Times for the Times

Times and comments on the Times crossword from a team of solvers

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Cryptic crosswords in The Times
Like other blogging communities, this one changes over time, sometimes making this information out of date. So watch what happens as well as reading this...
This community is mainly for information about each day's Times (or Sunday Times) crossword. A solver will state their solving time and explain interesting or difficult clues. Other solvers give their views in comments (possibly disagreeing with or correcting the original report). Sometimes, 'placeholder' posts are used to allow early comments on puzzles that will be blogged later. This allows people to leave quick comments about the puzzle or to get help from other commenters on particularly tough clues. The purpose of stating solving times is not to make you depressed because you took much longer (or chuffed because you were quicker), but to give you an idea of the difficulty of the puzzle. Information about typical solving times for each contributor is included in the biographies below.
We don't give solutions to all the clues in each puzzle, for three reasons. One: lack of time - writing this stuff takes longer than you might think! Two: so that we're not seen as completely ruining the paper's chance to make money with their "Phone for today's answers" service. Three: to encourage you to try solving just a few clues yourself, with help from the checking letters provided by the rest. But if we miss out the one clue that stumps you, ask about it in a comment. If you do so on the day of publication, the answer will usually come quickly.
We've covered almost every Times crossword since 1st November 2006. Older puzzles (1 Dec 2005 - 31 Oct 2006) were covered at http://petebiddlecombe.livejournal.com/ - a single-handed version.
Who does what
This community is open to anyone for reading and commenting. Posting is restricted to a small group of solvers. If you would like to offer your services as a contributor, please contact Andy Wallace (linxit) - current contributors are not expected to serve a life sentence. If you solve the puzzles discussed, you should look here AFTER your go at the crossword. The entries will assume that you have access to the puzzle and the answers. For Saturday puzzles and others with prizes, we report nothing more than solving times and comments about overall difficulty before the closing date.
If you want to comment, dive in. You can do so with or without a LiveJournal ID. Having one (which you can do for free) lets you identify yourself with a picture, but there are 'anon' commenters who just add a name like 'Richard B' to say who they are. Remaining fully anonymous is frowned upon. Be aware that some setters of the Times puzzle read the blog, so there's always a chance that your vicious comments about a clue will be read by the person who wrote it - which may or may not be what you want. I only discourage a few things - gratuitous bad language or insults, detailed discussion of any prize puzzles that are still "active" (though for the puzzles we write about, I don't mind you saying that an active one is notably good/bad/hard/easy. Finally, attempts to identify the setter of a Times daily or jumbo puzzle - whether I agree with 'setter anonymity' or not, it's not our role to change it in this way. Many guesses are wrong anyway, as I've discovered. Exceptions can be made for special occasions like someone's first or 1000th Times puzzle.
This community has several purposes:
  • To assess the difficulty and quality of puzzles
  • To help new (and sometimes experienced) solvers understand how the clues work - if beginners read the clue explanations and subsequent discussions, they should learn more than they would by looking at the solution in the paper the next day, and avoid the kind of long struggle some of us went through before finishing cryptic puzzles regularly. (Some will tell you that you should climb the foothills of the Daily Telegraph before attempting the Times crossword. Provided you don't mind doing badly sometimes, I'd ignore that view and learn by trying one of the world's best crosswords from the start.
  • To provide a place where solvers (and some setters) of the Times and other crosswords can exchange views by adding comments.

The Times crossword
The Times crossword (we mean the "Times of London" if you're not sure) is probably the world's best-known daily paper cryptic crossword. It has been referred to in many books and films, and being able to complete it is traditionally, though a bit misleadingly, supposed to indicate possession of a sharp mind. Apart from gaps in 1982 and 2001-2005, there has been an annual championship for solving this puzzle since 1970.
Sunday Times crossword
The Sunday Times cryptic puzzle is written and edited by a different team to the Times puzzle, so the clue-writing style and editorial rules are not the same. Now edited by Pete Biddlecombe, founder of this site, and set in turn by a team of three setters - Tim Moorey, Jeff Pearce and Dean Mayer.
The Times Jumbo crossword
The cryptic Jumbo puzzle currently appears every Saturday. It's a cryptic crossword with a larger grid (23x23 rather than 15x15 (27x27 in the past)). Until about 1998, jumbos only appeared on special occasions like Bank Holiday weekends. The editor and setters are the same as for the 15x15 puzzles, though there are probably some setters who don't write jumbos.
Mephisto is the oldest rival to the Observer's Azed puzzle - a barred-grid puzzle with difficult vocabulary, and the use of Chambers dictionary expected while you solve. In the past it was the work of one setter, but since the death of Richard Whitelegg, there has been a team of three Mephisto setters - currently Don Manley, Paul McKenna and Tim Moorey. (Paul replaced Chris Feetenby in April 2008, and Don replaced Mike Laws on his death in 2011. It's the only cryptic crossword I know that prints an e-mail address for the setter, inviting comments and questions. Very useful for baffled bloggers!
