My previous post on British vs. American crosswords caught the eye of British cryptic super-solver Peter Biddlecombe who's web site is well worth visiting. We had a great email exchange about the different puzzle styles since, it turns out, we both love both.
The rest of this post is from the first ever JimH Crossword Blog Special Guest Contributor. Thanks, Peter!
Just found your blog, from Rex by way of Amy, and read your 22 Nov 2007 post. I'm an expert solver of cryptics, and organise a blog at http://community.livejournal.com/times_xwd_times/
We have a friendly rival at http://fifteensquared.net/ which covers different puzzles. These blogs are both different to (than!) the American puzzle blogs because they have teams of writers rather than one person writing about all the puzzles. (I did that for a while but it took too long).
From time to time I try NYT puzzles — in the International Herald Tribune where they appear without a 6-week syndication delay, or in books bought from Amazon or when I'm in the US on holiday. I haven't yet got NYT crossword membership on the web but might one day - probably something to save up for retirement ...
Some solvers of cryptics claim to despise "plain definition" puzzles, but that doesn't include me. What they don't realise is that if you do NYT-style puzzles every day, that gives the setters (Brit cryptic jargon for 'constructors', though some say 'compilers') the chance to do things much more interesting than you get in any plain definition puzzles over here. The thematic stuff in many NYT puzzles is very clever indeed, and has influenced British puzzles by way of Brian Greer - who used to edit the (London) Times puzzle, but works or has worked in the US, and is, I think, the only person to have puzzles printed in both London and NY Times. There were other thematic puzzles over here, but his ones (as Virgilius in the Independent, for instance) seem to be influenced by the NYT style.
If you tackle a cryptic crossword every day, you learn enough about the tricks to be able to solve clues without waiting an indeterminate amount of time for the 'aha' moment (let's be honest - this may take several years, though access to blogs with explanations makes life much easier for new solvers). I think the main problem for cryptics in the US is that except for the Globe and Mail and the (London) Times puzzle in the New York Post, there is no daily puzzle, so the clues (e.g. in the rare Sunday NYT cryptics) have to be kept at a pretty easy level.
With the exception of the Saturday puzzles in the printed paper by Fraser Simpson, I'm not actually a big fan of the Globe and Mail puzzles. They're produced by a syndicate and the ones I've tried have seemed less interesting puzzles than the ones in the British newspapers. The local British knowledge is mostly removed, but isn't replaced by anything local to N. America and interesting (e.g. the possibilities for "Ivory Coast" that I spotted in Rex P's comments about a recent NYT puzzle).
The Times puzzle in the New York Post is an excellent puzzle, and between this version and the subscription Internet version of the Times crossword, it has a small but devoted following in the States, but does have a "local knowledge" hurdle to get over with stuff like cricket terminology and cockney rhyming slang. Solving and then referring to the blog works quite well for some US-based solvers, but like me with an NYT puzzle, there's always the possibility that something you simply don't know will cause trouble, despite 100% checking (US) or the alternative route via wordplay (cryptic).