The 10,000th Independent puzzle appeared this week, on 31 October, and I was very pleased to have been asked to produce it.  Mike Hutchinson first raised the possibility a little over a year ago, and I immediately sat down and calculated the date (and came up with 24 October…), and put the idea to one side for the subconscious to work on.

One concept was for the clueing to be shared between myself as (probably) the longest-serving Independent setter and whoever was the most recent addition to the roster.  That fell through – no particular reason – it just didn’t come to pass.  And it still left the question of what was to be done with the grid.

A special puzzle such as this has a few constraints.  I recently put up an Independent puzzle from 2011 which had a preamble, an option not available now, as the webpage template won’t accept it.  So there was no opportunity to give instructions.  Any Nina had to be for discovery and could not be pointed to – which is fair enough: the puzzle has to be solved by people for whom puzzle 10,000 is no different from puzzle 7,839, in much the same way that you wouldn’t expect the A500 to be that different a road from the A397.

I toyed for some time with an observation that both M and K had five vertices, so you could have an M sketched out by five Ks and vice versa.  But who would ever see that?  And how many thousands would that represent, anyway?  I also rejected the idea of an acrostic as there was again the question of drawing people’s attention to it (first two answers: READ ACROSTIC, perhaps?).  

I settled on the top and bottom rows of Ks, and side columns of Ms as they would be spotted by those on the look-out for something, while not distracting those not on the look-out for anything but a crossword puzzle.  There are no Ms or Ks elsewhere in the solution grid.  The grid design that emerged gave me the opportunity to sneak in TENTH (O U) SANDS and I was pleased to see that someone at fifteensquared spotted it.

The appearance of the puzzle was overshadowed by the passing of Dac (Dave Crossland) last weekend after a tussle with cancer.  Dac was the regular Wednesday Independent setter, so the 10,000th actually fell into his allotted place.  I remember when I was starting to solve regularly that he contributed to a series of crossword books published by Hamlyn under his pseudonym Smokey.  I also encountered his puzzles in a couple of desk diaries (which may have been produced by Collins) with a week-to-a-page layout recto facing a puzzle verso.  Once a month there would be a themed puzzle (e.g. Christmas) but mostly they were just solid daily newspaper style puzzles, ideal for solving and studying.

However, I only met him once, after a Times competition day, I think.  He did subsequently e-mail me out of the blue to say how much he had enjoyed an Inquisitor puzzle (with such a testimonial I could hardly refrain from putting it up when I was adding to this site).  A great loss to the cruciverbal world.

It has been a busy week of proofs with the abrupt appearance of an Inquisitor puzzle on 3 November, and a Toughie on 8 November.  And the set that arrived just as I was about to type this blog adumbrates a Phi Listener on 24 November.

And the puzzle this time round is another of my unpublished Beelzebubs.  Anyone who is wondering just how many of them I have is merely echoing my own thoughts!

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