40 years on…

In 1967, Terry Biddlecombe won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Woodland Venture. Today, I just managed to win a “Cheltenham silver cup” for the Times Crossword Championship.

I’m afraid I was too busy accepting congratulations to collect a full set of grand final results, so those will have to wait until I can pinch them from the Times xwd club site.

Qualifiers from the two preliminaries were, in finishing order:

1 Tim Smith
2 Peter Brooksbank
3 David Howell
4 R Crabtree
5 Richard Grafen
6 Philip Dodd
7 Peter Biddlecombe
8 Michael MacDonald-Cooper
9 Neil Talbott
10 Philip Meade
11 N Robinson
12 C Williams

(I finished in about 25/26 minutes, and I think Tim Smith finished in 18 or 19. I should have been quicker but struggled for a while with a four-letter answer in the first puzzle with checking letters that allowed many possibilities.)

1 Helen Ougham
2 J Roberts
3 Phil Jordan
4 Simon Chillingworth
5 Sir John Sparrow
6 Lord Aberdare
7 D M MacArthur
8 John Marshall
9 Mick Hodgkin
10 Chris Brougham
11 R Cuthbert
12 Brenda Widger

Afternoon times were something like 15-20 minutes slower, and 13 of the first 25 had a mistake (mostly the same one, but I won’t mention any answers here, so that you can do the puzzles unseen when they appear in the paper).

The set of puzzles for the final seemed even tougher than last year. I got on fairly well with the first one – 10 mins or so, though I had one answer left to complete, and as it turned out, one wrongly filled in at that point. Each of the others was quite a struggle, but I eventually finished them, returned to number one and found my mistake, which meant that something I knew should be true about the unentered answer could now be true. I put my hand up at about 37:50, knowing that most people were still working, but not knowing whether any other hands had gone up. Eight seconds later, David Howell (1997 champ and second last year) finished. In the format used before 2006, that would probably have meant that David and I would have had to sit down for an extra puzzle to reach a decision. I’m mighty glad to have avoided that experience! A while later (I didn’t see this bit happen) Philip Dodd and Philip Meade put their hands up simultaneously. Older readers will remember that Phlip Meade finished second several times in the glory days of John Sykes, so it was good to see him back. It was also good to see bloggers Neil Talbott (talbinho) and (from fifteensquared) Mick Hodgkin making their first finals, along with John Marshall who has been sending in times for the cryptic RTC contests here.

It turned out that Helen Ougham had finished first, but in a reversal of last year, it was her turn to have a couple of wrong answers. Commiserations to her, David Howell who was so close, John Henderson (first hand up in the morning, but with a wrong answer that was very plausible), Shane Shabankareh (13th in the morning), and Tony Sever – about 16th in the morning. And of course, we’ll never know how Mark Goodliffe would have got on with these puzzles in the heat of battle.

Quick idea about the championship puzzles and our unofficial RTC contests: I’m going to leave them out of the weekly contests, but have a separate contest for the 9 championship puzzles, open only to those who weren’t there and haven’t seen any more news about the puzzles than appears in the paper or other public places. I’ll say more about this when it’s clear what the schedule is for publishing the championship puzzles.

37 comments on “40 years on…”

  1. Brilliant news Pete! I feel honoured to have managed to grab the first opportunity to congratulate you. Well done mate – and hope the treble isn’t long coming.
  2. Congrats, Peter. A fully deserved reward for all your excellent work with this site. I look forward to spending a few hours on the puzzles when they’re published!


  3. I was a bit less busy than Peter and managed to pinch the results for the Grand Final, which were given as follows. Numbers in brackets give clues correct (out of 90) and, for submissions within the hour, finishing position.

