What you learn from crosswords

This isn’t really about picking up general knowledge, but more the strange things that emerge as a result of setting and solving puzzles.  Last week I popped up in The Independent on Sunday with a puzzle marking the centenary of the birth of Jon Pertwee, who I met once.  The circumstances were the recording of the panel game Whodunnit, in which a short drama was performed, generally involving a murder, and the celebrity panel had to identify the perpetrator.  Implausibly enough, I was on the celebrity panel (aged 16 going on 17) having won a competition in TV Times.  The other celebrities were Patrick Mower, Magnus Pyke and Lindsay Wagner (the Bionic Woman).

This situation seems to be different from being merely a contestant on a quiz show such as Mastermind.  As a result, I learned this week, I have a page on IMDb.  Clicking through to the episode’s page reveals me second in the cast list to Pertwee himself (and ahead of the other celebrities).  I am grateful (I think) to gwep on the fifteensquared blog for bringing this to my attention.

The puzzle I have just put up is from 2013, about a year after the Inquisitor finally settled on a numbering system.  My source for the quotations used was a reminiscence of the last Mastermind ever hosted by Magnus Magnusson, in which one of the specialist subjects led to (perfectly justified) laughter from the audience as the questions were asked.  It seemed a good idea to try the same trick in a crossword.  This puzzle has both a fifteensquared blog and a setter’s blog on this site, and you can click through to them from the solution page (you know, at least make a show of doing the puzzle first…).

A quietish month on the puzzle front, with the most exciting thing being my absence from The Independent on Fridays.  I am still appearing once a week in July, as long as you define week as Saturday to Friday.  But it makes for some odd gaps between appearances.  And why am I doing this?  There’s a five-word phrase in the first paragraph that provides the connection, a connection which leads back to New Zealand for one puzzle…

Back in the saddle

Surprising how easy it is to get out of the habit of something.  I had the machine more or less back in action last week, but couldn’t quite squeeze in the calendared update.  So there’s been a three week gap, and there’ll be another (to the weekend of 13/14 July) to keep the updates away from other regular busy weekends.  I’ve put up an unpublished Beelzebub crossword to mark my return.  (Still one in stock!)

I hope you are enjoying Inquisitor 1600 in the i of 22 June.  A second collaboration for SPINK but the passing of Schadenfreude as the S, further appearances can’t be guaranteed.  Admittedly PINK is still a word, of course…

There is a Pedro in the Times Quick Cryptic series on July 10, and I anticipate a Kcit Toughie early in the month, but it may be of interest also to note that Phi will not be appearing on Fridays in July, though it’s still once a week (as long as you start your weeks on Sundays).  A sort of overarching theme will emerge (at least if you discount the first appearance on 2 July).  Normal Friday service resumed in August.

No update this weekend

There’s a howling wet southerly this weekend and every justification for sitting at a computer writing an update.  But my computer has no functioning hard disk and trying to get a new puzzle on to the site via the iPad is a fool’s errand.  And, mysteriously, the absence of the big computer seems to mean our network is much slower.

There is a setter’s blog for the recent Inquisitor now on site.  Pedro is supplying the Times Quick Cryptic on 7 June, and there’s an Enigmatic Variations on 17 June but I hope to be up and running again by then.

The highs and lows of hyphens

I hope you’re enjoying Invalid Care in the Inquisitor series yesterday (18 May 2019, should this page happen to be the only remnant of human civilisation available to a future alien historian).  The remainder of May sees a Times Quick Cryptic from Pedro on 23 May, while I’m informed I have a Times Jumbo on 27 May, which I guess must be the late spring bank holiday in the UK.  Plus the usual Fridays in The Independent.

The puzzle this time round is from a 2013 issue of the Church Times.  Somewhat unusually it has a signalled theme.  My original version has the two thematic entries repeated in each relevant clue, but Don chose to shorten the clues and haul the thematic element on to a line of its own.  If you go to the Church Times website you’ll find that they have the wrong grid, so stick with me.

Somewhere this week I stumbled on a debate about the indication of hyphens in barred puzzles such as Azed or Beelzebub.  The issue was that while phrases are indicated by “(6, 2 words)”, a word such as TOM-TOM would appear simply as “(6)”.

