No time to put up a puzzle this fortnight – as spring marches on things keep cropping up to fill the weekends while a sudden rush of completed puzzles has filled the evenings that could otherwise have been used to set things up. And I’m still on the old machine, steadily transferring material across.
I do have a few comments to jot down. For one thing I need to say how sad I was to hear of the passing of Henry Hook, a remarkable American crossword setter. Like many of the Americans, he was at home in both the US style and cryptics. He was even the feature of a New Yorker piece. And, at around 60, sadly he wasn’t that old. A significant loss.
The appearance of a new book of Listener crosswords is always worth a comment. In this case it’s the New Zealand Listener, a magazine combining the functions of the Radio Times and a political weekly. And it has a crossword, currently set by David Tossman. He has brought together 100 of his puzzles, slotted them behind a guide to solving clues and ahead of some of the most detailed solution notes you will find anywhere (other publishers please note). Not, however, ring-bound – current publisher please note – so somewhere around puzzle 45 you end up breaking the spine. The blurb on the back goes on about ‘[having] to know how to interpret those nonsensical looking clues’ yet the book is called by exemplar “How to cook little fish (3)”, which doesn’t strike me as being particularly nonsensical. And indeed you’ll find lots of very acceptable stuff in the book, well-checked grids, very good surfaces, at about the broadsheet daily sort of level, if my solving experience is anything to go by. Tossman also runs a regular blog (sample here: URL updates weekly, as you can imagine) on the NZ Listener website, which I suspect has encouraged him in the provision of detailed notes. All in all, well worth your investigation.
My final point is something I’ve been meaning to bring up for a while. NZ Post has recently retrenched, and deliveries now occur only on alternate days. (Except for various special categories of mail, which are still delivered daily – we still get mail four days out of six most weeks, so I suppose we’re sort of special.). In addition, the numbers of post-boxes have been cut back including both the convenient ones in my suburb. And the post office where I bought my stamps has had its services transferred to a nearby dairy (see Chambers for what that means in a New Zealand context), the proprietor of which is a little baffled by the concept of overseas postage.
So, all in all, it is getting somewhat harder to send off the more-or-less weekly Listener entry. More generally, the continuing decline in postal usage in favour of electronic processes means that newspaper puzzles will have to embrace such processes both for dissemination and competition entry. Puzzles as various as the Enigmatic Variations and the Antico crossword in The Oldie already accept e-entries (that always feels like a stutter) while The Magpie is close to being entirely electronic, so far as I can tell. The others will have to follow suit, and sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile a Kiwi magpie (you know what I mean…though the NZ variety is strikingly different from its Northern hemisphere cousin) has been seen to drop a NZ$13,000 Tag Heuer watch in the South Island. I thought the guys at the magazine gave pens as prizes…