Club Monthly
The Times Crossword Club is a favoured method of accessing the Times crosswords on line. It publishes all of the crosswords available in the print version of the newspaper, and in addition a special (hard!) monthly crossword for club members only.
Other stuff
In the past, we had an unofficial contest based on the six 15x15 cryptics from Saturday to Friday. You'll also see some posts about the Times Crossword Championship, and about occasional meetings of community members - all in London so far, and normally in conjunction with other crossword blogs.
Times Crossword Club
If you want access to the puzzles and can't get the paper itself, you can join the Times Crossword Club, which gives you access to all the crosswords published by the Times, Sunday Times and Times Literary Supplement. You can find it here: https://www.crosswordclub.co.uk/auth/login (Googling for "Times Crossword Club" should also get you there if this link 'rots'.)
Alternatively, in some countries you can get the Times puzzle in a syndicated version, with a time delay of two or three weeks. Syndicated versions of at least the weekday puzzles appear in the New York Post and The Australian. The Australian's "Sunday Times" crossword is not a syndicated puzzle, but one written for an Aussie market by two of the Sunday Times setting team. The Sunday Times puzzle is also syndicated (in its original form) in the Ottawa Citizen.
Regular contributors
Apart from holidays and other absences, these contributors cover one day of the week, though most share weekly slots. Some wish to remain anonymous or use their "crosswording" name. Puzzles shown in brackets are those blogged regularly in addition to the 15x15 blocked grid puzzles on our main schedule.
Monday - Jonathan / vinyl1
I was born in 1953 and have been doing the Times puzzle for 20 years, having started in the late 80s when a selected puzzle was published weekly in New York Magazine. When it was cut over to the New York Post sometime in the early 90s, and came out every day, I really got serious and started to finish some, and then most.
I have dabbled in American-style puzzle construction, and had about ten daily puzzles published in the New York Times when Gene Maleska was the editor.
I am an American who grew up in Connecticut and live now in New York City. My educational background is English literature, but I also used to be pretty good in classical Greek. I know a lot about English popular culture from reading, although sometimes not enough. I am a little weak on cricketers and footballers, and the geography of minor English towns. I do not watch movies or television, but that doesn't seem to be much of a problem with the Times puzzles.
I am a serious record collector with 4000 records, so I know music pretty well.
Monday - ulaca
Born in 1959 to a cricketing father, I grew up wanting to bowl like Fred Trueman until a back problem did for my natural away swing. It was to be another 30 years before I bowed to the inevitable and became an umpire. After a varied and checkered career, I am currently writing a book on the thought of CS Lewis while moonlighting as a propagandist for a large Hong Kong company. I got into crosswords in a small way when a teenager, as both parents took irregular stabs at the Telegraph cryptic. I got more serious when I discovered this blog at the back end of 2009, improving at an astonishing rate from rare finisher to under an hour with one generally wrong. Functionally innumerate, I have never done a Sudoku and don’t get Mephisto.
Tuesday - Jim Biggin / dorsetjimbo (Mephisto)
Born 1942 (you can do the sums). Introduced to The Telegraph cryptic crossword by my rather Edwardian aunt when I was 12 and she caught me kissing my cousin (those were the days). Moved on to The Times when I was 15 and have been doing it ever since. I've never been particularly fast (I can't read and write at the same time apart from not having the brain power) and puzzles normally take me from 20 to 50 minutes. My all-time favourite puzzles were those set by Ximenes in the Sunday Observer and I've still got my tie somewhere. I'm retired now after spending most of my working life applying IT to insurance and finance. I wrote my first computer based actuarial valuation in 1964 using an ICL1301, which probably accounts for my sense of humour. For 18 years my wife Maureen and I were foster carers looking after teenagers until we retired from that in 2006, during which that same humour kept me sane. I now devote my time to local community affairs, golf and the Times crossword, of course.
Tuesday - Tim Hall / topicaltim (Jumbo)
Born 1966. Level: after a long break from the Times puzzle, I've been steadily improving to the point where my personal challenge is to take less than 2 Magoos (my preferred unit of solving time, see below for more info), so 10-20 minutes depending on difficulty.
History: I started solving in the 80s: in something that seems, in retrospect, like a somewhat cliched scene from Inspector Morse, I had my schooling in The Times crossword over post-essay drinks with my tutor in the back bar of the King's Arms, Oxford. At lunchtime, this place was (and I hope, still is) full of people completing the puzzle before their first pint had disappeared. These days, sadly, boozy lunches don't fit my lifestyle, so it's more likely to be done with the breakfast cup of tea.