I can’t speak for the Azed series, of course, but I do know what transpired with Beelzebub.  When I came on board, the style was to use “(6, hyphenated)”, thus falling somewhere between the two.  I argued we should drop the “hyphenated” – there was limited space, and adding a 10-letter word to several clues wasn’t helping.  I could (in the TOM-TOM case) have said “(3-3)”, but this brought us into line with Azed.

Hyphens are tricky things.  Some years ago, someone showed me the then spell-checker on Word responding to the word “homemade”, recommending hyphenation.  On you type, but looking back you note that “home-made” is tagged as an error – and now Word is recommending removing the hyphen. 

I also know of one outlet where the crossword (by sticking to a specific dictionary) hyphenates words that the outlet’s house-style says should be one word (and vice versa), and, indeed, since dictionaries do disagree about whether some words should be hyphenated, this isn’t perhaps so unusual.  Chambers – having had a clear-out (clearout?) of hyphens at some point – actually has different editions saying different things.

Semantic items can come in several variants anyway: commonsense, common-sense or common sense, for example.  So perhaps taking the stance that the presence of a hyphen means that we consider the resulting conjunction of elements a single entity isn’t so hard to understand.

Multi-word phrases seem more cut and dried, though the “common sense” example shows that matters aren’t perfect.  Very occasionally you run into an interesting situation.  How would you enumerate this clue:

Attack filament in the skin

The solution consists of the letters S E T O N.

It’s easy to say it would be an editorial decision, but the setter has to make a choice when submitting the puzzle, and mine would be “(5, 2 words)”.  This would be on the grounds that it’s important to note that a multiple word answer is in there somewhere .  Meanwhile the presence of the uncommon medical term in the single-word option means that this is probably a barred puzzle, so “(3,2)” is less likely.

And now I must dash off…

The Apex 2018 puzzle

The regular participants have been notified, so I can now put up the APEX puzzle from last Christmas.  Remember that there was a clue-writing contest associated with the puzzle – the winning clues are appended to the end of the solution notes.

Without wishing always to take the text for the day from a recent Guardian blog – well, the latest blog was about symmetry.  I have already put up a page about symmetry in 2014, so it’s easy enough to point you at it.  Anyone who has some very old copies of One Across (from the days when it was edited by the late great Mike Rich) will have another set of thoughts on the topic from me (I haven’t kept a copy myself) – I hope they’re consistent!  We can deduce, therefore, that the “do we need symmetry?” debate will run and run.  My confident 2014 statement that you could not get an asymmetrical grid into a daily paper is wrong – there are a couple such grids among those for the Times Quick Cryptic puzzle.  And there should be a Phi Independent puzzle with just the tiniest asymmetry before too long (June, I shouldn’t wonder).

Unless it ends up in the i.  There is a developing situation, as of this week, whereby the i has started publishing new puzzles, rather than recycling five-or-six-year-old ones from The Independent.  So I believe some of my puzzles may end up there as well.  From this side of the planet, I can’t get a decent grip on what’s happened – some agreement between the papers should have been renewed, and has not been, is about the best I can determine.  So while you have a nice Nina in the Friday Phi for 3 May, you may also see a ghost theme in the i on Saturday.  Or perhaps another day.  Please let me know!

There is also a Toughie from Kcit next Thursday (9 May), and (a little more certainty here) an Inquisitor in the i on Saturday 18 May.  That’s the weekend of my next update, but here it is just in case I don’t get round to the site till the Sunday.

Happy Easter

Something slightly different for Easter – an Independent daily puzzle, but picked up through its appearance in the i.  I don’t have a great feel for how the i sits in the UK media space, as I have seen relatively few copies.  But it is a paper and has relatively little web presence as far as I can see (and can you imagine Googling it?).

It contains the Inquisitor, of course, but also has a daily crossword, with a prize edition on Saturdays.  So far as I can work out, I seem to be the setter of a large proportion of the prize puzzles.  The puzzles are reused from The Independent, and there is clearly an arrangement between the online-only Indy and a sort of dead-tree cousin.  But the setters don’t get another fee – copyright was taken from us with first publication in The Independent.  As I’ve noted before, it’s the good graces of the newspapers that allow me to republish things here, and my thanks to them.

