“What a coincidence!”

Our friend Martha is one of our favourite people, always a very welcome guest. One of our shared dislikes is people claiming that something is “an amazing coincidence” when really it isn’t. “Oh, you’re a Pisces – my mother-in-law is a Pisces, what a coincidence!” That sort of thing.

There are 7 billion people on earth. Things happen. We are not surrounded by weird coincidence every minute of the day.

We have turned this into a catchphrase. When my wife and I find some slight connection between people we pick our phones and pretend we’re making a call. “Hello, Martha? Yes, we’ve got another one, you’d better come round.”

Even so, there was one crossword-related sequence of facts that did have me thinking “That really is a coincidence”.

I learnt how to do cryptic crosswords as a teenager but rarely do them these days, especially since the death of the Guardian’s crossword compiler Araucaria (John Graham) in 2013. When Araucaria was still alive I would seek out his puzzles but rarely sat down for the full 45 minutes or more it would take me to complete one. (And sometimes I could be scratching my head for a whole weekend without getting anywhere near completing the puzzle.) One exception was this puzzle in January 2012. I struggled over it for an hour or more but managed to complete it.

If you’re a crossword fan you might want to have a crack at it before reading on.

If not, you can use Reveal All on that page to display the solutions.

I’ll start to discuss the solutions in the next paragraph.

The key to the puzzle is 8 down (Terence Rattigan). How many people under 30 have even heard of him? My knowledge of his work was sketchy, but here’s the coincidence. The night before this puzzle was published I had watched “Separate Tables” as part of my Oscars project (David Niven, Best Actor and Wendy Hiller Best Supporting Actress for 1958). Before then I knew nothing about the movie, didn’t know that it was based on a Terence Rattigan play. And there, the very next day, when I happened to have a stab at the Prize Crossword, there it was, 16 and 20 down. It spooked me a bit: the name of the rarely-screened 1950s movie that I watched on Friday night appearing as an answer in the crossword I did the very next day. I think that qualifies as a coincidence, maybe even in Martha’s world.




One thought on ““What a coincidence!”

  1. Another non-coincidence…

    While making lunch I thought I would listen to a TED talk in the background. Having had my mind blown with 10 minutes on gravitational waves, I decided to browse to a new category of talks. I picked Gardens. Right there in front of me was a Plant’s Eye View, a talk by Michael Pollan, I decided not to bother watching and just listen to some rare silence instead but I did think along the way, ‘Pollan’, how apt for a talk on flowers (I know it is pollen). An hour later I was looking for Food Rules on my Kindle reader app and made the connection, aha, Michael Pollan wrote this book. A fact I knew once and then discarded. But I now have a mental hook to hang Michael Pollan on and will remember he is the author of Food Rules.

    Was this another one of those coincidences? For fun I checked how many other authors of books in my Kindle library have also performed at TED, I did a brief search and found:

    Yuval Noah Harari (a sampler, but I do have the paperback of A Brief History of Human Kind)
    Naomi Klein (a sampler, not the full book of This Changes Everything)
    Bruce Schneier (a sampler, not the full book of Data and Goliath)
    And Tim Ferriss – Four Hour Work Week. But his book was not on the Kindle, I just knew I had it.

    So really not much of a coincidence after all. If you’re interested in that-sort-of-thing, whatever that-sort-of-thing is, then you’ll see that-sort-of-thing in lots of place.

    Perhaps there is a mental version of the Google search bubble going on here. Filtering and pattern matching. Nothing new about that….

    “Still a man hears what he wants to hear
    And disregards the rest”


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