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Her words' worth

  • 02 July 2008

Sister Joan Nowotny IBVM (18 August 1925–29 June 2008) devised Eureka Street's cryptic crosswords from 1992 until the final print edition in 2006. Former editor Morag Fraser pays tribute, and for old time's sake we offer one of Sister Joan's crosswords here to keep the addicts busy. Solution

All good magazines have pages designed to appease the terminally addicted and give succour to the ritually obsessed. So when we began Eureka Street in 1991, it was a lay-down misère that we would publish a cryptic crossword. A hard one. Not perhaps as hard as the Times crossword that the likes of Inspector Morse would finish in a contemptuous 12 minutes while simultaneously downing a pint in The White Horse and solving a murder in Jericho. But hard enough to tease and satisfy. Who would devise it?

I wish I remember how we arrived at Joan Nowotny. It might have been via a trumpeted competition or a stern instruction from a Jesuit lord-who-must-be-obeyed, but I like to believe it was divinely ordained that it should be Joan, only and always Joan, who would keep us gridded, intellectually tempered and clued up (her clues were so very mondaine).

There are few certainties in the publishing business, but from the Eureka Street crossword's inception in 1992 to the magazine's final print edition in 2006, there was Joan, always on time, the crossword faxed on two pages of hard copy inscribed in a round and stylish hand that reminded me of the cryptic manuscript annotations of another formidable woman, Sister Mary Dominic, who had made a pianist out of my no less formidable mother. I fancy that the three women might now meet in a higher place, and I would not dare guess their conversation.

I never managed to do — let alone complete — one of Joan's cryptics (Greek to me) but Kate Manton, who was both a fine assistant editor and logically inclined, used to entertain herself by finishing the crossword as soon as it came in.

Kate swore it was an efficient way of proofreading. And who was I, cryptically challenged, to gainsay her?

I think part of Kate's fun was to try to catch Joan in a mistake. Telephone calls would go back and forth. From my editorial fastness I would hear to their exchanges the way one hears to a conversation in Swahili, or the mobile exchanges of teenage