Happy New Year. Welcome to that period when the Christmas cards begin to arrive – we have had more since Christmas than in the first three weeks of December.
I maintain a register of all my published puzzles, adding each new one more or less as it appears. There were three this week – a Telegraph Toughie popped up after I’d published the last blog – and it has brought the total to 3,999.
Counting publications is an inaccurate business. I include the annual APEX puzzle, which is published here, and so not exactly widely available except to cognoscenti (you did know you were cognoscenti, didn’t you?). I don’t include the reprints of earlier Independent puzzles that appear in the i, partly because I don’t get word of them (I think there’s perhaps one a week – I’m also rather remiss at keeping up with the idothei site), and partly because, well, they’ve been published once already.
So the number 3,999 is necessarily approximate, as is its successor, but one may as well settle on one of the approximations as an excuse to break out the champagne. And, of course, to look back. A while ago I had an exchange with one of my editors who reflected that, back in the day, Araucaria and Zander and Apex were the old guard. And now it’s us.
While it took in excess of twenty years to reach the first thousand, each succeeding millennium has come past at around eight year intervals, which is a tad over two puzzles a week on average. Somewhat under half of them have been Independent daily puzzles – once you toss in just shy of 700 Beelzebubs, and 170 Inquisitors, then the Independent has been home to well over half of my output, so my thanks to them for the 35 years of publication. So this week’s puzzle is, of course, an Independent daily. (In fact, continuing a sort of fours and zeros theme, it’s the puzzle using the 400th grid I had designed for The Independent.)
The regular appearances make it hard to feel anything specific about passing 4k. It’s also the time of year when I have met my Old Year’s Resolution (to finish at least one puzzle on New Year’s Eve – three this time round), meaning that I am busy producing new grids to replace the completed ones, and the sense of a production line is strong. Did I ever think, back in the 1980s, that I would reach 4,000? I am not sure I can imagine anyone setting out with that in mind. It’s more appropriate to sit at the 4,000 point and look back and contemplate some of the components. Did I really do 52 Independent Concise puzzles, with the pun in the top row? And 14 Jumbos for them as well. Of the sixteen outlets I have listed, it is encouraging that eleven of them are still being added to.
And long may it continue. Looking forward, it’s pleasant to think that there might be two more millennia of puzzles to come, if only because it is a comment on staving off the inevitable. At the same time, it is also daunting – what? Half as much again? Where will I store all the box-files? (Am I tempting various forms of fate by even considering the possibility of 2k more?)
It was impossible to estimate the date of the appearance of no. 4,000 in advance. Newspaper deadlines being what they are I can never say with certainty that there will be so many puzzles between day X and day Y. So the four thousandth puzzle should appear on 12 January in the Independent, but will have nothing four-thousandy about it. After that, there’s another Independent puzzle on 19 January, and a Times Quick the day after. By then I’ll be putting together the next blog, which I plan to be a sort of setter’s blog about the recent Christmas Church Times puzzle.
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