Wednesday - Alec McHoul / mctext
Born 1952. Started doing the daily Times in the sixth form in the UK in the late 60s. I was hopeless at it. Gradually got a bit better but only took a serious interest later in life as a means of alleviating the boredom of university administration. Also a fan of Guardian puzzles and attempting (dismally) to set puzzles in a similar style for a bit of occasional relief. Now a semi-retired professor — of what, they never told me — and living in a once-rural area SE of Perth, Western Australia.
Club Monthly Special - Jerry Whitmarsh / JerryWh
Born: early 1950s. Started attempting the Times and Mephisto crosswords in my teens in the ‘60s and have done them on and off ever since. When I gave up full time work in 2000, to stave off senility I swore a mighty oath to complete the Times cryptic every day and so far, have managed to do so. The advent of the crossword club has been a godsend, especially when on holiday!
I tend to prefer enjoyment and persistence above speed, and reckon to take between 10-30 mins according to difficulty, sometimes more. I usually also do the Jumbo, ST cryptic, Mephisto, and the TLS crosswords, if time permits. Occasionally Azed, but for me the Listener (and themed crosswords generally) is a step too far. I have discovered that when in bed I can solve (almost) any crossword, and one day I hope to learn how to transfer this ability for daytime use.
For some years I blogged the Wednesday cryptic but currently I appear only once a month as blogger for the Club Monthly, my favourite crossword
I can be contacted at: tftt [at] jerrywhitmarsh [dot] com
Thursday - George Heard / glheard (Mephisto)
Born: 1970. Years of solving - 25. Solving speed - try to keep it under 20 minutes.
Expat Australian, now living in the Western mountains of North Carolina. Started doing the cryptic crosswords in the Melbourne Age when I couldn't beat my grandfather to the quick crossword. When I left Australia I found the Times crossword online and that's been my mainstay since 1996. I regularly solve the Times, Mephisto and Azed and maintain another blog on my attempts to get better at the Listener.
Teach Chemistry to impressionable Americans during the day, write and perform comedy at night. Can be seen regularly at bars alternating between solving intractable crosswords and scribbling bad jokes in a notebook.
Main weakness is botany - almost always have to get names of plants and trees from wordplay.
Thursday - z8b8d8k / Ian Richardson
Crosswording is evidently part of my genetic makeup. My maternal grandfather had several packs of playing cards which were consolation prizes for the Daily Telegraph competition and which were very good for house-of-cards building. I was introduced to cryptic crosswords by my paternal uncle, who showed me how to do the Sunday Times when I was in my early teens. Burned in my memory is the first one I very nearly finished, flummoxed by a single clue that involved creating a decorator out of Trocadero. In an age long before anagram aids and internet, that was a bit of a heartbreaker. By the time I reached university (second time around - I switched from Law to Theology via a spell as a psychiatric nursing assistant) I was solving the Times daily during coffee break (some breaks turned out to be quite long!). As far as I know, the "World Crossword Championship" - part of the Mind Olympics way back when - was the only one to have taken place involving the Times, and I maintain therefore that my 26th place, obtained in the incredibly noisy setting of the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, is still current. My occasional attendances at Times Crossword Competitions have yielded at least two further 26th places and a 6th at London Regional final, demonstrating a talent for finishing exactly one place outside any kind of qualification. I have also never yet won a prize.
My preference is for solving the newsprint version, waived for competition puzzles and when it's my turn to blog. I occasionally tackle the Listener and Mephisto, and regularly enjoy the Spot the Deliberate Mistake feature of the TLS.
Friday - jackkt
Born:1947. I have enjoyed cryptic puzzles for as long as I can remember, mainly in the Daily Telegraph until I discovered some 10 years ago that the Times is often more challenging and rewarding. I'm the tortoise of the regular bloggers so take encouragement from my solving times!
Friday/Sunday - Dave Perry / daveperry (Jumbo, ST)
Born in the summer of '69, I've been doing cryptic crosswords since I was at school. My Dad's always been keen on crosswords and puzzles of all kinds, the tougher the better. He often had a Times crossword next to him at the dinner table, and he would read the clues out for anyone to chip in with suggestions. I gradually picked up how they worked and started doing the Telegraph for myself. I moved on to the Times about 15 years ago, and I've been doing it off and on ever since. I tend to tackle the daily puzzle over my lunch-hour. I finish maybe 4 out of 5, in an average time of about 40-45 minutes I would guess. Certainly, anything under 30 minutes is a good day. I don't usually get time to look at Saturday's puzzles, but I do Sunday's while waiting for my sons to finish their swimming lessons.
I grew up in Essex, and went to University of Sussex to read Mathematics. I moved to South Manchester in my late twenties and have lived there ever since. I work in IT, writing web-based software. I am married with two kids, both boys, aged 6 & 8. My strengths are probably Geography & Mythology. I'm reasonably good at Shakespeare, passable at Dickens, and downright awful at anything to do with politics or plants.
