I seem to have got through this weekend without even selecting a puzzle to put up, let alone typing it up for the site. While I don’t expect that anyone is hanging on with bated breath for something to appear, I should make sure something goes up in its stead. Maybe I’ll have a bit more time over Easter. But for now, comment instead.
I tried something a little different with last Friday’s Phi puzzle. Last November, Ian Rankin appeared in Wellington on a promotional tour for his latest novel Standing in Another Man’s Grave. I went along to his interview and queued to get a signed copy. It occurred to me that there was certainly enough material in the series titles to inform a crossword, although it would have to be one where the theme was fairly latent, so that people who hadn’t read the books could still solve it. I mentioned this to the author, and received his Twitter account details, and an agreement to tweet about it when it appeared.
That was the puzzle that appeared last Friday. Rankin crafts his titles so that they contain familiar elements, so it was simple enough to slot in HANGING GARDENS to represent The Hanging Garden and STRIP-JACK-NAKED for Strip Jack. (One can see why parents might stick to Beggar-my-neighbour as the name of that game when teaching it to children, despite the obvious euphemism.) With these two equally long entries to fix the grid it was easy enough then to slip in a few more thematic entries, and Rebus himself turned up down in the SW corner.
Now, to WordPress’ chagrin, I don’t have a Twitter account (as you can see, sticking to 140 characters isn’t my thing), but the other half does, along with a fearsome three-column scrolling edifice called Tweetdeck, and thus prepared we sent out a few tweets, and Ian Rankin retweeted them. I do know from the fifteensquared blog report on the puzzle that at least one solver was directed to the puzzle via Twitter (see comment 6). There were also a few tweets from solvers outside the UK who could neither download the puzzle from The Independent site (which isn’t geared to downloading puzzles), nor locate a paper version. So there are some limitations to the process at present, but I must try it again sometime. There was even a couple of tweets from Ian Rankin commenting on his solving progress, though I still don’t know whether he got that all-important last answer…
A previous similarly-themed puzzle led to an exchange of emails with Christopher Priest. I don’t set the puzzles in an attempt to generate such interactions, but it’s an additional pleasure when they occur. Messrs Priest and Rankin both have new novels out in 2013, and both are safely pre-ordered for my Kindle.
The uses of criticism
The other thing that caught my attention this week was a stir around a crossword blog. Essentially, blogger X had criticised setter Y’s puzzle, and setter Z had leapt to the defence. It was not so much that Z disagreed with X about the quality of the puzzle (though he did), but that he thought X had provided no real examples to justify his comments, and was thus at least slightly rude. I thought X was merely brusque (but then I don’t greatly care for Y’s puzzles either), but it was true that the criticism was presented merely as assertions of dislike, with nothing concrete about why the dislike existed. I am not retiring about expressing my lack of enjoyment of a puzzle, but I do try to have some particulars to explain why.
And yet, and yet… We setters are sensitive plants without the fortitude of Max Reger (“I am in the smallest room in my house. I have your review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me” – though my view of Reger would be that he needed all the fortitude he could muster…) but we may have to acknowledge that at times the link with the solver is simply not made, and for reasons that may be difficult to pin down. If I set a puzzle under the pseudonym Dr Fell, then I may simply have to expect the blogger tombrown to come along and say: “I do not love thee, Dr Fell/The reason why I cannot tell/But this I know…” and so on. ‘Meh’ may be the operative word sometimes (MEH is in Chambers, and I saw it in a crossword by Phi, so it must be OK to use). As far as I can see, X has asked to be relieved of blogging duty for Y’s puzzles henceforward, which seems to be the sensible solution, even if the path there has been rocky.
That’s all for now. Hopefully next time there’ll be a puzzle as well