I was out all day yesterday – of which more, perhaps, anon – but, as I usually do when I get an early train, I bought copy of the Saturday Guardian so that I could do the Prize Crossword during the journey.
When I settled into my seat and opened the paper I found quite a nice Araucaria puzzle which I completed in about 30 minutes. However, I noticed that the usual name and address bit for prize entries was missing and then it dawned on me that the number (25405) didn’t tally. Then the true enormity of the situation dawned on me – The Grauniad had erroneously printed Friday’s puzzle again in the Saturday newspaper. That’s the second time in as many weeks that the Guardian has messed up the crossword. After the last debacle you’d think they would have been a bit more careful.
Curiously the state of the Guardian’s crosswords preyed on my mind all day and developed into a full-blown mid-life crisis worthy of Reggie Perrin. I had a dawning realisation that so many of the things I do every day I do not because I enjoy them particularly but because they have become habits. The Guardian crossword is just one example. I started doing it over 20 years ago, and have won the prize seven or eight times over the years, but actually there have been very few in recent years that I enjoyed very much.
Part of the reason for this is that I started doing the excellent Azed puzzle in the Observer set by Jonathan Crowther. The Azed clues are not only extremely clever but also unfailingly sound in both grammar and syntax. The chance to submit your own clues to the monthly competition makes you realise how difficult it is to be both artful and rigorous. It’s a bit like how playing snooker on a full size table – which is impossibly difficult – leads you to appreciate even more the immense skill of the professional player. The other side of this is, of course, that it tends to raise your awareness of defects in other puzzles.
The Guardian’s puzzles have never been as strict as Azed, or others who follow in the steps of the great Ximenes, which is fair enough because they simply offer a different challenge. Araucaria, for example, remains popular because of his wonderful sense of humour – he’s one of the few setters who can make me laugh out loud – but the liberties he takes in some of his clues are enough to make me cringe. Unfortunately, the latest generation of setters include many who offer poorly constructed clues without the entertainment value to compensate. Frankly, I find most of them tedious. What I’m saying is that I’ve become a crossword snob.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, after realising the Guardian’s error yesterday I decided to experiment by (for the first time in my life) buying the Independent. Lo and behold, not just a very nice crossword indeed by Nestor but also a slightly trickier one in the supplement called Inquisitor.
So I’ve decided it’s time to stop buying the Saturday Guardian and switch to the Independent. The actual Guardian newspaper is a mess on Saturday’s anyway, lots of tedious supplements I never read, and there’s a big overlap in content with the Sunday Observer, not surprisingly given that they’re produced by the same people. The Independent is a neat tabloid format and I found the content refreshingly different from the Guardian. It’s quite a lot cheaper too. I may still have a go at the Guardian crossword occasionally – they’re all available free on the web – but I’m not going to buy the paper any more.
“Out with the old, in with the new” is the idea. There are a few other things I could apply that to, come to think of it…Follow @telescoper