Survey Results – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
View closed comments 

Survey Results

Results of Survey 3

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

Mr K here again.  A big thank you to the 979 blog readers who filled out our recent survey.  It is gratifying indeed to see how many blog visitors were willing to take the time to complete a rather long survey.  Extra thanks to the 275 of you who left insightful and substantial comments under Question 12.  BD and I have read every comment, and I’m including some of them below.


Some key findings from the survey are that:

  • Only a few percent of us are regular solvers of the Guardian, Times, Independent, or Financial Times cryptics
  • Most of us solve between 5 and 7 puzzles each week
  • About 20% of us solve electronically.  60% of us solve in the newspaper itself, and 20% solve on a printout.
  • About 40% of us have a copy of Chambers Dictionary (the Big Red Book)
  • Just over 60% of us are retired
  • The chances of one of us winning a Telegraph Saturday Prize Puzzle are about 1 in 840
  • Almost 70% of us like, or least tolerate, clues based on Spoonerisms


Click on each spoiler box below to see detailed summaries of the responses to each question.  Clicking on a chart will open a larger version in a new browser window.

Question 1: Which puzzles do you solve regularly?


Question 2: How many cryptic crosswords would you attempt in a typical week?

The largest number reported was an average of 45 crosswords per week.  Phew.


Question 3: Where do you usually solve the Telegraph Cryptic?


Question 4: If you solve electronically, which of these platforms do you use?


Question 5: If you have access to Chambers Dictionary (aka the Big Red Book), which versions do you use?



Question 6: Are you left-handed or right-handed?

This question was motivated by claims that some mathematical or technical fields attract a disproportionate fraction of left-handers.  That doesn’t seem to be the case here, where the 11% fraction of left-handers is consistent with estimates for the population as a whole.


Question 7: Are you female or male?


Question 8: Are you retired or not retired?


Questions 9 & 10: Number of Saturday Prize Puzzle Entries and Wins

Of the 979 survey respondents, 347 have entered the Prize Puzzle in the Telegraph Saturday newspaper.  Those 347 solvers estimated that they have submitted a total of 36,031 entries.  They won a total of 43 first prizes, giving an average probability of winning of 43/36031, which is about 1 in 840.  So, the average number of entries for the Saturday Prize puzzle is at least 840.  It’s probably somewhat higher because those responding to this survey are likely more accomplished than average.  That’s consistent with an estimate from this comment in response to Question 12:

“My son elicited from a graduate trainee friend who went to work at Telegraph Media that they receive c 1800 – 2000 entries for the Saturday puzzle.”


Question 11: Do Spoonerisms have a part to play in crossword clues, or should they be outlawed?


Question 12: You can, if you wish, use this text box for additional comments on any of the questions above or on anything else crossword- or blog-related

There were so many comments submitted (thank you) that we can’t reproduce them all here.  So I’ve tried to choose a representative selection.  I’ve omitted questions whose answers are to be found in the site’s list of Frequently Asked Questions.  I’ve also omitted questions asking whether using aids is cheating and asking how the difficulty ratings are determined, because both topics came up in the last survey and were addressed there (see Question 6 here.)

Many comments fell into the following three categories (responses in italics are mine):

