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.

By a whisker…

Actually, Whskr is the other half’s monicker, though she’s doing most of her work under Dash Kitten at present.  The whisker in question is represented by the time on Sunday night (NZ time, that is) before I have managed to get round to putting anything up.  Blame a real stunner of a Saturday, and a Sunday trip to the annual pet expo (plus rescuing a rhododendron from the attentions of some rather aggressive grass).

What you have is a Church Times puzzle from 1998 – something of a departure from the usual fare there, as well – go and have a look.

In addition, there has been a flurry of crosswords being completed and sent to editors (with one still awaiting typing up) followed by the usual work to fill another grid for the next one (can’t leave it too long or the memo to do so gets lost…).  And if it’s a thematic of any kind, there’s the agonising wait for an idea to strike…

Ideas have already struck sufficiently for there to be a Times puzzle coming up on 31 October, and its quick cousin exactly a week later.  Otherwise it’s Phiday as usual in The Independent, of course.

After the break…

Well, sorry about that.  We’ve been getting some decent weather and a fortnight ago the weekend was swallowed up by gardening.  Nearly happened again this weekend, but here we are at last. 

The puzzle this time is one from the Inquisitor series in 1998 – looking through the list for that year, I was intrigued to see one with a date (very close to an exact centenary) and wondered what was the reasoning behind that.  It turned out to be a type of puzzle I haven’t attempted often, where the numbers of specific entries are relevant.  Indeed, previous attempts have been collaborations, where I’d conned D G Tallis into doing the hard work.  So I was pleased to see that I’d made a reasonably good fist of it when setting myself the task.  Maybe I’ll have another go.

October is quiet from the point of view of puzzles outside the usual Friday Independent appearances.  But there’s a Toughie on Wednesday 18th to break the pattern.

In memoriam

This week saw the passing of Michael Macdonald-Cooper, who was crossword editor of The Independent for a while, and with whom I shared the Beelzebub puzzle after the death of Richard Whitelegg.  I met him several times and he was a lovely, gentle man.  We stayed at his house once, in 1997 on our way to Orkney, and he and his wife Celia made us very welcome.  Michael had recently had some serious surgery, and, although he was hale and hearty (and took a daily early morning swim), Celia was very worried in case any word reached the Independent, and swore us to secrecy.  

I can’t reproduce one of his puzzles, of course – though I can point you here (Michael was ostensibly editor, but in fact set nearly all of them), and the Beelzebub homepage on this site has a couple of sources for some puzzles.  Instead I’m putting up Beelzebub 1358, the last to be published, which contains some references to the puzzle’s history.  Two Beelzebubs in consecutive posts, but I think the circumstances dictate.

There’s a Toughie from Kcit on Wednesday 20 September, and a Church Times puzzle under my own name, probably on 29 September.  The information re the Church Times puzzle came with two dates, and a puzzle number that alluded to a third, but the balance of evidence is 29 September, rather than the preceding week.

A repetitive weekend

When your ISP suddenly decides to stop their email service because they’re being inundated with spam, and recommends transferring to Google or Microsoft, then there’s a bit of fallout around telling everyone.  And it’s also a bit repetitive.  ‘Update your Preferences’ here and ‘Edit your Profile’ there and, surprisingly often, just ‘Unsubscribe’, with no apparent option to continue.  While my ISP has promised to continue forwarding emails (presumably if spam permits – they’ve made themselves even more of a target now), it’s not a very reliable way of ensuring continued dissemination of promotional material.  Still it’s allowed me to jettison a few of the more tedious ones (so tedious it was easier to press ‘delete’ than ‘unsubscribe’).

There have been one or two (Naxos CDs and kikki-k stationery stand out) who have had staff on their Customer Service lines over the weekend to help out, replying within an hour.  Whitcoulls, on the other hand, might get round to things in five days or so, National Geographic in ten.  And I’ve had a nice reminder that, in an email, no-one knows your tongue is in your cheek (won’t say who that was).

For what it’s worth, then, my new email is phixwd at gmail dot com.  Which is shorter than the surname-based one.  Please update any lists you may have.  Back next weekend with a puzzle.