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John Perkin retirement lunch, 1997
Crossword editor John Perkin’s retirement lunch, 1997. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian
Crossword editor John Perkin’s retirement lunch, 1997. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Help (that’s a clue)! Can you name the Guardian’s missing mystery crossword setters?

A prisoner and a heart surgeon – plus a clutch of teachers and comics … We’ve found names, photos and life stories for nearly all the Guardian’s compilers since the beginning of cryptic time. Please help us fill the gaps!

The men and women who set the challenges for Guardian solvers have long come from all walks of life, with a disproportionate number of clergymen. But they often work in the shadows. Here, we show you as many as we can, in the hope that some reader or solver might tell us, for example, who Xerxes really is or was.

I have been enjoying enormously a conversation with Haydon Bambury, who sets as Mitz and who has embarked on what some – not me – might describe as a quixotic venture: to catalogue all the Guardian’s cryptic puzzles since setters began using pseudonyms (of which more below).

Haydon has generously agreed to share the fruits of his considerable labours, but there is a quid pro quo. The timeline comes with inevitable gaps and inconsistencies. Setters and solvers: as and when you help with those – marked in bold below – this will be updated.

It’s a wonderful journey, ending with a league table of who has composed the most puzzles (since pseudonyms began); there are also lots of linked profiles of the staggeringly varied backgrounds of these creators of puzzles. And solvers will find it hard to resist dipping in to many of the linked puzzles.

Over to Haydon, who thanks Stewart Gillies at the British Library for invaluable assistance.

In the beginning …

5 January 1929 After the success of the series by Torquemada that began in the Observer on 14 March 1926, the inaugural Guardian crossword is published. It appears on Saturdays only.

Edward Powys Mathers AKA Torquemada
Edward Powys Mathers AKA Torquemada (more)

22 May 1929 The first midweek puzzle. Two crosswords a week are offered for the rest of the year; there are prizes of a guinea (21 shillings or £1.05) each for the first two readers to send a correct solution for both.

31 December 1929 “The Manchester Guardian having hitherto printed two crosswords a week, has received evidence that this, for its readers, is not enough and from the new year it will print one every day, including a stiff one every Wednesday for the real crossword ‘fans’ and an additional one on Saturday for the children.”

1 January 1930 And so the Guardian crossword appears six days a week. At the beginning of each year the count is reset, so the first published in January is No 1, through to around No 310. The prize is now offered only for Saturday puzzles.

John Perkin, crossword editor (among other things)
John Perkin, crossword editor (among other things). Photograph: Guardian News & Media Archive/The Guardian

1939-1945 No issue is published without the crossword throughout the second world war.

1 January 1968 The crossword is now numbered per the aggregated count, as of puzzle 11,907. This leaves a slightly mysterious 53 missing puzzles, according to the yearly counts so far: maybe the children’s crosswords (which don’t seem to have endured) were included in the count?

Ruth Crisp AKA Crispa, at home in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex
Ruth Crisp AKA Crispa, at home in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian
Guardian masthead as of 1959.
Guardian masthead as of 1959. Photograph: David McCoy/The Guardian

The 1970s: the setters take on names

28 December 1970 Under crossword editor John Perkin, pseudonyms are introduced: Nimrod is the first, for puzzle 12,819. It is doubtful that this was John Henderson (Enigmatist of this parish and Nimrod in the Independent) as he was aged seven. The rest of the inaugural stable is:

  • Lavengro (Stanley Watt, who, the crossword editor tells readers in 1978, had “jacked in banking to write for himself”)

  • Crispa (former civil servant Ruth Crisp, one of the few to make setting their living)

  • Gordius (parish priest the Rev David Moseley; Meet the Setter)

  • Janus (sometime army pay office employee Frank Blakesley, latterly a serial quizshow contestant)

  • Araucaria (country parson the Rev John Graham)

  • Xerxes

  • Bunthorne (photographer and newscaster Bob Smithies)

  • and Audreus (former kitchen maid, factory worker and pig farmer Audrey Young; Meet the Setter).

Known debut years: Crispa 1954; Araucaria 1958; Bunthorne 1966; Gordius 1967; Janus 1968; Audreus 1969. Debut years for Nimrod, Lavengro and Xerxes are not known; likewise Nimrod and Xerxes’ identities.

