Update 25 July

There has been some discussion on fifteensquared about the difficulty of recent Beelzebub puzzles.  So this time there’s a Beelzebub crossword from 2003 presented purely as a picture giving me no chance to revisit any clues.  I’ve simply typed up the solution notes (occasionally in some perplexity as to what the clue that did that might be).

Difficulty is a subjective term.  I’ll note that the fifteensquared criticism managed to cover puzzles by both Beelzebubs, which makes it a little more intricate.  There is no specific guidance about difficulty and we set our puzzles separately, relying on the crossword editor to make sure there aren’t unusually close repetitions of vocabulary.  So there hasn’t been a concerted decision to simplify the puzzle, and the fact that these two puzzles have been rated as unusually easy by the same small coterie of bloggers is purely a coincidence.  (It would be nice if it was a large coterie of bloggers, but there you go.)

Beyond that, I can say that I don’t set down to make a puzzle harder or easier than a given standard.  I’m not actually sure how I could systematically do that.  There are one or two things that do raise the difficulty of a puzzle – e.g. eschewing anagrams, and I have on occasion eliminated an anagram if it’s been the only one in a puzzle.  (The easy availability of the device when faced with a word with a tasty selection of letters means I can count the number of times that this has happened on the knuckles of one hand.)  But beyond that it gets harder – it would be difficult to contrive every clue so that the wordplay related only to words marked arch, obs, Shakes or Spens, for instance.  Even then I’d probably end up with EALE, which everyone knows.  And while some intricate constructions or oblique allusions present themselves most times, a puzzle full of them might well be tedious.

In any case, I can report writing clues that have struck me as challenging, only to have a solver rattle them off, while observing that the hidden answer I dashed off because the finishing line of clue-writing was in sight was actually rather tricky.  Conversely, I once submitted a clue in some desperation to Azed since it was the only thing I could think of, and it won second prize.  Only in retrospect did I notice that I’d actually done something rather subtle.

So, in short, it’s hard for me to determine the difficulty of a puzzle, and thus hard for me to think how to remedy any perceived simplification.  But certainly trying some of the earlier puzzles on this site might identify any trends.

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Update 12 July

This time the puzzle is a personal favourite from the Independent in 2012. I have spent a little time over the past few weeks testing out an app called JUMBL, which is produced by a company called Cubi.  (NB I’ve linked to the US iPad app store page, but it is available on the UK […]

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Update 27 June

Castpuz

Well, it’s been a bit of a week.  Marjorie was knocked off her motorbike last Friday (19th June) and now has a compound fracture of her left tibia and fibula (or tib-fib, as a very bustling nurse said to me – it seems to be the commonest compound fracture, and therefore qualifies for an abbreviation). […]

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Update 13 June

This is a tale of three Ninas. This weekend sees two of my puzzles being blogged more or less simultaneously on fifteensquared, a consequence of having the Saturday prize puzzle last week and back to my usual Friday slot this week.  They have different Ninas – and obviously they involve different thematic  material, but they […]

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Araucaria film release

Breaking my usual fortnightly pattern for an announcement. If you’ve been following The Guardian site, you’ll be aware that a short documentary on Araucaria, based on interviews with him at the end of his life, has been completed and shown at some festivals.  The Guardian has just released it on their website and you can […]

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Update 31 May

The puzzle this time comes from a curious period in the Independent puzzle’s history when the advertising world intruded.  Those bloggers who believe setters are inherently bibulous will no doubt have the presumptions confirmed. Forthcoming is a blog on the making of Here’s Looking at You (with photos!), which will be up on Wednesday or […]

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Update 15 May 2015

Slightly earlier than usual, occasioned by being warned off trying to get into Wellington after some truly torrential rain.  We had 123mm yesterday (more than the average for May altogether) – and 63 of them arrived in the two hours just before lunch.  By chance I had the day off, so I wasn’t stranded in […]

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Update 10 May

I’m breaking the publication pattern because just after I put up last week’s post, I received the proofs for the Inquisitor on Saturday 16 May, with apologies for the short notice.  This sparked not only proof-reading, but also clue-writing for its successor, and gridding for its successor’s successor.  And a headcold (well, perhaps not the […]

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Update 3 May

The puzzle this time is the annual appearance of the APEX puzzle from the previous year.  The group of regular solvers has been through the solving and the ensuing clueing contest, so I can now present the puzzle and the winning clues.  It was not, shall we say, the most popular word I’ve handed out for […]

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Update 18 April

This time there’s a Beelzebub puzzle from 2008.   I’ve also reneged on my statement last time, and rejigged the schedule to bring the 2014 Apex puzzle forward to the next update.  Meanwhile, since I was last here I’ve had an exchange of e-mails with an American constructor of what are called variety cryptics, and […]

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