Here we are back at level 4 lockdown, with talk of bubbles, and quick scurries to the shops to wander round the aisles masked. Much was made a few days ago of New Zealand going back into lockdown for one case – except that by the time the BBC was reporting that factoid it was up to five cases, and the count is now in the fifties – no, seventies, just checked today’s announcement. Cases are beginning to pop up across the country, as a result of reasonably active cross-country travel, and a virus that gets infectious before it doles out the symptoms.
No, still not had my first jab yet – that’s next Sunday.
Today’s puzzle goes back to the last century, and is a Beelzebub from about a year after I started contributing. I have not modified it greatly, other than to remove the word ‘hyphenated’ from the clue enumerations, and to update an entry that had consisted of two words in the Chambers of the day, but which the latest edition has conflated to one. Oh, and in deference to the last post I took out an exclamation mark.
I had planned to use a puzzle from the BBC Music Magazine, but my 1996 box predates my association with them. I believe the current issue of the magazine is on sale in the UK – Beatrice Rana on the front cover, I think – and that contains my 300th puzzle for them. It hasn’t arrived here yet.
The other reason I was going to use a BBC puzzle was to preface some musings on the use of popular culture, bu this paragraph will have to do instead.
Many would say that a crossword on classical music is an obvious throwback, and not up to date. I was recently reading an article based around an interview with Will Shortz, and the interviewer noted that he was criticised for not including more up-to-the-minute items around current pop music, politicians and sporting figures. The use of these trending items would be more attractive and would bring in more solvers.
And yet I wonder whether that is the case. The pandemic has done far more for puzzle solving than a change in content, though it’s clearly less useful as a tool in an editor’s armoury. It’s already quite tricky working through some US puzzles – ‘OK, I’m looking for the forename of an actor playing a role in a TV show I’ve never heard of’ – and I often find myself wondering what would happen if you produced a crossword that included clues about (say) the nurses on Dr Kildare. A while back I stuffed an Independent puzzle with the names of bands with No. 1 singles from…well, quite a long time ago, and no-one spotted the theme. Some of them even I’d heard of.
The issue is severalfold. Popular culture is increasingly diverse and the chances for people to be across all of it are limited. Too heavy a reliance on it might lower people’s willingness to try a puzzle. And if you need to check a reference, well, there are fewer agreed sources, though Googlepedia is pretty darn good.
At best, unless you are extremely prescient or lucky, topical references attach a ‘Solve by’ date to your puzzle. Which some may be fine with, but you aren’t going to win an argument about the ephemerality of crossword puzzles with someone who has just dug out a crossword from 1996 and found it usable. Go on and try it.
If I remember to press the ‘Publish’ button this time round, then you will still have time in the UK to nip out for the Sunday Telegraph of 22 August (and you can nip out and I can’t). It looks like the Inquisitor of 28 August will be mine (though it may slip back to the following week) and there’s a Times puzzle on 31 August.