Audrey Young, AKA Audreus
Audrey Young AKA Audreus (remembered)

9-12 August 1971 The 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st Araucaria puzzles are published on consecutive days, apparently the only instance of a setter providing four credited puzzles on the trot.

20-23 September 1971 Print strikes affect the newspaper industry, and the Guardian takes a four-day hiatus. The response of the nation’s cruciverbalists is unrecorded.

1 November 1971 Janus sets 13,074, marking the birth day of your favourite crossword statistician. (For some reason the setter fails to mention the significance of the date in any of his clues.)

Frank Blakesley AKA Janus
Frank Blakesley AKA Janus

20 June 1972 It will surprise some to learn that Araucaria was not the most prolific setter in the early days: Lavengro, with 13,268, is the first to reach 100 credited puzzles.

25-27 July 1972 Another crossword black hole as the Guardian closes down for three days.

21 August 1972 Altair (British Steel metallurgist Fred Scanlan) makes his debut (13,318).

The Rev David Moseley AKA Gordius
The Rev David Moseley AKA Gordius (Meet the Setter)

10 November 1972 With 13,387 Janus is the second to reach 100 credited puzzles.

6 January 1973 And with 13,433 Araucaria is the third setter to reach a credited century. We’ll probably never know how many he provided in the anonymous era; based on his frequency during the early 1970s it may have been between 600 and 650.

Guardian crossword 13,511
Guardian crossword 13,511

29 May 1973 Araucaria invents the alphabetical jigsaw: 13,552 is the first, published without fanfare on a Tuesday.

12 June 1973 13,564 is Nimrod’s last: he or she becomes the first known Guardian crossword retiree, having chalked up 103 puzzles (and who knows how many before December 1970).

17 July 1973 13,594, the debut of Gemini (Belfast lecturers Vincent McLachlan and Walter Reid; not actually twins).

6 August 1973 13,611, the debut of Logodaedalus (former Intelligence corps member and puzzle editor Don Putnam).

22 November 1973 13,703, the debut of Julius (former textile machinery consultant Denis Paling).

18 March 1974 13,798, the debut of Orlando (Michael Curl from the world of computers, who created Best for Puzzles; Meet the Setter).

Easter prize double puzzle, 1978, by Araucaria
Easter prize double puzzle, 1978, by Araucaria. Photograph: The Guardian

2 September 1974 13,938, the debut of Custos (classics teacher Alec Robins). Custos is already a giant in the crossword world, having collaborated with Ximenes (Derrick Macnutt) in Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword, in 1966. He wrote his own book, Teach Yourself Crosswords, in 1975.

17 October 1974 A glitch in the numbering system: the puzzle should have been 13,977; instead it is numbered 13,978.

20 January 1976 14,361 is the last we’ll see of Logodaedalus for more than 12 and a half years: after the death of his wife, he won’t provide another Guardian crossword until September 1988. The only comparable gap is between Imogen’s first and second puzzles (10 years, three months).

1 March 1977 14,702, the debut of Hendra (former collier and founder of the Merseyside Concert Orchestra – and cousin to Paul McCartney – Bert Danher).

20 Feb 1978 Custos sets a double puzzle titled Literal Transplants as the 15,000th Guardian puzzle. “No prize for this one – it’s just for fun.”

10 April 1978 15,040, the debut of Apex (carpenter Eric Chalkley).

John Henderson (Enigmatist) and John Young (Shed)
John Henderson (Enigmatist) and John Young (Shed)

21 December 1978 15,259, the first of just five puzzles attributed to “Hippo”.

29 March 1979 15,340: finally, the debut of Enigmatist (John Henderson; Meet the Setter), who had kept everyone waiting until he reached the grand old age of 15.

6 August 1979 15,450: the final debut of the 1970s, that of the poet Harold Massingham, or here simply “Mass”.

Roger Squires (Rufus), photographed in 2012
Roger Squires (Rufus; Meet the Setter), photographed in 2012. Photograph: David Sillitoe/The Guardian
Guardian masthead, 1986
Guardian masthead, 1986. Photograph: Garry Weaser/The Guardian

The 1980s: retirements begin

26 August 1980 Another unidentified setter, Gromwell, sets the first of five crosswords, number 15,777.

3 November 1980 The second retirement. 15,836 is the 159th and last from Xerxes. Best guess is that he or she might have provided another 200 prior to December 1970, but not knowing when Xerxes started (or indeed anything else about Xerxes), it is impossible to tell.

