Crossword setter uses cryptic puzzle to reveal cancer diagnosis

Rev John Graham, from Somersham, announced that he has terminal cancer in a crossword.

Rev John Graham, from Somersham, announced that he has terminal cancer in a crossword. - Credit: Archant

FOR decades, readers of The Guardian newspaper have been entertained – and probably enraged – by the crossroads set by Reverend John Graham.

Better known as Araucaria (the Latin name for the monkey puzzle tree), Rev Graham, of Rectory Lane, Somersham, stunned his legion of fans by using one of his puzzles to reveal he has terminal cancer.

In a crossword first published last month in the puzzle magazine 1 Across, which he founded, and reprinted last week by The Guardian, the 91-year-old told fans “Araucaria has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15”.

The solutions revealed he has cancer of the oesophagus and is receiving palliative care. Other clues had answers such as Macmillan nurse, stent, chemotherapy, endoscopy and sunset.

The story hit the national newspapers and Rev Graham has been inundated with kind messages from well-wishers across the country – many of whom have been enjoying his crosswords since he started setting them for The Manchester Guardian, as it was then, in the 1950s.


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Of his unusual announcement, he told The Hunts Post: “It was more of an accident that I did it… I did the crossword first because that’s the way my mind works. I thought I would put into a magazine I started with friends about 30 years ago. It seemed like the right place for it to go. It wasn’t my intention for it to go in The Guardian.”

He said the response was “nice but overwhelming”.

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“They newspapers have all said I’m dying of cancer,” he said. “That’s probably not true – I might have a long time left. I don’t feel like I’m dying. I feel marvellous.”

He was diagnosed in September after developing anaemia and said he would carry on as normal and would continue to set crosswords.

“I had long discussions with the hospital, who have been wonderful – I can’t be too full of praise,” he said. “They were quite clear there was no point going in for complicated therapies that might not work.”

The Cambridge University-educated said he has “no idea” what makes a good crossword.

“You have to have a weird sort of thinking,” he said. “I suppose I don’t really know how – I just do it.”

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