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Slipping a week

Sorry about missing last week.  A family bereavement threw things out of joint, though we are more or less back on an even keel now.  Just in time, in fact, to be thrown back on to an odd keel, as we have an overseas trip coming up.  Kansas City this time, for another Blogpaws conference.  This time Marjorie is up for three awards, so it will be a tense dinner on the Friday.  If I can squeeze an update in on the weekend of 21/22 April, it will probably be about that as much as crosswords.

The puzzle this time is an early one from BBC Music Magazine.   My thanks to them for permission to reuse – do keep checking the issues for more recent examples, as well as free CDs.  The re-design of the magazine has treated the crossword rather well, I think.

There are a couple of puzzles coming up before my next update: the Crossword Club has one in its April issue, while the Times crossword on Easter Monday is also mine.  If you solved Unsatisfying in the IQ series a week or so ago, the setter’s blog on that puzzle will appear over the Easter weekend, assuming I get round to writing it…

Easter is also when I will be finalising this year’s APEX contest, with the closing date falling on Easter Saturday.  I have previously been inclined to extend things a few days, but the adjacent public holiday and the imminent trip to America mean I will be tidying things up promptly this year (perhaps I’ll be more lax again in 2019).  So if there’s any of the regulars reading this out there who hasn’t voted, now is your chance.   The puzzle itself, and news of the winning clues, will be appearing on the site in May sometime.

Another hasty post

The weather here continues to be (mostly – the odd ex-cyclone apart) splendid as we move into autumn, with several plants gearing up for a second crop.  Having received an out-of-office email from a BBC Accounts department who had gone home because of the snow, I do realise this is not the case everywhere.

We have in fact done a bit of preparation for cooler weather, while at the same time clearing the stream for a second time this summer (lots of good compost).  Which leaves a pleasant ache as you sit out enjoying the still-warm evening, listening to the birds.  After which you suddenly realise there’s a puzzle to be got up.

Listening to, but not seeing the birds.  So here’s an Invisible Wren from the Enigmatic Variations stable.  Glancing through my list of puzzles, it leapt out as an implausible title, and having scanned it, I’m somewhat at a loss for how I tumbled to the quotation.  It was also quite a concise puzzle – relatively few clues, but a monster preamble to make up for it.  But the length of the preamble is quantity rather than complexity, I hope.  And while I say it as shouldn’t, I was rather pleased with the clues.

March is going to be a quiet month, though in the run-up to my next post you will get a little sequence of a Times Pedro puzzle (15 March), a Church Times puzzle (16 March) and an Inquisitor (17 March).

The calm before the storm

We have an ex-tropical cyclone level 2 coming through on Monday (or perhaps Tuesday or even Wednesday).  In its pre-retirement phase as a real tropical cyclone, it did a fair amount of damage to some of the Pacific Islands, and there’s some concern about what it might do even in its attenuated state.

It would be nice if the preceding calm was actually calm, but today there’s a tremendous breeze and sudden showers that soak you to the skin when you rush to get the washing in (there’s plenty of sun around as well).  So a quick retreat to the computer and get a web post up and some puzzles off to editors.

This time the puzzle is another of the remaining Beelzebub crosswords, completed before the puzzle’s demise (still a few to go!).

I don’t think there are clues in it that will result in this scenario.

Brief thoughts on pseudonyms

Running a little late again.  It’s a holiday weekend in that February 6 is Waitangi Day, and large numbers of people have taken February 5 as a day off to make an extra-long weekend – inexorably, therefore, there is less time to do things.

The puzzle this time is from 1998 (just) with a Nina for you to find.  There’s a Times Quick Cryptic by Pedro this week (8 February) and I should also mention the Times Jumbo on 17 February since I’m clearly not getting round to putting these updates online early in the weekend.

I found myself pondering the roles of pseudonyms this weekend.  The Times has always resisted the use of them, on the grounds that people develop aversions (“Oh, no, not him again”) so the imposition of an editorial overview and the absence of a byline means that solvers will just solve cold.  This has always seemed to me slightly unfair. 

For comparison: Peter Carey has a new novel out now, and, while I’ve dipped my toe into the Carey pool on occasion, I don’t tend to go back that frequently.  There’s a lot of fine writing (and some good jokes) but the novels don’t seem to cohere as novels to me.  But they please plenty of others.

