New Zealand Crosswords (August 6)

This weekend is a busy one for my puzzles, with an Inquisitor today and an Enigmatic Variations puzzle tomorrow (and a Toughie coming up next Wednesday).  So I’m not going to put another example up, but instead look at the range of crossword puzzles available in New Zealand.  There is a small local pool of activity – though even though it’s not huge, I have realised I’ve missed at least one off.

The local paper in Wellington (the Dominion Post) has a puzzle page every day, with a couple of cryptics (one syndicated from the UK), plus a range of other word games (e.g. the 3×3 grid of letters, one highlighted, and a challenge to make as many words of 3 or more letters, including one 9-letter word) plus Sudoku.  The definition-only crossword is accompanied by a locally-produced cartoon of a cat called Munro (often seen seated on the crossword page talking his friend, a mouse), so it’s possible that that puzzle is supplied locally too.

More serious fodder comes from non-daily sources.  I don’t know what the New Zealand Herald does on a daily basis, but the weekend edition has, among several supplements, a magazine called Weekend, in which there is a double page spread of puzzles, as below:

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The column on the far right contains horoscopes and radio listings (I’ve deliberately kept things blurred so that I show layout rather than any detail, for reasons of copyright), but the rest is all puzzles.  There are two blocked cryptics.  The one bottom left is a standard blocked cryptic – but a very pleasant solve, with sensible, fluent clues, and a nice mix of vocabulary.  It took me about as long as an ordinary UK daily, and there are many UK daily puzzles I have enjoyed less.  But it is unsigned, and I have no idea as to its authorship [later addition: it turns out it’s the Observer Everyman from about a fortnight earlier].

The crossword top left is the weekly Kropotkin crossword (that link is audio).  This is composed by Wellingtonian Rex Benson (who appends his email address to the puzzle – something that presumably postdates the audio clip in the link), and the puzzle has something of a reputation as being fairly fierce.  It has its own website for solutions. There is also a Facebook page for the puzzle.  One of the ways it is difficult is that the vocabulary is closer to a barred puzzle’s than that of a blocked puzzle.  For example, in the puzzle in the picture the long word across the middle is PASIGRAPHICAL; the entry that is _A_I_A_E turns out to be SAGINATE (sagination certainly occurs in New Zealand, but I doubt they call it that on a regular basis).  I wasn’t overly impressed with the triple unchecked letters in this example (and there are relatively easy get-outs for them), but I solved it in about twice the time it took to do the one below.

I met Rex for the first time just before we went on holiday a couple of months ago.  He has been setting puzzles, off and on, for most of my lifetime, and the Kropotkin series is an extended ‘on’ period.  Rex has some clear ideas about varying the initial letters of his answers – he looks at the last fifty puzzles and tries to select letters so that the overall frequency of start letters stays as close as possible to that in the Sympathy UKACD database.  It’s an interesting take on the age-old problem of how to start filling a grid.

If you’ve visited the Kropotkin solution website you may have spotted the name David Tossman.  I met him at the same time I met Rex, so let’s look at his work.

David sets The Listener crossword.  Here it is on its double page of puzzles and wordgames (it’s the middle one):

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The other two crosswords (one general knowledge, one of the “17=V, 6=R, now fill the rest of the grid” variety) are by different people both called Shuker, which is a curious coincidence.  David’s clues are again very fluent and pleasant to solve, and the puzzle was very close to the level of the ‘ordinary’ cryptic in The Herald (assessing via solving time, anyway).  David has a website and also maintains a blog on The Listener website where he discusses recent solutions.  There is a book of his Listener puzzles available (Fishpond is the local version of Amazon).  Well worth your attention, and you’ll learn some new references and abbreviations (and have to unlearn others).

David is friends with Brent Southgate in Dunedin, and Brent got in touch with me while we were away in the US, sending me a sample puzzle from the quarterly literary journal NZ Books.  I couldn’t get a print-off until I was back, and it turned out to be the one in the current issue, namely this (the inside back page spot, so it’s what you might call the classic Listener layout):

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That’s A3, but I’ve yet to find anyone reading it on the train…  I breezed through the puzzle except for one answer.  You do need to know something of NZ literature, since there are always one or two very specific references (and not always Katherine Mansfield, either), but there are broader literary references as well.  The one answer I was stuck on revealed itself in one of those ‘But of course it’s…’ moments occasioned by simply glancing at the grid.  To be fair, _H_M_E_A does not suggest I as an initial letter, but one of NZ’s leading living writers is called Witi Ihimaera (outside NZ, I’d guess, most famous for this), and once that slides into your mind, well, how could it ever have been anything else?  Again, beyond this one frustration, a very pleasant puzzle.  The website has an archive, where older issues are accessible by non-subscribers, but it doesn’t appear to include the crossword.

While lining  the cat litter box, I unearthed an old copy of our local weekly free tabloid (just as well, as the current issue arrived in our outdoor mailbox on a very wet day, making the main puzzle how to separate semi-jellified pages).  There was its puzzle page:

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A New Zealand crossword, no less.  Not cryptic, and, if I’m honest, not exactly stuffed with NZ references.  The long down answer was, however, RAURIMU SPIRAL (which is really a rather remarkable thing; though it was foggy the day we rode it), but the three other NZ references were to specific Kiwi examples of not especially Kiwi words.  But the vocabulary was varied, and at the one point where two answers met on a concluding S, neither was a plural.  So a nice crafted puzzle, which came from The Puzzle Company, who clearly do syndication and individual commissions.  I wonder whether they are behind some of the Dominion Post’s puzzles.

I said I’d missed something.  I’ve looked at weekly and quarterly publications – what I’ve missed is the monthly North and South (cunningly named after the islands, you’ll note) – oddly I can’t find a website, so here’s its Facebook page.  N&S has a crossword – in fact it has two, side by side – one cryptic, one definition only.  But more when I’ve had a chance to try it – look out for part 2.

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2 comments

  1. The weekend Dominion Post has the best puzzles I’ve seen. I’ve moved to Hamilton now and can’t get a weekend Post for love or money. I’d do about anything to access those puzzles.

    • The DomPost certainly pushes the boat out at weekends, with a wider range of puzzles, including picture rebuses, none of which seems to get online, of course. I think there’s even now one in the weekend magazine – we don’t get the paper regularly, though when we do it tends to be the Saturday issue. However, with the welter of other puzzles at weekends (every publication observes that people have more time then, so the amount of puzzles seems to increase exponentially), I rarely get round to it myself.

      I recall the editor of The Spectator (and I think it was the inimitable Boris Johnson, who was here a week or so ago) pulling the puzzle off the magazine’s website except for subscribers, noting it was one thing people bought the paper copy for. This is a fair point – I tend to print off a lot of puzzles for solving, as sitting with a laptop on your lap isn’t actually conducive to solving, so the puzzle remains something of paper. Nonetheless, the relationship with the online versions is changing – The Times will send subscribers a pdf of all the puzzles for a given day, The Daily Telegraph has a dedicated website. Both offer web-only puzzles, too, on occasion. In comparison, The Independent, despite moving online-only, has a fairly weak puzzle provision via its site. And the constraints for puzzles are still determined by what space is available in the paper – I suspect that will change as emphasis moves to the online version.

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