1.  The blog.

  • “The site can be a bit intimidating for novice solvers as most people who comment seem to finish most days and often do multiple puzzles. How can we get more novices to contribute?”
    “I absolutely love this website.  Thank you so much for helping me finish crosswords with help which I need. I do enjoy all the comments, but am not at a stage where I can contribute.  But I’m getting there thanks to all the bloggers.”
    “Regular reader. Fraidy cat to comment myself. Love the camaraderie of the regulars. Only wish I could aspire to such heights! Thank you for the enjoyment.”
    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.  Everybody remembers what it was like to be a novice, and they all want to help.  Remember too that the blog is anonymous.  All that anybody knows about a commenter is what they choose to share.  So, novices, please give commenting a try.
  • “I’ve been following the blog for many years. I’ve never ‘de-lurked’ because I take the crossword to bed and solve it there before lights out, so any comments from me would appear on day 2, so to speak, and hence wouldn’t be seen by many bloggers.”
    “I love the blog, have been following it for several years but as I don’t get to completing the crossword till the evening most nights that’s the reason why I don’t contribute. One of these days….”
    “I don’t often leave comments as I don’t look at BD until I’ve finished (or really stuck) and that is usually late at night.”
    “Regarding Q.7, my husband and I regularly do the previous day’s crossword together over breakfast. This is why I don’t often add comments to the blog – everyone has got there before us!”
    I’m sorry, but this is just not a good excuse for lurking 😊.  The life of a blog continues long after midnight in the UK.  Comments posted late at night or the next day will still have a large audience because back-page blogs are viewed about 1500 times on their second day.  Also, all new comments are announced in the box on the right-hand side of the page, and the author of a blog gets an email notification for every comment posted on it.  So, to anyone thinking along the lines above, please just post whenever you feel like it.
  • “…The one comment I made was treated superciliously so was not repeated.”
    “As a relative cryptic ‘newbie’ I like reading the comments on the site but get disheartened by comments from the regulars when they say how easy a puzzle was when I have struggled.”
    “Wonderful blog. Only niggle is the occasional whiff of xenophobia from some contributors. Recently: ‘Nothing Americans do surprises me anymore.’ “
    “I love your hints but this comment does not relate to them. I will never add a comment again having been told off by xx ….”
    Big Dave works tirelessly to make the site a friendly place and I don’t believe that we have anyone commenting on the site who would have deliberately meant to cause the reactions described above.  Of course, sometimes the tone of a comment ends up not quite how we intended or an attempt at humour falls flat, and I believe that such things probably explain the comments above.  One piece of evidence for how seriously the BD community takes the feelings of others is that the term “Read and Write” practically vanished overnight after several commenters on the last survey said it bothered them.  If the authors of the comments above are reading this, please give the blog another chance.
  • “I’m English but live in the USA. It would be interesting to know many other solvers live outside the UK.”
    What we know is that out of the 979 survey responses, 838 came from the UK.  The USA was in second place with 39 responses, then Canada (13), Spain (12), France (11), and New Zealand (6).  After that is a list of 23 countries with a few submissions each.  The BD community is very international.
  • “I remember a few years ago a telegraph cryptic containing no other vowel but A. It was really enjoyable. Do you have any idea from your data base who set it?”
    I believe that the puzzle you’re thinking of is DT 25085 from August 2006.  I discussed it in the intro to this blog from last year.  Since Thursday back-page setters are anonymous I don’t know who set it.  A slightly modified version appeared later as DT 25209.  A few years later, MynoT took the challenge further by composing a series of Toughies that each used only a single vowel: Toughie 173 (only A), Toughie 185 (only E), Toughie 203 (only I), Toughie 217 (only O), and Toughie 232 (only U).

2.  Questions about the Telegraph

  • “I would solve Online if my iPad or iPhone liked the telegraph puzzles but apparently adobe flash player is not supported by my devices, although I can happily do the NTSPP and the Rookie puzzles on them”
    This question came up a few times on the survey blog.  The Puffin web browser has built-in Adobe Flash support on both iPhone/iPad and Android.  Install it from the appropriate App Store and you should be able to complete the puzzles offered on the Telegraph Puzzles site.
  • “It would be nice to know how the winners are picked for the prize crosswords”
    “Telegraph editors should be more transparent about the protocols for selecting winners for the Saturday Prize Crossword puzzle. Are all entries received by the Friday 9am deadline included in the pool from which winners are chosen, or are winners selected progressively through the week, giving preference to those who submit their entries early, including those who enter digitally?”
    “Do emailed solutions to the Prize Crossword stand an equal chance of winning as mailed answers and how does the DT select a fair and representative distribution.”
    I can’t help here because I have no inside knowledge of the workings of the Telegraph.  But if anybody from Telegraph Puzzles happens to be reading this, perhaps you’d like to comment below?

