The Sunday newspapers in the UK have a range of puzzles. They all have the blocked cryptics familiar from their daily versions, and some have additional features such as a general knowledge puzzle. The Observer, the Sunday Times and the Independent on Sunday also each have a barred ‘plain’ puzzle – this is essentially a version of the ordinary daily cryptic, only with word endings marked by bars, a much higher proportion of crossing letters checked and a more rarefied vocabulary. These puzzles expect you to refer to a dictionary regularly, and that dictionary is Chambers. (The Sunday Telegraph stands out in that it has a thematic barred puzzle.)
Each paper has what might be called a ‘brand’. The Observer puzzle is by Azed (who has single-handedly produced a sequence of 2,200+ puzzles in his time at the paper) – the brand there is the Spanish Inquisition, with his predecessors being Torquemada and Ximenes, and Azed’s pseudonym itself is derived from a third Inquisitor called Deza. Azed’s puzzles are mostly plain, but he also has regular specials with some thematic content.
The Sunday Times puzzle, currently at 2,700+, appears under the single name of Mephisto, though it is currently set by a team of three setters.
And in the Independent on Sunday we have Beelzebub, currently just shy of 1,300 puzzles , and currently set by two people. I’ve set more than 600 Beelzebub puzzles since 1995.
The names Beelzebub and Mephisto might suggest a certain commonality of inspiration, and for a while they were indeed set by the same person – Richard Whitelegg (who also used the pseudonym Lucifer – the inspiration is hard to shake off). He did not launch the Mephisto ‘brand’, inheriting it from Richard Kilner, but he was already setting those puzzles when asked to start a similar one for the Independent on Sunday. Setting two heavyweight puzzles a week is no mean feat, and I don’t think current crossword histories quite give Richard his due. Indeed, he also set one or more puzzles a week for the daily Independent (where he was both Lucifer and Albipedius – Albipedius isn’t another manifestation of his Satanic majesty, merely ‘white leg’ in Latin).
The handover when it came was sadly and unsettlingly quick. I received a phone call asking if I could stand in for Richard for a few weeks while he underwent hospital treatment. Richard, it turned out, worked to very tight deadlines, so a puzzle was wanted almost immediately. As it happened, I had been idly producing barred puzzles for my own amusement, and I had five completed and one about half-way. I edited the five and completed the sixth and was able to get those back to the editor in about a week. No. 270 was the first to appear. Richard had a very fast-acting cancer, and did not come out of hospital – No. 269 was his last Beelzebub.
One rather curious consequence: I had no prior knowledge of Richard’s puzzles, so when they appeared I had to solve them like any other reader (that’s still the case even now for the puzzles by the ‘other Beelzebub’). And because newspapers assess the popularity of the crossword by the size of the entry, I also helped swell that entry, under a variety of pseudonyms. And one of those pseudonyms turned up as a winner of Beelzebub 269.
My thanks to the Independent (here‘s their daily crossword) for permission to reprint these puzzles. The Beelzebub crossword is not available online at the time of writing (September 2014). However, nearly all of the crosswords from 28 September 2008 through 1 April 2012 (970-1152) have been archived (albeit without grids) by the Proquest and Infotrac article databases — services with widespread library and institutional access. (My thanks to Arsinoe for that piece of information.)
The Independent was the first major UK newspaper to go online only, at the end of March 2016. One casualty was the Beelzebub crossword (see various blog posts on the site), although the other puzzles survived. I generally work several puzzles in hand, so there were quite a few completed and unpublished when the series stopped (and even several gridded but not clued). I am putting up the unpublished puzzles one at a time over a period of several months, after which I shall return to plundering the preceding 700 or so I set.
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