Subbing crosswords is not a high priority on a modern profit-focused newspaper. In fact, there is every sign that the Sydney Morning Herald neither subedits nor proofreads its crosswords, simply relying on the yet-unproven infallibility of its dazzling rotation of setters.

Occasionally the paper omits clues, which is an experience similar to discovering that a key ingredient is missing from a recipe when you are mid-baking. Frequently their anagrams are careless and inaccurate. They have even been known to accommodate misspellings in their grid. Like this Monday, for example, when 15 Across was “The rule, pal, is to make more than one (7)”.

Crossword buffs (soi-disant cruciverbalists) quickly discerned that they were required to find a word meaning “more than one” from the 7-letter anagram RULEPAL. And the word “pleural” duly turned up on Tuesday morning as the solution.

Except that “plural” is in fact the correct spelling of the word that means “more than one” and “pleural” refers to the membranes in which the lungs sit. Whoops!

Checking your crosswords is like providing a good index for a book. Commercially it doesn’t compute. But both signify a publisher which still takes pride in the quality of its publications. A few years back the Melbourne Age ran separate crosswords but these days they syndicate the SMH offerings (in fact, the most notorious SMH setter — the novelist David Astle, whose nimble mind teases his fans on Fridays — is Melbourne based). It’s a pity some of those savings could not have been invested in quality control. A few months back a particularly agile DA crossword was screwed up entirely through the careless omission of a vital instruction.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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