Variety Cryptic #5: “Spring Cleaning”

Hello, cryptic people!

I’m seldom happier as a constructor than on the days I get to drop a variety cryptic! I hope it’s fun for you too. It’s been a pleasure to keep learning and setting these things. As usual, the difficulty is gentle-ish, which is to say it should be approachable to beginners without being a total gimme. Thanks so much to Hayley Gold, Nate Cardin, and k0rmad for the invaluable feedback during the editing process.

I’m finishing out a week off of work right now and have enjoyed a lovely virtual vacation to the U.K., during which I’ve solved every major daily cryptic to come out there for five days in a row. That’s 35 British puzzles from The Guardian, Independent, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph and Times! As you might imagine, this was pretty time consuming! I’m a second-tier speed solver of non-cryptic crosswords, and this sort of endeavor would have taken me about two hours had the puzzles been straightforward. Instead, this took me about fifteen hours! Good thing it was fun! Some piping hot takes, if you’ll indulge me:

  • U.K. puzzles are much harder than American/Canadian cryptics. Even the easiest ones are often about twice as hard as today’s blog puzzle, in my opinion!
  • Each venue has a really strong house style and even within those, the setters show an incredibly diverse array of voices. It was great to get to know and savor their styles.
  • I think our cryptic rules here are too strict by comparison. There was some really wild and innovative cluing going on that certainly wouldn’t be kosher in a cryptic in the states.
  • The heavy use of abbreviations makes for shorter, more elegant clues while without sacrificing the challenge or entertainment factor.
  • British general knowledge, vocab, and idioms do play a part in making these puzzles difficult for an American like me, but a little bit of Googling and learning makes it a super fun way to engage with someone else’s culture!
  • Themes aren’t required but they do show up a lot and are a really fun addition to standard blocked cryptics.
  • Every single puzzle I solved showed real virtuosity in its construction. The standard is incredibly high, and I have so much to learn and aspire to as a cryptic setter.

If you’d like to share U.K. cryptic solving experiences, please hit me up. I’d love to chat!

That’s that! Take care, enjoy the puzzle, and I’ll see you Wednesday with a themeless puzzle on the one-year anniversary of Square Pursuit!

Solve Online

PDF
PDF Solution with explanations

3 thoughts on “Variety Cryptic #5: “Spring Cleaning”

  1. Thanks, Steve. This was a enjoyable solve. While I can handle cryptics from most US constructors, I have rarely been able to make much headway on a UK one. I don’t think I have ever found an easy one. Maybe in my next life. I give you much credit. Richard

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  2. Hey Steve!

    I’ve been solving the Guardian cryptic faithfully everyday for the past eight years (has it been that long??) and I agree with you on every point. American cryptics are ok to me, but they adhere too stringently to the rules, which don’t allow for the ingenuity and creativity that many of their British counterparts indulge in. Sure, you have to learn a lot of British idiosyncrasies, like ER for “queen” (Elizabeth Regina) or CE for “church” (Church of England), along with various terms that are unique to their vocabulary, but once you’ve gotten them entrenched in your brain they can be a lot of fun. I think Paul is my favourite setter for his cleverness of cluing and mildly obscene sense of humour, but all of them do have a unique voice in the setting world they inhabit.

    Once you’ve mastered British cryptics (as much as they can be mastered), I highly recommend the Inquisitor and Listener variety cryptics. These are much harder, using obscure words and definitions and even references to Scottish words, and the Chambers dictionary (which they recommend) is practically mandatory. But once the grid is filled in you move on to the endgame, which is sometimes incredibly complex and can range in subject matter from history to geography to science to pop culture. I do manage to completely solve them from time to time, and more often than not I’m left staring at the grid in amazement wondering how the setter managed to pull off what they pulled off. If you want a taste of what the Inquisitors have to offer, I suggest going to fifteensquared.com, where they blog about them and many other cryptics from various sources, including the Guardian itself. I can even send you some if you like. Let me know!

    Cheers,
    Steve

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