3.  Expressions of thanks to the entire BD community

  • “Thank you so much for the blog which has helped me many times, and for the lovely community it has created.”
  • “I have taught myself how to do a cryptic crossword by using your blog and now always complete the Saturday one! Thank you!”
  • “Excellent blog helped my wife and I get into cryptic crosswords”
  • “Really appreciate this wonderful site and all the hard work and time that must go into it, greatly improving my enjoyment and understanding of cryptic puzzles despite having done them for decades.”
  • “Big Dave’s website is a super resource, my thanks to him and all his supporters who make the hints. Without you I would have given up on the Telegraph crossword.”
  • “Damn good blog guys. However, I always feel a tinge of guilt when I go to you for the answers though.”
  • “Many thanks for this site, I use it most days although never comment. Love reading others’ comments though.”
  • “Love this blog, makes me realise how dumb I am”
  • “Finding Big Dave’s Blog has doubled the pleasure of completing the DT back page crossword”
  • “I have always enjoyed crosswords, but your blog has really helped me to improve and get even more enjoyment from doing them. I used to struggle with the toughies, but I can now solve most of the clues and occasionally complete them without assistance. Thank you for this wonderful blog.”
  • “I really do enjoy reading the hints and other reader’s/solver’s contributions to the blog – although I do find a certain ‘someone’ rather irritating with his moaning, carping comments when clues fail to live up to his own personal liking and abilities.”
  • “I love the feedback users here give to newcomers.”
  • “Blog is brilliant. I enjoy the varied styles and degrees of difficulty from the different setters. I’m not keen on the moaning Minnie’s who complain about a crossword being too hard or too difficult or too much general knowledge. Variety as they say …”
  • “Your blog is wonderful and run so well. A lot of hard work from all your colleagues and a “go to” for me virtually every day.”
  • “I very much appreciate accessing the blog after I have completed a puzzle. I can check a parsing, decipher a very British clue (I’m in Canada) or just make myself feel good by confirming that I got it right. I especially like Kitty’s reviews.”
  • “I would just like to say thank you for all the help I have received on this blog. I find it really helpful.”
  • “Very happy to continue responding to your surveys. Always enjoy this wonderful blog. Hugely grateful to BD and his supporting cast. I would never have learned the intricacies of cryptic solving without all the time and effort expended by each and every one. Truly life enhancing. Thank you.”
  • “I really enjoy the blog and the clue definitions are sometimes the only thing between my forehead and the wall. Thank you to all the solvers who give of their time so freely.”
  • “I think Big Dave’s blog is brilliant – I love it and look at it virtually every day, although I haven’t commented for a long time. The regular commenters feel like old friends! The crossword often takes me hours to complete (in several sessions) but the struggle gives me huge pleasure, as does the blog. I don’t know how I managed before the days of Big Dave! I also much appreciate the clips and photos (especially kitty ones!). Many thanks to all.”
  • “Deeply grateful for this site – you’ve saved my thinning hair on many occasions! Thank you.”
  • “I’m a “lurker” on the Big Dave site – I like reading people’s comments and it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one to find some of the Toughies very challenging.”
  • “Many thanks for the enjoyment provided by all the bloggers, reviewers and setters.”
  • “The hugest thanks to BD and bloggers for this essential site, not to mention to the esteemed setters. When I can finish one a day, as opposed to three a week, I might join in a bit more. Thank you, Mr K, for contributing such unique skills to this blog.”
  • “…I very rarely finish a crossword, but I love Big Dave’s site for the hints and tips, but also for the comments. I found the site by accident many years ago and wouldn’t be without it now on a Saturday….”
  • “One question in the survey might have been ‘how many times per week do you drop your head in your hands when you see an answer in Big Dave’s?’  I would have said at least twice a week for me.”

Finally, this comment from Sunday evening made me smile.  I think it provides the perfect conclusion to this blog.

  • “…I like to refer to the blog after completion and for the fun of the chat from the regular contributors.
    The blog has become part of the fabric of Blighty. Like the BBC, great pubs and great ales, wet bank holidays and sporting underachievement and self-deprecation. Long may it last.”

Yes, long may it last.  Thanks to everyone who contributed.


51 comments on “Survey Results

  1. Oh, you were meant to say how many crosswords you do per *week*? I thought it was per day! (Joking… or AM I?)

  2. Regarding the questions about ratings – as MrK says these were discussed in the last survey. At the beginning of this year I also looked at the actual data for the last three years and presented my results at the bottom of this blog. They confirmed my suspicions!

  3. I bet there’s a few regulars on here who are surprised by the result for Question 11 – so lets have no more whinging about Spooner clues! Question 5: some readers might not know that the Chambers Dictionary and Thesaurus are both available to search (free) online – just Google chambers search – but they are not the latest editions.

