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Monkey Puzzles by Araucaria
on 18 October 2002
This is the first collection of GUARDIAN crossword puzzles by one individual compiler to be published in book form. Araucaria has been compiling for the GUARDIAN for almost 45 years, and this collection is a splendid and fitting tribute to the prolific output of "Britain's master compiler" who is "an institution in his own right", as the blurb says.
All 100 puzzles have, of course, appeared in the GUARDIAN, but the collection goes right back to the very start. Araucaria's first puzzle to be published -- in 1958 -- appears as the first one in the collection.
It is a pity that no other dates of publication accompany the puzzles, as it would have been interesting for solvers to trace the development of Araucaria's cluing style, stunning word-play and originality of themes over the years.
There are nine Alphabetical Jigsaws in the collection. These puzzles (Araucaria's own invention, by the way) are set on grids with 26 solutions so that all the 26 letters of the alphabet are each used once as the initial letters of the solutions. One of these puzzles is based instead on the Greek alphabet; another includes a theme, so that when the solutions are entered correctly in the grid, all the Across words are thematic; and others have clues in rhyming couplets.
Many of the puzzles are thematic, and this approach to crossword compiling distinguishes Araucaria's work. The broad spectrum of themes and audacious approaches to their presentation are fully reflected in the collection. A few puzzles have peculiar titles such as "Bald-patch Bess", or cryptic preambles like "F has the same meaning throughout", whilst another is entitled "Hidden Anagram Pairs".
Within the puzzles, the clues themselves reveal Araucaria's devilry time and time again. Cross-references to an individual clue-number throughout a puzzle necessitate the solver first discovering a theme (see Puzzle 46); Puzzle 38 was compiled for Valentine's Day one year; Puzzle 34 has each Across clue beginning with the word "Sport"; whilst Puzzle 2 refers to the days of the week in each Across clue.
To make his puzzles even harder, Araucaria has developed his own cluing style which includes "Part-clues" -- mini-clues which cryptically define the solution without any indication of the definition of the answer.
Pride of place must go to the real tour-de-force at Puzzle 80. The preamble reads "A univocalic crossword; the solutions are like the clues". The sheer audacity demonstrated here makes Puzzle 83 seem "Plain" in comparison!!!
These 100 puzzles bear excellent testimony to Araucaria's creative genius. My only slight regret is that the collection lacks a preface in which Araucaria's contribution to, and eminence in, the crossword world could have been discussed at length. This is a golden opportunity sadly missed.
Nonetheless this collection is a fine tribute to the country's most inventive, adventurous and productive compiler. It is a privilege for solvers to be able to enjoy Araucaria's puzzles again in this collection.