I heard this week that Les May died suddenly in November. Les was one of the towering figures of the crossworld when I started, and I was pleased to get to know him a little. He somehow managed to straddle both the Ximenean and non-Ximenean camps – not for nothing did he once adopt the pseudonym Nox – coming up with competition winners that teetered on the line between the two.. I recall using him as a tester for a puzzle and receiving four sides of handwritten A4, narrow feint, with lines squeezed between the available ones. He’d spotted the idea from an astoundingly few hints, which was typical of him, but also a strong indicator that mere mortals might struggle.
A few years ago he decided to drop crosswords completely for fear that his wife was becoming a ‘crosswidow’. He stopped attending functions and no longer participated in the APEX puzzle. I don’t know how completely he kept purdah – I suspect some solving went on – but the annual Christmas card always recounted how they were keeping up with the theatre. The card, of course, came from Jo May – Les wasn’t going to risk contamination! And so another giant has gone.
The puzzle this week is an Enigmatic Variations from 2006. It’s called ‘Key Expression’ and of course I was steered to it by the sudden resignation this week of NZ PM John Key…although the fact that I have the 2006 file out, and I only had one EV in 2006 probably had more to do with it!
I shall try and find time to put up another old Jumbo for Christmas. Meanwhile, the run-up to Christmas doesn’t include many puzzles out of my usual run: there’s a Times Quick cryptic on the 19th December, and I’m sort of expecting a Telegraph Toughie in the not-too-distant future, though I haven’t a date to share.
However you should cast your eyes over one or more of the puzzle books on this page. I’ve tried Volume 1 on the Puzzazz app, Volume 2 via PDF, and Volume 3 is in the post (heavens – is that my name in the list of contributors?). American variety cryptics (which is what barred thematics are called there) are generally a bit easier than their UK equivalents, and achieve some remarkable fills using more or less standard English (none of that Chambers nonsense…). You do have to be ready for some unfamiliar abbreviations, and there are references to sportspeople and TV stars who are not as internationally famous as they might perhaps like, but the wordplay will carry you through. Roger Wolff is a thorough editor.
If you want them before Christmas, then it may have to be via PDF. Roger was happy to send me Volume 2 that way – you can contact Roger by clicking on his name at the bottom of the page.