Crossword column: an experiment reaches the end of the road

<span>Nothing to see here … our “annotated solution” page had nothing but tumbleweed.</span><span>Photograph: Chris Hackett/Tetra Images/Getty Images/Tetra images RF</span>
Nothing to see here … our “annotated solution” page had nothing but tumbleweed.Photograph: Chris Hackett/Tetra Images/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

In 1999, the Guardian published a crossword on its website.

A daring move, but that’s the Guardian. Would people solve something that wasn’t on the familiar blotchy paper that has been pushed through the letterbox by a teenager?

Twenty thousand or so puzzles later, perhaps it’s time to take stock.

Some innovations have worked very well. Apart from the matter of the puzzles themselves, the comments are a triumph, with the community around the quick frequently lauded as, say, the only non-toxic place left on the world wide web.

Not everything has had the desired effect. In 2006, the paper wondered: might it be possible to drive traffic to the website by offering annotated solutions to Saturday’s prize puzzles?

The experiment began with Enigmatist’s 29,361 and the solution is still there for those who wish to analyse it.

Since then, a world of offsite comment and analysis has proliferated, with Fifteensquared assiduously providing the same analysis, but in plain English rather than “IN/DIV<1/DUAL/IS>ING” and the like, the format used here.

How successful, I wondered, is the annotated solution in its allocated task of driving traffic? I called up the recent data:

  • 2 page views, 1 by regulars, 10 seconds active attention time

  • 2 page views, 1 by regulars, 13 seconds active attention time

  • 1 page views, 0 by regulars, 40 seconds active attention time

  • 2 page views, 1 by regulars, 2 seconds active attention time

A rally there at the end, it’s true, but to those solvers who use the annotated solutions: if either of you is reading, I’m afraid you may have guessed that the experiment has reached its conclusion. Sorry.

With a new aim – getting beginners and lapsed solvers into the habit – we have instead focused our efforts on the new quick cryptic. Let your crossword-curious friends and family know the good news.

As well as the new puzzle series, a convention-bucking weekend saw a themed Everyman (set by me), something that has only happened every couple of years over the past few decades. This was not unconnected to a Radio 4 documentary broadcast the same day, in which you can hear (excitingly) Carpathian and (arguably less excitingly) me.

The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book by Alan Connor, which is partly but not predominantly cryptic, can be ordered from the Guardian Bookshop.