John Young, who has died unexpectedly aged 62, had his first puzzle published in the Guardian in 1984. He set as Shed for this paper and as Dogberry in the Financial Times. His clues were always conspicuously fair and unpedantic and he was the kindest, most natural and easygoing person an editor could wish to work with.
John was introduced to cryptic puzzles by his parents, Audrey (nee Jones), a secretary, and Bill Young, a research forester. His mother set puzzles for the Guardian as Audreus until well into her 90s. After a degree in French and German at Durham University and a spell as a travel representative in various countries, he got a doctorate at Sheffield University, where he then worked on a project to produce an electronic version of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, written by the Protestant English historian and first published in 1563.
This led to a contract at Imperial College London as assistant editor on another project to publish all of Isaac Newton’s alchemical, theological and administrative papers. Throughout this period, John was setting a regular stream of elegant cryptic puzzles.
In addition, he joined forces with three other Guardian setters – Araucaria (John Graham), Paul (John Halpern) and Enigmatist (John Henderson) – to set the occasional puzzles jointly as “we johns” under the name of WE Johns’ WWI character Biggles. After each such puzzle appeared, they and I, the crossword editor, all met for a celebratory lunch, appropriately held in a pub at Biggleswade in Bedfordshire.
John hated living in London and so took himself back to Sheffield and later to Ely. After the death of his mother three years ago he seemed to lose much of his desire to set puzzles. He produced his last one for the Guardian in 2020.