When I first got a job writing crosswords for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, the crosswords editor was very clear about one thing. “Your crosswords will be published on Monday, and therefore should be not too difficult. If solvers find your puzzles too difficult they won’t buy the paper”.
Hmmm, I thought. Personally I like solving and making very hard crosswords - and would happily stare at a blank puzzle for an hour without getting an answer. That’s my idea of mental peace. But I understood what she meant - people do the crossword to feel smart, not to face the very inconvenient possibility that they may be dimmer than they previously thought. On the flip side, if your stuff is too easy then readers may come to hold you in contempt. There had to be a balance, and I had to work hard to recalibrate for this target demographic. The goal is to give Monday readers a sense of accomplishment so they can hold their head up high while they slog through the week. And the wishful theory is that it sells more newspapers.
Once my puzzles started appearing in the paper, I quickly learnt that making crosswords is a lot like cooking porridge for Goldilocks. I got some positive feedback for sure, but there were also plenty of readers who deemed my puzzles either too hard, too soft or just generally NOT quite right. Anyway, without further ado, here are some of the caustic critiques that made their way into the editor’s inbox.
Yesterday's ''crossword'', LR (25/3), was an attenuated number plate general knowledge quiz. Not happy.
– Sue, Prahran
Cruel but fair. Sue has a point here and she’s NOT HAPPY with the “crossword”. I was trying to make a non-cryptic (quick) crossword interesting by making a theme about number plate slogans - but most people want a vocab test not a trivia puzzle. Click here to do the infamous puzzle and share Sue’s rage.
Oh dear LR (Crossword, 18/4). To focus on a target is to "home in".
– Jan, Hawthorn
D’oh. I had “Hone in”. One thing I’ve noticed about the smarty-pants that write in to tell the newspaper there’s been a mistake is they love starting their letters with “Oh dear”. But, deservedly patronising in this case. I won’t make that mistake again… for a while.
Sorry, LR (cryptic crossword, 19/12), but the plural of "octopus" is not "octopi". It's "octopuses".
– Wal, Surrey Hills
This was an historically important letter, as it kicked off the great Octopus letter war of late 2017. I wrote a lovely cryptic clue for OCTOPI [Sea creatures and duck caught with best line] but then Wal came barging in to take a sizeable poop on the party. Well thankfully the next day, someone put Wal in his place, even if she was still adding evidence as to my wrongness.
Sorry, Wal (21/12), but the plural of octopus is octopodes.
– Phoebe, Ormond
But my basking was short lived. Wal was vindicated somewhat. And I was still wrong.
Either either, either or: octopuses or octopodes (23/12).
– Jim, Sale
The lesson? I will not hesitate to put OCTOPI in a puzzle again, as long as it gets people talking about crosswords in the letters page.
The quick (not the cryptic) crossword on Monday seemed to overtax our use and understanding of the English language. The clue for 15-down was "on the throne, overhearing showering" – and the answer was "electing". Despite my best efforts, I could not relate the clue to the answer and I wondered how many other readers had the same difficulty. LR, please explain.
– Peter, Ringwood North
OK this one makes me laugh a bit, mainly because it’s not my fault. The production team that puts together the puzzles made this inexplicable mistake with a cut ’n’ paste go wrong. A cryptic clue ended up in the quick! Can you imagine his confusion? How many times did he read it. This is such an earnest letter, written from a place of pure exasperation, and I’m sorry to Peter and all the other readers for their suffering on Feb 28, 2017. Can you work out the actual answer?
Yesterday’s (29/10) cryptic crossword by LR was so easy I finished it in less than ten minutes, not really much of a challenge compared to my favourite DA. In fact, my nickname for LR is “Light Run”.
– Barry, Moorabbin
Jeez fair shake of the sauce bottle Barry! Here’s the puzzle he smashed, see if you can beat the smart alec!
Is LR using his position as crossword compiler to carry on a secret romance? The first five across clues in today’s Quick (25/09) are Never, Going to, Give, You, Up.
– Frank, Balmain
To be honest, this isn’t actually a complaint. But I like to imagine it is a complaint, and Frank is actually outraged at the idea of a lovely intellectual romance interfering with the crossword’s integrity. Of course, you readers know I was just trolling.
The following letters were not published, but made their way to me via email.
LR, I always enjoy your inventive and challenging clues, but today your grid block was a disappointment. The huge black-outs across and down mean that there were four (almost separate) mini crosswords. And of the 34 clues, no less than 28 were 7 letters long . . . boring!
I thought this was fascinating feedback for a puzzle that I personally thought was quite good. Is too many 7-letter words really a problem? I suppose it is…
It was disappointing to find what I take to be a very childish mistake in this puzzle. The 19-down clue was "Lend, then steal back over argument (6)". The meaning was LEND and the required answer was BORROW.
These two words are related but opposite. One lends TO a person but borrows FROM a person. Maybe LR should be told of this. I don't Twitter so I can't tell LR myself. Possibly there is something I don't understand.
Hang on, is this the same Sue from the first letter? Either way, thank you Sue for keeping me on my toes. I will try to banish my inner child, the one that doesn’t know the difference between LEND and BORROW.
One thing I find is that when I make mistakes in my puzzles, my Twitter follower count always goes up! Follow me so you can point out when I’m wrong about something (hint, it’s at least once a month).