By JAMES MILLS, Daily Mail
1st December 2005
It is more fiendish than any Countdown conundrum, more mind-bogglingly frustrating than the most cryptic of crosswords.
The idea is to fill a grid with ten words, each containing ten letters, which read the same across as down.
Known as a tensquare, the puzzle has been around for centuries and has stumped anyone who has ever tried to solve it - even those armed with a computer program.
But now a retired aircraft design engineer from Cornwall claims to have cracked it - well, almost.
Ted Clarke, 79, has come up with a solution which - by his own admission - is not perfect, but comes closer than any other that has so far been found.
He has achieved it by including one word - nonesevent - which is now the subject of a heated debate among word puzzle experts around the world.
Mr Clarke says nonesevent means an event occurring on the nones - the ninth day before the Ides of March in the ancient Roman calendar.
Unfortunately, it does not appear in any dictionary. "Finding the perfect tensquare is so extraordinarily difficult that it is widely accepted that the boundaries of language have to be stretched a little," Mr Clarke said yesterday.
"They say that anyone who comes up with the perfect solution will be immortalised.
"Well, I don't claim to have made myself immortal, but I think I have come within a whisker of it - and certainly closer than anyone else.
"Others have done it by pushing together names such as Kevin Brown, or repeating the same words twice. But no one has ever created a tensquare using ten different recognisable words, and possibly they never will." Ross Eckler, editor of Word Ways magazine in the United
States, and New Zealander Jeff Grant, a Scrabble fanatic who has spent the past 30 years trying to crack the problem, have accepted all Mr Clarke's words besides nonesevent.
Six of the words can be found in various dictionaries. These are discussing, incantator, scarlatina, carnitines, unlikeness and itinerates.
Two others - satinweave and grassnest - are technically two words, but are often used as one these days. Satinweave is a type of fabric and grassnest is a bird's nest made of grass.
The remaining word, stateswren, is also a little dubious. According to Mr Clarke, it refers to a number of wrens which are the symbols of American states, such as South Carolina.
Puzzle expert Tony Augarde, who compiled the Oxford Guide to Word Games, said Mr Clarke's is the best tensquare he has ever seen. "It's not perfect, but it's the best yet," he added.
"Some of the words in Mr Clarke's square are not well known - but it depends on your definition of what language is.
"Mr Clarke has pushed the boundaries of language, but who is to say what is a word and what isn't?"
The first word squares were constructed in ancient Greece as far back as 600BC and are the forerunners of the modern crossword.
A five-word square was found carved on stone in the ruins of Pompeii, dating from the first century AD.
The game was developed in England in the 19th century to include 'across' clues and in 1913 the first crossword was published in the New York World newspaper. Word squares using more than six-letter words are extremely difficult to construct. A number of seven-word squares using recognisable words have been created, but squares using eight or nine-letter words require the use of obscure or archaic words and a computer program.
Other tensquares have been created in the past, but have fallen short of the ideal that foreign words should not be used in an English-language puzzle.
Thus, one tensquare that used the French phrase ses tunnels - with the words run together - and the German verb amputieren, was frowned upon.
Another possible disqualification in the eyes of purists is that words must not be too tortuously contrived.
Mr Clarke, who has four grandchildren and two great grandchildren, lives with his 74-year-old wife Margaret in the village of Mawgan Porth, near Newquay.
He has been a fan of word puzzles since he was a boy and over the past decade has built up a computer database of more than 70,000 words.
He uses a speical program to search the millions of combinations for possible solutions.
Once he finds one that comes close, he tries to find obscure words that might fill in the gaps.
John Simpson, chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, said: "As far as I can see, all potential tensquares have a few wobbly words in them. This seems to be no exception, but I'm not a word square expert."