    1. Hi, Jose. That Chambers Dictionary is the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary, not an earlier edition of the BRB. I link to it in my hints when it has a required word or abbreviation, but we do encounter words that are in the BRB but not in the 21st. In those cases I link to the online Collins or Oxford Dictionary of English.

      1. Yes, it is the 21st Century Dictionary – but still a useful free tool to have at your fingertips if you don’t own the BRB. I find the Thesaurus option on the search chambers website very useful.

        1. The reference that I use most frequently is WordWeb with the Chambers Dictionary and Chambers Thesaurus addons. It’s not cheap, but the updates are free so you can save in the long run.

          If ever you have wondered how I can easily add the Chambers definitions to a review or comment, look no further.

          I also have the Collins, Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE), Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED) and New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD) addons, but the two Chambers dictionaries are the ones I use most.

          1. The developers of WordWeb also provide by far the most economical way to own the BRB and its companion thesaurus, in the form of apps for Android and iPhone/iPad. Those electronic versions also offer word search and an anagram solver. The BRB app costs £6.99 and the thesaurus app is £2.99.

  4. Great review.
    Interesting that people refrain from commenting as they are not ‘experts’, and that is a shame.
    It can be somewhat disheartening to read comments about how easy a crossword is when I am struggling, but I have fairly thick skin so this does not especially worry me (apart from the comments about making the back-pager ‘tougher’), but I can imagine that it worries others.
    I am not sure there is a solution, other than to appreciate that there is no disgrace in failing to finish or to ask for help.

  5. Too late, I thought of another question which will now have to wait (at least we had plenty of responses from people saying they are happy to keep filling these surveys in).

    I wondered how many people only buy the paper or take out an electronic subscription because of the crossword. I just ask because I have a feeling that the value the setters bring to the paper is not reflected in their remuneration.

    (Of course asking the question of us cryptic fans ignores all the people who get the paper and have no interest in the crossword and so aren’t coming to this site, but we can still extract a meaningful estimate.)

    1. I really only buy the paper for the crossword and to see if any of my friends have died! Of course, I enjoy many of the articles but they are of secondary consideration.

      Even Matt concurs. I remember a splendid cartoon of a man buying the paper, shielding his eyes against an awful headline and begging just to be given the crossword. Trust Matt to get his priorities right!

    2. Agreed. I have often thought this. I certainly would not subscribe to The Daily Telegraph but for the back-pager. I think the rest of the paper is pretty dire and not improving. Because they allow access on two separate devices, my wife reads it as well. There are two pairs of captive eyeballs for the advertisers right there.

      1. Allowing access via more than one device is ultimately why I’m here (on this site, not the planet!). It was only because the app made available an extra copy of the crossword that I started doing them.

        1. And the only reason I started doing cryptics was because Kitty was doing them. Which meant that the Telegraph Puzzles site got another subscriber when Kitty gently suggested that I stop looking over her shoulder and get my own crossword

  6. I am so pleased about the result of question 11. I am definitely in the keep spoonerisms camp. Thank you Mr Kitty.

  7. Very interesting results, thanks for putting all that together Mr K.

    Really nice to see so many enthusiastic lurkers taking part in the survey, and the comments they have left.

    I particularly enjoyed the final comment – fantastic work BD, well done and thank you.

  8. What fascinating responses to the survey! Congratulations Mr K for putting it all together.
    And BD, did you ever imagine this site of yours getting this big? Wow….

  9. I have won the cryptic prize on the Telegraph Puzzle website but didn’t count that as I don’t send in the Saturday crossword and you can’t enter on-line. Which imho is a loss as you can for The Times

    Thanks for this survey very interesting

    regards, one of the 30 odd %

  10. Yesterday I spent several hours clearing ancient junk out of my attic, Find of the day was ‘The Daily Telegraph Fourth Crossword Puzzle Book’ which was first printed in 1953. Puzzle No,5, 17ac He was famous for initial confusion. (7). It looks like the reverend has been with us for quite some time. It would be a shame to kick him out now.