Guardian crossword 15,505
Guardian crossword 15,505

5 May 1981 15,989 is the 10th and last from Mass, who may have decided he preferred poetry of a different kind.

30 August 1982 16,398 is a significant debut: that of Rufus (professional setter Roger Squires). He is the only setter to have provided more than 1,000 puzzles on a single day of the week (Monday, of course) but in the early days he could be found on any weekday; Thursday especially was a common home.

28 March 1983 16,575 is the last from Julius, his 87th.

26 May 1983 The earliest recorded one-off: 16,625 is set by Trumper, his or her only contribution.

Newsstand, no date
Composite: Robin Christian/The Guardian

31 December 1983 Another numbering glitch: 16,811 should have appeared on this day, but instead we are treated to 16,812. Is there a market for T-shirts bearing the slogan “I solved Guardian crosswords 13,977 and 16,811”? No? Just me, then …

22 March 1984 16,882 is the last from Lavengro, the last of the trio of big hitters from the start of the pseudonym era for whom there is scant further information, though John Perkin has mentioned that he was a contributor to Punch magazine. Lavengro provided 678 puzzles in total, joint sixth on the all-time list. He provided more crosswords than anyone else in the 1970s (521, compared with Araucaria’s 483) and was the most prolific setter every year from 1971 to 1977. Lavengro’s record year was 1972 (79 puzzles). As with Nimrod and Xerxes, Lavengro’s debut year (some time in the early 1950s) is not known so it is impossible to estimate how many crosswords he set prior to December 1970.

Guardian crossword 18,355
Guardian crossword 18,355

24 September 1984 Another significant debut: 17,040 is the first from Shed (writer, editor and translator John Young; Meet the Setter).

18 October 1986 With 17,679, Araucaria is the first to have 1,000 puzzles to his name.

13 July 1987 Mercury (retired bank manager and organist Ken Guy) makes his debut with 17,904.

14 July 1988 It’s Bastille Day, so why not have a one-off contribution from a setter called Robespierre?

30 September 1988 Logodaedalus returns.

Don Manley AKA Pasquale
Don Manley AKA Pasquale

4 February 1989 18,390 is the last from Apex (obituary). He only set 35 Guardian cryptics in just under 11 years, but 26 were Saturday prize puzzles, and he seems to have been fond of special instructions; he did after all start providing puzzles for the Listener in 1969.

16 February 1989 18,400 is the first of just four puzzles from Pedrock (former accountant Peter Chamberlain), a good deal more prolific elsewhere.

25 March 1989 18,431 is the last debut of the 1980s. Pasquale (editor and author of Chambers Crossword Manual Don Manley; Meet the Setter) is one of only three setters who started before the online era who has continued to this day.

‘A puzzlement of compilers’ at a Manchester lunch on the occasion of the retirement for the crossword editor John Perkin, 1997.
Manchester lunch for the crossword editor John Perkin on his retirement in 1997. We think the image shows: (back row) Enigmatist, Fidelio, Logodaedalus, Rover, Hendra, Shed, Pasquale, Gemini’s Vincent McLachlan?; (middle row) Orlando, Fawley, Gordius, Paul, Quantum, Chifonie, Mercury, Gemini’s Walter Reid?; (seated) Bunthorne, Araucaria, Custos, Rufus. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian
Guardian masthead, 1990s
Masthead, 1990s. Photograph: Martin Argles/The Guardian

The 1990s: the changing of the guard

2 April 1990 18,474 is the first of four from the TS Eliot-referencing Grumbuskin, who we believe to be crossword editor John Perkin himself.

Guardian Crossword 20,301
Guardian Crossword 20,301. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

16 April 1990 18,760, the final puzzle from Altair, who had been the first to join the original nine in 1972. His Guardian obituary notes that he died aged 63 at home in Sheffield on 17 April and that the paper would go on to publish a series of his quicks. John Perkin writes that he developed the “hidden anagram” puzzle and says: “There was wit and variety in all his puzzles and no one ever had to complain that his clues were obscure or unfair.”

Policeman reads note: “OI! I FLED, CONFUSED (7)”
Cartoon, 3 July 1991. Illustration: Austin/The Guardian

7 January 1991 18,986, the debut of Fidelio, also known as Tony Fontaine, whom the Guardian describes as “a self-confessed recidivist thief”. He sets puzzles from Maidstone prison, guided by serial Times crossword champion, astrophysicist and editor of the Oxford University Press German dictionaries John Sykes. In July, a front-page story tells readers that Fidelio is on the run (see cartoon, left).

