Setters and Solvers

I realise that yesterday I said I only had time for a quick post, and then proceeded to write >1000 words on the subject of Masters degrees. Today I really only have time for a quick post, as I have to finish writing my examination paper (amongst other things).

Anyway, I haven’t blogged about crosswords for a while so I just thought mention a few things. Some time ago I switched from the Guardian to the Independent on Saturdays. The Guardian is a sad case. As its circulation falls, the price continues to rise. It is now getting more expensive virtually by the week. It comes with stacks of tedious supplements which go straight into the recycling bin anyway. There’s much less of the Independent and it’s both higher quality and cheaper. There’s a lesson there for the Grauniad, I think.

More importantly (for me) the Guardian’s crosswords have gone rapidly downhill and I much prefer the Independent’s setters nowadays. I do occasionally do the Grauniad prize one by downloading it from the net, especially if it’s Araucaria, but most of the other setters are nowhere near as good. Since I started doing the Indy crossword last year I’ve won the prize, a rather splendid dictionary, three times. I’ve got one in my study at home and one in my office. The other I gave to my mum. If I win any more I’m not sure how I’ll dispose of them. Perhaps I could open a shop?

The magazine bit of the Independent has a more difficult crossword called Inquisitor. I’m not sure about these at all. Sometimes they’re really good, but too often they require so many modifications to be made to each solution before entry into the grid that they become completely tedious, and the completed puzzle just looks like a random jumble of letters. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my crosswords to have words in them. Last week’s (Inquisitor 1217) was an extreme example, with “thematic modifications” all over the place and some parts of the puzzle completely unclued. It turned out that you had to remove every third letter of each solution before entering it into the grid, the theme being an obscure and entirely unclued reference to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner “And he stoppeth one of three”. I got there in the end – I find I can’t leave a puzzle incomplete once I’ve started – but I didn’t post it off in protest at how unsatisfying it was.  I don’t mind difficult puzzles, but they have to be fair: leaving huge parts of the puzzle unclued means that it’s just guesswork rather than logic.

My favourite crossword is still Azed in the Observer. I got off to a good start in this year’s clue setting competition with a run of VHCs (“Very Highly Commended”). However, I didn’t have time to do the Christmas Azed and have therefore slipped down the league table a bit.

I got an HC in the last competition, No. 2070, in which the word to be clued was MISTREATMENT. My clue was

Kinky “Master” welcoming one into pain or wanting abuse

i.e. anagram of MASTER including I running into TORMENT with OR missing (wanting); abuse is the definition. It’s OK I suppose but admittedly not as good as the prize-winning entries.

This word is tailor-made for an &lit type of clue, which Azed seems to like. The winning entry for this one was of this type

Abuse T. Emin’s art met?

So you can read this as “abuse” (an anagram indicator) of the subsequent letters to make MISTREATMENT or the whole clue itself as a definition. Azed seems to allow a lot of slack in the definition part of such clues, but I’m not at all convinced that “T. Emin’s art” has ever been actually mistreated so I don’t like this as much as some of the other clues. It’s not my decision, however, and I have to say some of the clues in the list are really superb, much better than my mundane effort.

I love solving crossword puzzles, but I find setting the clues extremely difficult. I think I’m the same way with physics too. I like solving – or trying to solve – problems of various kinds, but I find setting them very hard work. That’s why it takes me so long to write examination papers, and why I consequently have to go into the office on a lovely spring sunday. It would be much easier to set exactly the same paper as last year, but of course no self-respecting university teacher would ever even dream of doing that….

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10 Responses to “Setters and Solvers”

  1. Mark McCaughrean Says:

    Just a comment on The Guardian. Independent (sorry) of the print edition, which I don’t read very often as I live outside the UK, the guardian.co.uk must still be one of the very top freely-available news sources. For that alone, I think they deserve great credit.

    Of course, if it ends up going behind a paywall, we shall see whether I match those fine words with my money. I probably should, if only to balance my print subscription to The Economist :-)

    • Agreed. The only paper I ever read online is the Guardian, but it’s not clear that the business model for their website (which is totally reliant on advertising revenue) is viable. The paper itself is very expensive for what it is, especially at weekends when I don’t read most of the content anyway.

  2. Glad you are still in Crosswordland – and welcome to the Inquisitor fan club (or not). For me, this is the must-have puzzle of the week. I have been ‘taking’ the Guardian for over 30 years and have finally stopped my subscription both to that and the Observer. I almost did this a couple of years ago (due to its outing as promoter of the Lib-dems) and I’m still waiting for the apology! The online version is not that good, the editorials are ..erm.. highly edited also the letters page. Then they stopped my beloved Kakuro except for Fridays. I still do both daily crosswords as a brain warm-up but sometimes they are fiendish – my favourite setters being Enigmatist, who partially set last Wednesday’s tribute to Roger Squires (Rufus) who usually does Mondays, and of course, Araucaria. I have also stopped contibuting to the Azed, at least as far as clue-writing is concerned. I am heartily sick of seeing the same names month after month and now that includes a certain P.Coles from Cardiff! Sour grapes, telescoper, it is a pleasure to see your name in the line-up.

  3. Telescoper – re the above: WordPress will not allow me to contact you directly – BUT if you are interested in meeting up with other Crossword lovers (mostly in London, but with sorties nationwide) then email me directly with a contact for you. I will understand if you don’t want to do this.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    “he stoppeth one of three” is famously used in cricket about poor fielders.

  5. See my comments on ‘Fifteen squared’
    x

  6. IQ 1217 (Request Stop by Ifor) – Some did hate it!

  7. Saw your comments on 225 – keep posting on this site – this is the stuff that we wordphobics need!

  8. Sorry didn’t mean ‘phobics’ – read ‘philes’
    x

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