A new Church Times puzzle for today’s update – my thanks to them for permission to republish this puzzle from 19 years ago. But I’m still at it – there’s a new Church Times puzzle from me next week (or possibly the week after – the date that reached me isn’t actually a Friday, the day of publication). In fact, next week is a bit of a busy one, with:
- my Independent daily on Monday 8th (not Friday, and with a twist so perverse that it cannot be represented online, so you’ll need to buy the paper)
- a Telegraph Toughie on Tuesday 9th
- the Church Times puzzle on Friday 12th
- an Independent Inquisitor on Saturday 13th
To be fair, the twist didn’t seem so perverse when I used it… September is turning into a bit of a ‘let’s move Phi from Fridays’ month, and information received suggests that week commencing 15 September will join the club.
The appearance of an Inquisitor sets me thinking about a recent puzzle from that series. It contained a red herring: while there was much content pointing at Du Maurier’s Trilby, the actual theme was Giordano’s Fedora. The whole puzzle pivoted on the fact that these two roughly contemporaneous theatrical productions set off trends in millinery. It was a tough puzzle, and even getting to Trilby felt like a good effort, and at that point I stopped (after all, I’m not in a position to send things in). As did many, it seems, and certainly the blog at fifteensquared contains comments from some of them. The trick is very intricate and superbly executed.
It set me thinking about red herring puzzles in general. They are risky things. If no-one spots the herring, the setter can sit in a corner growling surlily “But I meant you to do X” all they like: it didn’t work. But there’s also a failure involved if too few people see it. What was intended here was for the solver to think: ‘What’s the theme? – Don’t know – Don’t know – could it be Trilby? – yes, it’s Trilby – facepalm – Fedora!’ But rather a lot of the ‘facepalm – Fedora’ occurred outside the puzzle, and while many solvers will still be impressed, there’ll undoubtedly be a number who will just say: ‘Oh, Fedora, was it?’ and miss the inventiveness. A ‘Golden Age’ detective novel pulls much the same trick: ‘Whodunit? – debauched Sir Roger? – not Lady Amelia? – oh, Roger’s been shot – the butler? – yes, the butler – “I’ve gathered you here in the library…” – the chambermaid!’ and one couldn’t imagine the last two steps really working if you had to pop out and buy the sequel.
Pointer’s hat puzzle had a couple of lines in the preamble that provided the clincher, but I’m a great fan of the grid-filling process providing the info you need, and this puzzle, to me, just felt as if it had missed a trick, while undoubtedly landing several others.
It is a little curious that the misdirection was towards Trilby as the more familiar option, as I suspect it is now scarcely ever staged – but Fedora clings to the edge of the operatic repertoire, and I have seen it. I suspect Pointer hasn’t – you don’t come out of a performance thinking ‘hat’. That’s fair enough – the fashion followed the opera’s initial success, and Giordano and his librettist(s) didn’t put it there. What they did put there was a bicycle, and I think Fedora remains the only opera credibly considered part of the repertoire that has a plot that requires a bicycle.