Results of Survey 3
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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.
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.”
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.