Last year was a rather traumatic one for Janet and me, with both of us going under the surgeon's knife (and, in my case, under his saw as well), so although I kept plugging away solving the Listener crossword each week, I didn't check each solution straight away as I normally do - apart from a quick dekko to see that I hadn't completely misunderstood the theme. In one way this was a good thing, as it meant I wasn't going to beat myself up every time I made yet another mistake, but it did mean that I was unsure whether or not I'd be receiving a letter towards the end of this January inviting me to vote for who should receive the Ascot Gold Cup.
For those unfamiliar with the workings of the Listener crossword (published in The Times on Saturdays since The Listener's demise), the Solver Silver Salver is awarded each year to the solver with the longest run of all-correct solutions - though when someone's run extends for more than one year, the tradition is that s/he generously awards it to the person with the next longest run who hasn't yet received it. The winner of the Salver then decides the destiny of the Ascot Gold Cup, which is awarded to the setter of what s/he judges to be the best puzzle of the year. However, a further tradition has arisen in which the winner of the Salver invites the other all-correct solvers for the past year to vote for whichever puzzles they think were best.
And that's where I come in, since it appears that, for the first time for some years, I actually managed to solve all the puzzles correctly. Of course if I'd been supremely confident, I'd have made a longlist as I went along, but I certainly wouldn't wish to tempt fate like that. Each of us is being asked to choose our top five, allocating 11 points to our first choice, 7 to our second, 5 to our third, 3 to our fourth and 2 to our fifth (primes, geddit?). I've just made a first pass through all the puzzles and reduced the number of contenders to 22 - which just goes to show what a wonderfully inventive bunch the Listener setters are, since some of the ones I've already eliminated were pretty good. As I've come up with four outstanding ones along the way, I should be able to complete my shortlist tonight, sleep on it, and decide my final order tomorrow. So please feel free to let me know which puzzle or puzzles you'd vote for, even though (or rather, since we're asked not to be influenced by others' comments, especially as) it'll be too late for you to have any influence on my voting.
Footnote In case you're wondering, the Ascot Gold Cup is named after its donor (who also donated the Solver Silver Salver), Allan Scott, who set Listener puzzles as Ascot. (It's actually made of silver, but whoever named it - Ascot himself? - was presumably unable to resist the temptation :-)
Tony, congratulations on your Orl Korrect status, a tough feat in any year, let alone this one for you. Those of us with a couple of errors have no real rights to make any judgements, but it is always interesting to look back at the year of Listener puzzles.
On my own highly individual scale of 1-5, 1 represents Not Really Worthy of the Listener, 2 is a Decent and Enjoyable Listener, 3 is Good, Even for a Listener, 4 is an Excellent Listener, and 5 is Truly Exceptional. I graded 7 of the puzzles as a 1, 17 as a 2, 12 as a 3, 10 as a 4 and 6 puzzles as a 5. A pretty good year, all in all.
Those six top-grade puzzles were by Shackleton, 13 (Samuel), Ferret, Kea, Lavatch and Sabre. They all remain embedded on my mind for their ideas, execution and the pleasure of solving them.
Thanks, Mark. For once I managed to spot all the themes and avoid making any stupid mistakes. Sadly that's very rare these days, and in fact I've already made my first stupid mistake of this year with "How to _", so I could be heading for another failure very shortly.
I don't have such a well-developed grading system as yours. Nowadays there's very rarely a puzzle I'd regard as "Not Really Worthy of the Listener", though I suppose any puzzle that included DLM clues would probably have to go into that category unless it had some outstanding feature to redeem it. The 22 on my longlist would fall into your grades 3, 4 and 5, and in the end there were three I regard as truly exceptional - Merlin's City Crossing Tour, Bandmaster's Duet for One, and Kea's Scattered - with Mango's 27 coming in just behind these to make up the four I rated outstanding. There were a further 11 puzzles I regarded as very fine (they included the ones by Shackleton, Ferret and Sabre), from which I've selected Shackleton's The Missing Vowels Round as my fifth voting choice.
I thought when I started out that Kea's Scattered was going to head my list quite easily, but now that I've thought further, there's something about it that worries me. I hate to say it, but it seems almost too clever - as if he was just showing off. But I won't be at all surprised, or disappointed, if he wins.
Due to a combination of reasons I gave up on the Listener towards the end of the year (after no 4215 to be precise)- amongst other things I found myself being increasingly irritated by some of the puzzles (I'm afraid the Ferret one being among them). However I judged probably correctly that this was largely down to my increasing lack of time to solve them. So I am even less well qualified to speak, but as only Magoo has done so so far I would say that my "top division" of the puzzles would comprise: "Number Plates" by Xanthippe "Confused" by Tea Leaves "Breach of Contract" by Ron "Continental Drift" by Shark "Ballad" by Elgin "8" by (Samuel) "Scattered" by Kea "Translation" by Sabre. and "A1" by Ifor.
"Taste and Fancy" by Radix nearly ruined my trip to Euro 2012, but is remembered with a sort of fondness (!)
Of the above, for the sheer gobsmacking wonder of the construction I'd pick out Kea, but for economy, guile and sheer beauty it would be Sabre.
For simple enjoyment I'd go for Ron and Tea Leaves.
Thanks for replying with that interesting selection. I'm very much with you in enjoying Tea Leaves' Confused, in marvelling at Kea's Scattered, and in admiring the guile of Sabre's Translation.
I'm surprised that my own top two - Merlin's City Crossing Tour and Bandmaster's Duet for One - didn't appear in either your or Magoo's list. I'm slightly worried that my own selection of five (the other three were Kea's Scattered, Mango's 27 and Shackleton's The Missing Vowels Round) came entirely from the second half of the year. This was after my chest pains had resumed in earnest, so perhaps it's simply that I was more grateful for the later ones because of the diversion they provided.