The continuation of a barred grid series should never be taken for granted. A couple of years ago The Telegraph proposed to stop the Enigmatic Variations (EV) series on the grounds of lack of space in the paper version. So much for the new horizons and possibilities offered by cyberspace. Indeed you still hear the old line trotted out about how you cannot do things online because not everyone has access to the internet. I can see that this might be an argument about (say) online banking, but it hardly seems appropriate for a more techno-savvy group like crossword solvers. Even some of us oldies have been using computers for 40+ years now. (And no-one seems to stop TV advertising because not everyone has a television.)
In any case, despite dodging that last bullet, the EV is to be discontinued (from the end of July) so that things can go online only – The Telegraph’s puzzles, if accessed online, will have to be solved interactively only – no PDFs allowed. The EV apparently cannot be presented in an online form, and it is not viable purely in its ‘dead-tree’ version.
Let’s unpack this.
Most EVs have entries you just write in, exactly like a Toughie. They may be jumbled, they may later need overwriting, but it’s still only letters in cells. You need a facility to revisit and adjust even when solving the daily, and most EVs require no more. There will be puzzles with complications that render them impossible to solve online (I’m looking at you, hexagons), and highlighting may have to go by the board, but there’s not enough in those considerations to invalidate the basic argument that an EV is just a daily puzzle without black squares.
The reluctance to include PDFs is bizarre. As I write this I can see the blog for Guardian 28,755 on fifteensquared, and the blogger was only able to access the puzzle because they tracked down the PDF. This looks like The Telegraph committing to 100% uploading success without a failsafe or back-up. Good luck with that.
Even allowing for that, you have to wonder whether much thought has been given to how people solve. There will be many who want to do so on paper – indeed, I’m writing the first draft of this rant with a fountain-pen (though it is a retractable one, and a fascinating technological mesh of springs and clips it is too). A blanket adoption of ‘online only’ might turn into a ‘Here, foot – meet bullet’ moment. Indeed there has already been a suggestion that some of the puzzles will continue to have printable options – so why not all? If it’s not a fiddle to include a piece of software for some things, then why not standardise it? It really isn’t hard (and all the other papers manage it).
Anyway, no new puzzle this week, but I have converted one of the EVs already on the site to an interactive format. One of my first choices turned out to be one of the impossible ones (it required inverted letters in cells), but Full Marks only ever required you to write answers into the grid. The puzzle even sidestepped the highlighting element by getting you to fill in an otherwise barred-off cell. What has defeated me so far is the inclusion of the preamble, but I think that may still prove doable. (Suggestions welcome.)
What has been added to the site is a blog on my recent EV, Additive, and some of the comments there relate to the announcement.
The next fortnight sees the appearance of the usual Friday Independent puzzles, plus a Times daily on 16 May and a Pedro in the Times Quick Cryptic series on 24 May. These will be available to solve online and with print options, and two can even be found on paper (in a specific geographical region).