Juvenilia

I said I’d write something about juvenilia – or, at least, the reappearance of puzzles set long ago – this week when I’m unable to put up a puzzle. I’m a few thousand miles away from my hard drive in Kansas City at the moment.

The idea comes from the publication this month of a puzzle I completed in 1983. I put a completion date on every puzzle, so I can be sure of the date. In fact, it has “final version” appended to that date. It might even be from 1982. Since the puzzle is still “live” I will talk about it in general terms, and say nothing that can’t be gleaned from the preamble.

It’s slightly surprising that I retained a copy of the puzzle and brought it all the way to New Zealand, I suppose, but that’s something else I do. I have boxfiles of copies of my puzzles so the earlier ones also made the trip, and the survival of the file with unpublished puzzles is thus less surprising.

Brian Head once said to me that his filing system was more of a scrum, and however tongue-in-cheek that was, the longer a submitted and accepted puzzle stays unpublished, the stronger the scrum hypothesis becomes. But apparently not.

What to make of the appearance of a puzzle after so long a delay? The immediate response is that whatever qualities it may have had – it was accepted for publication, after all – it has clearly been surpassed by other contemporaneous and later submissions, from myself and others. So probably not from the top of the barrel, but, one would hope, not scraping the bottom either.

And, separate from considerations of quality, what of changes in style? I should note here that, given proofs to check, I refrained as far as possible from making changes other than correcting typos.

The first thing I clocked was that the puzzle used DLM clues that did not begin at the beginning or end at the end of words. They didn’t what? I can’t imagine letting myself do that these days. The 1983 version of me clearly didn’t have such scruples, however, so, apart from the scale of the work needed to amend things, let them lie. There’s a hidden quotation, which is mentioned, but solvers are given no hints as to how to get to the heart of it. Wouldn’t do that these days either, though there have been some puzzles…

A few clues have been tweaked, I hope without changing their essential nature. There was certainly one which had something I’d now consider infelicitous – and that’s still there, but I think its presentation is less confusing. I was aware, however, that I was approaching some sort of line beyond which I would be rewriting the clue, rather than simply editing it. It must be similar to remastering historical music recordings where the pianist plays a wrong note that is also affected by poor recording quality. You should improve the sound but leave the wrong note.

There were a couple of significant typos, and when I took Brian to task about them, he scanned my original to show me that one of them was mine.

I hope I have made the puzzle a better example of what I intended at the time rather than a revision.

Meanwhile I have been busy writing clues on my trip overseas, and the combination of that with my usual approach of having several puzzles on the go simultaneously means that a significant number of puzzles have been completed. Editors should take heed and keep an eye on their inboxes. This also means I will have a fair number of new grids to construct on my return, let alone come up with ideas for any themes. So it goes.

There’s a Toughie coming up next Thursday (26 April) after my return but other puzzles additional to the usual Friday routine will await the arrival of May.

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