Brief thoughts on pseudonyms

Running a little late again.  It’s a holiday weekend in that February 6 is Waitangi Day, and large numbers of people have taken February 5 as a day off to make an extra-long weekend – inexorably, therefore, there is less time to do things.

The puzzle this time is from 1998 (just) with a Nina for you to find.  There’s a Times Quick Cryptic by Pedro this week (8 February) and I should also mention the Times Jumbo on 17 February since I’m clearly not getting round to putting these updates online early in the weekend.

I found myself pondering the roles of pseudonyms this weekend.  The Times has always resisted the use of them, on the grounds that people develop aversions (“Oh, no, not him again”) so the imposition of an editorial overview and the absence of a byline means that solvers will just solve cold.  This has always seemed to me slightly unfair. 

For comparison: Peter Carey has a new novel out now, and, while I’ve dipped my toe into the Carey pool on occasion, I don’t tend to go back that frequently.  There’s a lot of fine writing (and some good jokes) but the novels don’t seem to cohere as novels to me.  But they please plenty of others.

But perhaps if Faber (I think it’s Faber) were to publish the book just under the title (after it had been through the Faber editorial process to make it a proper Faber book) I’d read it and marvel?  It’s not likely to happen, is it?  We accept that there will be differences of opinion, and some publishing houses do end up with what seem (to me, at least) very unlikely stablemates.

That would be the stance of the pseudonym users – any given pseudonym would scare off some solvers, but the overall roster draws them back.  The Guardian used to have Custos and Araucaria more or less each weekly, and it’s fair to say that they were not neighbours on the spectrum.  It’s also fair to say that plenty of us solved both of them.

All this is prompted by observing comments last week on both fifteensquared and Times for the Times.  Both my puzzles of course, and I can’t say that the two were composed in terribly different states of mind (though they were completed a couple of months apart, so we can’t rule that out,of course).  Yet The Times crowd seemed more inclined to snipe while the fifteensquared bunch were more heavily influenced by the fact that this was Friday and it was another Phi puzzle in The Independent.  Different commentators, perhaps, though I suspect an overlap.  But I did wonder whether the absence of a pseudonym made people feel they could be freer in what they said – after all, with The Times there’s the editorial intervention, so it’s all his fault, really… (I was pleased – in that schadenfreude sort of way – to see that one clue which came in for query was an editorial amendment).

This also prompts speculation about the consequences of throwing in an old Custos under Pasquale’s name, or an old Araucaria bylined Enigmatist.  Or perhaps I should trot out an old puzzle of mine (not one from the i or here) under an entirely new pseudonym in The Independent.  Or, to preserve novelty (and regular payments to setters), swap puzzles with one of the team. 

How much does the presence of a name change solvers’ responses?





  1. Thanks for bringing this up Paul. Personally I think that subscribing solvers should expect every crossword in their paper of choice to be enjoyable. There’s no discount for those days where the setters used are an acquired taste.
    I think I’ll bring this up on my blog too in the coming weeks.



  2. An interesting post. I have only viewed the pseudonym as a creative handle at best and as long as the setter’s identity is known to the solver – either via a pseudonym or the real name, the solver does tend to expect a certain style of puzzle. If setters swap identities, just for fun, I think some would be quite distinguishable from their style of setting, to those who regularly solve them.

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