20 August 1991 19,179, the debut of Quantum (education officer and cricket enthusiast Eric Burge).

6 November 1991 19,246, the debut of Auster (Brisbane-born Shirley O’Brien).

25 November 1991 19,262. An odd one. One of two puzzles set by “Squires” (the other is 19,344): maybe they were by Rufus and someone at the Guardian forgot to use the usual pseudonym?

Albie Fiore AKA Taupi
Albie Fiore AKA Taupi

18 February 1992 19,333, the debut of Fawley (postman and former teacher Mike Laws).

25 March 1993 19,674, the debut of Taupi (editor of Games & Puzzles magazine Albie Fiore).

Ian Morgan AKA Rover
Ian Morgan AKA Rover

23 December 1993 19,908, the debut of Rover (president of the National Union of Teachers Ian Morgan).

7 April 1994 19,946, the debut of Chifonie (chemical industry design engineer John Dawson; Meet the Setter).

John Dawson AKA Chifonie
John Dawson AKA Chifonie

11 April 1994 Puzzle 20,000 reads: “Set by Araucaria who for this special occasion has pressed a distinguished compiler of competitive verse into what appears to have been somewhat arduous service.” Rhyming couplets ensue, credited to Mary Holtby (Araucaria’s sister, who was among his Desert Island Discs).

2 December 1994 20,202, the debut of Plodge (Moira Wade of Berwickshire).

2 February 1995 20,254: another one-off, this time by a setter calling themselves Keri.

John Graham (Araucaria) and John Halpern (Paul)
John Graham (Araucaria) and John Halpern (Paul)

19 April 1995 20,319: the Guardian welcomes the prolific Paul (John Halpern; Meet the Setter).

Guardian crossword 20,740
Guardian crossword 20,740

25 October 1996 20,793 is the final puzzle by Custos (obituary). He wasn’t there right at the beginning of the Guardian’s pseudonym era, but was very well known by his 1974 debut. In a little over 22 years he provided 949 puzzles and is fifth on the all-time list. In his heyday he would set more or less one cryptic puzzle every week, the vast majority on Fridays (485) and Saturdays (344), providing a foil to Araucaria during his most prolific years.

27 February 1997 20,898 and the last one-off before the online era, this was set by Joke (a collaboration between Enigmatist and Fawley).

5 March 1997 A David McKie piece begins: “A puzzlement of Guardian crossword compilers emerged blinking from behind their pseudonyms last week to salute the paper’s retiring former crossword editor John Perkin, and welcome his successor, Prof Hugh Stephenson.”

18 July 1997 21,019 is an interesting one: Egoist set six cryptics for the Guardian, all published on 18 July, from 1997 to 2003 (in 1999, that date was a Sunday). I have been reminded that Hugh Stephenson’s birthday falls on 18 July.

24 June 1999 Crossword 21,620. The biggest day in the Guardian crossword since 28 December 1970: for the first time the puzzle is published online. Rover has the honour and in the following days and weeks he is followed by the other Guardian setters of the day: Fawley, Araucaria, Rufus, Janus, Pasquale, Chifonie, Crispa, Logodaedalus, Taupi, Plodge, Shed, Gordius, Paul, Bunthorne, Mercury, Enigmatist, Gemini, Quantum, Orlando, Audreus, Hendra, Auster, Egoist (over a year later; see above) and finally Fidelio in February 2001. Six (Araucaria, Janus, Crispa, Gordius, Bunthorne and Audreus) are survivors from the dawn of the pseudonym era. At the time of writing, three remain: Enigmatist, Pasquale and Paul.

23 September 1999 The first quiptic puzzle (by Don Putnam under his own name) is published, online; it is “for beginners and those in a hurry”.

Araucaria’s 80th birthday party at the Guardian’s office in London, 2001: (from left) Taupi, Mercury, Hectence, Paul, Bunthorne, Rufus, Alan Rusbridger, Araucaria (seated), Pasquale, Logodaedalus, Enigmatist, Hugh Stephenson, Shed, Gemini’s Vincent McLachlan, Fidelio.
Araucaria’s 80th birthday party at the Guardian’s office in London, 2001: (from left) Taupi, Mercury, Hectence, Paul, Bunthorne, Rufus, Alan Rusbridger, Araucaria (seated), Pasquale, Quantum, Enigmatist, Hugh Stephenson, Shed, Gemini’s Vincent McLachlan, Fidelio. Photograph: Martin Argles/The Guardian
Guardian masthead, 2005
Guardian masthead, 2005. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

The 2000s: online puzzles

1 Jan 2000 21,783, a special puzzle marking the date from Enigmatist.

1 April 2000 21,861, the first appearance of Biggles, the occasional collaboration of Araucaria, Enigmatist, Paul and Shed (“We Johns”).

