A while back, prominent Stickler blog contributor, Arthur, responded to my story regarding a crossword that proved to be too popular for its own good. Interestingly, as I read his post, I realised Arthur had assumed I was talking about a cryptic crossword. Not surprising, I suppose, as cryptics are what I’m mostly known for, however, I’ve written triple the number of non-cryptic word puzzles than cryptics – the only way for my crossword business to survive. It got me thinking about what the unqualified term “crossword” means throughout the English-speaking countries that publish them regularly, and here is my assessment: In the US, a “crossword” (or more commonly “crossword puzzle”) is most likely to be interpreted as the US-style non-cryptic type that appears in all the major newspapers and is syndicated right across the country. It’s characterised by heavy interlocking (only about 16% black squares) often carries a theme AND every letter is checked (solveable by a down and an across clue). In the UK “have you done the crossword today” would most likely refer to any one of the major cryptic crosswords, and definitely not its non-cryptic cousins. Here in Australia (and I suspect in NZ too), “crossword” would mean any non-cryptic by default, as cryptic crosswords are definitely not as entrenched in our culture as they are in the UK. Syndication, international ownership and our lack of publications means we’ve never had many local cryptic crosswords available. In NSW, for example, only the Sydney Morning Herald carries an accepted 15×15 standard daily cryptic crossword written by Australians. However, puzzle books still thrive despite the demise of many magazines, demonstrating the general population’s love of standard puzzles ahead of cryptic ones.
Those with keen eyes might notice that I always make a distinction when referring to crosswords in my blog. If “cryptic” isn’t mentioned, then I’m referring to all types of crosswords.