Sad about Everyman

As if the world weren’t crazy enough, yesterday the Observer served up this as its Everyman Crossword puzzle No. 3772:

The Everyman crossword boasts a long tradition of good cryptic puzzles, going back as far as 1945. It has been set by various people over the years, including none other than the great D.S. MacNutt whose book The Art of the Crossword is a must-read for all cruciverbalists.

Most recently the setter of the Everyman Crossword has been Colin Gumbrell whose puzzles have been consistently enjoyable and well-constructed. They’re not as challenging as Azed, but I always like to tackle the Everyman puzzle as a sort of warm-up exercise before doing that one. Sadly I hear that Colin has been forced by ill health to stop composing crossword puzzles. I’m told that the 20th January puzzle (No. 3771) is to be his last. I send my very best wishes to Colin Gumbrell at this time, as I’m sure do crossword enthusiasts everywhere.

Incidentally, Colin Gumbrell also sets the Antico puzzle in The Oldie, a very enjoyable thematic puzzle that I do every month. I’ve won the prize for that one  a couple of times, though not recently. The Oldie has two crosswords, of differing levels of difficulty, labelled `Genius’ and `Moron’, respectively.

It seems the Observer had to find a crossword setter at short notice, which is some kind of excuse for the offering above, but it’s still the worst crossword puzzle I’ve ever seen in a supposedly quality newspaper.

Why?

As an example of the duff clues, take a look at 1 Across:

Loses hope as spa dries. (8)

The answer is DESPAIRS (defined by `loses hope’) and an anagram of SPA DRIES. But where is the anagram indicator?

Now look at 1 Down:

Adorn a device for measuring up to 11 yards? (10)

The answer to this is DECAMETRE (defined by `11 yards’) and clearly intended to be a soundalike (homophone) for DECK A METER (Adorn a device for measuring…). But where is the corresponding homophone indicator?

The clue to 14 down is

Foreign Miss by design or inadvertently (9)

The solution is SIGNORINA (`Foreign Miss’) and a hidden word, but no indicator thereof.

I could go on. The whole puzzle is littered with such deficiencies. D.S. MacNutt – who was a stickler for fairness and precision in his clues – must be turning in his grave.

And who puts a full stop at the end of a crossword clue? I’ve never seen that before!

If this is the way the Everyman puzzle is going to be from now on, I won’t be wasting any more time on it.

 

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13 Responses to “Sad about Everyman”

  1. When I came back to cryptic crosswords again recently after a long hiatus, I started doing the daily puzzles in the Guardian. These are a pretty good match to my skill level. I can almost always complete them, although there are often a few clues I can’t completely parse. (www.fifteensquared.net is a great resource in these cases, by the way.) Guardian daily puzzles are quite heterogeneous in both style and difficulty, because there are many different setters.

    After seeing your description of this puzzle, I went and did it and also went back to try some previous Everymans. The previous ones are excellent and at a good level of difficulty for me. I think I’ll go through a number of past puzzles from the Everyman archive.

    • telescoper Says:

      Colin Gumbrell took over as Everyman setter in 2014 or thereabouts, and I think his puzzles are a little bit harder than the previous ones. You have plenty to have a go at if you go through the last five years!

  2. I’ve never understood why English-languge cryptic crosswords have indicators. Isn’t it more interesting without them?

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    If this is the way the Everyman puzzle is going to be from now on, I won’t be wasting any more time on it.

    Quite right too. So which ones will you be wasting your time on henceforth?

  4. glassarfemptee Says:

    I agree. 15a is another anagram with no indicator. Perhaps the new setter thinks rules are there to be broken?

  5. Have you done the new Everyman? I’d love to hear your opinion. I thought it was much better than last week’s. I don’t recall any clues that are completely broken in the style of the previous puzzle.

    I did find quite a few clues that were a bit loose with the “rules” of cryptic clues as I understand them: either the definition wasn’t quite accurate, or the cryptic grammar wasn’t quite right. If I saw any one of those clues in a daily puzzle in the Guardian, I might raise an eyebrow, but I wouldn’t think there was anything seriously wrong. In fact, giving the setter a bit of leeway allows more room for the sort of playful deception that makes cryptic crosswords enjoyable (although to my mind the most satisfying clues are the ones that achieve playful deception while strictly adhering to those rules). But the density of such slightly dodgy clues seemed a bit high to me.

    • telescoper Says:

      Yes, it’s certainly better than last week (which isn’t difficult), but not really up to Colin’s standard. Still, if it’s a new setter we should give her/him the chance to settle in. I’m told that last week’s was a last-minute stop-gap, while this is by a proper replacement.

      • That sounds reasonable to me. I read somewhere (probably on the fifteensquared blog, which I find very useful) that there was a lot of grumbling when Colin Gumbrell started.

      • telescoper Says:

        His crosswords were very easy to start with, rather like the simpler Guardian setters (Rufus, Janus, etc).

      • telescoper Says:

        I actually did the Guardian Prize cryptic yesterday. That was quite fun, but also quite easy.

  6. hollowayjon Says:

    I agree about the recent standard: the clues have been frustratingly imprecise: poor definitions and/or indicators, and an over-use of solutions embedded in the clue, but above all they aren’t entertaining: ponderous and over-literal: none of the sparkling wit of the predecessor. One should know, and hopefully gasp with amusement, when one has cracked a clue!

    However, I do note that the February 24 crossword was much more in the style of the old ones: is this another compiler, or has the former one returned? Perhaps the Observer have got the message.

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