11 September 2000 22,000, the 118th and final puzzle by Fawley (obituary), a tribute to his colleagues: “To mark the publication of puzzle No 22,000, I dedicate this to the Guardian’s setters in acknowledgment of all the pleasure they have given me as a solver.”

18 January 2002 22,420, the 181st and final puzzle by Hendra (only five of which came in the online era; obituary).

26 July 2002 22,582: the 193rd and final puzzle by Mercury (obituary).

7 September 2002 22,619: Paul sets the 1,000th puzzle in the online archive.

1 October 2002 22,639: the 59th and final puzzle by Plodge.

27 February 2003 22,765: the first one-off of the online era: a puzzle about archbishops of Canterbury by Chaucer.

23 April 2003 22,812: the 28th and final puzzle by Fidelio.

4 July 2003 22,874: the first online debut: Brummie (Eddie James, BT early-retiree and Cyclops in Private Eye, among other things).

Araucaria cuts his 80th birthday cake.
Araucaria cuts his 80th birthday cake. Photograph: Martin Argles/The Guardian

22 July 2003 The first Genius puzzle is published, online, set by Bunthorne.

26 July 2003 22,893: Araucaria becomes the first (and to date only) setter to reach 2,000 credited puzzles. To put this achievement into context: if even Paul continues at his current rate he will get there some time in 2047.

30 July 2003 Crossword editor Hugh Stephenson begins his online column.

18 October 2003 22,965, the debut by Imogen (Richard Browne; Meet the Setter) who due to duties elsewhere will not return until 2014.

24 January 2004 23,047, a one-off celebrating Australia Day by Kookaburra, who we believe to be Auster. There is a twist.

6 December 2004 23,318, the 678th and final puzzle by Crispa (obituary), who had been setting puzzles for the Guardian since 1954, four years before even Araucaria. She was not as prolific as some of her contemporaries, but set a few almost every year, only going missing entirely in 1977. Her puzzles were most commonly seen on Mondays (418) and her total places her joint sixth on the all-time list. Based on her frequency in the early 1970s it seems likely that she provided in the region of 200 more in the anonymous era.

19 January 2005 23,355, the 149th and final puzzle by the Gemini duo.

29 August 2005 23,545, an interesting one-off by Omnibus: the puzzle was compiled using clues sent in by readers.

11 May 2006 23,763, the debut by Brendan (mathematical educationist Brian Greer).

Sarah Hayes AKA Arachne
Sarah Hayes AKA Arachne

28 June 2006 23,804, the debut by Arachne (sometime academic and bookseller Sarah Hayes; Meet the Setter).

7 July 2006 23,812, the 1,000th puzzle by Janus

30 October 2006 … 23,910, the 1,002nd and final puzzle by Janus who died aged 94 (obituary). The fifth of the original nine to retire, Janus is one of only four setters to make the landmark of 1,000 puzzles. In the early years his puzzles were fairly evenly split over all six days, but his last Saturday prize appeared in 1979 and he gradually shifted to be more commonly seen in the earlier days of the week. He set more than 100 crosswords for each of Monday to Friday, a unique achievement in the Guardian. Knowing his debut year was 1968 allows us to estimate that he provided about 140 more puzzles in the anonymous era.

Bob Smithies AKA Bunthorne
Bob Smithies AKA Bunthorne Photograph: Don McPhee/The Guardian

4 November 2006 23,915, the 414th and final puzzle by Bunthorne (obituary). Less than a week after Janus’s final appearance, we say goodbye to Bunthorne, another of the originals. Fondly remembered for some of the toughest tests of his generation, he was most commonly seen on Saturdays (168 times). His total puts him 12th on the all-time list.

