Cross Words

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…

12 Responses to “Cross Words”

  1. Monica Grady Says:

    If you did the crossword on Friday, how come it took you 30 mins to do again on Sat…..?

    I can sympathise to a certain extent with your decision to switch papers because of the crossword puzzle. And I agree that on a Saturday there is too much extraneous stuff in the Guardian that goes straight into the recycling bin. But I enjoy reading the paper as well – and I find the Independent too stuffy and solid – or at least, it was last time I read it. And in the Guardian there is the daily fix of Steve Bell.
    ps – the prize crossword is by Brummie, and is on the website with an apology for the error.

    • telescoper Says:

      I stopped buying the Guardian during the week some time ago so I hadn’t actually done the Araucaria puzzle before. It’s just when I looked on the net that I found it had actually been set on Friday. Nowadays I only buy a newspaper at weekends or when I’m travelling and want something to occupy myself on the train.

      I may have a go at the puzzle by Brummie – who, incidentally, is also Cyclops in Private Eye – but of course I didn’t carry a printer with me on the train so couldn’t do it on the journey, which is what I really wanted to do.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        The Guardian often publishes material on its website the in the afternoon or evening of the day before the material appears in the printed edition. So articles and other items usually appear earlier on the Guardian website than they do in print.

        This practice puzzles me. It means that material available on the website for free is more immediate and up-to-date than in the printed edition which people have to pay a lot of money for. It acts as a disincentive for people to buy the print version.

        Steve Bell – and equally Martin Rowson – are certainly advantages that the Guardian offers over the Independent. The Independent always seems to have more of a comfortable, London-based, middle-class outlook than the Guardian.

      • Monica Grady Says:

        Join the iphone generation, and do it on-line. Think of all the paper you will save…though it is a bit slow, and a bit small.

      • telescoper Says:

        A crossword must be printed on paper and completed with a pen. Anything else just won’t do. It’s a serious business, not to be ruined by the use of gadgets.

  2. annemarie smith Says:

    I totally agree. A crossword must be printed on paper and completed with a pen (would a biro do?) I somehow think that each individual’s paper copy of the crossword is not going to harm the environment and is a lot easier on the eyes rather than scrolling left to right, up and down, leaving one crosseyed.

    You can always buy Steve Bell books – but maybe they should only be available on gadgets – There would not be the same pleasure going to the loo again.

    • telescoper Says:

      Most newsprint is recycled, and can be recycled again. iPods are made by Chinese children paid poverty wages for long hours, and much of an iPad can’t be recycled.

  3. mike barrie Says:

    How are you getting on with the Inquisitor? If you are ever going to do the Listener puzzles, today (31/12) would be an appropriate starter. Testing (but Azed’s clueing is a good apprenticeship) and the theme is enjoyable.
    Anyway, thanks for this year’s jazz education – and Happy New Year when it arrives.

    • Inquisitor is pretty tough, but I usually manage to finish it. I didn’t have time to do the Xmas Azed one – as I was travelling and forgot to take it with me. I don’t know where to find the Listener puzzles. Where are they published?

      • mike barrie Says:

        The Listener puzzles are in the Saturday Times. Someone at Uni is bound to buy one and be prepared to cut out the crossword. Alternatively, with a paid-for sub to the Times Crossword Club it becomes available at 4pm on Friday. This just about salves my conscience as I don’t have to read/pay for the newspaper.
        Xmas Azed was fine, not too taxing as I remember.
        But you would be very much at home with today’s Listener.

      • telescoper Says:

        The Xmas Azed looked interesting, I wish I’d had time to look at it. But your comment made me have a look at the &lit site and it revealed that I got a VHC in Azed 2062:

        so I’ll end the year in 7th place in the honours table, though bound to slip down as I won’t score in 2063.

  4. […] than a year ago, I switched my Saturday newspaper from the Guardian to the Independent (see here for the reason). I’ve been doing the Independent Prize Cryptic every week since then, except […]

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