On setters and setting

I regularly get emails from people offering me a puzzle for publication or asking how one becomes a Guardian crossword setter. I wish my replies could be more positive, but the facts are these.

We have a team of about 25 cryptic setters and publish about 310 cryptic puzzles a year. This means that, on average, each setter appears about once a month. Some, notably Paul and Rufus, appear more often than that and, for all kinds of reasons, some less often. However, I think that, if they regularly appear less than once a month, setters do not have much chance of establishing their style and personality with solvers. From these figures it will be clear that the chances of becoming one of the setting team are discouragingly low. For the same reasons, we do not publish ‘one off’ puzzles, except in the most exceptional circumstances. The only recent example of a ‘one off’ was No 27,132 set by Sphinx on 28 February, where the puzzle featured centrally that evening in ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’, an episode in this year’s series of the BBC2 programmes ‘Inside No 9’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04tmfxs). The puzzle was set by Steve Pemberton, joint writer of the series, who in this episode played the devious Professor Squires with Alexandra Roach as one of his students, Nina.

Of course, every now and then, but very rarely, a new name joins the setting team. No formal process of selection is involved and no specific qualifications are needed. The only absolute requirement is evidence, from published or unpublished examples, of a capacity to produce on a regular basis puzzles of a standard suitable for the Guardian. Despite that fact that the money is poor (£167 per 15x15 cryptic puzzle actually published, to be precise – not exactly a good hourly rate for the labour involved), my file of ‘hopefuls’ who clearly meet that standard is substantial. And, other things being equal, I aim to choose a new name who both lowers the average age of and raises the proportion of female setters in the team. Over time setters come and go, but you can see how the odds are stacked against any particular person becoming one of our regulars.


Paul completed his London Marathon run on 23 April, raising money for Sense, the national charity for the deafblind. He confesses that it was not his personal best time for the run, as he had other things on his mind, namely thinking up a crossword clue per mile to complete the 26-clue grid that Imogen had set him for the occasion. Paul’s own account of how it all went was carried in the Guardian’s G2 on 25 April (https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/shortcuts/2017/apr/24/my-marathon-crossword-challenge-cryptic-setter-paul). The resulting puzzle was published as the Saturday prize No 27,184 on 29 April. If you would still like to donate money to his chosen charity, the slot is still open at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/J-Halpern1 .


March’s Genius No 165 by Vlad had 21 correct entries on the first day and 264 by the deadline. The first two in were from regulars: m1f at 04:01 and PSC in Australia at 05:12. The third was a newcomer in the frame: Anguilla D at 06:25.


If you have any technical problems with our crossword service, please email userhelp@theguardian.com. If you have any comments or queries about the crosswords, please email crossword.editor@theguardian.com. For Observer crosswords please email crossword.editor@observer.co.uk.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes