I was looking out some puzzles for future upload, and I noticed that a batch of three likely candidates were all from 1991. So I’ll augment the batch with a couple of others from that year and I’ll run a 1991-fest for the next few updates. The last of the proposed batch will bring us back to the APEX puzzles which form a main strand of the site.
The first of the 1991 batch is an Independent Magazine puzzle from 31 August that year. It’s very plainly an anniversary puzzle, though whether the anniversary in question or the celebration to commemorate it was ever very prominent is a moot point. These days it often seems hard to avoid themed anniversary puzzles. One has to wonder whether setters look them out for their ability to enable them to move forward in the increasingly long ‘pipelines’ maintained by editors. Still, they’re very tempting, and I do them myself (indeed have just completed two such grids for puzzles later this year), so I can’t grumble too loudly, but there are times when you wish for a nice ordinary theme that doesn’t have you scurrying to Wikipedia to see whether something did happen 50 or 100 years ago more or less around that particular date. It would also be nice to see a puzzle picking up something unlikely, like a 70th anniversary, but does anyone do that?
The causes of most apprehension are the anniversaries that fall at weekends, when it’s quite possible that the Listener, the Inquisitor and the Enigmatic Variations puzzle may all have the same theme. All three may be excellent puzzles, but somehow you don’t get quite the same penny-dropping moment by the time you reach the third one.
The Times’ move to rearrange its subscription service may reduce the incidence of such collisions for some solvers. The newspaper now requires people who want the Listener crossword (or any other of its puzzles) to sign up for its full subscription package – all the news and business pages and sport and UK TV and what have you. I never used to read all of any newspaper, and I have even less need to read all a UK newspaper now, so the full subscription approach seems an odd marketing model in an increasingly globalised environment.
Newspaper crossword sections are either free (like The Guardian) or a distinct subscription (like The Daily Telegraph) reflecting the requirements of the particular readership subset. Other publications run a ‘so-much’free’ arrangement (I think The Spectator is one such) which allows in people who only want occasional access. The one model that seems to be gathering few adherents is the ‘get-everything’ approach being touted by The Times. The Listener, with the smallest entry of its crosswords, is the most vulnerable to any drop-off in numbers, and, if numbers do fall, you have to wonder how long it can be before some marketing manager sees the chance to put in a bumper wordsearch or similar.