There are times when the urge to jump to the defence of a colleague is very strong, but it can be a hazardous ploy. You always run the risk of hearing “Well, you would, wouldn’t you?” as well as possibly alienating solvers/bloggers with whom you’ve always had a good relationship. For that reason I tend to hold my tongue.
But Telegraph Toughie setter Excalibur frequently comes in for stick which I find unwarranted, and I now feel compelled to say something regardless of the risk that may entail.
One review says “technically not very good” but, for me, Excalibur’s style is as unique and quirky as that of Araucaria. It isn’t that Excalibur deliberately goes out to take the sort of risks Araucaria takes, but she writes clues according to her own style, and I admire the fact that she sticks with it – her puzzles have an individual flavour, yet the difference in technique between her clues and those of other setters doesn’t stop them from being solvable. I have so far never seen a review in which the blogger has said about a clue “I just couldn’t solve this”. You solve an Excalibur puzzle by tuning into Excalibur’s style in exactly the same way you do with any other setter, and it would be a disaster for cryptic crosswords if all setters became homogenised into a uniform technique.
I admire Araucaria’s puzzles for their unique approach, but I don’t enjoy solving them as countless others do. There is no right and wrong in this – it is down to what we prefer as individual solvers and (with every respect to Araucaria) if the thing that floats your boat more than anything else is smooth, plausible surfaces, then his puzzles won’t be your first choice. They will be your first choice if you want audacious trickery and unexpected humour.
If you want eminently solvable puzzles with a truly unique flavour, then Excalibur should keep you perfectly happy.