A new beginning

Welcome to “Times for the Times” – a “community” version of a blog previously kept by Peter Biddlecombe. The point of this version is just the same as before – to discuss the day’s Times crossword. Most things are pretty much as before. There are places where you’ll see member names as well as the community name, and you’ll also see ‘userpics’ on the main page, to show clearly which of us is writing. If you want to join the community, that’s fine, but not necessary – you can add comments without joining, with or without a LiveJournal account. Because some of the writing team have different working days or are outside the UK, some posts will appear later in the day than you’re used to at present. Our aim is to have the regular posts about puzzles up by 9 p.m. UK local time each day at the latest. As before, competition puzzles won’t get detailed comment until the day after the closing date.

The writing style and content each day is up to the person posting. I don’t expect or want a set of clones, and I hope you don’t either. To give some continuity on which puzzles are hardest, I’ll still record my solving times and you’ll get them all, though not reported on the day. Other team members may give you times for puzzles they’re not writing about, but the choice is theirs.

There are several benefits of switching to a team version:

  • Less work for me! I no longer need to devote part of each day to writing up comments about the puzzle and individual clues – which can take longer than you might think before trying it!
  • Comments from a range of people. Two of the new team have stood in for me in the past during my holidays. They helped me to remember that there are different views and ways of explaining things. I was also keen to get some advice for beginners from people whose “beginner” days are less than a decade or two ago.
  • Comments on more puzzles. We’re adding the Sunday Times and the cryptic versions of Jumbos with immediate effect. We may add other puzzles from the Times stable later. We don’t currently intend to include clue-by-clue comments about the puzzles in other papers, though we’ll doubtless mention them in the same way as I have in the past.

Without further ado, let’s introduce the team. The details below are taken from the User Info page, which is where you should look in future for up-to-date information about the writing team. Some wish to remain anonymous or use a “crosswording” name.

The regulars
Apart from holidays and other absences, each regular contributor will cover one day of the week.

Monday – Steven Payne / foggyweb
Age: 30, Level: Beginner but getting better
Times speed: Normally between 1 and 2 hours. Best so far: 28 minutes!

I first encountered cryptics with the Guardian crossword (2000-2003), completing with colleagues at lunchtime. I have done The Times crossword most weekdays since March 2006. My weakest area is geography – I don’t know enough cities, ports, rivers etc… I live in the UK and was a maths teacher for eight years – I have just begun a new career as an educational consultant.

Tuesday – Neil Talbott / talbinho
Age: 25, Years of Times solving: about 7 (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; sporadic (though less sporadic this year) solver of The Listener; highly satisfied Magpie subscriber.
Weaknesses: Opera, theatre, Shakespeare, Dickens (in fact literature in general), artists. (Oh, and Polish prime ministers.)
Achievements: None, thanks to Uther Pendragon! [A tough answer in the Times Championship second prelim in 2006. Ed.]

Wednesday – Peter Biddlecombe / petebiddlecombe (“Ed.” in other comments)
Age: 46, Years of Times solving: about 30 (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
Achievements: Times Championship Winner, 2000. In the final 6 other times in 13 attempts.

Also attempted Guardian xwd daily 1978-2006, Indie daily since c. Sept 2006. Both attempted on Saturdays. 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 for tiny audiences so far. 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.

Thursday – Richard / richardvg
Age 48: 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.

First entered Times Championship in about 1974 and generally achieved respectable score at regionals without getting through to the final. Under the rather different arrangements at Cheltenham, reached the final for the first time in 2006.

Friday – Mr Magoo / i_am_magoo
Mr Magoo, 41, 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).
[Mr M is too modest to mention solving times. I’ll just say that I expect him to rack up at least one more Times championship by 2010. Ed.]

Saturday – Andy Wallace / linxit
Age 43, 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 the year; so far I’ve sent in 13 correct entries (approx 33% strike rate). 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).

Sunday – Ilan Caron / ilanc
Age: old enough to remember the 1966 world cup. Level: journeyman (can handle most Guardian dailies, other than Araucaria — most Times dailies, find Azed extremely hard: can get maybe 4 or 5 clues).
Times speed: best 15 minutes, average: 45′-1 hour.

Lived in America and Israel since I was 11 (since I was a sports-obsessed child, cricket and rugby allusions are familiar). Cryptics in “The New Yorker” (97-99) were what got me going. Just retired from Microsoft after 1/3 of a lifetime in service of BillG.

The bench
Some others expressed willingness to write about puzzles after the team was complete, and as they join LiveJournal, they’ll be given permission to post so that they can join in when regular team members are away. They may chip in with “without portfolio” postings from time to time, or join in when we add other puzzles. More about them in the next few days, but one bio is already in [make that two]:

Age: 48: 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 for the last 4 or 5 years, I have rarely attempted it. However, the recent 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.]

Niall MacSweeney / nmacsweeney
59, doing crossword 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. Now does Times every day as well in 20-30 mins. Encouraged by Don Manley’s book, tried the Listener in holidays in 1993 and, amazingly solved the very first one so 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).

One comment on “A new beginning”

  1. Thanks to all those who have answered Peter Biddlecombe’s cry for help. Peter’s blog has been very enlightening for me, with his views on crosswords in general and in recent months his views on the Independent, and I hope at least some of the contributors will continue to comment on the Independent crossword to keep me on my toes.

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