I like clever anagrams, my favourite to date is one that cropped up in a recent Jumbo - 'Tester of maths realm' = 'Fermat's last theorem'. To a mathematician like me, that's quite breathtaking.
Saturday - Andy Wallace / linxit
Born: 1963. I've been solving cryptics since I was about 12 helping my Dad with the Telegraph, moved on to the Times when I was in my mid twenties. Entered Times Championships a couple of times in the nineties, best effort joint 66th in the Bristol regional final, 1992 I think. In 2006 I came 21st in Preliminary B. [12th in Prelim B would have made the final - best 24 contestants. I was much prouder when I made the Times Championship final for the first time than when I won it. Ed.]
I do the Guardian most days too, the Spectator every week, and started doing the Listener every week at the beginning of last year. I also do Azed and/or EV if I'm finished early with the Listener.
Average time for the Times is around 15-16 minutes, best ever around 5 minutes (started at Southampton station, finished by the time it got to Southampton Parkway, the next stop).
Helen Ougham /helenougham (Jumbo)
I started solving cryptic puzzles in my teens in the early 1970s, when my mother wanted help with the “science clues”, and I was hooked pretty quickly. I first entered the Times National Crossword Competition when I was 17, and as I recall I came about 83rd out of 120 entrants in one of the London regional finals. I got somewhat better over the years, winning the championship in 1995 and again in 2006 when it resumed after a 5-year hiatus. I’ll tackle most cryptic puzzles, including Mephisto, Inquisitor, Azed, Listener and others as well as the broadsheet dailies. When I was working full-time as a plant scientist I had limited time for solving, but now that I’ve (kind of) retired that’s changed, and I’m enjoying the social side of crosswording too. When it comes to solving I’m reasonably good at clues with a science, technology, IT, medicine, literature or mythology slant, poor at pop music and sporting references and disgracefully ignorant about cricket! I live with my husband in Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales but spend around a third of my time in Kent these days.
Simon Hanson/sghanson (Jumbo)
Born 1957, and have been solving crosswords for over 30 years after being introduced to them by my parents who were regular solvers. Various spells of commuting to London for work led to the Times crossword becoming a daily habit (addiction?) which shows no sign of abating. I also attempt the Times weekend puzzles and various others that I find in other publications. I have competed in Regional Finals of the Times Championship in the past but 2008 was my first entry since it moved to Cheltenham – I was very pleased to come 7th overall. I am a Chartered Accountant and to earn a living I work as a Financial Controller for a software company. Outside work I am treasurer for a Macmillan Cancer Support fund-raising committee and enjoy fishing, gardening and photography.
fathippy / Marcos Fernandes (jumbo)
Born - some time in the distant past - although a Mancunian by birth, lived my formative years on the outskirts of Lisbon, before returning to England for educational purposes, and the "standard" public school, Oxford, Merchant Bank start to life. Was always surrounded by the sorts of teachers who liked cryptics of one sort or another, and lessons were often put on hold to study a clue or two, although I never really regularly did any particular paper's crossword until very recently. An occasional solver at university, and nothing but the bank holiday jumbos for many years, it was ironically the arrival of sudoku that started me back on the regular Times cryptic. After retirement, some extra time of a day and having become bored of the rigid structure of the number games, I started doing the times xwd regularly at the beginning of 2009, stumbled upon Peter's blog soon after, and that was it. Joined the crossword club, downloaded and printed years worth of grids on the back of old bank statements, bought all the paperback books and set about aiming to be competitive at Cheltenham 2010. Managed to get about 40th in heat 2, which was about acceptable as "competitive", so I plod on ever in awe of some of the knowledge and ability of some of the contributors on here. Current average speeds are about 20-25 mins, although I occassionally hit a wall on unknown content and suffer an unavoidable DNF - basically as a numbers man through and through, I have limited general knowledge especially on things like art, opera, flowers and foodstuff.... in fact, pretty much anything that isnt beer, football or rock music!

Alumni: Non-regular and former contributors, just in case you're reading an old posting. These entries are not kept up to date.
yfyap / Uncle Yap - currently on a temporary sabbatical.
Born 1946. Discovered cryptic crossword when I attended University of Newcastle in the early 70's. Literally thrown into the deep end as Times was then half-priced for registered students (Yes, I paid two new pence for Times and claimed back half every three months).
Now a retired Chartered Accountant, my daily diet consists of Times, Guardian, Independent and FT, with the occasional Azed and Cyclops thrown in. Started setting a weekly cryptic crossword puzzle in a Malaysian Sunday paper which ran for more than 3 years.
