I learned recently that the Sunday Telegraph Enigmatic Variations puzzle is to be
discontinued after August. As fans of the EV will know, it is a series of barred thematic
puzzles in the style of the Listener and Inquisitor. They are usually slightly easier than the
aforementioned (though not always) and they adhere to the same rules of fairness and accuracy
of theme and clues as the other two. Many of the EV setters set for the Listener and Inquisitor
and are the cream of todayís generation of barred puzzle setters Ė Ifor and Chalicea to name just
two. The discontinuation of this series would be a great loss for those of us who enjoy advanced
Informed sources suggest that the Telegraphís reason for doing this is perceived lack of
interest in the series. Itís hard to tell whether this is just an excuse to free up space for
some other feature, or if there really is a lack of enthusiasm for the puzzles.
Apparently there are very few submitted entries, but that doesnít mean a lot Ė many solvers
(including me) donít bother to send in completed puzzles from any of the advanced puzzle series,
because weíre solving solely for the pleasure it provides and arenít bothered about prizes. Most
of us wouldnít mind if they decided to scrap the prize, if financial considerations are also an
issue for the Telegraph.
It is true that the Fifteen Squared blogs for these puzzles receive a paltry number of
responses, and sometimes none at all. Compare that with the slew of comments on the Guardian
threads, which since lockdown often approach 100 daily. That could be because the
Guardian puzzle is free and one can comment on the day the puzzle is published, whereas
the EV is subscription-only and one canít comment until the solution is published two weeks after the puzzle appears. Still, the FT and Independent daily puzzles are
also free and attract far fewer comments than the Guardian. If memory serves, the original
contributors to Fifteen Squared comprised largely Guardian solvers fed up with the
constant bickering and trolling on what was then the Guardian Unlimited crossword threads,
and it would appear that todayís readership of the blog still reflects that.
Whatís more, you need to buy the i newspaper to get the Inquisitor, and thereís a two week wait
for the Fifteen Squared blog for that puzzle too. Yet, as one poster on Crossword Solver
Forum has taken the trouble to work out, the last 50 Inquisitor puzzles received an average of
over 14 comments, whereas the EV received an average of less than 3. In addition, the most
comments on an EV was 9, and the least comments on the Inquisitor was 9!
You can make of that what you want, but isnít it possible that since Fifteen Squared is so
heavily orientated towards the Guardian, its posters are unlikely to buy or subscribe to
the Telegraph (which is generally conservative)? That would certainly be supported by the
general political slant of the comments on the site.
There is plenty of interest in the EV elsewhere. Crossword Solver Forum threads devoted to it often run to over 50 posts, and although these are mostly hints rather than post-solve
reactions, this shows that the series has a devoted core of fans. There is even a thread called
ďSave Enigmatic VariationsĒ which you can read here. Youíll notice that many posters subscribe to the Telegraph
only for the EV and intend to cancel their subscriptions if it is axed.
Whatever the reasons for the Telegraphís decision, the most important thing is to try to
persuade them to reverse it before itís too late. Moaning achieves nothing; well-directed
complaining can produce the desired result. An informed source on the Crossword Solver Forum
thread has provided the contact to write to, which is this. Even if you are only an occasional EV
solver, I urge you to write (politely!) to make your feelings known. Itís been suggested that as
perceived popularity is seen as a factor, you make the point that you donít submit completed
puzzles. I would add that that it may help if you mention that although you donít comment on
puzzle blogs (if true), you still appreciate the puzzles. Writing an email wonít take up much of
your time, and could be whatís needed to save this excellent series of puzzles by some of the
nationís best setters.