It’s pretty clear that, in general, solvers don’t own, or don’t have access to comprehensive dictionaries. How do I know? There are many queries about definitions and components of clues that would be answered with just one simple look-up. As a solver, you can’t be expected to know everything about a word and I can’t be expected to write crosswords using the lowest common denominator of word knowledge of my solvers.
Having said that, I have to aim for a place that both of us can exist, and to that end I have rules regarding what words and meanings I use, the references they must be in and whether I have a working knowledge of a word/term. When in doubt, a simple clue can come to the rescue.
All this is under threat, though, as the electronic dictionaries I have that run locally on my PC, are no longer being produced. They have been replaced by online versions that are a poor substitute, with slow response time, zero integration with crossword software and limited search options. Such online software needs a working internet and insists on a logon process that automatically logs you off after a short period of inactivity. In the case of Oxford, you can buy a personal annual subscription that gives you access to 100s of publications, but there’s no provision for a smaller fee for just a couple of titles. The system is heavily geared towards institutions like universities and schools, but does allow people to access publications through libraries, if your local library has signed up. Yearly fees for each publisher tend to be more than buying hard or soft copies of dictionaries, making the online environment very much unsatisfactory for crossword setters. With very few crosswords to produce, I won’t be using online versions anytime soon, relying heavily on my ageing PC-based electronic dictionaries. While dictionaries don’t change that much, they do change, so there’s a real possiblity that over time I’ll get left behind. I guess I’ll deal with that if and when it occurs.