Peter Biddlecombe / petebiddlecombe (Daily 2005-2010, Jumbo & Mephisto 2006-2010)
Born: 1960, years of Times solving: about 35 (with a gap c. 1978-83 when I defected to the Guardian)
Times best: 3'00" (22,954 - April 19 2005), Median time: 8:05 when last measured from a sample of puzzles (c. 2006), probably about 10 minutes now.
Achievements: Times Championship Winner, 2000 and 2007, and in the final 7 other times in a total of 14 attempts.
Also attempted Guardian xwd daily 1978-2006, Indie daily c. Sept 2006 - mid-2009, Various Telegraph puzzles c. 2008 onwards. Regular Azed solver, occasional clue comp entrant - best = a VHC for a Printers Devilry clue. Very patchy Listener record at present - got about 25-30 puzzles right in about 3 years, early to mid-1990s. Occasional setter of puzzles but mostly for tiny audiences so far. As of this year, I have a Church Times puzzle as my biggest success. Occasional solver of US-style non-cryptic puzzles, currently daily solver of Times Two non-cryptic puzzle. I do some SuDoku and other 'Japanese puzzles', but way below Championship standard.
Peter started this blog back in 2005 and ran it on his own for the first nine months. He was then joined by other bloggers but continued to remain the administrator and main contributor. At the beginning of 2011 he was taken on by the Sunday Times to replace Barbara Hall as their crossword editor and was therefore obliged to curtail his involvement with the blog.
Neil Talbott / talbinho (ST 2007-2010, Jumbo 2006-2008, Daily 2006-2007)
Born: 1981. Years of Times solving: about 9 (before when The Telegraph and The Leicester Mercury provided a grounding).
Times speed: Median time around 10 mins; sub-5 on a very good day, 30+ on the toughest days. Times accuracy (without references): An average of about 2 mistakes per week or so. 3 or more missing clues in about one crossword per month.
Other crosswords: Other dailies (Independent first) as availability and time permit; Listener solver; highly satisfied Magpie subscriber.
Weaknesses: Opera, theatre, Shakespeare, Dickens (in fact literature in general), artists. (Oh, and Polish prime ministers.)
Achievements: All-correct Listener solver for 2006, Times Championship finalist, 2007
Richard / richardvg (Daily 2006-2009)
Born: late-1950s. Times solving speed: about half again as long as Peter B. Graduated from solving the Telegraph to the Times in 1972. Gave up the Times on change of ownership in 1981; survived for a decade or so on Guardian and Listener puzzles. Now back to a daily Times habit.
Ilan Caron / ilanc (Daily 2007-2008, ST 2006-2007)
Age: old enough to remember the 1966 world cup. Level: journeyman (Times and Guardian dailies, occasional Azed and Mephisto, and the rare Listener). Times speed: best 15 minutes, average: 45'-1 hour.
Born in England but have lived overseas since I was 11 (since I was a sports-obsessed child, Brit cricket and rugby allusions are familiar but much modern britslang is unfamiliar). Cryptics in "The New Yorker" (97-99) were what got me going. Just joined Google after spending many years at Microsoft.
Tony Sever (TLS 2010)
Born 1944 in Scarborough, Yorkshire. Have lived in Ealing, West London since 1970. Career spent designing and writing computer software with ICL or its predecessors, subsidiaries and successors (between school and university I was programming the ICT 1301 before dorsetjimbo got his hands on it).
Started solving the crossword in The Rainbow - or was it Chicks' Own? - at around 5. Progressed, with considerable help from my older brother and sister, to Everybody's and The Yorkshire Post at 6 or 7. First tackled The Listener crossword and Ximenes while at school, and have been solving the daily cryptic in The Times regularly since I was 18 - fastest time 3:54, some years ago! Have competed in the Times Championship every year since it began in 1970, reaching the final 20 times between 1975 and 2009, and winning once (in 1981).
Compete regularly at Race the Clock, and cover that in a separate blog ( http://tony-sever.livejournal.com/). Slowing with age, though a competitive streak persists. Have been tackling the TLS puzzle since I discovered it was available online in early 2009, and blogging it (along with Andy Wallace) since early 2010.
Ken Gillett / 7dPenguin (Jumbo until Nov 2011)
Born about 1960. I'm a software developer and live in Accrington, Lancashire. I started solving during my student years, being an occasional solver of The Guardian and Telegraph, usually in the pub on a Saturday lunchtime (with Penfold_61, another regular commenter on this blog). I remained an occasional solver of the dailies until about 3 years ago when I paid my subscription to the Times and figured I'd better get my money's worth by solving every day. It usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes to complete, often taking longer and occasionally less. My all time best is 5:10. My weaknesses are many and various, but I have a real aversion towards old books and old music. I've started doing the Indie and Guardian most days and recently had my first bash at a Mephisto. I've competed at three regional finals of the Times National Crossword Competition, but didn't ever trouble the leader board. I'll be at Cheltenham this year, my target being not to make an idiot of myself. Aside from the wonderful world of crosswords, I like to go on walks, watch football (Blackburn Rovers) and mess about with my two sons.
