The Stickler Weekly Insights 210 – Cryptic Equals Difficult

Recently a well-known and prolific setter, named Roger Squires (Rufus in The Guardian), announced his retirement. He is credited with being the world’s most published crossword setter with numerous records including one that appeared in the Guinness Book of Records from 1978 until all crossword records were dropped in 2002. For more information about this, check out his Wikipedia entry . He was unique among UK setters in that his popularity was based on the low level of difficulty of his puzzles, (which featured a greater-than-average number of cryptic definitions) rather than the high level of difficulty that often defines setters. As you know, I don’t believe there is such a thing as an easy cryptic crossword, since a crossword that’s easy to solve obviously isn’t cryptic enough. A good cryptic clue hides its workings cleverly, not necessarily deviously. However, Roger’s cryptics were considered on the easy side, and maybe that’s why he was so popular. I talked to one of my UK cryptic contacts last week asking about how Roger would be replaced, as he wrote cryptic crosswords for a large number of outlets. I was particularly interested in whether crossword editors would look to replace the “easy” nature of Roger’s crosswords which obviously appealed to a large number of people. Writing “easy” cryptics is far from easy – it’s much easier to make them harder – so Roger’s skill would be difficult to replicate. My UK cryptic contact (who edits crosswords for a major paper) thought Roger’s loss would be handled relatively effortlessly, although he did note that crosswords editors did like a balance across the week (and setting group) when it came to difficulty. He also mentioned that Roger’s crosswords usually appeared on Mondays as this is traditionally when the easier cryptics are published. It does seem, though, that the rest of the week doesn’t increase in difficulty, unlike the (non-cryptic) crosswords that appear in major US newspapers.
Read more about Roger’s career here.

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3 Responses to The Stickler Weekly Insights 210 – Cryptic Equals Difficult

  1. Richard Sternes says:

    Liked Rufus very much David & you have explained all. Years ago in my very early Cryptic learning days, before I dropped the Courier Mail when THEY dropped THE BOXER, I used to look for Rufus as one of the more accessible Setters for learners.

  2. Arthur Maynard says:

    Rufus was my favourite Guardian setter. It distressed me somewhat to read some of the about how easy it was to solve his puzzles. I wondered why they did not take on the job if it was so easy. I felt Rufus always played fair with his solvers, and provided crosswords where newbies could achieve a level of success.
    In the comments on fifteen squared one fan reported that Roger had told her many years ago that the Guardian had specifically sought out Rufus for the comfortable start to the week.
    I considered the two puzzles Philistine and Pan which appeared on the Mondays after his departure were significantly easier than their usual fare. I actually got both out, whereas Philistine is usually a closed book to me. I suspect they were asked to provide a comfortable entry to the week.

  3. Graeme Patch says:

    I too have been a fan of Roger Squire’s work through Rufus and to a minor extent Dante. His retirement was to be expected as I recall his turning 83 a few years ago. His clues were short, clean and uncomplicated but with a little quirky twist or double meaning unmistakably Rufus.
    Luckily his work remained available online after being so brutally offloaded from the courier mail. This meant also a loss of other crosswords I had followed (Boxer, LB, TD, Stickler) which as we know, involved you David.
    For me the other Guardian setters range from easy to complex and barely understandable. The enjoyment is from playing with words without an impossible challenge.