But perhaps if Faber (I think it’s Faber) were to publish the book just under the title (after it had been through the Faber editorial process to make it a proper Faber book) I’d read it and marvel?  It’s not likely to happen, is it?  We accept that there will be differences of opinion, and some publishing houses do end up with what seem (to me, at least) very unlikely stablemates.

That would be the stance of the pseudonym users – any given pseudonym would scare off some solvers, but the overall roster draws them back.  The Guardian used to have Custos and Araucaria more or less each weekly, and it’s fair to say that they were not neighbours on the spectrum.  It’s also fair to say that plenty of us solved both of them.

All this is prompted by observing comments last week on both fifteensquared and Times for the Times.  Both my puzzles of course, and I can’t say that the two were composed in terribly different states of mind (though they were completed a couple of months apart, so we can’t rule that out,of course).  Yet The Times crowd seemed more inclined to snipe while the fifteensquared bunch were more heavily influenced by the fact that this was Friday and it was another Phi puzzle in The Independent.  Different commentators, perhaps, though I suspect an overlap.  But I did wonder whether the absence of a pseudonym made people feel they could be freer in what they said – after all, with The Times there’s the editorial intervention, so it’s all his fault, really… (I was pleased – in that schadenfreude sort of way – to see that one clue which came in for query was an editorial amendment).

This also prompts speculation about the consequences of throwing in an old Custos under Pasquale’s name, or an old Araucaria bylined Enigmatist.  Or perhaps I should trot out an old puzzle of mine (not one from the i or here) under an entirely new pseudonym in The Independent.  Or, to preserve novelty (and regular payments to setters), swap puzzles with one of the team. 

How much does the presence of a name change solvers’ responses?




Blog can expand to backlog

It occurred to me today that I will have to write a setter’s blog for the recent Enigmatic Variations puzzle Uncommon Happiness – and then it also dawned on me that the pre-Christmas Inquisitor The Hard Stuff was also in need of treatment.  I think I rather lost track of the closing date for the December puzzle – the Independent did have a habit of having Christmas closing dates that bore no awareness of the reality of posting things during the holiday period (one year I think the only way to beat the deadline was to visit the office in person and hand it to the security guard).

They’ll both be along later in the week, once the closing date for the EV has passed.

The Hard Stuff was noted as being the IQ puzzle of 2017 that the team thought easiest, while I also supplied Bookshelf, the one considered hardest in its published form.  Nice to keep people on their toes.  Bookshelf came in eighth in the IQ of the Year table, and will appear here in due course, no doubt.  It therefore seems reasonable to have an IQ as this time’s puzzle, but I’m delving further back – to 1999, in fact, when the IQ was called simply ‘crossword’ (using an e e cummings typeface).  It’s called Middle Eights.

My usual Friday Independent slot will be augmented by a parallel appearance in The Times on February 2nd, after which I shall be back with another puzzle here.

Better late than never…

Being on holiday seems to result in less time to do things, so this is a day late.  I have found myself working through a welter of completed puzzles requiring typing up and sending on to various editors, and I always worry about them getting lost in the ‘to-do’ pile.  There’s an IQ just one clue off completion as I speak, so the problem has yet to depart entirely.

This time round the new puzzle is one from the BBC Music Magazine in 1999.  I settled on the BBC Music Magazine for no stronger reason than having just finished the puzzle for the March 2018 edition – or 3/18, of course.  That puzzle will be numbered 318, so it seemed as good a hint as any.  By delaying a day I am typing this on the palindromic 8/1/18 as well – of such little things are decisions made.

A Telegraph Toughie snuck by between updates, but I can alert you to a Church Times puzzle coming up on 12 January, and an Enigmatic Variations puzzle called Uncommon Happiness (quite tough, I think) in the Sunday Telegraph on 14 January.

No cards this year

I have got quite out of the habit of sending Christmas cards, which makes it all the more unsettling when I receive one which I realise does merit a response.  And since the card in question comes every year I really have only myself to blame.

The sender is Jo May, the widow of that great cruciverbalist Les May, and this year she enclosed two rather elderly pages from The Listener, with puzzles by Les from 1981 and 1983.  I was solving the puzzle by then, and I do dimly remember the puzzles (one with the implausible – and thus memorable – title Joe to Hie and Make Her His), but clearly they can be solved again, so they are in my Christmas heap.  Jo also mentioned that she had had three of Les’ pseudonyms carved on his headstone – Eel, Jewel and Nox.  It rather amused me to think of some future student of gravestones puzzling over these apparently random words.

