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.