Your setter/compiler handle/pseudonym/alter ego Neo

Why? The Matrix was a film I really enjoyed, great premise, and as matrices can be grids, I thought Matrix hero Neo would be an appropriate choice. Crosswords, in particular their clue surfaces, are not generally all that real either, so another reason.

Real name Paul Bringloe

Where are you? Bromley in Kent, or Greater London if you prefer. My family is originally from Kent, albeit nether regions thereof, so I am now in a sense back ’ome.

Years compiling That’s very tricky. I remember having my first go (and I mean my very first go) at setting in 1990. Like a real idiot, I straightaway sent it off to The Times’ then crossword editor John Grant. I wish I had kept his response, as it was both rather exasperated and utterly damning, the sort of thing one frames and hangs in the loo. I do not think I was actually published until the Noughties sometime, but it was an FT puzzle.

And measured in number of crosswords, roughly 5,034 published is as close as I can get. 3,486 of those are tabloid puzzles, however, while probably (my record-keeping on this stat is not up to par, so it could be more) 224 have been published in the FT.

Interactive crosswords on the FT app

Subscribers can now solve the FT’s Daily Cryptic, Polymath and FT Weekend crosswords on the iOS and Android apps

Full time or part-time with another job? Full time now, but for a long time it was a hobby.

Did your school mention crossword compiling in career discussions? At my school, aka the Romsey Road Incomprehensible, some of the teachers could almost read. That’s all I’m saying. Except that, bizarrely, actor Colin Firth also attended. Eventually, I lied my way into some evening classes, got some A-levels and went on to get an English degree. After that, I trained at Watford College to become an advertising copywriter.

Who/what got you into cryptic crosswords? I got into it by accident — literally. I wrecked my nose playing footer, and went to a specialist hospital to get it fixed. On a table was a newspaper open at the crossword page, with an offering by someone called Araucaria, and although I couldn’t solve anything at that point, I thought the clues were completely absurd. I must have liked them.

Walk us through your compiling strategy Blank grid, put agreeable words in, write clues as I go and try to bake one first time. If not, allow dough to rise, knead again, edit, and then let the real eds take over. I reckon I can produce a high-quality puzzle within a day quite easily, if necessary. I guess when it is all you do, you get fast.

So you think you’re hard Some publications I set for have a range of puzzles, so I need to be able to pitch difficulty as required. For the FT, I try to write at medium strength, but I would never presume to advise on that. I really like the range of styles on display in the paper, and m’colleagues are all superb.

The clue you wished you’d written

The jungly mass one cleaves (7)

And the clue you’re glad you did

One does associate with poachers at last catching game (4)

Any advice for solvers? Keep it up. Without you, I’d be homeless.

And for wannabe compilers? Don’t send your very first effort to The Times.

Your favourite/least favourite other word game: I genuinely don’t do other word games unless it is Christmas, but I do read a lot. Perhaps Finnegans Wake is a word game though, thinking about it. No one has cracked ol’ Jim’s clues so far.

[Answers — MACHETE, STAG]

Neo’s Polymath is published this weekend —

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