Russel John / kororareka (Alternate Mondays until July 2012)
Born 1953, Sydney. I was led into a life of crosswords by a wayward friend in high school. The Sunday Times (I think) was reproduced in a now defunct Sunday paper and it took a group of us all week to get a handful of clues, sometimes abetted by a Maths teacher. We'd gather clandestinely in the library and chuckle around the complete OED. This was Australia and anything resembling intellectual activity was frowned upon. During my misspent youth as a serious student I stopped doing them, mistakenly believing that life was too short for crosswords. I started doing the Times on a fairly regular basis again in the 90's. Times had changed. Crosswords had become a social event around the tea table at work. Latterly I do them over a leisurely breakfast and hope I can finish before morning tea, lunch at the latest. Life is good.
Niall MacSweeney / nmacsweeney (Jumbo until end 2010)
Born 1947, doing crosswords since teens, Daily Telegraph, Guardian then a fallow period till the Indy was launched in 1986.
Not among the high fliers, but can finish the Indy every day with the odd mistake - average solving time about 20 mins. Blogs as nmsindy on Fifteen squared site which covers Indy puzzles. Encouraged by Don Manley's book, tried the Listener in holidays in 1993 and, amazingly solved the very first one and became hooked. Again not among the high fliers - not broken into the successful solvers' list (10 or fewer wrong in a year), but usually get 30-odd correct. Like the numerical puzzles (4 year in the Listener and monthly in the Magpie). Was very pleased to have a Listener puzzle published (pseudonym: Raich) in July 2007.
sabine_tk (Daily 2008-2010)
I started trying to figure out cryptic crosswords when I was about twelve – I used to cut the puzzle out of the newspaper and take it to school to study surreptitiously during classes. I was already heavily addicted to puzzles at that age and would spend hours working on books of cryptograms or logic problems, but nowadays only crosswords really hold my interest. I do the Times - where I’d guess my average solving time is around 12 minutes - and the Listener, which I usually manage to finish. I also subscribe to The Magpie, where I rarely finish anything. The rest of the time I’m a writer and computer programmer.
My best subjects are books, pop music, popular culture generally – I’m pretty shallow - and computer games; not a terribly useful collection for solving the Times. Areas of especially woeful ignorance are religion, anything military, and food and drink. I also misspell Italian words with dismaying regularity.
David Hogg / dhogg (Daily & Mephisto 2007)
Born mid-1960s. Location: Paisley Occupation: Territory Finance Manager for the British Red Cross. Have been solving cryptics since I was 12, starting with the Dundee Courier. I them moved on to the Scotsman and then the Times. My average solving time for a Times crossword is about 10-12 minutes, but I have had sub-5 minute successes on occasion. I don’t do a regular crossword now - just depends on my mood on the day, but I do tend to buy the Times every Saturday, and have just subscribed to the online Guardian crossword service. In the 80s I qualified for the Scottish heat of the Times Crossword Championship on four (maybe five?) occasions, but could only attend one (poor student, don’t you know!). I came 36th. I also qualified for the 2006 and 2007 Finals, but work commitments prevented me from attending. I haven’t got a lot of experience of barred crosswords, but I try them occasionally. I compile a range of puzzles from mazes to cryptic crosswords. Not had a lot of luck with getting them published, but to be fair, I haven’t tried very hard either. I did have a puzzle published in Games five years ago. I enjoy solving US-style non-cryptic puzzles and wonder whether there might be a market for similar “themed” crosswords over here?
the_od (Mephisto & Jumbo 2006-2008)
Born: c. 1960 - Solving cryptics since my teens, spent pre-teens looking over Dad’s shoulder at the Telegraph. I was weaned on a diet of Azed, The Listener and the much-mourned Games & Puzzles magazine. Never really managed to get any good at the Times, and from 2001-2006, I rarely attempted it. However, the revival of the Championship has inspired me to try and improve! I hope my contributions to the Community may show how practice (whilst not making perfect!) can bring that improvement. I am already trying to implement some of the top tips from the speed merchants. Since resuming solving, and monitoring my progress via Peter’s blog, I have found that my current times are around double his (but I can still come a complete cropper - and often do!). Best time ever 6:24, some 8 years ago. Let’s see if we can get better than that!
Weaknesses: Literature. I must be one of the most unread crossword solvers around. I can count the number of fiction books I have read on the fingers of one hand (maths was more my bag), and of those 7 books none is likely to feature in a Times clue. Also poor on Geography.
Other crosswords: Azed, The Listener (occasional solver over last few years), Magpie subscriber. I have become hooked on Race The Clock for the T2, although Race The Calendar would be more appropriate for me.
