When I started putting puzzles up on this site, I went through my files and extracted the first example of all puzzle series I have contributed to, and put those up over a few months. And I missed one.
Looking today at my planned addition to the Church Times page, I realised that I have a new one in that sequence coming up just next week (advt – 3 August, to be precise) and it wouldn’t do to tread on its toes. So I scoured the lists and I discovered that, in my intent to put up cryptic puzzles, I’d entirely overlooked the Independent Concise puzzles I did for about a year back in the mid-Nineties. So, here is the first of those, No. 2666, from 5 May, 1995.
I doubt I’ll put many of them up, but they are an interesting sideline. The Independent follows the pattern wherein the first two across entries form a pun. Puns are notoriously difficult to bring off convincingly for everyone; the concise puzzles syndicated in the local paper have puns which seem to have been constructed by someone who has recently had – or who urgently needs – substantial dental work.
More annoyingly, these puzzles tended to have stipulated grid patterns. So it was no use coming up with a pun whose components were (7,3) if there were no grids where the first two across entries were seven then three letters. Jot down pun, flick through grid designs, swear – that was often the way things worked.
Puns are infamously considered petty in the scheme of things, but a good pun is often sublime. Flann O’Brien’s observation about why policeman keep looking younger – ‘A thing of duty is a boy forever’ – should rock anyone’s boat. Among the chestnuts in the concise crossword lists, my favourite is ICE AGE – EAVES. What it must have felt like to spot that…
Beyond the top row, there are other concerns in concise puzzles. Precision is even more valued – if your entry is _A_E, then the clue must be pretty on the button – while at the same time not being a ‘write-in’. There should be a leavening of ‘old favourites’ (I always felt) to give the solver some gentle entry points. Habitues of the heavily checked plain puzzles (in, say, The Puzzler magazine) will recall that such favourites were how you learned of ELEMI, and hobnobbed with EMUs on a regular basis.
US puzzles, being fully checked, offer a range of similar old friends. I’m beginning to get some of the baseball ones (Mel Ott, anyone), and even Bobby Orr of ice-hockey fame is known to me, and that’s only the ones beginning with O.
Back to a cryptic next time.