This is the blog where I put up the annual APEX puzzle. The puzzle is sent out to participants in December, clues are submitted by the end of January, and this year votes for the best clue were received by mid-March (next year it could be even earlier). The puzzle is here, and you can link through to the solution from the puzzle. The winning clues are at the end of the solution notes.
Several odds and ends this time round. I was struck by a blog comment on one of my puzzles: “I didn’t know famous setters solved other puzzles”. I did wonder about a prompt and perhaps even brusque reply, but then I thought about being grateful for that ‘famous’ and decided to think it over.
There’s a case about plagiarism in the UK courts at the moment. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever knowingly heard any music by Ed Sheeran, but he seems to be popular (and is coming to New Zealand next year – people are getting excited, I am told). The issue in the case is whether a particular theme is derived from another artist’s recording, and there’s much discussion about what is original and what is common to popular music as a genre.
But there was never any doubt that Mr Sheeran (and also the plaintiff) both listened to lots of music. I grew up reading reviews by Anthony Burgess in The Observer, so it was also clear that novelists read novels. I imagine sculptors go round Henry Moore and Anthony Caro exhibitions. It’s at least a little surprising to find someone thinking that crossword setters might not also solve puzzles.
I suspect that, unlike Anthony Burgess, crossword creators don’t comment so much on other setters’ work. At least not on blogs – I do write comments with Listener and Crossword Club entries, but they’re direct to the setter, and not public. Hence it appears that setters don’t solve. But we do.
References to crosswords turn up in the most unusual places. I was reading some letters of Shostakovich earlier this week, and there was one to his secretary asking her to forward several newspapers and magazines (including the Russian equivalent of Radio Times). I won’t list the eight of them (Moskovskiy Komsomolets, anyone?), but the list was terminated by “Only send the newspapers that have crosswords in them. This doesn’t apply to Sovietskiy Sport.”
That was 1971. Five decades on we have a rather different situation. One of my recent puzzles contained the answer CHICKEN WIRE. The entry had originally been CHICKEN KIEV, which was certainly an inappropriate conjunction of adjective and city (and no longer correctly transliterated). So I changed it, displaying some RATTINESS (with wordplay ‘resistant to change’). There has been something of a wider scramble to remove references to conflict and ordnance, with editors defending the moves as ensuring that crosswords remain a place where the worst parts of the news don’t surface (though this never seems to relate to Boris Johnson).
I’m not planning to release mayhem and worse in my clues. But I don’t recall this delicacy extending to puzzles during, say, the Rwandan genocide, nor yet to puzzles during the assault on Aleppo (some fellow called Putin behind that, I believe). This week saw the third anniversary of the attack on the mosque in Christchurch; certainly no-one here has referenced or will reference it, but I don’t recall a let-up in the military terminology elsewhere, and puzzles are syndicated worldwide.
So a bit of a Eurocentric response, perhaps, though, in fact, I don’t even recall the attitude much during The Troubles. We seem to be content with using our more belligerent references during most outbursts of military activity around the world, even ones where our own RE and RA are involved (and I can’t see us doing without those abbreviations for long). But perhaps most of these issues – even, eventually, The Troubles, alas – didn’t monopolise the front pages quite as much and so continuously and I suspect it’s that that is currently driving the decisions. In a week when I’ve put up a setter’s blog on a Tom Lehrer puzzle, I should quote him about how ‘one day we’ll gather round the piano, and sing the songs to remind us how much we enjoyed the war.’