Achievements: As far as The Times goes, I have never managed 100% in a Regional Qualifier! Closest I came was one error when I did not know the composer Hindemith (oh yes, Classical Music – another weakness!). So my top crossword achievement has to be an all-correct Listener year back in the 90’s. [As the number of all-correct Listener solvers is neraly always less than ten, this is equivalent to a good place in the Times final. Those with Chambers can look up 'od' and wonder which meaning is being used here ... Ed.]
Mr Magoo / i_am_magoo (Daily 2006-2007)
Mr Magoo, born in 1965, is a former Times and Daily Telegraph Crossword Champion. He has also won the Silver Solver Salver for the Listener crossword, and is a co-editor of The Magpie, a subscription magazine for those who like tough thematic crosswords (and numerical puzzles). [For Mr Magoo's solving times, take a look at the weekly contests on this blog. Ed.]
I've been doing crosswords for about twenty years. The bug bit hard at first, and I soon evolved a Pavlovian solving response to anything that looked like a crossword (checked tablecloths weren't safe). Eventually I took a sabbatical from them for fear that the men in white coats might soon be dragging me off, eager little fists still clutching a stubby pencil and a folded copy of the Times.
Nowadays I ration myself to solving the Times daily puzzle and no other. I would put my par solving time at around 17 minutes, but I'm a bit inconsistent. When I really concentrate I occasionally manage a sub-ten minute time, and have dipped below eight on a few occasions.
I work in design and do some writing these days, and have worked in academia (literature then later linguistics), teaching and a few bizarrely unrelated professions. I'm Cheltenham born and raised, but have lived in a few countries. I'm currently living in Canada but am starting to hanker for England again (if I can ever afford the prices).
Neil Wellard / Neildubya (Daily 2007-2008)
Born: mid-1980s. I've been solving crosswords for about 14 years. Started with Guardian and stayed there until Aug 2006. Now a regular Independent and Times solver, and occasional Guardian puzzles thrown in for good measure. Average solving time now around 15 mins. Over the years I have occasional stabs at the Listener but these never last long. I also do the Cyclops puzzle in Private Eye and I have a long-standing ambition to compile a crossword using words and phrases only found in the Viz publication "Roger's Profanisaurus". One day...
Born: mid-1980s. I live in West London and sit down at one o'clock to solve the daily cryptic. By profession I'm an auditor for bookmaking and casino software but I tend to use Scrabble and crosswords to take a break from poring over code. I started out with the Telegraph's cryptic about nine years ago because my then-boss frequently left it only partially solved. I've now been solving the Times daily for a couple of years, and the Sunday Times Mephisto puzzle at weekends (timings: 20-40 minutes for a daily).
Dorothy Satterfield / dorosatt
Born mid-1950s. Born, raised, and still (still!) residing in Wilmington, Delaware. Discovered the British cryptic in the autumn of 1976, when a fellow grad student/puzzle addict tossed me a New York Magazine and told me to check out the puzzle on the last page. The heading was something like 'World's Toughest Crossword from the Sunday London Times', and not a single clue made sense. All my friend could tell me was that this was the type of puzzle they did in Britain and it involved wordplay. I still remember the first clue I managed to solve: 'Making a fuss bringing up first-born (7,4)'. I shouted out the answer, which was embarrassing, because I was on a crowded train heading for New York at the time. After that, we'd have a go at the puzzle every week; sometimes we'd even finish one.
But when I left school, I stopped doing the puzzle, and didn't start again until a few years ago, when I joined the Times Crossword Club. Through the Club, I discovered Peter Biddlecombe's blog and I also bought a copy of Don Manley's Crossword Manual. With all that help, and with daily practice, my solving time has improved considerably (say 45 to 90 minutes on average), but will probably never be fast, which is okay with me. I like to take my time over a good puzzle. I tend to linger lovingly over a finely-wrought clue. My goal is simply to finish within a reasonable amount of time, give my brain a good workout, perhaps learn something, and, above all, have fun.
John Henderson / johnhenderson
John is best known as a setter - Enigmatist in the Guardian, Nimrod in the Independent and Io in the FT. He started solving and setting crosswords at a very tender age, was strongly influenced by correspondence with Araucaria, and had his first Guardian puzzle published when he was fifteen. John won the Times Championship in 1996 and claims the fastest time for a competitor in the Times championship - 2:53. After working as a psychology lecturer, he became a full-time setter of crosswords and quizzes in 2003, and runs a website featuring puzzles by various professional and amateur setters.

Coverage of other puzzles
The (cryptic) Times Jumbo, Times Literary Supplement, and Sunday Times Mephisto puzzles are covered by small groups of us. We have no plans to add the Listener puzzle as it's discussed in detail elsewhere). Some contributors may include brief coverage about cryptic crosswords in other papers, but we won't be analysing them in much detail.
