals.

Crossword Setting

Chris Goode

I researched the work of Chris Goode as a solo performance practitioner. I compiled this research and some thoughts on his shows into a PowerPoint presentation which I shared with the group and have attached here.

Chris Goode PowerPoint

The honesty from Chris Goode in his performances is something I really appreciate and want to be conscious of in my performance. I want to speak as myself directly to the audience and when I write the script it won’t be something I am forced to stick to perfectly in order to keep the monologue natural. In Hippo World Guestbook, the main script of his show isn’t even something he wrote. He forms his script from comments from strangers on a website. Similarly, if I use a crossword, then I will be using words sourced from elsewhere and just threading them together.

Chris Goode also uses a fun sense of humour in humour which is light and unaggressive. His performances also transition between humour and more thought provoking moments. For example, the duration of Hippo World Guestbook creates a sombre ending. The subject matter is still the same thing which we are initially laughing at for something trivial being taken so seriously. However, because Goode builds an attachment with the comedy through the duration of the piece, the audience can feel something when something painful happens to this trivial thing. Likewise, in my performance, taking trivial puzzles seriously will be comical but the ending will be unexpectedly thought provoking.

Chris Goode

Crossword Monologue

The variety of words that can come from a single 32 word crossword is unfathomably large. Dave Gorman demonstrates this in his show Googlewhack. In the show he talks about his obsession with finding google-whacks (a combination of two words that when searched on Google return a single result). Finding one involves coming up with two obscure words from the dictionary that are completely unrelated (e.g. “francophile namesakes”). One of the techniques he shares in the show is going through a crossword and combining any two of the words within. Inspired by this, I set out to write a short monologue around the theme of my show using all the words in a crossword. I thought this would be a challenging writing exercise even if I don’t use the monologue in my performance. This was the crossword I used:

Empty Crossword

Once completed, the list of words were the following:


I set about by writing all the words down onto paper and drawing lines between words that could connect somehow and making notes of how a narrative could be formed around them. I admit that the finished product is a little clunky in places but could be neatened up with more time. Despite this, it became surprisingly easier to write once I stopped thinking about the overall product and focused on each step from one word to the next. This was the monologue I created:

For my tenth birthday, I received a parcel from my aunt. Auntie Susie has the biggest smile I’ve ever seen and her teeth are a pearlised white. Nowadays, she’s a fully trained a physician, but back then she was a medical student and spent the weekends working as a nurse’s aide in a hospital. This involved making beds, serving meals, and fetching anything that the nurses need. If someone needed a towel, she would know where to get one. It wasn’t much, but it was experience that clearly worked out well for her. Whenever she had a free moment on the ward, she would do the Sudoku in the latest issue of The Times and it was her who introduced me to the puzzle. So, my tenth birthday. I opened the package from my auntie and sure enough it was a book of Sudoku puzzles. Inside the front cover, she’d written the dictum “Life’s about the journey, not the destination” accompanied by a doodle of a caged dove. I’d heard the saying before but wasn’t sure what it had to do with Sudoku. Was the bird in the drawing meant to be me? I felt like if I was a bird, I’d be more of a tomtit than a dove. Nonetheless I chose to get on with the puzzles. I was upbeat to have something to focus my mind on. Each puzzle I solved was like another point scored, putting each problem to rout. The real problem, however, was not the location of a three on a nine by nine grid, but rather whether this obsession was healthy. Whenever I was stuck on a tricky puzzle, it was like my brain would constrict and coil up around the integers in the grid, paying attention to nothing else. As soon as I filled in one grid, I’d start the next and I certainly couldn’t desert a puzzle mid-way through. I started losing sleep because of it. My head ached and in my rare times of sleep I would dream of what could only could be described as never ending unsolvable Sudoku. One night I dreamt of a young horse presenting me with killer Sudoku puzzles and if I got any wrong, the colt would pummel me repeatedly until I woke up with ague, shivering, a drip of sweat running down my forehead. I felt utterly demoted. And even though I knew that Sudoku was just a paltry thing in the grand scheme of the universe, I was addicted. So, I went on my laptop and searched for a cure to help me recoup. The best solution to any addiction is to not just ration out the thing you’re addicted to, but to dredge your life of it completely. I never touched the stuff again. Sudoku is to me as pollen is to a hay fever sufferer or lactic fluids are to China.


Crossword Monologue

The Tetris Effect

I was recently introduced to the videogame, The Witness, and was instantly hooked. The game involves labyrinthian puzzles with increasing levels of difficulty and complexity of rules to follow. Like many popular puzzles (Sudoku, Rubik’s Cube, jigsaws etc.), the concept is easy to understand, yet can become infuriating to master.

I don’t typically have an addictive personality, except for when it comes to one thing: solving puzzles. When I am trying to find the solution to a tricky puzzle, I can rarely put it down or think about much else until I’ve solved it. This was certainly the case with The Witness and I once again became addicted to the sensation of achievement in completing each one of its numerous puzzles. After one embarrassingly late evening of playing this game, I went to bed and found that my brain wanted to continue solving the puzzles while I slept. My dreams were a constant conjuration of mazes in my head that I had to find a path through. What I was experiencing is commonly call the Tetris effect.

At night, geometric shapes fell in the darkness as I lay on loaned tatami floor space. Days, I sat on a lavender suede sofa and played Tetris furiously. During rare jaunts from the house, I visually fit cars and trees and people together. Dubiously hunting a job and a house, I was still there two months later, still jobless, still playing.

(Goldsmith, 1994)

Although I’ve personally never particularly delved into Tetris I’ve certainly experienced similar symptoms with other games and puzzles. One of my earliest puzzle obsessions was Sudoku. When the puzzle first came to popularity in 2004, I was 8 years old and noticed my grandmother playing the game and I took an immediate interest. I asked her to teach me the concept and let me complete one. The satisfaction of solving one excited me and I immediately wanted to solve more so that Christmas I received a book full of Sudoku. I developed tactics and soon my head was full of floating integers needing to be correctly placed on 9×9 grids. I went through similar obsessions with Rubik’s Cube, jigsaws, and crosswords and any puzzle game I took an interest in.

Sharing these experiences of puzzle obsession on stage would certainly be challenging as it is such an abstract concept, yet if successful would be visually interesting and possibly spark thoughts about human thirst for knowledge and constant search for answers.

One initial idea for my performance influenced directly by the Tetris effect, is the use of the games main theme. Personally, I find this piece of music simplistic and catchy, much like the puzzle it has famously accompanied. This perfectly reflects the concept of something getting stuck in your head. I am considering playing different versions of this song throughout my entire performance as it has been adapted into a large variety of styles. I have created a playlist of covers of the song that I have been drawn to, including a large classical arrangement, dubstep, acoustic, and country. Importantly, I’ve included the original Russian folk song Korobeiniki which lended its tune to the Tetris theme.


Goldsmith, J. (1994), ‘This is Your Brain on Tetris‘, Wired, 2 May, accessed 26 February 2017.

The Tetris Effect