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50 Variety Cryptic Crosswords
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I share this for a reason. I ordered this book with great anticipation. I've worked through several cryptic crossword books, and have come to really enjoy them. So, I opened to the first puzzle, and here are the instructions: "This diagramless puzzle has standard crossword (180 degree rotational) symmetry. To help you out, all Qs have been entered into the grid. If you find yourself shouting '17 Across,' you should at least be thankful that you have this 25 Down to help."
Second puzzle: "Fourteen answers need to be modified before being entered into the grid. If you can't figure out how to make the modifications and are 19 Across, then perhaps you should try it."
And so the puzzles continue. Each one has one or more bags of concrete along with the cryptic clues. Thank God they aren't all diagramless (my least favorite puzzle type), but none are just what I had come to expect as a "Cryptic Crossword" per se.
I am not writing this to complain. Just wanted to warn folks that this book is a level or three above any cryptic crossword book I've previously purchased, and I wasn't expecting it.
I'm taking it as an educational opportunity, but so far I am totally overmatched and it does take some of the fun out of the solving since I have to refer to the answers in the back early and often.If I manage to slog through the entire colllection, I'll revisit the review and see if I still feel the same.
It's worth noting that there are no first-timer instructions included on how cryptic clues work. Furthermore, these are harder than the "industry standard" Cox/Rathvon cryptics you will find in the Mensa books of theirs, and there are lots of curve balls both in terms of grid construction and the clues themselves. Some puzzles involve two separate grids, some are diagramless, some answers have unknown lengths or require alteration prior to putting them into the grid, etc. So this is not suitable for cryptic-beginners (the puzzle books from Fraser Simpson are great for learning...lots of instructions and easy puzzles). The idea of having these extra layers of obfuscation will either make you excited or frightened. Or perhaps both.
Back when I first started solving conventional cryptics in Games magazine, I became obsessed due to the amount of satisfaction I got in solving just a single clue. I have since done so many hundreds of cryptic puzzles that I no longer get the same pleasure anymore, but this book brings back that feeling somewhat. So if regular cryptics don't hold the same difficulty or excitement that they once did for you, this is a mandatory purchase. Can't wait until Roger's next book.
Variety cryptics are far and away my favorite type of puzzle...and they are hard to find. Here's hoping that Wolff catches on with a good editor/publisher, because the single drawback to the book is the scattered mistakes. I'll buy anything the man puts out, but with a little help I'd buy even more as gifts.
I will say without hesitation that these puzzles are easily the equal of the best puzzles we've done. Rarely do we complete a puzzle without expressing our admiration for the cleverness of the construction. These are seriously brilliant puzzles, folks. Put this in your shopping cart without reservation.
Do not be put off by the complaints. The errata mentioned in other reviews are infrequent, and have never prevented us from solving a puzzle. Without looking at the answers, of course!
fyi: This is a second publication for this book and some of the errors/typos mentioned in prior reviews of the first publication have been cleaned up for this edition.
Update: Completed all 50. Sad to see it end. I remain as impressed with Roger's puzzle design as I did above after completing the first 13 puzzles.
Variety Cryptics (puzzles within a puzzle) have some detractors but I believe they don't require mensa-type intelligence but rather just patience and persistence. The All-Stars books that Roger also publishes showcase the top designers of these type of puzzles and I find Roger's contributions to be somewhat more accessible (or easier) than the average so, for those looking to "dip their toe in the water" of variety cryptics, this collection is an excellent place to start.