8 December 2006 23,944, the debut by writer Puck (Meet the Setter), anonymous and much loved by Guardian solvers.

3 May 2008 24,379, the debut by Crucible (computing and publishing veteran Duggie Anderson; Meet the Setter), published at the climax of the World Snooker Championship with 15 reds and all the other colours in the grid. After that, everyone needs a lie down and he doesn’t appear again until September 2009.

Ashley Knowles AKA Boatman
Ashley Knowles AKA Boatman

1 October 2008 24,508, the debut by Boatman (financial analyst Ashley Knowles; Meet the Setter).

1 May 2009 24,688, the debut by Bonxie, who prefers to remain anonymous.

19 August 2009 24,782: Enigmatist and Paul came together to provide a tribute to Taupi.

13 October 2009 24,829, the only puzzle attributed to Fiore; it seems likely that it was provided at least in part by Taupi (Albie Fiore).

14 November 2009 24,857, the 128th and final puzzle by Taupi (obituary).

The Rev John Graham AKA Araucaria
The Rev John Graham AKA Araucaria. Photograph: David Sillitoe/The Guardian
Guardian masthead with URL
Guardian masthead with URL

The 2010s: the newer setters arrive

26 April 2010 24,994, the 1,000th puzzle by Rufus.

3 May 2010 A special puzzle from Enigmatist for 25,000.

22 December 2010 25,200, the 38th and final puzzle by Auster (obituary).

20 January 2011 25,224, the 138th and final puzzle by Rover (obituary).

Neil Walker AKA Tramp
Neil Walker AKA Tramp

15 February 2011 25,246, the 184th and final puzzle by Quantum (obituary).

16 February 2011 25,247, officially by only three of the four Johns (Enigmatist, Paul and Shed) but as it was celebrating the 90th birthday of the fourth (Araucaria) I feel justified in recording it as a Biggles puzzle in my records.

Samer Nashef AKA Philistine
Samer Nashef AKA Philistine. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

28 April 2011 25,308, the debut by Tramp (mathematician and Supertramp devotee Neil Walker; Meet the Setter).

26 May 2011 25,332, the debut by Philistine (surgeon Samer Nashef; Meet the Setter).

18 August 2011 The Guardian crossword blog begins, initially appearing twice-weekly. The Meet the Setter profiles begin in September with Paul; the For Beginners series of guidance starts with hidden answers in October.

3 October 2011 Paul sets Genius 100.

John Tabraham AKA Qaos
John Tabraham AKA Qaos

12 January 2012 25,530, the debut by Qaos (mathematician John Tabraham; Meet the Setter).

16 March 2012 25,585, the debut by Picaroon (novelist among other things James Brydon; Meet the Setter).

9 January 2013 25,840, the 237th and final puzzle by Audreus (obituary). The seventh of the great setters who were there at the beginning to set aside her quill. An average of just over five a year, her puzzles were always smooth and solid and she was hugely respected. Her debut came only shortly before the pseudonym era, so there would have been only a handful more prior to December 1970.

11 Jan 2013 25,842 comes with a preamble: “Araucaria has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15.” The relevant answers are cancer, oesophagus and palliative care.

Maskarade, AKA Tom Johnson, with his birthday cake
Maskarade, AKA Tom Johnson. Photograph: Tom Johnson

24 August 2013 26,035, the debut by Maskarade (Spectator puzzle editor Tom Johnson; Meet the Setter), and the first bank holiday puzzle for decades not to have been set by Araucaria.

20 September 2013 26,058, the debut puzzle by Nutmeg (retired programmer Margaret Irvine; Meet the Setter).

Gordon Holt AKA Otterden
Gordon Holt AKA Otterden

25 October 2013 26,088, the debut by Otterden (Gordon Holt; Meet the Setter), the New Statesman puzzle editor who told the crossword blog in June that he “would dearly love to have just one crossword published in the Guardian”.

29 November 2013 26,118, officially set by “None” but widely taken to have been provided by Enigmatist, Paul and Shed, and so like Araucaria’s 90th birthday puzzle I class it as a Biggles puzzle – the 11th and last. It is a tribute to Araucaria, who had died three days previously (obituary).

17 April 2014 26,236, the 602nd and final puzzle by Gordius (obituary). The eighth of the nine original pseudonyms to retire, Gordius had been a stalwart since 1967 and had become more prolific in the online era, providing two puzzles a month. He was a midweek man – rarely seen on either Mondays or Saturdays and most commonly on Tuesdays. We can estimate that he set in the region of 40 to 50 more puzzles before December 1970 and his known total puts him eighth on the all-time list.

