A Very Happy New Year to you all. This is the traditional time for thinking about the future, and my circumstances are perhaps changing more than most in 2011: on January 5, I will become a US citizen at an Oath Ceremony in Philadelphia ... the final step in a process that began in May 2007 with my marriage to Magdalen.
Incidentally, readers are welcome to come to the ceremony as my guest. If you would like to know the exact time and place, please send an email to Ross at Crosswordman.com and I will provide all the details.
Clearly I will need to re-title the blog, but I have also decided it is time to discontinue the daily crossword commentaries. I started writing these with the aim of learning about American culture through crosswords and feel that after two years, I have absorbed the US-specific references to the point where I don't have anything very different to say to the other regular commentators on the New York Times puzzle. If I do now have any original thoughts on the day's puzzles, they can adequately be expressed in comments to Wordplay, Rex Parker, Crossword Fiend, or other crossword forums.
When I embarked on the blog, I expected to have problems with the baseballer players (A-Rod!), rappers (Tupac!), US history (CSA!) and geography (Enid!). The aspect that surprised me was the "in the language" phrases - colloquial expressions that we hear often enough, but struggle to find in dictionaries; for example, I been had!, you too?, so sorry! I've come to love the extra dimension these add to puzzle grids, and now half-expect any answer longer than three letters to be a multi-word phrase. The broad scope of American puzzles - as much a general knowledge quiz as a vocabulary test - makes British grids look rather limited by comparison.
In fact, while focusing on US puzzles, I've been solving less and less cryptics and doing no cryptic construction or clue writing. This was brought home to me recently: I was invited to collaborate on a memorial puzzle and found it hard to get back into the mindset, particularly when it came to writing the clues. I don't particularly miss cryptics: after about 40 years solving them at every level, I was finding very little new to keep me interested; our cryptic solving is now reduced to the Araucaria crosswords in a monthly magazine we subscribe to, and I don't particularly miss all the other puzzles I used to solve.
I will continue to publish material here. I've been creating one kind of post that is I think a little different: the "Cruciverbal Cheat Sheet"; for example Pavlov's Guide to Crosswords and Cruciverbal Canines. As well as gradually improving the existing material, I intend to create new subjects more frequently - around one a month. Magdalen has also decided to continue with the weekly posts on the NPR Sunday Puzzle.
Now that I'm freed from the daily blog-writing commitment, I'd also like to focus more attention on creating US-style puzzles. I made some failed attempts back in 2009 and would like to have another go with the benefit of another year or so of solving under my belt. The challenge for me has been coming up with original enough and "tight" enough themes - I know from the commentaries I've written that it's very rare to find holes to pick in published themes and meeting these high standards is challenging for a newcomer.
Thank you all for reading the commentaries, and for your feedback in blog comments and by email. I've had a lot of fun doing the research for the posts and choosing the images. I hope you'll find something of value in the Cheat Sheets to come.