Using i667, which appeared on 30 March 2013, allows me to point you at another solving blog – idothei (the link is to the blog for i667) who specialises in the crosswords there.  The blog also links to fifteensquared and the original puzzle.   Don’t click through to the specific pages till you’ve tried the puzzle.  I plucked this one out of the box at random, and I have fetched up with that rare thing – a puzzle from 29 February (in this case, 2008, when it initially appeared as Independent Crossword No. 6668).

As for forthcoming puzzles – here is/are Phibre, at Christmas 2017, about the time we started discussing this week’s Listener puzzle.  There followed a lot of back-and-forth emailing until Optics emerged into the light.  Enjoy!

And I have a Church Times puzzle next weekend, a Times puzzle on 30 April and a Times Quick Cryptic on 2 May.  Gosh, it’s a busy fortnight.

And finally, we are now well into April, with its tradition of April Foolery on the 1st, followed closely by Alan Connor bemoaning the lack of April Fool puzzles in his Guardian blog.  It’s certainly the case that they have become thinner on the ground.  Part of this seems to be the lack of willingness of people to be fooled – I haven’t done too many April Fool puzzles recently (it’s a bit like waiting for a leap-day puzzle), but while there have been some appreciative comments, others have grumbled about it not being what they expected from their daily fix.  

That can’t be helped, I guess – not everyone appreciates the April Fool jokes where some major car company says they’re introducing a model with a fitted toaster, or some such.  There is of course a second reason why April Fool puzzles may be becoming rarer – it gets harder for me (at least) to come up with ideas (almost as bad as Christmas, in fact).  We need new perpetrators.

APEX results time

A quick post today so that I can get on with the task of wrestling a large results spreadsheet on to A4 without unnaturally diminishing the font size.  Yes, we can declare a winner, and any readers who are among the circulation list should be receiving notification shortly, if they have not already done so.  The 2018 puzzle will be up on the site at the next-but-one update to allow for all notifications, postal and electronic, to reach their destinations.  The 2019 puzzle is under way, and a rather curious clue word it is too.

For this update we have an Enigmatic Variations puzzle from 2013, capitolising on a curiosity I stumbled across.

There’s a Kcit Toughie coming up on April 11 and, in case I don’t get around to updating the site till later on Easter weekend, there’s a Listener (but by Phibre) on Easter Saturday.  Otherwise the Friday Independent puzzles continue as usual.  However, the commenter on fifteensquared who was slightly disappointed at the regularity of my Friday appearances may not be so disappointed later in the year. Keep a watch here for the dates.

After the event

…life goes on.  Thank you for the messages of support after the events of 15 March.  It stirred memories of my own encounters with terrorist events, fortunately reasonably remote, but on one occasion nonetheless closer than one would wish.  And afterwards one gets on with things again.

So here’s a puzzle from the BBC Music Magazine.  I do mention the February 2013 edition in the blurb on the BBC Music Magazine page, so you may as well see the puzzle that appeared that month.

Coming up, head over to The Times for a Quick Cryptic from Pedro on April 5, after which I will be back with another puzzle.  Beyond that, Easter sees a Listener puzzle, but not under the Phi pseudonym – more next time.

A birthday distraction

Yes, it’s the other half’s birthday today, so I must be brief.  She shares it with – but, no, there’s a puzzle in that, I’m sure, and now I shall have to wait till March 9 falls on a Saturday again…

The puzzle today is an old Inquisitor, from 2002, when it was called the Weekend Crossword.  It’s quite large, and has something perilously close to an indirect anagram in it (though I did remove the injudicious exclamation mark).  For some reason, in removing the word lengths (with a good reason) we also removed any indication of multiple word entries (for no obvious reason) – but I haven’t thought to change that!

The Inquisitor (amongst others) has suffered a huge blow today with the announcement of the death of John Harrington (aka Schadenfreude and Oxymoron).  I never met him except through his crosswords (there is a collaborative puzzle to come – more on that later this year), and it seems that he was a reclusive type anyway (which may explain his prolific output – he also set puzzles for Magpie and the Cambridge Alumni Magazine).  He was one of the touchstones of the crossword world – if his pseudonym was attached, you were in for a good puzzle.

As I must be brief, I’ll just quickly note a Pedro in the Times Quick slot on 21 March, with an Inquisitor two days later, by which time I will be back with another blog.  Further ahead, there’s a Listener, but it’s not by Phi…