17 September 2014 26,367, the 221st and final puzzle by Logodaedalus. An old-school setter fond of rhyming clues and acrostics, his total places him 20th on the all-time list.

26 November 2014 26,427: Araucaria had died on this date the year before, so it was a surprise to see his name on this puzzle, “finished by a friend” (who turned out to be Philistine). Araucaria’s statistics are remarkable; many of his records are unlikely ever to be beaten. His grand total is 2,547, with an estimated addition of probably more than 600 prior to the era of pseudonyms. He set 943 on Saturdays alone, nearly three times as many as the next setter. His record for a single year is the 90 – 90! – that he provided in 1981, before Rufus’s debut but with Custos and Lavengro still going strong. His was of course the longest career as a Guardian setter, from 1958 until this posthumous puzzle 56 years later.

Dave Warder, AKA Screw
Dave Warder AKA Screw. Photograph: Lauren McCartney

3 March 2015 26,509, the debut by Screw (Dave Warder; Meet the Setter).

11 March 2015 26,516, the debut by Vlad (teacher Jim Toal; Meet the Setter).

1 April 2015 26,534: there was much intrigue on publication the only puzzle by Atë. The “new” setter turned out to be a collaboration between Arachne, Tramp and Enigmatist.

9 July 2015 26,619: Picaroon sets the 5,000th puzzle in the online archive.

7 April 2016 26,852, the 22nd and final puzzle by Otterden (obituary).

27 July 2016 26,947, the debut by Pan.

19 November 2016 27,046, another collaboration: Bogus, with a puzzle drawing attention to World Toilet Day, is a combination of Arachne, Nutmeg and Puck. It’s the first of three Bogus puzzles to date.

Steve Pemberton AKA Sphinx
Steve Pemberton AKA Sphinx. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

28 February 2017 27,132, the debut puzzle by Sphinx (comedian Steve Pemberton), is an elaborate tie-in with an episode of his BBC anthology series Inside Number 9 broadcast on the same day.

23 June 2017 27,231, the 53rd and apparently final puzzle by Bonxie.

31 July 2017 27,263: the 1,000th puzzle by Rufus to appear on a Monday.

18 December 2017 27,383, the 1,325th and final puzzle set by Rufus before his retirement (which was a repeat of his first, 16,398). He sits in second place on the Guardian list, and the Guinness Book of Records named him the most prolific cryptic setter of all time. Of his Guardian puzzles, 1,018 were published on Mondays, with a further 184 on Thursdays in the 1980s and 1990s. But he never set a Saturday prize puzzle; it wasn’t his style. Here, crossword editor Hugh Stephenson says goodbye.

26 February 2018 27,442, the debut by Vulcan (former Times crossword editor Richard Browne; Meet the Setter).

10 April 2018 27,479, the 23rd and most recent puzzle by Screw.

14 January 2019 Carpathian sets Quiptic 1,000.

4 November 2019 27,969, the 452nd and most recent puzzle by Orlando. A favourite of many for his elegant style, Orlando’s total places him 10th on the all-time list.

Tony Davis AKA Anto, Victoria Godfrey AKA Carpathian, Dave Gorman AKA Fed and Hamish Symington AKA Soup
Tony Davis AKA Anto, Victoria Godfrey AKA Carpathian, Dave Gorman AKA Fed and Hamish Symington AKA Soup. Photograph: Tony Davis (Anto); Chi Yin Sim (Fed)
Current masthead.
Current masthead. Photograph: Marcin Rogozinski/Alamy

Where we are now: the 2020s

15 February 2020 The Guardian announces its Puzzles app.

2 March 2020 28,070, the debut cryptic by cartoonist/photographer/former banker Anto (Tony Davis; Meet the Setter), one of a group of quiptic setters now producing cryptics.

31 March 2020 28,095, the debut cryptic by Matilda.

27 April 2020 28,118, the debut cryptic by primary teacher Carpathian (Victoria Godfrey; Meet the Setter).

1 May 2020 28,122, the 316th and final puzzle by Chifonie (obituary). Another much-loved setter, for his smoothness and fairness which offered encouragement to new solvers. His total puts him 14th on the all-time Guardian list.

30 October 2020 28,278, the 423rd and final puzzle by Shed (obituary). The most recent setter to leave us, Shed had a great range: he could be very tough when he wanted to be, but could also tone it down if he wanted to give solvers a fun ride, so it is not surprising that he was seen on all of the days of the week. His total puts him 11th on the all-time list.

