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Maida Vale crossword compiler warns robots will make human puzzle-makers extinct

PUBLISHED: 14:57 28 February 2018 | UPDATED: 14:57 28 February 2018

Marc Breman has warned human crossword compilers are becoming extinct. Picture: MARC BREMAN

Marc Breman has warned human crossword compilers are becoming extinct. Picture: MARC BREMAN

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The much-loved crossword puzzle will be created by robots in 15 years, a Maida Vale puzzle-maker has warned.

Marc Breman, whose crosswords have appeared in the Daily Mirror, Daily Express and Sunday Telegraph for more than 25 years, said the future of crosswords was “unquestionably” automated.

Mr Breman, who writes an average of 13,500 clues a year and has constructed more than 30,000 puzzles since 1991, said: “The writing is on the wall for crossword compilers, and has been for some years. It is one of the last remaining true niche industries, and one that cannot compete against the march of the machines. That we are replaced by quicker, cheaper computer software at some point in the next 15 to 20 years is unquestionable.”

According to the 56-year-old, who lives in Clifton Gardens, Britain’s last compilers number less than 100. But he and colleagues believe the trade will die out by 2033 because of breakthroughs in technology.

They warn computers that can “think” like people will be able to devise standard and cryptic crosswords at a fraction of the time and cost. If true, they say it would spell the end to an industry that has supplied readers with wordplay puzzles since 1922.

‘Word-crosses’ first appeared in the 1920s. By the late 1930s, one of the Great British rituals was born when puns, anagrams and cryptic wordplays appeared as clues. Less than 30 years ago, compilers earned up to £35 an hour making puzzles. But, according to Mr Bremer, compiler numbers fell with the advent of the internet when standard puzzles could be created in a fraction of the time using online databases. Today, most standard crosswords are created by computer programs that finish them in seconds. Armchair compilers now often submit puzzles to newspapers.

Mr Breman fears the last of the human compilers could be made redundant within 15 or 20 years.

He said the move to automation led him to turn to writing with the publication of first book, The Foggiest Notion, a novel about crossword puzzles, featuring a grid for readers to solve featuring the clues presented to characters as part of the plot.

Mr Breman said: “However much we may dislike the idea, we are moving to full automation where a wide variety of jobs will be taken by robots. Turning your hand to something new has never been more necessary.”

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