The puzzle this time is from the BBC Music Magazine in early 2009. It was the 200th in the series and I allowed myself a little thematic element. Now, if all goes well, I’m looking at the 400th coming up next year, and I’m already wondering what I can do around that number.
Music often implies an audience which has me thinking about blogs again, especially as this week saw my puzzles appear in three different outlets. Pangakupu popped up in the Guardian on Wednesday (notification only received after last time’s update, alas), Phi was in his usual Friday slot in the Independent, and the Jumbo in Saturday’s Times was one of mine as well. I can’t talk about the last of those much, as it’s a prize puzzle. But the other two have been blogged – the Guardian in two locations, the Independent on fifteensquared.
As it happens, the Independent blogging view tended toward Friday’s being at the harder end of my spectrum, but the Guardian puzzle was definitely rated very hard, with lots of comments about complex constructions and so on. From my point of view I approach all clues as being for the word in question, not as a ‘word in a Guardian puzzle’ or a ‘word in a Toughie’. I do allow myself a greater range of dictionary reference in clues for a barred grid, but not for the daily or Jumbo blocked puzzles. Such puzzles, as far as I can tell, leave my desk being broadly uniform in style. What causes the difference in reception?
Do I unconsciously choose a different vocabulary for each outlet? By definition, I cannot answer that, but I cannot see how it could readily come about. The restrictions on choosing words for the grid relate to any grid – slightly more freedom at the Independent where I have the freedom to design my own. Still, the restrictions around avoiding double unchecked letters and having at least half the letters of every checked (most of the time…) are the same everywhere.
Is it the editing? Each editor is different, and it would be fair to say each outlet edits a different amount. But I doubt even the most significant editing is doing much in the area of difficulty – house style maybe, but actual difficulty not so much.
So we come to the expectations of the solvers. There are many people who solve puzzles in different papers, but I also think each paper has its devotees. This drifts back to a more generalised view of the editing, in that the expectations of the devotees will have been formed over the years by a succession of editors. But puzzles remain the creation of their setters, especially where a pseudonym is used – whatever general style is expected must be allowed to vary to accommodate individuals. A Times editor resisted the use of pseudonyms by observing that it would simply encourage people to grumble ‘Oh, not X again!’. But that seems part of the creative game – you aren’t expected to like everyone and everything, and a newspaper can have both a style and a broad-based approach that allows that style to be challenged at times.
Styles being challenged over the next fortnight: Independent on Fridays, with a Times daily on Monday 22nd and a Times Quick on Thursday 25th. Which in turn means I have to be off to write some clues.
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