In the sample clues below, the links take you to explainers from our beginners series. The setter’s name often links to an interview with him or her, in case you feel like getting to know these people better.
There is no better time than a January of hunkering down for getting acquainted with those stiffer challenges that we termed, in the context of Stephen Sondheim’s puzzles, the more engrossing crosswords. There is a new Genius from Picaroon – or you could try the previous one, from Jack, since its annotated solution is now available.
In the Observer, Azed has reached what I guess may be a record: the 50th Christmas puzzle in a series by a single setter. (Azed puzzles are dissected at Fifteen Squared and And Lit.)
Although we are looking forward, it would be remiss not to flag up Micawber’s 2021-themed Telegraph Toughie, with such striking clues as these …
10a Adult gets into origins of Peppa Pig with hesitation in front of function needing sheets of A4? (9)
[wordplay: abbreviation for “adult” inside (“gets into”) initials (“origins”) of PEPPA PIG, then hesitant utterance + synonym for “function” (as a verb)]
[A inside PP, then ER + WORK]
[definition: sheets of A4?]
17d Body of water, no longer European, requiring customs for meat products (8)
[wordplay: synonym for “body of water” without abbreviation for “European” + synonym for “customs”]
[SEA – E + USAGES]
[definition: meat products]
… for PAPERWORK and SAUSAGES. And while we are looking back, the cryptic podcast Off Grid finished 2021 with a collection of unheard bits.
Likewise, “engrossing” is the warning “Enumerations have been withheld” in this three-dimensional puzzle titled Still. It was set by the spectator-welcoming solver Liari using technology developed, as I understand it, from Gussalufz, who sets for the Indian newspaper the Hindu.
If the mention of three-dimensional puzzles has reminded you about those 3D calendars that raise money for Children in Need and the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the 2022 edition features the Guardian setters Puck, Enigmatist, Tramp, Nutmeg, Boatman, Imogen and Vlad, plus others we have interviewed here (including Curmudgeon, Soup and Sirius). It is available here and is typically … engrossing.
I have been trying largely to avoid social media; when I first saw posts headed “Wordle”, I eyed the intriguing collections of coloured blocks devoid of context and wondered: what’s the con? Is this trying to harvest my data, my eyeballs or my wordplay techniques? What are the steps between this intriguing game and my imminent existence in a mine, pecking seed to obtain fresh multiverse rewards?
It was humbling, then, to hear the creator of Wordle talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (1:24:38):
At the beginning of last year, my partner and I, we got really into doing crosswords and playing word games and I wanted to make a game for us to play each day in the morning as part of our routine.
So, the Wordle creator is … utterly one of us? And he has found a way to make other solvers’ experiences intriguing before you play and fascinating afterwards? Unless that claim is part of the con, here it is.
Perhaps now is a good moment to mark the retiring of the word “program”. Once upon a time, some programs were apps. A little later, Apple was so keen on us all making a connection between “app” and “Apple” that it sued Amazon for using the name “Appstore”. Now, “app” is used dramatically less in the context of job applications – and hors d’oeuvres – and increasingly to mean any and all code, which leads us to our next challenge.
Reader, how would you clue APP?
Many thanks for your clues for SEVENTH HEAVEN. Despite Wellywearer2’s poetic definition “Swans a-swimming today / The sky reflects their happy way”, the audacity award goes to GappyTooth for the baffling but attractive “Lord’s abode, eternal rest, afterlife, paradise, the Elysian Fields”.
The runners-up are Newlaplandes’s intricate “Good place, even though empty, to throw tin cans” and PeterMooreFuller’s bold “Such a joy to appear in Aliens, Event Horizon and The Avengers”. The winner is Steveran’s ineffably poignant “Where we’ll be when events have changed and weight is lifted?”
Kludos to Steveran. Please leave entries for this fortnight’s competition – as well as your non-print finds and picks from the broadsheet cryptics – below.
The latest in our collaborative playlist Healing Music Recorded in 2020-22 to Accompany a Solve or Even Listen to is a harpist. (You will have to click on the embedded video.)
Clue of the Fortnight
The setter known locally as Crucible gave Financial Times solvers an interesting image on New Year’s Eve …
6d Part of crown jewels lifting Spain’s asset ratings (5,5)
[wordplay: synonym for part of “crown jewels” understood as slang with a letter E (“Spain”) lifted]
[MAN’S TESTES with E lifted]
[definition: asset ratings]
… which turned out to be a clue for MEANS TESTS. Stay safe.
Here is a collection of all our explainers, interviews and other helpful bits and bobs.