  11. So interesting! As for people not commenting because they don’t consider themselves experts, please do . I was prompted to comment initially after reading the results of a survey, having been a lurker for quite some time. I didn’t feel I would be up to scratch, however I decided to post and still continue to comment whenever I am able. I more or less complete each day, but in no way do I consider myself an expert, just an ordinary solver who has improved over the years due to experience. I have found that it certainly is a case of the more you do, the more you are able to do eventually. Do join in, I once commented on a clue as I just couldn’t parse it at all, even with the hints , then some kind person explained again in another wayand the penny dropped. I felt very welcome. Thanks to all

  12. Very interesting survey thanks once again Mr K. Would be interested to know why the question left or right handed was part of the survey? I was surprised that less than half used the BRB. Not surprised that many of us are retired I thought it would have been more than that.

    Thanks again for all your hard work it is appreciated.

    1. Thanks, Hx3. The reason for the handedness question is that I’ve seen claims that there are above-average numbers of left-handers in fields such as mathematics and chess (I think), which got me wondering about crosswords. The data shows that we have an average number of left-handers, so apparently crosswords hold no extra attraction for lefties.

      1. Thought it was something like that our daughter is left handed so I understand the logic behind the question.

      2. What about us ambidextrous people. There is also a word my GP used which means “no preference”.’

  13. Interesting results. I was surprised how many people use the blog but don’t feel moved to comment. I can’t say I’ve noticed anyone being put down by ‘experts’, quite the contrary. So let’s hope more of the lurkers will contribute.

    1. I am a long time lurker, who comments very rarely, usually when something in a puzzle raises my hackles. It is not that I am negative, but I just don’t have the time to comment during the average working day. I suspect I am like many others in that I use the blog to check the odd clue that I cannot parse. I am counting down the days to 2023 when I will have the time to comment. I suspect, however, that Mrs Moon may have other plans for my time!

  14. I was very interested in who does which other crosswords and I’d love to know if many or any blog users ever attempt anything harder than the Toughie (ie,the ones without any black squares). I have stared blankly at the Enigmatic Variations (?) in the Sunday Tele without ever solving a single clue although I can occasionally make some headway with Mephisto in the Sunday Times. How do others get on with these if at all?

    1. For anyone fancying a foray into the world of the barred crossword, I would strongly recommend starting with the Azed puzzles, published in The Observer but freely available to download from the Guardian web site. Choose one of the plain puzzles (there are occasional ‘specials’, which tend to be more difficult) and make sure that you have the Big Red Book available – the clues are scrupulously fair but the ‘palette’ of possible solutions does includes every entry in Chambers. However, there are always one or two lurkers and some straightforward anagrams to get you started, and many of the words in the grid will be familiar ones. Also, no more than a third of the letters in any solution are unchecked, which helps to balance out the challenge posed by the wider vocabulary. Mephisto is of a broadly similar level of difficulty (probably a little tougher on average), but because there are three setters operating in rotation it takes longer to lock in to their individual wavelengths. Themed puzzles like Enigmatic Variations, Inquisitor and Listener have a long roster of setters and can vary wildly in difficulty (and in quality, particularly of the clues, which also frequently include gimmicks such as missing or misprinted letters) – I wouldn’t recommend these to anyone not already comfortable with Azed or Mephisto.

      1. Thanks, Phibs, that’s a very useful rundown. I’ll download some Azeds and see how I get on

        1. I hope you enjoy them. Each puzzle is blogged on fifteensquared (the Sunday after it is published), with every solution being explained – this is likely to be helpful for anyone relatively new to Azed.

  15. Thanks for the survey and results. Very interesting reading and leads one to wonder where the blog will be in another 10-15 years with society changing continually and at an ever-quicker pace. I am betting it will bigger and better as more younger folks look for something a little more fulfilling than TwitBook and realise that the blend of retro values with witty, enlightened conversation and good manners together with intellectual stimulation each day are a winning formula. It is truly life-affirming to see people discover the blog, de-lurk and join the fun. Bring it on!

    1. Thanks for that, HP. Among the responses to Question 12 there were quite a few reporting taking up solving cryptics upon entering retirement. That must also be helping to grow the BD community.

