Friday, July 3, 2015

The mother country (Puzzle No. 3,368)

With Independence Day around the corner, or as Major Stone of the British Officers’ Club put it “Revolution Day,” it’s a good time to give a nod to the mother country.  American cryptics are the result of a two-way transatlantic voyage.  Crosswords were invented here, but the cryptic subset and the conventions that govern it arose in England.  Ditto for variety cryptics, where the magazine The Listener plays the same standard-setting role as the New York Times does for straight crosswords. Getting a puzzle published in The Listener is a real feather in your cap.

English puzzles are also on my mind since I was traveling last month.  I picked up a variety of British newspapers as well as printing a stack of FT cryptics to solve while I was in airports or on planes. Naturally I overpacked, so I’m only finishing off that stack now.

My favorite was the Times, which at least in their international edition (which was in tabloid format: is the home edition still a broadsheet?) put the puzzle right on the back page, with clues in print size that was easy to read.  I would prefer that they give the constructors’ bylines though; they deserve the credit, plus experienced solvers can get an edge from knowing the cluing tricks and habits of the more widely-published constructors.

Second-favorite, and not for lack of trying, was The Independent’s tabloid version “i.”  Besides their regular cryptic, they have a “five-clue” mini-cryptic plus a two-page spread of new-wave (post-sudoku) logic puzzles.  Clearly the best way to feed a puzzle habit for 40p a day.  The Times also has a spread like that.

Straight crossword solvers won’t be so happy with the choices in the mother country.  Non-cryptic crosswords are frequently called “quick crosswords” over there: they’re probably quick to construct as well as quick to solve.  They’re only 13 by 13, and they’re of a block design with lots more black squares than an American crossword, so there’s a lot less work needed to create the grid.  And while British cryptic clues are often difficult and sometimes unconventional, their quick crossword clues are perfectly straight and simple.  Perhaps their straight crossword fans look to America for puzzles the way we Americans work British as well as American cryptics.

The web editors of The Nation decided to use the holiday weekend to roll out a new web site.  The puzzle pages look neater, and the downloadable PDFs are easier to find.  Anyone having any problems with it?

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): easy

Agility factor: light to moderate

Cluing challenge (add your clues to the comments section): INDEPENDENCE

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