Results of the Survey on Solving Times, Use of Aids, & Ratings
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Mr Kitty here. A big thank you to the 352 solvers who filled out my survey on their experience with last Tuesday’s back-page puzzle, DT 28566. Extra thanks to those who left insightful comments under Question 6. I’ve read every comment and shared all of them with BD. I’m including some of them below, along with responses to those that posed questions.
Some key findings from the survey are that:
- Only 10% of solvers reported both filling the grid and parsing all the answers without using any aids.
- 70% of solvers reported spending more than 40 minutes on the crossword.
- The average suggested difficulty rating was 3.3 stars.
I’m going to take a short break from surveying, but suggestions for questions that might be asked in a future survey are welcome now, either as a comment below or via BD using the contact link at the top of the page. Already on my list of possible questions are number of crosswords solved per week, other crosswords solved regularly, and solving method: online, with an app, in the newspaper, or on a printout. What would you like to know about your fellow solvers?
Click on each spoiler box to see detailed summaries of the responses to each question. Clicking on a chart will open a larger version in a new browser window.
[Filling the grid here means finding the answers, which could be accomplished unaided via understanding the wordplay, spotting the definition, guessing based on the checking letters already in place, etc., or by using solving aids. Please select all applicable answers.]
Only 34 solvers of the 352 completing the survey answered “None” to both Q1 and Q2. Everyone else used some form of assistance for finding the answers or parsing the clues or both.
[Ignore any breaks, and include only the time spent thinking about the puzzle before you stopped working on it. An estimate is fine if, like most of us, you didn’t have a timer running.]
The line shows the percentage of solvers spending less that the corresponding time on the puzzle (i.e. it is the cumulative distribution of times). This data shows that 95% of solvers spent more than 20 minutes on DT 28566, 70% spent more than 40 minutes, 40% spent more than 60 minutes, and 20% spent more than 90 minutes. The median time is 58 minutes. In addition:
- The three fastest solvers all reported spending 12 minutes on the puzzle, and all completed the solve unaided (I hope BD has them signed up to blog).
- Several of the sub-20-minute solvers reported using aids, suggesting that some readers chose to do whatever it took to get a fast time.
- Several of the unaided solvers reported spending hours on the puzzle, suggesting that other readers chose to do whatever it took to solve the puzzle without using any aids.
In addition to comments elaborating on solving experiences and comments relating specifically to my blog, there were also many comments falling into these three categories:
1. Expressions of thanks to the entire BD community
- “…now I shall read the blog and the comments though as they are always entertaining”
- “I often use Big Dave’s site when I’ve put an answer in that I know is right but can’t work out why it’s right. I always find the hints and breakdown of the clues really helpful. Thank you all for adding to the enjoyment of solving the puzzle.”
- ” Just thanks to you all from a grateful lurker”
- ” I love the blog because you learn so much, not just about crossword solving. I do not comment on the blog because I spend more time on crosswords than I actually have to spare.”
- “… What a relief that this site is available – it’s a great learning resource.”
- “… Thanks to everyone who contributes to this blog – I rely on you every day :)”
- “I’ve never commented before but would like to thank all those who do contribute to Big Dave’s blog. Only I know how many hours of frustration and sleepless nights you’ve all prevented! Please keep up the good work – it really is appreciated by those of us who engage in the daily tussle with the brilliant compilers and those who give up their time to help the secret lurkers!”
- “… Even when the puzzle has been completed without assistance the blog always raises a smile. … Your blog has helped greatly in this respect. Many thanks to all who post the clues and to all those who post on the blog.”
- “Always thoroughly enjoy these puzzles & thoroughly enjoy the blog, helps when I need it & enjoy reading the posts!”
- “Wanted to say how much I appreciate and enjoy all the contributions to the Big Dave website.”
- “Finding the Big Dave site and using it every day has allowed me to learn cryptics, providing a daily challenge and much enjoyment. A most unexpected delight in retirement. An additional bonus is the calibre of the bloggers. Thank you to all, especially you Mr K.”
- “Keep going Big Dave. You are the last resort but we need you”
- “I hugely appreciate the hints and tips in the blog, just didn’t need them today…”
- “I love using the Big Dave’s website. It has improved my solving abilities no end and I learn something new every time I use the site (about 4 times per week). There are a lot of clever people out there who compile the solutions! It is much appreciated by the less clever ones, but who enjoy trying!”
