The world of media changes, in some ways rapidly, in others not. Technological innce vation keeps us all on our toes, if we think it's worth it: but all the new stuff, especially the digital revolution that has encountered such resistance from the public that the obsolescence of our analogue TVs has been put back indefinitely, is now eliciting merely yawns from media commentators. Se at the beginning of a new year, when there is all the usual daft looking forward to new things, let us celebrate something that doesn't change. I think of the enduring appeal of the crossword puzzle.
Regular readers will know that I live in Oxford, and so it will come as no surprise that many of my regular companions are employed in the business of educating and civilising the intelligent, though increasingly unprepared young, through the wonderfully attentive tutorial system that our universio offers. The degradation of this through spiteful fund. ing cuts and blackmail exercised in the name of political correctness, but actually for the purpose of making secondary education look good instead of paying to make it good, is not my subject here. Ni I'm crowing because yesterday a philosophy tutor possibly the cleverest man I know, charged into tht pub with the words "Put me out of my misery!" and slammed The Times down on the bar. He ha solved all but two clues. I got them both.
I'm not exactly a pro at this. Sometimes 1 can zip through a puzzle, sometimes I can't even get started and 1 only ever do it on whim. I am not an obsessie: about crosswords, not even a creature of habit. If 1 se one I'll have a go. But I am not immune to thr ridiculous feeling of triumph, the sheer Olympia,
tape-breasting buzz of having found the solutions t the last two clues unsolved by a friend, even though
all the others would probably have left me han.
strung on the blocks. The compilation of puzzles e an art, now somewhat undermined by the aid of tk
computer, the solving of them a pleasure which musr of necessity be unaided, otherwise what's the point You might as well cheat at Patience. The most interesting thing. though, is ha; discussion of the day's puzzle, the queries arl criticisms about the validity of a clue. th admiration of a particularly elegant pun, anagram e reference. can dominate pub conversation at ti, working day's end. I can't remember the last time: heard a conversation in that environment about th, relative merits of different comment pieces on particular topical subject. People read those articlr. well enough, but the crossword is what really go them going. Why? Because it's fun, of course. Br also, I fear, because the work of even our ma respectable journalists is now tarnished by le; respectable colleagues, and by the scepticism peopl rightly feel towards politicians, which has rubbed e on those who write about them. Take a colurnnr from any of the broadsheets, publicly admire it line taken on some subject of the moment. and II: response will be "Yes, but he would say th, wouldn't he?" Everybody seems to assume the days that if we're not actually lying outright. s. positions are at least compromised. It is largely s:: untrue: but mud sticks.
So when the great papers, as they constantly I look at their demographics and try to identify who I, core, loyal readers are who keep them in busine and who, in consequence, must be pandered to. ti: should understand that the crossword of choice much bigger factor than they have ever realise Columnists are enjoyed, but not trusted, Crosswe compilers are trusted and cherished. Only cartoon, rive them — but that's a subject for another clae