Posted by nmsindy on May 22nd, 2012
Every year on 31 December, nmsindy posts an annual review of the Indy puzzles on 15 sq giving average solving times for each setter. Very often I’ve been asked “How do the other puzzle series compare with this?” So I decided, out of interest, to tackle them all for one calendar month to see. I chose March 2012.
I’ll start with the results, and then follow with some detail on the individual series. Average solving time for all puzzles was 28.9 minutes. Indy was the hardest (36.4), followed by Guardian (34.6), Times (32.3) and Toughie (30.4). However these four figures are so close to each other that I’d say the standard of difficulty is pretty much similar.
Next, a little further back was FT (26.3) and Daily Telegraph was way behind that (16.7). Also tackled the Sundays where Sunday Times came in at 32.3 mins, Sunday Tel at 15.3 and Observer Everyman at 13.8.
Methodology: nmsindy does not approach puzzles in ‘race-the-clock’ mode but found it of interest to note the setting times when finished and to compare the setters and, now also, the different puzzle series. With much practice at solving over decades and, as standard vocabulary is used in these puzzles, I can usually finish without consulting anything. If I am completely stuck, I will go to dicts and other reference sources. In these circs, I usually find the answer is a word I did not know or had forgotten.
Series: Most will know this already but I’ll quickly list them out: Indy gives setters’ pseudonyms and as there is overlap between the Sunday and daily editions I have considered them together. The hardest puzzle was on 31 March from Bannsider (99 mins) – the easiest a Dac puzzle (13 mins). Guardian also gives pseudonyms – hardest was Boatman on 22 March (86 mins) and the easiest – and also the easiest in the whole month in any of the papers – was the 5 March puzzle by Rufus (7 mins). The Times does not indicate who sets the puzzle. The hardest puzzle of all in any series was the Times on Sat 17 March (103 mins) – the quickest in the Times was 15 mins. Toughie appears in the Daily Telegraph 4 days a week – Tuesday to Friday with pseudonyms being given. So there were 18 puzzles during March – the hardest was Notabilis (66 mins) on 30 March and the easiest a Messinae puzzle (14 mins). The comparison with the Daily Telegraph shows that the paper has achieved, I expect, what they sought when introducing the Toughie ie that it would be a much harder puzzle.
FT, I think, aims at being a little easier on average than the other series and this is borne out – the hardest (71 mins) was a Gaff puzzle (themed to coincide with Crufts dog show) – the easiest (11 mins) was a Sleuth puzzle. The Daily Telegraph (where nmsindy began his cryptic solving a long time ago) aims to be much easier – the hardest was 43 mins and only three puzzles took more than 30 mins. The fastest time was 10 mins on 3 occasions. Like the Times, pseudonyms are not given.
The Sundays involved solving 4 puzzles and a feature of them all was consistency in standard from week to week. Sunday Times turned out to be exactly the same in difficulty as The Times. Sunday Telegraph is very similar to the Daily Telegraph. Everyman in the Observer is easiest of all as I guess is its aim as the title of the series would suggest.
Finally I’d like to thank all the setters, crossword editors and bloggers on the various websites whose work was invaluable as I checked the various solutions often quite a while after the puzzles first appeared.
A spreadsheet is available giving full details of all the individual solving times, pseudonyms etc. If anyone would like this sent to them, please ask indicating an email address (if I don’t already know it)