That the puzzles page is now a Courier institution is beyond doubt. By far the most common feedback Courier staff get is when the puzzles page is too hard or, if the puzzles editor has a few too many drinks before sitting down to work (who would do such a thing…?), actually impossible. Whoops.
The Courier‘s puzzles page has at times faded into oblivion, and even been dropped by some foolish editors, but that’s just made its inevitable returns all the sweeter. Indeed, it’s reinstatement was a key aspect of the socialist takeover in 1974, while it’s most recent reincarnation, in 2013, was celebrated on the front page.
Other times, though, the puzzles page has kept a lower profile, modestly entertaining the students of Newcastle through long nights in the Robbo and 9am lectures. This is the history of those noble puzzles.
The lone crossword
Crosswords became popular in newspapers in the 1920s, and the first Courier crossword appeared in 1949, just a few weeks before the paper’s first birthday. This small grid crammed in no less than 42 words and included the awkward 35-across clue: “It means money in Japan”.
Such was the success of the Courier‘s first foray into the murky world of puzzles that a crossword did not appear again in the paper until 1956. A few more isolated crosswords popped up in the late 50s and throughout the 60s, but never on a regular basis.
The longest run of Courier crosswords came with the shortlived socialist takeover of the paper in 1974. This set the trend for puzzles in the paper, and crosswords made more frequent appearances in the late 70s, including another extended run for three months in 1979.
The unpuzzled 80s
Despite the many changes to the paper in the 80s, one thing remained constant: the disappointing lack of crosswords. For a decade puzzle fans had to make do with a solitary effort in 1985, and even that went under a different name.
What it lacked in crossing it made up for in its hand-drawn charm. Nevertheless, as far as the Courier was concerned, puzzles were fully out of fashion.
Crosswords go mainstream
In 1989 one of Steve Silk’s last acts as editor was to reinstate the crossword after its decade in the wilderness, and – coincidentally, perhaps – was sacked the following week. The crosswords remained, however, and appeared continuously from 1990-97.
At this point “the paper of the people” decided that crosswords were too hard, and replaced them with wordsearches. A £5 book token was on offer, though.
The wordsearches gave way to crosswords again the following year, which appeared on and off until 2005.
Innovations and expansions
The Courier has never been afraid to move with the times, and in 2005 jumped on the latest puzzle bandwagon. Alongside the traditional crossword now appeared a weekly sudoku (it’s “single number” in Japan).
Further expansion followed in 2007, when puzzles colonised an entire page of the growing paper, and all manner of word and number games dazzled Newcastle’s students. The likes of Megan Darby, Ned Walker and Andy Pitkeathley worked as the paper’s dedicated puzzles editors, creating crosswords, dot-to-dots, and “Ned’s number cruncher”.
The party came to an abrupt end in 2012, when new editor Ben Travis decided not to continue with the puzzles page. Such was the outcry that it returned, with much fanfare, a few months later, and has been an integral part of the paper ever since.
One issue in 2015 included a Star Wars quiz and a sports puzzles page alongside the standard offering, while that year’s Christmas offering provided special Christmas puzzles. 2016 saw the puzzles section cut down to half a page, leading James Sproston to campaign on a platform of, amongst other things, “a permanent restoration of the Courier‘s puzzles section to its former full-page glory”. Maybe his victory can be attributed to other factors, but the enduring popularity of puzzles of all shapes and sizes cannot be denied.