16 February 2021 28,370: Enigmatist and Soup (plant scientist Hamish Symington; Meet the Setter) collaborate on a 100th birthday tribute to Araucaria.

28 June 2021 28,483, the debut puzzle by Fed (comedian Dave Gorman; Meet the Setter).

28 July 2021 28,509, the debut (solo) puzzle by Soup.

11 November 2021 28,600, the debut by Kite (sometime cancer researcher/windsurfer Jeff Robinson).

31 December 2021 28,642, the debut by Harpo.

4 March 2022 28,696, the debut by Pangakupu (Mastermind semi-finalist Paul Henderson of the New Zealand Ministry of Justice; Meet the Setter).

24 March 2022 28,713, the first puzzle by Mobo, apparently a collaboration between Harpo and Tramp.

18 June 2022 28,787: Paul becomes the fourth setter to reach 1,000 Guardian cryptics.

9 August 2022 28,831, the debut by Chandler.

Custos at John Perkin’s farewell lunch, 1997
Custos at John Perkin’s farewell lunch, 1997. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Grand totals of current setters (as of 10 January 2023)

  • Paul – 1,023 (third on the all-time list)

  • Pasquale – 370 (13th)

  • Brummie – 276 (15th)

  • Picaroon – 240 (16th)

  • Enigmatist – 239 (17th)

  • Brendan – 232 (19th)

  • Nutmeg – 180

  • Puck – 162

  • Tramp – 150

  • Qaos – 149

  • Philistine – 143

  • Crucible – 136

  • Arachne – 130

  • Vulcan – 116

  • Imogen – 110

  • Boatman – 99

  • Vlad – 99

  • Pan – 53

  • Maskarade – 43

  • Anto – 26

  • Matilda – 19

  • Carpathian – 12

  • Fed – 10

All-time grand totals of setters

  • Araucaria – 2,547

  • Rufus – 1,324

  • Paul – 1,023

  • Janus – 1,002

  • Custos – 949

  • Crispa – 678

  • Lavengro – 678

  • Gordius – 602

  • Altair – 505

  • Orlando – 452

  • Shed – 424

  • Bunthorne – 415

  • Pasquale – 370

  • Chifonie – 316

  • Brummie – 276

  • Picaroon – 240

  • Enigmatist – 239

  • Audreus – 237

  • Brendan – 232

  • Logodaedalus – 221

  • Mercury – 193

  • Quantum – 184

  • Hendra – 181

  • Nutmeg – 180

  • Puck – 162

  • Xerxes – 159

  • Tramp – 150

  • Qaos – 149

  • Gemini – 149

  • Philistine – 143

  • Rover – 138

  • Crucible – 136

  • Arachne – 130

  • Taupi – 128

  • Fawley – 118

  • Vulcan – 116

  • Imogen – 110

  • Nimrod – 103

  • Vlad – 99

  • Boatman – 99

  • Julius – 87

  • Plodge – 59

  • Pan – 53

  • Bonxie – 53

  • Maskarade – 43

  • Auster – 38

  • Apex – 35

  • Fidelio – 28

  • Anto – 26

  • Screw – 23

  • Otterden – 22

  • Matilda – 19

  • Anonymous – 13

  • Carpathian – 12

  • Biggles – 11

  • Fed – 10

  • Mass – 10

  • Egoist – 6

  • Pangakupu – 5

  • Gromwell – 5

  • Hippo – 5

  • Harpo – 4

  • Grumbuskin – 4

  • Pedrock – 4

  • Bogus – 3

  • Soup – 2

  • Kite – 2

  • Squires – 2

  • Chandler – 1

  • Atë – 1

  • Chaucer – 1

  • Enigmatist & Paul – 1

  • Enigmatist & Soup – 1

  • Fiore – 1

  • Kookaburra – 1

  • Mobo – 1

  • Omnibus – 1

  • Sphinx – 1

  • Joke – 1

  • Keri – 1

  • Robespierre – 1

  • Trumper – 1

    This article was amended on 20 February to include identities for Grumbuskin, Plodge and Pangakupu, to add to and correct identities in the group shots, to mention a special Enigmatist puzzle and to correct two totals which were out by one. Many thanks to all readers who have helped fill the gaps. We would still like to know who Nimrod and Xerxes were.

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