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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit disappointing, 13 Dec 2008
Peter Biddlecombe "peterbiddlecombe" (Bucks, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Clue to Our Lives: 80 Years of the Guardian Cryptic Crossword: 85 Years of the "Guardian" Cryptic Crossword (Paperback)
A couple of facts first. The cover price is not £12.99, as currently reported, but £8.99. And the cover design with a horse has been replaced by one with a dog. The book follows the current standard formula for newspaper crossword anniversary books, established by 75 Years of 'The Times' Crossword and "Daily Telegraph" 80 Years of Cryptic Crosswords. So we get a puzzle for each of the Guardian puzzle's 80 years, and information about the solvers, setters and crossword editors over the years.

Looking at the puzzles first, all but a couple are squeezed onto one page per puzzle - half the space usually provided in crossword books. This means you get to write your answers in poky little grids - if you give this book for Christmas, include a fine-point biro! This combines badly with another problem - in my copy at least, cheap poor-quality binding which suggests pages might fall out. Another one: based on the half-dozen or so puzzles I've tackled so far, the puzzles have not been checked properly. There are two clear mistakes in clues, which I'll explain in a comment so that you can choose whether to see them. And the 1975 Alphabetical Jigsaw puzzle doesn't include the standard instructions, though they do appear in the text.

The style of the puzzles seems a fair reflection of the Guardian crossword over the years. There are a few 'advanced' puzzles, such as a misprinted definitions one from Custos, but only one modern Bank Holiday special, and this is not one of the double grid ones that many old solvers will fondly remember from the 1970s to 90s, but a 'jumbo' grid one from 2008.

Setters represented in puzzles with bylines (which started in 1970): Araucaria (11), Janus (6), Custos (4), Rufus (3), Enigmatist, Audreus, Paul (2 each), Nimrod, Lavengro, Altair, Julius, Brendan, Crispa, Bunthorne, Taupi, Orlando, Brummie (1 each). Actually, 'Nimrod' is credited with the 1/1/2000 puzzle, but this seems to be a mistake or a different 'Nimrod'. The only other Nimrod puzzle is from 1970, and as a Guardian solver since 1978, the fact that anyone had ever used this name at the Guardian was news to me, so I guess the first 'Nimrod' retired or died in the 70s. ('Engimatist' has used this pseudonym at the Independent since about 2005, and I'm sure he would not have done so if it had been in recent use at the Guardian). Araucaria getting the lion's share of puzzles reflects his output and popularity, but there are complete books of Aruacaria puzzles from the same publisher, and it seems a shame that other setters go unrepresented - there are no puzzles at all for Fawley, Fidelio, Gemini, Gordius, Hendra, Mercury, Pasquale or Shed.

For solvers not familiar with cryptic puzzles before about 1970, be warned that you'll see some unexpected clue-writing practices and will find some of the older puzzles extremely difficult. As with any of these collections, I'd suggest starting with the most recent puzzles and going backwards in time.

How about the text about the Guardian crossword story? There's plenty of it (about 120 pages), and lots of interesting material - comments about puzzles from an interesting range of solvers, and some fond memories of setters no longer with us, such as Custos. It needed better checking to remove mistakes like Ximenes being a teacher at 'Dulwich College' (actually Christ's Hospital), and the "Charles" (presumably Charleston) in a list of 1920s crazes from which only the crossword survives. There are also some baffling attachments of '[sic]' to spellings that are perfectly OK.

As far as I can tell, we don't get any information about the pioneer setters of the 30s and 40s. This seems a shame - I guess it must mean that unlike Adrian Bell at the Times, or Leonard Dawe at the Telegraph, there is no information to tell us who they were. Even with the more recent setters, there are stories that go untold, such as Fidelio contributing puzzles from his prison cell, or Enigmatist having his first Guardian published while still in his teens. And there are irritatingly part-told stories too, like the mention of a 'weekend festival' organised in 1977 as some kind of rival to the Times Crossword Championship. We're told that it happened, but what went on, or who won any prizes, is left unstated.
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