Crossword blog: a month of special weekend puzzles when it’s OK to phone a friend
At the weekend, a different kind of crossword emerges. There are no black squares. The puzzles have titles. And there are actually instructions, because the answers are often not quite what you’ll be writing in the grid.
We’ve said that 2021 is as good a time as any for trying barred puzzles. To be more specific: July 2021 is the perfect month to make the leap.
Some background: there are more female solvers than male and generations of female editors (at the Telegraph, the New York Times and others) have honed the form, but something we note here now and again is the paucity of women among those who write the things.
Last year, the editor of the i newspaper’s Inquisitor (who sets here as Enigmatist) ran four consecutive puzzles by female contributors Nutmeg, Vismut, Chalicea and Skylark. The name of the event – Ladies’ Month – is so redolent of Wimbledon you can practically smell the barley water.
This July, it’s happening again and the Sunday Telegraph’s Enigmatic Variations is doing the same, including a debut in the series from one Sea-kale. I’m anticipating lots of enjoyable jiggery-pokery and possibly even some connections between the puzzles.
What should you know before diving in? “My advice is to buy the Chambers app,” says Enigmatic Variations editor proXimal, giving us permission to feel OK about using its function where you can type CR?SS?ORD if you’ve got some crossing letters but not the entry itself.
Enigmatist reminds us that not having black squares means that even the weirder words will yield eventually because so many more of the others cross with them. And don’t get bogged down with the special instructions before you start solving, says proXimal: “It is hardly ever the case that even experienced barred-grid solvers understand all of the preamble from the outset.”
Once you get going, help is available. Enigmatist provides a contact address inviting solvers to contact him “at any time” and adds:
Phone a friend, especially one who is a bit more experienced. This is always a good way to learn the ropes. After the solution is published, read the posts on the excellent Fifteensquared and Jon Summers’ idothei.
Big Dave’s blog provides hints, so that is a great place for new solvers to learn how to approach these puzzles and get guidance on individual clues. Many solvers take days on and off to solve, so putting it down and coming back to it is always a good idea! Keep going back to the preamble and remember to challenge your presumptions, which may not always be correct.
I would add: if you allow yourself to get frightened, that spoils the fun. It’s a lovely feeling, knowing that every time you add an entry, you are probably adding another component of an endgame or trick you had no chance of seeing at the start.
“Feedback was favourable,” says Enigmatist of 2020’s Ladies’ Month and proXimal says he will be following the responses to Enigmatic Variations joining in.
Both editors tell me that there’s been more interest in these things over the past 15 months. If you’re tempted to join in, let us know how you fare. No spoilers!