THE great crossword compiler John McKie, who was beloved by readers of The Herald as the creator of its long-running and most cunning puzzle The Wee Stinker, has died at the age of 80.

Mr McKie – known by the pseudonym Myops – first compiled crosswords for the paper in the 1970s while he was working as a teacher in Glasgow and was asked to come up with a concise puzzle that would be infuriating, irritating, but unputdownable.

The result was The Wee Stinker which quickly became a cult among crossword fans and remained so for more than 30 years.

Over the decades it has run in the paper, fans of The Wee Stinker and Mr McKie’s other crosswords came to know his signature style: his clues were clever, witty and hellishly hard, but crackable if you were willing to put in the work. “I always want the solver to have the satisfaction of completing it,” he said. “I want them to have the satisfaction of feeling that they’ve earned the victory.”

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Paying tribute to Mr McKie, Donald Martin, Editor of The Herald, described The Wee Stinker as a much-loved Scottish institution. “John McKie was an integral part of The Herald package and his crosswords were adored by generations of readers,” said Mr Martin. “He will be very sorely missed.”

Former pupils of Mr McKie at Hutchesons’ Grammar in Glasgow, where he was a principal teacher of classics until his retirement in 2005, also paid tribute to him. Alistair Bell, now a designer of supercomputers in New York, described Mr McKie as a great man, an amazing teacher and a legend in the crossword world.

“He taught me Latin and Greek, gave me a love of linguistics and of learning, and formed who I am more than anyone other than my parents,” said Mr Bell. “I am eternally grateful to him.”

Many others who knew him called the former teacher a Hutchie legend, including Emma Smith, who also singled out the power of his crosswords.

“My dad and several other older people who do The Wee Stinker every week credit their ongoing mental sharpness to the challenge of completing it,” she said. “A considerable contribution to society.”

Mr McKie first compiled the puzzles for The Herald in 1979 and was responsible for the Saturday prize puzzle and the popular jumbo puzzles published at Christmas and New Year.

The Wee Stinker was created in 1988 when the then editor of The Herald, Arnold Kemp, suggested a small but difficult crossword on a Monday. In later years, it moved to a Saturday but whichever day it ran anyone who won the prize T-shirt knew it was a considerable achievement.

Mr McKie – whose pseudonym Myops was Greek for gadfly – had discovered his love for crosswords when he was a schoolboy in the Gorbals in the years after the Second World War. He and a group of friends would buy The Herald every day and complete the crossword and it helped nurture his love of puzzles, wordplay and the eccentricities and hidden delights of the English language.

His way of compiling the puzzles never really changed. Working at his home in Pollokshields, he used a set number of patterns but always tried to provide clues he had never used before.

He also delighted in a mix of the high and low brow – his clues were just as likely to be inspired by cartoons or snooker (one of the great loves of his life) as Shakespeare or the Bible. Speaking to The Herald in 2018, Mr McKie said the process of building the clues and solving them was a symbiosis of compiler and solver rather than a battle of wills.

“Many people think a crossword is a battle between the setter and the solver, that one is trying to outdo the other,” he said. “That has never been my intention. I respect the solver and any self-respecting solver doesn’t want it to be too easy.”

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Mr McKie also liked to build themes into his crosswords that would build as the solver entered the answers. “The one I’m most pleased with,” he said, “was when I built the crossword round Milton’s On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity – I put parts of the poem in the puzzle.”

As for his favourite clue, he was particularly fond of G-GAG. “I phoned a friend,” said Mr McKie, “and said if you’re playing the tune Happy Birthday, what key is it in? Essentially what I wrote was G-GAG. The answer was ‘Happy Birthday’.”

Mr McKie’s son Andrew, a journalist who writes for The Herald, said his father had still been working on crosswords in the days before his death at the weekend and said his love of language, and Greek and Latin in particular, had been central to his life.

“He loved the beauty in a crossword clue of being able to say the exact opposite of what you appear to be saying and delighted in the shape of languages and the beauty of their structure,” said Mr McKie, “And that’s what you need for compiling crosswords.”