Earlier this year, London’s free evening newspaper The Standard revamped its Puzzles and Games section. It now takes up two pages rather than one and has new challenges. There is a Battleships puzzle every day. (I haven’t got to grips with that one yet.) The Mini Codeword has returned after an absence of a year or so. (It prompted this piece from 2016, about 9-letter words with no repeated letters.) And there’s a Tube Quiz, which asks you to “Plan a journey on the London Underground” from one station to another. It has five steps leading from the start to the destination, with questions for each interchange. The instructions tell you: “The answer to each question will suggest to you the name of a station at which you should stop to change lines.”
There are no journeys on the tube network that require you to change trains five times, so it doesn’t represent the most practical or efficient way to get from place to place. Here’s an example from last month (12 April): Brent Cross to Latimer Road.
Step 1: What is the name of Shirley Maclaine’s acting brother?
Step 2: Which is the highest waterfall on the Zambesi river?
Step 3: Which station appears here with all its vowels removed? MBNKMNT
Step 4: Which station was originally called Bishop’s Road when it opened in 1863?
Step 5: Latimer Road (Your destination)
Here are the answers: Warren Street (Warren Beatty is Shirley Maclaine’s brother), Victoria (Victoria Falls), Embankment, Paddington, Latimer Road.
So the suggestion is: take the Northern Line from Brent Cross to Warren Street. Take the Victoria Line to Victoria. Take the District or Circle Line to Embankment. Take the Bakerloo Line to Paddington. Take the Hammersmith & City Line to Latimer Road.
At least with this example (Brent Cross to Latimer Road) you do have to change trains (once rather than five times) but other puzzles are even less practical. The puzzle on 4 April was Kew Gardens to Victoria. They’re both on the District Line, so there’s no need to change at all. Similarly on 18 April the journey was Aldgate to Barbican, just three stops on either the Circle or Metropolitan Line, with no changes.
My 13-year-old son and I, with our shared enthusiasm for London Transport, take a look at these puzzles most days and joke about the impracticality of, say, taking five trains to travel three stops. We enjoy these Tube Quizzes, though, and they have added to my store of London trivia. (No, I didn’t know that Paddington was originally called Bishop’s Road, or that Barbican was originally called Aldersgate Street when it opened in 1865. And now I know that Wobbly Embryo is an anagram of Bromley-by-Bow.) In recent months we have discussed, often, the merits of changing from the Piccadilly Line to the Northern Line at Leicester Square to head north, rather than changing to the Victoria Line at Green Park. I have shared with him my tips about which carriages and doors are best for exits and interchanges. (They are included in this piece from 2016, “Where to get off”.)
The elaborate Tube Quizzes in The Standard, and discussions about journeys with my son, have prompted a memory from the 1980s. A work colleague, originally from Australia, was sending details about the Underground to her brother. He was arriving at Heathrow and needed to travel to Wimbledon, where she lived. A simple look at the tube map might suggest the following: Piccadilly Line to Earl’s Court, District Line to Wimbledon. However, he was travelling with heavy luggage, and this route would involve carrying his bags up escalators and stairs. She planned a route that enabled him to change trains without having to go up or down escalators or stairs. He only had to drag his luggage on and off trains, and from one side of a platform to another. If you’re a regular user of the Underground system, could you plan such a route, from Heathrow to Wimbledon?
I’ll reveal her suggestion in the next paragraph. When she told me the planned route (she was faxing him the details) I congratulated her on its simplicity and practicality, knowing how much hassle she was saving her brother compared to taking the more obvious route.
Here’s how it’s done: Piccadilly Line to Hammersmith or Barons Court. Change to the District Line heading east. (At both Hammersmith and Barons Court the Piccadilly and District Lines run side by side, so you only have to drag your luggage from one side of the platform to the other.) Change at South Kensington to the District Line heading west. (This is the only station anywhere near Earl’s Court where the eastbound and westbound District Line share a platform.) Take the District Line direct to Wimbledon. (If no Wimbledon trains are shown, you can take a District Line to Earl’s Court and change there without having to change platforms.)
As you can see, my former colleague’s attention to detail and the journey she planned have stayed with me for over 30 years, even though I’ve never had to take that route myself. I was, and still am, very impressed by it.