    1 Mr P Biddlecombe (90, 2)
    2 Mr D Howell (90, 3)
    3= Mr P Meade (90, 4=)
    3= Mr P Dodd (90, 4=)
    5 Mr N Talbott (90, 6)
    6 Mr P Jordan (90, 8)
    7 Mr P Brooksbank (90, 9)
    8 Mr T Smith (90, 10)
    9= Mr C Williams (90, 11=)
    9= Mrs B J Widger (90, 11=)
    11 Mr R Crabtree (90, 16)
    12 Mr S Chillingworth (90, 17)
    13 Mr M Macdonald-Cooper (89, 7)
    14 Mr J Roberts (89, 14)
    15 Mr R Grafen (89, 15)
    16 Dr H Ougham (88, 1)
    17 Mr N Robinson (88, 13)
    18 Mr M Hodgkin (88, 18)
    19 Prof R Cuthbert (87)
    20 Sir John Sparrow (84)
    21 Lord Aberdare (81)
    22 Mr J Marshall (75)
    23 Mr D MacArthur (69)
    24 Mr C J Brougham (52)

    1. Thanks Neil.

      I suspect the number of right answers for the last few finalists will indicate to Richard Browne how tough these puzzles were. Last year, the man in last place had about 85 clues correctly solved.

      1. I think I’m a bit wrong about this. I haven’t seen full results yet, but I think the number of people in the second qualifier was about half the number in the first, so it was much easier to get through. It’s not the fault of those who qualified according to the rules, but by my reckoning, 9 of the first 11 in the final are from the first qualifier, and 9 of the last 11 from the second, which seems too unblanced. I think at least 3 of the 4 people in 13th-16th places in the first would have solved 85 clues or more in the final.
        1. It’s also possibly relevant that the second set of puzzles contained at least one longish obscure word which was clued as an anagram giving at least a couple of plausible alternatives, which might have contributed to the much higher error rate in the second qualifier (13 out of the first 25 made an error, compared with just one of the first 19 in the morning), which might in turn have resulted in the finalists from session 2 having a (possibly considerably) slower average solving time (if a better vocabulary!). (By the way, I’m fairly sure I would have got that particular answer wrong, so wouldn’t even have qualified from the afternoon session.)

          I thought that the three puzzles in the final were absolutely spot on in terms of difficulty and fairness (and quality). I’d love to be able to blame an obscure literary reference or dubious clue for my costly mental block on the last two answers, but I can’t. Thanks to the setters & editor (& organisers), and congratulations again Peter.

          1. Neil, it will be interesting to see what older and more experienced solvers make of your obscure word. I’ve known it for years myself, and was able to fill it straight in without any problem.

            Another unlucky solver was A.A.P.Thorpe, who was 14th in the first qualifier after coming 8th in last year’s final. I expect both he and I would have been all correct in this year’s final had we made it. There was nothing that I found particularly difficult, though I was slower than I feel I ought to have been – however, that was perhaps because I’d just solved the three puzzles from the second qualifier about half an hour earlier.

            Another factor in the poor showing of people from the second semi-final could in fact be the short time between that and the final. I expect Helen Ougham may be wondering whether things might have been different if she’d had more time to recoup – and if she isn’t, then I certainly am!

  4. Congratulations Peter! Very well done and thank you for all the hard work you put into this site. It is much appreciated.

    Carole H., Fermo, Italy

  5. Warm congratulations, Peter!

    And I’ll look forward to attempting the championship contest!


  6. Lest people don’t notice, our very own talbinho masquerading as Mr. N. Talbott placed impressively fifth! Not to mention another regular blogger, namely Mr. R. Grafen at 15th. Congrats to them as well!
    1. Great job by the bloggers. Not to mention that it is kind of them (and that includes Ilan :)) to spare some time educating the likes of me. This is probably a good time to reiterate how useful this blog is.

      PS: Isn’t J Marshall also one of the regulars here?

  7. Warmest congratulations from down under.
    Well done, Peter, and many thanks for all your hard work on this most enjoyable and very useful site.
    Ann H
  8. .. from the setter of today’s Times puzzle (not one of the elite Cheltenham trio).
    1. From one of the elite Cheltenham trio 🙂 🙂
      Now off to have plastic surgery and be given a new identity by the Times (!)
  9. I’d like to add my congratulations to Pete, always a champion of good crosswords, but nice to see him as Times champ again. Congratulations too to the Indy’s Morph on an excellent debut as a contestant.
  10. Very many congratulations, Peter – I was very relieved that my sending you good luck before the event didn’t jinx your chances! I’ll look forward to doing the championship puzzles when they appear – once you have returned to earth after your brilliant achievement!
  11. Congratulations Peter and I look forward to testing myself with the puzzles.

