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My decision to publish guest puzzles on this site has turned out to be a very good one. It has given many aspiring setters the chance to publish their work, and some of them have now become professional setters for national newspapers. I claim no credit for the latter – these setters would have made it anyway – but it’s nice to know that you saw them here first!

That’s great but these days I receive far more submitted puzzles than I can cope with. Up to now I have solved each one and offered feedback which was usually quite detailed. For publishable puzzles I’ve suggested changes where necessary, a process often involving a considerable amount of correspondence. Then there’s the making up of the final pages – all of which can take up several hours of my time. Even for non-starters I have usually offered an analysis which also takes a fair amount of time to do. I have provided these services for free and am still happy to do so, but not when it gets to the point that it eats into the time I am supposed to be writing puzzles myself, and also into what I like to think of as real life.

With some reluctance I have to stipulate some rather stricter conditions on submitted crosswords for publication than I have in the past. In practice this means:

  1. I will reject the puzzle if it needs more than five major edits. I’m not referring to typos or clues that have gone wrong through oversights that affect us all, e.g. an anagram that doesn’t quite work. What I mean is that more than five of the clues have substandard cryptic grammar or inaccurate definitions, and therefore need rewriting in whole or in part. If five major errors show up in the first few clues I shan’t proceed any further – I will offer feedback based on what I have completed and no more.

    Please bear in mind that I am a Ximenean, and if that term is unfamiliar you would be advised to research it before submitting. I am rather more tolerant of minor infractions of Ximenean clueing in others’ puzzles than in my own, but I am not prepared to put my name behind sloppy or outrageously “libertarian” clues by publishing them. For example, something like
  2. Landlady’s anger creates influence (8)

    to imply L and EVE has RAGE creates LEVERAGE is not welcome, and though I appreciate that some people consider the “wacky” running together of the first three elements really clever, enough so to justify the clash of the two verbs, I do not. If there are only a couple of examples of this sort of thing in an otherwise well-clued puzzle, I will suggest amendments, but puzzles where this is the norm will be rejected outright and I will not enter into any debate.

  3. Repeat performances. It has been a pleasure to announce that “XXXXX makes a welcome return” and I hope to be able to do so in the future. However, I am no longer prepared to offer a second slot to setters whose puzzles needed a lot of editing in the past. I will only consider publishing more than one puzzle, with an interval of six months at the very least, from setters whose reliability is proven in the sense that I can be confident little or no editing will be needed.

  4. Commenters on blogs. I have received, and published, a number of very good puzzles from people who are regular posters on certain crossword blogs. All well and good, but one or two of these have gone on to become nit-picking bores who like to raise petty quibbles over professional setters’ work on said blogs. I take the Voltairian approach to free speech and if crossword solvers want to be over-critical of setters’ efforts in public I have no right to stop them, however obnoxious their comments may be. On the other hand, if people wish to become crossword setters, even at an amateur level, they should abide by the Eleventh Commandment: If thou art a setter, thou shalt not diss other setters. Therefore, I will not even look at submissions from people who write petty or unpleasant gripes against setters on blogs.

I’m sorry if the above seems a little harsh, but I stress that as I offer my services for free when it comes to analysing and publishing crosswords from guest setters, there is only a limited amount of time I can devote to this and given the number of submissions I receive these days, I have to be rather more picky.

The practical details of sending puzzles are as before:

  • CRYPTIC crosswords only – no general knowledge puzzles or wordsearches please. They can be of any level of difficulty, blocked or barred, plain or thematic. I welcome crosswords with unusual or obscure vocabulary – but will not accept words or clues that contain vulgar, offensive or prejudicial references.

  • If you are using Sympathy (no longer available) as your compiling software, then just e-mail your puzzle as a file attachment. If not, then Word or PDF files are fine too. Do bear in mind that I always recreate the grids, and I strip the clues (and preamble, if there is one) down to basic text and reformat from scratch. Therefore there’s absolutely no need to spend a lot of time on fancy formatting.

  • Please send the SOLUTION along with the puzzle. I would like full explanations for hard thematics – and if your crossword relies on obscure words and references an explanation is essential too.

  • Please send me just ONE puzzle. If you send multiple puzzles I will only look at one of them.

After looking at your puzzle I will let you know if I wish to publish it. If your submission is successful, I will point out any edits that need to be made. I do not make changes to published puzzles without agreement from the setter – it should be your own work that people see and I know how annoying meddlesome editors can be! The only details I will amend without consultation are typos, misnumbered clues etc.

To avoid confusion or disappointment, please be aware that the feedback I give for your puzzle is not in itself an indication that I have accepted the puzzle for publication. If I intend to publish it, I will specifically say so. If I reject the puzzle you are welcome to submit an amended version of it, or a different puzzle, after an interval of six months. This may seem like a long wait but as stated above, I receive a lot of puzzles and do not have the time to deal with constant resubmissions from the same person.

I write a brief introduction to each guest puzzle, so if you would like to say a little about yourself for me to include in what I write, please feel free. Also, if you want me to put in a link to an e-mail address or your own site I’ll gladly do so.

Please bear in mind that my setting work for the FT and Independent takes up a fair amount of my time, and so it may be anything up to a couple of months before I get a chance to deal with your puzzle. Usually it will be sooner than that, and I do acknowledge initial receipt of submitted puzzles within a day or two, unless I happen to be away.

One final point: Sometimes I receive a puzzle which needs quite a bit of work in the form of minor tweaks to make it publishable, but which has enough potential that I don’t reject it outright. In these cases I’ll go to the trouble of suggesting and explaining possible improvements, and it can take up a fair bit of time to do this. That’s fine, but a couple of times I’ve had no response to my e-mail for several months (a year in one case!). I realise that one’s life can be thrown off track by unforeseen events, but it’s hardly too much trouble to write a quick e-mail explaining the situation and asking me to put the puzzle on hold. Likewise I’m not too chuffed when, as has happened a couple of times, I’ve gone to the trouble of publishing a puzzle – which also involves quite a lot of work – and not had a word of acknowledgment. I stress I’m talking about a very small number of cases, but it’s sad that even some people clever enough to write cryptic crosswords need a visit from Mrs Manners. There’s not a lot I can do about it, but the offending parties shouldn’t be surprised by a lukewarm response if or when they finally do decide to get back to me!

Any questions? Please contact me. Otherwise I look forward to receiving your contributions, and thank you for visiting this site.