  16. A couple of bits of idle curiosity maybe some time in a future survey?
    Since most people use the paper, which contains quite a few other puzzles, I wonder how many of us stray from the crossword and complete any of those puzzles too, and which they prefer. Any chance of a future question along those lines maybe?
    My other wondering is how people proceed with the crosswords – clues in turn as they are presented; or attempting to link each one into at least one letter of what’s been done already?
    The surveys are excellent, Thanks for all the hard work Mr K!

  17. Thanks Mr Kitty, a very well presented review, the graphs certainly bring the numbers to life. Great stuff, amazing to see how many people who read the blog don’t comment.

  18. I’m very interested to see the results of the survey — it’s good for us at The Telegraph to see the views of solvers — and so I thought I’d reply to a few comments.

    Regarding the selection of winners, I won’t bore with the details other than to say that this is carried out in a way that ensures that all entrants have an equal chance of winning, irrespective of when the entry is received, or of the method of entry (email or post).

    Regarding some of the comments on the Telegraph Puzzles website, we are currently working on an updated version which will contain some functionality enhancements. These include the removal of components which depend on Flash, and improvements to the handling of pages as viewed on mobile devices. There will be more news on this once the launch date is finalised.

    Finally, the divisive issue of Spoonerisms! My take on this is that they are a valid part of a setter’s arsenal. There are only a small number of valid clue types available to setters, and a Spoonerism that is both amusing and fair can increase the variety of clues in a puzzle, and hopefully raise a smile at the same time.

    I should add that I do read the blogs on just about all puzzles, and if time allows I also read all comments that are posted. The more comments the merrier, as it is all useful input!

    Chris Lancaster
    Telegraph Puzzles Editor

    1. HI Chris, thanks for the comments.
      As a user of the DT website, I am pleased to see that you are intending to remove the dependency on the outdated ‘Flash’. I am sure that will attract more users who struggle to find a browser that supports ‘Flash’.

  19. In response to Kitty (Feb 27 11.39am) I started with ICI in 1958 after leaving the sixth form at Cheadle Hulme School whilst living in Cheadle, Cheshire. Another ICI colleague, Malcolm also lived in Cheadle and with my new found wealth (£623 per year) I started buying the Telegraph. In those days ICI ran a bus service from central Manchester to their site at Blackley and our challenge was to complete the cryptic before we reached our place of work. Rarely did we achieve this but the experience embedded itself and the newspaper has been a stalwart companion ever since.

    1. Welcome to the blog, Little Dave (any relation?), and thanks for sharing your story

  20. Great survey, can’t wait for No 3.
    How many people who do the Telegraph Quickie just do the opening pun? I do, but indicated that I do the quickie.
    I still don’t comment much as most things have been said. I don’t want to be the 63rd person to say great puzzle, Thanks to setter and BD.
    Also I love Ray T and I love the Spoonerisms.

    1. Thanks for those kind words, Captain. This is actually the third survey. The first covered the demographics of the BD community, and the second asked about readers’ experiences solving a particular back page puzzle.

      Thanks also for the suggestion to ask about the Quick pun. I used to solve only for the pun, until one Tuesday I was caught out by the appearance of a second pun in the last row of the grid. So now I solve it all.

      I wasn’t planning to do a fourth survey, but since the comments here contain several requests for questions I might have to reconsider.

  21. I forgot to add I only buy the paper for the crossword. I used to read it regularly, but successive owners have dumped staff and dumbed down to such an extent that it is no longer an enjoyable read.
    Personal view not supported by the management!

  22. I have long been a lurker and regular visitor to the blog, which I always find both useful and enjoyable. I thought I would break cover, partly to say that having contributed to the survey, I found I am ‘Mr Average’ in terms of responders, and partly to say that I was a Sunday Cryptic crossword winner a few weeks back (receiving a very nice letter, fountain pen, biro and notebook – which I really ought to send to BD as I would not have got there without his help!)
    Keep up the good work!

  23. Having been a lurker on this fantastic site for far too long, some of the responses to question 12 have convinced me to venture into the comment section.

    Very interesting results to some of these questions. I have to say I couldn’t give up the thrill off a good Spoonerism so glad the general consensus is for them.
    I’d love to have the nerve to complete 45 puzzles a week! :)

    Thank you Mr K for your effort in putting this survey together, and of course BD for hosting such a wonderful community.

Comments are closed.