    I am disappointed the Times website can’t bring itself to celebrate your victory. I had to search on your name to find the page.

  12. Congratulations, sir! And many thanks for this site – and the time taken to answer all our questions.
    Adrian, Moscow
  13. Congratulations, Peter, well deserved!

    For my part, unfortunately the afternoon session continues

    13 Angus Walker

    More to do with the errors committed by faster solvers rather than any improvement in my performance.

    Just over a year ago you said you would buy me a drink if I made it to the final. Having not done so, you did, in fact, buy me a drink (unwittingly) – cheers!

    I must say I had a great time in the pub(s) afterwards – the only occasion each year that I meet with people who understand my Times crossword addiction.

    Angus Walker

  14. Many congratulations Peter – I nervously came up and spoke to you after the first session; nice to meet the legend! And as a 12 minuter, I salute the 8-minuters! Stunning.

    I wonder if anyone will be able to publish all the times? I did my run in about 36m and, of course, am now dying to know where I came overall…

    All the best


  15. from 4 clues adrift to
    2 in five mins less down to 50 mins approx
    still outside the top 24 natch
    is an improved showing for me
    used the first session trio as a practice
    for the 2nd it worked
    very close to 100%
    but for one wrong tense and one bogus anagram
    and a whole mess of discussionable clues
    that can’t be until publishing times
    though the the final trio were to be found
    in the physical paper but not the online
    so analyses forthcoming?
    first time at the final proper for me
    slightly dreamlike experience
    learnt a just a little more
    congrats to pb
  16. Well done to Peter and also to bloggers Neill and Richard for excellent placings … and cheers for the beer Peter!
  17. Thanks to all for the congratulations, whether prose or verse. I’m intrigued by the anonymous ‘elite’ comment as neither Helen nor David has (to my knowledge) commented here before.

    David Meek: I doubt that times will be available – my understanding is that all energies are devoted to getting the order right, and after the first few finishers, I doubt they record times.

  18. …congratulations to Peter! And thanks very much for the pint. Well done also to whoever it was who came up with BUSH REGION as an anagram for Neighbours, prompting a clue with ‘soap’ as the definition. (Sorry to soil the blog with toilet humour…)

    – Mark Thakkar.

    1. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers … A while after telling the journo that I hadn’t checked anything after the last two answers went in, I’m sure I told him that I’d already checked the other 28 answers in the first puzzle, and the whole of the other two grids. So it was only those two answers that I really took a gample on.
    2. The “20 seconds checking” rule is very good advice for the heats, but in the final it’s a gamble. I suspect that given the slow times taken for tougher puzzles there was less risk of a mistake than had it been a speedfest. I understand Helen’s errors were down to incorrect guesses rather than silly mistakes.
    1. Not as far as I know. The New Forest (mine) and Gloucestershire (his) branches of the Biddlecombe family tree probably separated quite a while ago.
  19. The championship article got transcribed to website i notice and the provost of Eton story got trotted out again. Wasn’t that proved bogus? I mean it doesn’t include time taken his valet to boil the water a la delia, butter up some soldiers, make tea (who has a boiled egg without) and carry the tray up x flights of stairs. alanjc
    1. The story is debunked in Brian Greer’s book, with the help of letter from Roddy Forman (a finalist last year) who taught at Eton and had access to some inside information. And as you say, the idea that he boiled his own eggs was a tad unlikely too!
  20. Does anyone know why The Times is so slow in publishing the full results? I seem to remember it took a while last year too.

    Evan Simpson
    PS Congratulations!

    1. I don’t know why. I have been e-mailed a full set by the organiser, and will put them up tomorrow evening if the Times site still doesn’t have them.

      I was wrong about the numbers in the two rounds – the difference was only 73 to 61.

  21. There’s a kindly old man with a blog
    Who doesn’t find crosswords a slog
    He’s been champion twice
    But still offers advice
    To neophytes such as Fog(gyweb)


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