So, most crossword solvers would be very happy to finish a Times crossword in 1 hour. That would be an admirable feat in and of itself - day in , day out to solve some of the best deceptive surface readings ever.
A Times crossword is also fairly set - having a mixture of straightforward clues like anagrams and hidden words as well as employing witty definitions. Half the battle is won if you can identify what the definition is! In every clue, the definition is either at the start or the end of the sentence.If you can narrow it down to one side, the brain has something manageable to do - scan for synonyms.
One of the ways to speed up the solving process is to develop a broad vocabulary so that synonyms are reachable. When you are starting solving crosswords, ( and for a number of years after that ) you absolutely need a thesaurus and a crossword dictionary. Don't be ashamed to refer to it constantly.
In the competition, of course, there is no recourse to any sort of reference material. The calibre of the competitors is apparent. They all have a huge vocabulary. However, I am told that these days, crosswords of all sorts have 'dumbed down' to accommodate the masses who do not have Latin and Greek at their fingertips! So just imagine - the scale of difficulty that was accepted before is unacceptable now.
This was neatly illustrated when Mark Goodliffe ( winner of 5 championships in a row from 2008 to 2012 ) was asked to solve 3 Times puzzles from different eras. He could not quite finish the earliest one!
This is a champion who is now in a league of his own. The comparison to Usain Bolt is apt. Here is a direct quote from the Times article the day after Mark won his sixth title.
"Not content with dashing off the answers to three cryptic puzzles in only 20 minutes, he reached down,picked up the Saturday Review, and turned to the Jumbo cryptic crossword.
Just after the runner-up, Jason James, completed his puzzles in a time of 30 minutes, Mr. Goodliffe had rattled off all 60 answers to the additional double-sized grid. It was as if Usain Bolt had reached the finishing line so far ahead of his rivals that he decided to turn back and do the last two thirds of the race again"
|Mark "12 secs a clue" Goodliffe|
There you go. Do we stop running just because there is a Usain Bolt? No, we don't. The Times Crossword is an everyday challenge that you and I can do and improve on.
When I first started doing it in the NST a few years back it was because I had reached the point where I was solving the Star crossword pretty fast. It was not that challenging anymore. However, theStar Crossword is a good place to begin for new solvers. Stay at it for a couple of years before you even look at the NST crossword!
In the early days , it was very hard going. The 2 hours i would just set aside for 1 puzzle would be fruitless. On average - just 5 clues solved out of 30 or so. But doing it every day over a couple of years has made it reachable by way of completing it. Granted, some days the challenge is phenomenally hard but on most days it is doable.
So, in a way, the time it took to solve one of the crosswords had come down drastically over the 2 years. Literally from an infinite period of time I was able to bring solving time to a matter of hours.
If the sporting metaphor is to be used, I would compare it to a paralysed person who completes the marathon where a few years before he could not imagine himself running.
While we admire ferocious speed, the thing to take back from this competition is the unique journey undertaken by 180 contestants or so to finally take part in the Times Crossword Championship and in looking back - see how far they have come.