- “It’s great to have BD for a leg up at times. Thanks for all your input!”
- “I’ve learnt a lot from this blog over the years but still come back to it if all else fails. Well done to all concerned for this very helpful blog.”
- ” always grateful for this site!”
2. Questions about the blog
Responses in italics are mine.
- “I suspect, like me, there are many interested lurkers who don’t consider themselves expert enough to comment. Those that post are the most confident in their ability – and those with most time to do so”
You make a good point about commenting taking time, but the only qualification required to comment is to have attempted the puzzle. It would be great to see more comments from solvers who don’t consider themselves experts. They are sure to bring both balance and an interesting perspective to the discussion, and I know from experience that non-experts will get only encouragement and support from the rest of the commentariat. Remember too that the blog is anonymous. All that anybody knows about a commenter is what they choose to share.
- “How is the difficulty rating arrived at? Is it purely a time decision?”
The difficulty rating is an informal indicator that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Most bloggers have their own rating system which may or may not be based on solving time. In my case, now that I know that the readership feels that DT 28566 should be rated 3* for difficulty, I will try to use 2* for puzzles that I find are somewhat easier, 4* for puzzles that are somewhat harder, and reserve 1* and 5* for puzzles that are much easier and much harder respectively. We don’t expect to see too many of those since the puzzles have been moderated by an editor at the Telegraph before publication.
- “Know I would have struggled to solve today’s puzzle without the afore mentioned aids! I would love to know if some bloggers would consider the aids used a bit of a cheat? Thanks for all the effort you put in.”
My thinking on this common question is that a solver should do whatever makes solving the puzzle rewarding for them and not worry about what anybody else thinks. For some solvers that will be spending as long as it takes to complete the solve unaided, for others it will be turning to aids at some point so they have time to do other things. In my opinion the fastest way to get better at solving cryptics is to solve as many puzzles as you can, in which case it is silly to spend hours stuck on one clue when you could have got unstuck with help from a crossword dictionary or the blog or somewhere else and then used that time to solve more puzzles. Note too that the responses to Q1 and Q2 show that 90% of the blog readership would have struggled to solve DT 28566 without aids. And since nobody is born knowing how to solve cryptic crosswords, every single solver out there has used some form of assistance to reach their current level of proficiency.
- “Excellent blog. Thanks to all concerned. I know from experience, however, that criticism of the setter is not tolerated and any such remarks are expunged. I would be interested to know why this is.”
I believe one reason that there’s a wonderful sense of community on the site is BD’s policy that personal attacks are not allowed on the blog and will be deleted. On the other hand, thoughtful criticism is, of course, always welcome. So “Setter X’s puzzles are always rubbish” will get deleted, while “I thought this puzzle from Setter X was weak because it contained too many anagrams” is fine and will probably stimulate some discussion. Comments consisting only of unsupported negative assertions like “12a is the worst clue I have ever seen” are also likely to be deleted.
- “How can you spot the setter and why won’t the telegraph people tell us?”
I don’t know about the why, but the answer to the frequently-asked question “how do you know the setter?” is found in the site’s list of Frequently Asked Questions. See #28. There’s a lot of good stuff in the FAQ. It’s worth reading.
- “I have already looked at survey results and am interested in the age of most solvers. Why do you think the 60+ age group is the largest? is it that this group has more free time to solve a crossword? Is it that this group is less likely to use tech devices offering many options for passing time? Are cryptic crosswords going out of date?”
I’m not old enough for my own circumstances to be useful here, so I’ll turn this one over to the community. What do our 60+ solvers think? Have you been able to get younger relatives interested in cryptic crosswords?
3. Requests to retire “Read and Write”
- “…Love the blog and comments although always a bit of a downer when you struggle for days and then someone else says it was a read and write!! Thank you for the blog.”
- “Very pleased the site exists but so often disagree with the comments, especially the showoffs …”
- “Just stop people making comments like “no blog needed; this was R&W”. Nothing worse, especially with the Toughie, to read that after a handful of answers in ninety minutes!! All answers are very easy IF you know them!! Keep up the good work”
- “I like the discouragement of disclosing solving times but find terms like “R&W” even more distasteful …”