In the UK recently, a number of readers of The Guardian newspaper expressed their dismay over the perceived difficulty of the publication’s recent batch of cryptic crosswords. Some readers spoke of ‘impenetrable clues that go on forever’ and that solving them ‘prompts groans of misery not delight’. One moderately heated letter hypothesised that the compilers ‘invent new rules to preserve their self-awarded intellectual power’. In the world of crosswords, this was no storm in a teacup.
So what makes a good cryptic crossword? In the opinion of the experienced Lovatts team, it ought to present a challenge, but a fair one. It ought to enlighten, but not be an overt teaching tool. It ought to provoke a few determined sighs and some pensive pencil-nibbling, but not so much that it ends up crumpled in the rubbish bin.
If you’re new to the cryptic game, you will need to know the conventions: things like commonly used abbreviations and anagram triggers. Most of these go back decades and are well known to seasoned solvers. When new clueing techniques using modern terminology are introduced, the upshot, as The Guardian is discovering, might be a bit of generational discord.
But that doesn’t mean that cryptic crosswords should be simple. After all, an ‘easy cryptic’ could be considered an oxymoron of sorts. We believe that our cryptic puzzles here at Lovatts fall into the ‘challenging but solvable’ basket. We’re not aiming to baffle our solvers so much that they give up, but we do want them to think outside the square. Solving takes place during commutes or lunch breaks for many, so spending three hours cracking a single puzzle isn’t a feasible option most of the time.
Recognising the roots of the cryptic crossword, we’re liberal with our British throwbacks: references to the Queen and pre-decimal currency, for example, and many of the other classic conventions. But we aim to appeal to new solvers, too, so we produce ‘easy cryptics’ for those just starting out. To keep up with current references and definitions we continually update our content. Finding that perfect balance is always a challenge, especially with the rapid evolution of the English language, but we reckon the job we’re doing is pretty on fleek.
Should you get stuck on a cryptic clue, and you’re likely to, think of it as a learning experience. A new word or definition acquired through a crossword is a wonderful way to enrich your own vocabulary, and it’ll make subsequent puzzles just that little bit more satisfying. And satisfaction is the name of the game – you have to have fun with it!
In closing, we’d just like to say: Get Hank Young to show words of gratitude (5,3)
In other words: Thank you.