The puzzle I’m adding to your Christmas heap also marks – in a slightly odd way – the passing of a great cruciverbalist, in this case, Michael MacDonald-Cooper.  Michael was crossword editor for the alumnus magazine Oxford Today, and produced a puzzle for them every other month.  He also solicited contributions from other alumni, and I had one published there, and submitted a second.  This second one went into some sort of black hole, and I could never ascertain why.  There didn’t seem to be a clash of themes, as none of his puzzles since then used the theme in mine.  I suspect that with his passing the magazine will cease publishing crosswords, so this may never emerge unless I present it here.  Remember that a requirement of the puzzle’s theme was some sort of connection to Oxford.

This is going up earlier than usual as we’re preparing for the arrival of Sabre who staying with us over Christmas, having completed the Tongariro Crossing a few days ago.  Watch out for a possible photo on Facebook.

The garden dries

Unusually we have a lawn turning brown.  This doesn’t often happen (indeed the parts nearer the foot of the hill sometimes remain sticky all year), and to see it before Christmas is very rare indeed.  The stream (see last post) isn’t especially low yet, but the ongoing lack of rain, apart from a very sparse shower overnight, is leading to threats of water restrictions, and soon.

Christmas crosswords are beginning to appear, but the flow isn’t greatly under way yet.  I’m aiming to circulate the APEX puzzle, my own contribution to the heap, this coming Wednesday evening (NZ time – Wednesday morning for most recipients).  This gets it out of the way before a little rush of puzzles this week: a Telegraph Toughie on Thursday 14th, the usual Independent on Friday 15th (but the following week sees me move from Friday to the following Sunday; I can’t imagine why…), and an Inquisitor and the Times competition puzzle on Saturday 16th.  Meanwhile, we have a Nina-riddled puzzle added to the site this time.

I commend for your attention the Guardian crossword blog, which I try to keep up with most weeks, or at least within the fortnight…  The one I’ve linked throws up the fascinating concept of a graphic novel about crosswords.  The website Alan Connor points you at was somewhat frustrating for us overseas aficionados – the promised ebook link didn’t work, so it seems reasonable to point out that is perfectly usable (and the page has just alerted me to a new Roz Chast book!)  I haven’t indulged yet…

The availability of publications in this new ‘connected’ age is regularly frustrating, in fact.  I recently received a Facebook notification regarding an Alan Turing puzzle book – only to find it was available from a site that only had the dead tree edition, and only delivered to UK addresses.  The book itself was raising money for charitable causes in Africa – but Heaven forfend that any Africans should want to see the book itself.  The gremlin, of course, is the internecine copyright act – there will be a version available in 2018 (here it is), but it is being released at different dates in different territories.  What was that about trying to reduce internet piracy again?

Of course, this isn’t solely a puzzle book phenomenon.  I’m regularly surprised by the different dates for the release of electronic and paper editions of modern novels – a recent example was out in ebook in early November, and had a paper publication date of March next year (though the airport paperback version is in local bookstores now).  Nor is the chaos confined to new publications – if I have any Canadian readers, please note that I will happily reimburse you for a Kindle with the 11 novels of Robertson Davies on it (3.66667 trilogies, only available electronically in his home country).  My suspicion there is that Penguin had reissued them in a new printing just before the ebook trend took off, and aren’t reinvesting any time soon. 

OK, rant over.  I shall look out something unusual for next time as a seasonal surprise.

Never blog after dredging a stream

It comes hard.  The more-or-less annual clearance of vegetation from our stream occurred yesterday – warm, but not too hot, so a reasonable day fro standing in the stream and shifting the year’s accumulated water-weed to higher levels, and eventually to make very good compost.  The earliest in the year we’ve done it, which says something about how warm it has been.  (As do the daily bowls of strawberries, and now raspberries.)

But the day after?  So a short comment this week, accompanying the appearance of another unpublished Beelzebub crossword, and noting that there will be a Church Times puzzle next Friday at the start of the month (but not any sort of Advent Calendar – I had no apprehension that December 1 would be chosen).  In addition, the rapidly approaching last posting date means I need to divert attention to pulling together the annual APEX puzzle (completed in June, and not yet lost…), as well as putting some urgent thought into next year’s…  More on the e-distribution of the puzzle next time.