In the light of the news a few hours ago, I thought it appropriate that this time the puzzle is not a new one, but is instead the APEX competition puzzle from 2010. What follows is a bit of a spoiler.
Stephen Sondheim was one of the regulars in Eric’s original circulation lists, along with his occasional collaborator, Leonard Bernstein. It’s reasonably well-known that work on West Side Story was repeatedly interrupted while the two of them wrestled with latest crossword in The Listener. Eric Chalkley sent off some appropriately-themed puzzles and snared the two of them for his Christmas competition. I wasn’t able to maintain the link, but I have not neglected to include Sondheim themes in the series (follow the link above).
Sondheim’s wordplay ability is familiar to most people from the artful lyrics scattered throughout his musicals, though the artfulness of the music is often an equal match. His puzzle-setting career lasted through 1968 and 1969, until Company claimed his attention. There were 42 such puzzles, all but one of which were collected in a book published in 1980. I cannot find my copy at short notice but there is an excellent blog about it. That post refers you to this page which has Sondheim’s guide to solving the puzzles for an American market unused to cryptics, reprinted some 50 years later. Chambers Dictionary at $5.50!
Many of Sondheim’s puzzles are homages to puzzles originally printed in The Listener series, so solving them will revive memories of their models (for those of us who remember that far back). If you can get hold of a copy, then of course you should, though you may find yourself lacking an arm and a leg subsequently.
The 2010 puzzle did find its way to its theme…
He is careful not to reveal his address, of course. I acquired it on that occasion from Anne Bradford, who has also recently passed on, at much the same age as Sondheim. Anne was also a member of the APEX group and contributed clues until a couple of years ago. (She was, in fact, the last on the list to require me to send a printed version rather than an electronic one; a good measure of how much crosswords are moving on from print-and-post to the print-off-and-email era.)
Anne’s magnum opus and an enduring contribution to cruciverbalism now and into the future is her Crossword Solver’s Dictionary, a new edition of which is due in February. I’m intrigued to see that the new edition is announced as the 8th while the one on the stool beside me is the 10th, so perhaps Anne has also triumphed over time travel. There can be almost no major setters and solvers who don’t dip into the book on a regular basis. It is not compiled simply as a series of definitions, like a dictionary, or synonyms, like a thesaurus, or examples, like a number of other word-books, but as a glorious agglomeration of all three, so that you can see additional links between apparently disparate meanings. Aha, says the solver, BRUSH has links to DANDY, FILBERT and POPE’S HEAD. Rather like the trains of connections originated by consulting Brewer’s Dictionary, it hardly matters what some of these links are – it is enough that they exist. But if they help to solve a clue, it’s a bonus. Who knows, there might be a tribute puzzle coming.
Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the woods…
Today (27 September) sees a Phi puzzle in the Inquisitor series. There’s a Pedro Quick Cryptic in The Times on 2nd December. If I don’t get round to the next update promptly, then there’s a 15×15 in The Times on Saturday 11 December.