There are no hard and fast rules about notation in the posts - contributors are free to use any method they like to show how the wordplay works. Here are a few bits of notation that might not be 100% obvious to beginners:
  • (brackets) are used in the same way as in algebra, to indicate that something must be done to the result of doing something else. "Something else" might be as simple as combining two adjacent words.
  • "quotes" indicate a homophone - e.g. WAIT="weight"
  • (ski rates)* an asterisk may be used instead of "anag." to indicate an anagram
  • CAPITALS may be used to help distinguish the answer from the words that lead to it
  • <= or <- may be used instead of "rev." to indicate reversal in a similar way to * for an anagram
  • &lit. (new name suggested by Tim Moorey: "all-in-one") is short for something like "and literally so". It indicates a clue where the whole clue forms both wordplay and definition, rather than wordplay and def standing side by side. Old example: "I'm one involved with cost (9)" = ECONOMIST - which might be explained thus: "(I'm one cost)* &lit - 'involved' = anag. indicator"

Some comments about comments
Anyone is welcome to comment about puzzles, but you need to be aware of a few ground rules and facts. The main ground rule: avoid mentioning answers to other puzzles that people might not have solved when reading your comment. Puzzles published before the one you're talking about are safe (we assume that people doing puzzles late do them in chronological order), but not those published on the same day or later, especially competition puzzles for which the closing date hasn't yet been reached.
If your comment relates entirely to something someone has said in another comment, it's best to use the "reply" link under that comment, as this makes the overall set of comments easier to understand.
LiveJournal allows comments to be edited (non-anonymous users only) until they have been replied to. After that, comments can only be deleted. This can be done by the commenter if they commented from a LiveJournal account (which you can get for free), and by the community "maintainers" in all cases. If you comment anonymously, you cannot delete your own comments. Deletion of other people's comments is very rare but just occasionally necessary.
The main text of a post (clue explanations in particular) may be updated in repsonse to comments. This is usually indicated by the words "on edit", or by text in italics.
Finding reports
Sometimes you'll want to find a report on a particular puzzle without looking through comments on more recent ones. LiveJournal gives you two pages that are useful for this: The "View All Archives" link under the "latest" month calendar at the top right of the main page shows you a calendar with links to the postings for each day. If you know our schedule and the publication date of a puzzle, you can use this to find the puzzle. On the archives page, there are "View Subjects" links for each month. These show the subject line for each post, which includes the puzzle number.
For older posts, you can use an advanced Google blog search, specifying the URL for the blog. Here's an example. (After following this, Click on the 'Advanced blog search' link to see what to do.) Unfortunately, our notation methods for answers mean that searching for answer words often doesn't work except for a few clue types like cryptic definitions and hidden words. There are also times when Google's blog search just doesn't seem to work. If that happens, you may have more joy with a standard Google search for "Times for the Times" (with quotes) plus your other keyword.
Missing reports
Sometimes we forget or can't fulfil our blogging tasks. This is usually restricted to the weekly puzzles for which the work is shared. If you think this has happened, first send an email to: missed-blog {at} linxit{dot} eclipse {dot} co {uk}. If Andy Wallace is not on holiday, this should get you a response, though it may just be "sorry, we missed it". If this gets no response, add a comment to a daily puzzle blog, asking about the missing report.
Reference Books
For the Times daily cryptic and Jumbo, the reference dictionaries were stated by previous Times crossword editors to be the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED, Concise) and Collins English Dictionary (Collins). Richard Rogan, the current crossword editor, doesn't name an official dictionary, reserving the right to decide what words are allowed based on his own judgement. That said, other than proper nouns, words not in either the Concise Oxford or Collins are still very unusual. I'm not aware of a stated reference dictionary for Sunday Times puzzles, but would expect the COED/Collins combo to work most of the time.
For Times crosswords other than Mephisto, the combination of dictionary and encyclopaedic entries in the Oxford Dictionary of English is very hard to beat - and this is the dictionary currently (Sept 2010) used on the Oxford Dictionaries website ("World English" option.)
For Mephisto puzzles (and pretty much any barred-grid puzzle published in the UK), Chambers is the reference and most solvers will need to use it to solve the puzzle - the hope of the setters and editor is that you can complete a daily or Jumbo puzzle without looking things up.
Other books you might see mentioned in reports: "Bradford" is Bradford's Crossword Solvers Dictionary, "Brewer" is Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, ODQ = Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, "Shorter" = Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (only "shorter" by comparison to ...), "OED" = the full multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary - great for word origins, age of slang and the like, but not be required for any (sane) crossword in the way that Chambers is for Mephisto.
crosswords, cryptic crosswords, times crossword, times crossword championship

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