Monday, January 31, 2011

Ask The Readers: Should Posthumous Puzzles Get Published?

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posthumous-puzzles-debate Viking was one of my favourite setters on the Financial Times, one whose puzzles I blogged often about on fifteensquared. When he passed away in October 2010, I dearly wished that he had left behind a repository of crosswords that we could enjoy in future, through which he could live on as long as possible.

That was not to be. After only two Viking puzzles published soon after his demise, the paper carried the message "This is Viking’s final crossword". Both his posthumous puzzles were reminders of his impeccable craftsmanship and of the great loss to the crossword community.

Some setters no longer with us have indeed left behind a stock of their crosswords in the pipeline. Puzzles set by Rover (1932 - 2010) and Quantum (1926-2008) continue to be published till date. Their fan bases can have solace in that. But can they really? To our dismay, we find that posthumous puzzles don't match up to the setter's usual high standards. In some cases the drop in quality in so marked it's hard to be believe the puzzles are by the same setter.

Why is it that posthumous puzzles don't enthuse solvers? A comment by Anax shed some light on the matter – the crossword we see in the paper is a collaboration between editor and setter. If the setter is no longer with us, only one of two things can happen: the puzzle appears 'in the raw' (unedited) or the editor makes whatever changes he sees fit - in neither case does the setter hone the crossword in his/her own style.

This makes me wonder: if the final few puzzles of the setter are raw, should they be published at all? Wouldn't solvers want to remember the setters by their finest, finished work than their not-so-good, unfinished work?

What would the setter want? If I were a setter, would I like to have my raw puzzles edited and put in print when I'm not around? I think not.

There are no easy answers to this I suppose, but I'm interested to know what you all think. Should such puzzles get published?

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KISHORE said...

I personally feel that, if the setter himself has found it below par (whatever standard he follows), and he has not put it into public domain, such puzzles should be left as they are. Any amount of tinkering will not bring it up to the setter's self set satisfaction level and solvers would possibly feel that it does not come up to the setter's image. However, IFF, the CW editor feels that it really is of the same (outstanding) quality that epitomizes the setter, he may publish it with a clear notice that this was amongst the incomplete works of the setter. Such a run should also be limited to the impeccable ones and not lead to a spiral down to mediocrity, which will sully the image.

Chaturvasi said...

I shall not question any paper's decision to carry a setter's crosswords posthumously but I shall answer the question whether any pending puzzles of mine should be published after I am otherwhere.
I have not gathered courage as yet to tell The Hindu that it should not publish any crossword of mine posthumously but I will try to drop a hint to the management.
In any case, I hand over a fresh supply of six puzzles only after the publication of a set.
So there is no possibility of the paper having a seemingly endless stock of my puzzles that had been "held over" to be used after I am no more.
I am not going to leave any instruction on to whom the payment is to be made for the puzzles that are published after my time. My heirs can do with whatever I leave them.
As I have said on many occasions, no Indian paper that publishes original crosswords seems to have a crossword editor in the true sense of the term. This being the case and as the onus is on the setter, I would like to give my utmost to the puzzle and so I should still be breathing for that.

anax said...

Kishore’s point about publishing posthumous puzzles with a notice to the effect that they appear in unedited form highlights one of the great difficulties here.

Fans of a particular setter rarely see an unedited puzzle. Many setters do of course supply puzzles which need no editing, but largely that is down to them being utterly familiar – as long-standing setters – with a specific house style and set of rules. Editing is not always about fixing errors; sometimes it’s just a case of “Good clue, but for this series we don’t allow abbreviation X, or anagram indicator Y, or wordplay construction Z”, so the setter is merely asked to adapt a clue’s form to fit the house rules. But of course there are also minor typos, and the use of the keyboard instead of pen and paper increases the number of silly mistakes (have you ever gone to highlight a single word and accidentally deleted several because of an ‘over-dragged’ mouse? Happens to me all the time).

Much of the editing process is therefore about tidying up. Few editors undertake the task – their main job is to pinpoint errors and invite the setter to make amendments. But solvers only see the end product and formulate their opinions of setters accordingly. If a notice appears to say a posthumous puzzles has been published in the form it was submitted, it can easily sully the setter’s reputation simply because he has been given no opportunity to edit, and solvers are seeing the sort of work he would typically start by supplying. It would be a shame for solvers to react along the lines of “Oh, he’s not as good as I thought”. That setter was as good as you knew him by his published work. For all you know, the greatest puzzles you see by living setters may have undergone considerable pre-publication editing – their reputations remain intact.

It’s such a hard conundrum to solve. Fans will welcome new puzzles by departed favourite setters. Those setters’ detractors may end up being fed an arsenal of ammunition.

Perhaps – and this is by no means ideal – the editors should instead trawl the archives for the best examples of a setter’s work and re-publish those instead. Or maybe editors should make the effort to identify errors and re-write offending clues? Both of these solutions are problematical, and I for one can’t see a straightforward answer.