I have resisted doing an Alan Bennett-themed puzzle but September 2019 marks the fortieth anniversary of my first serious published puzzle. It’s here. (And forty years on the Crossword Club is still going strong as well.) I started wondering what to do to mark the occasion some time ago. Then something fell into my lap.
Once you start looking for anniversaries on which to hang puzzles, you find they come in clusters, like buses (well, perhaps not buses in Wellington). And once you have a cluster you do some triage to determine which one you will do (or whether you’ll try to have two in separate outlets – I managed two puzzles on the same day for the Mervyn Peake centenary). But anniversaries also creep up on you, and if that happens, you may find yourself with an idea, or a puzzle that has no home.
So it happened here. I had a puzzle all set for Enigmatic Variations early last month (though I confused the then editor by noting that, technically, any Sunday earlier in the year could have been pressed into service). And then another anniversary loomed, bringing another EV puzzle in close proximity to the one mentioned above. (People will insist on having anniversaries that fall on Sundays…)
Only one could appear, and there was no time to wangle the other into an alternative slot. So here is the loser (if that’s the word) of that tussle. (The winner is in the EV editing process and will appear shortly.) The idea has an interesting twist, and I was loth to lose it. See if you can work out why the start of August was the optimal time for the puzzle.
The first thing you note about a fortieth anniversary is the faint sense of horror that the tally has reached forty. (I am not expecting the fiftieth to be any different, assuming I’m spared.) You do a few calculations – the Phi puzzle last Friday is something like my 3,458th, assuming I haven’t screwed up my spreadsheet formulae too much. (I fear I have an inconsistent approach to collaboration: one SPINK puzzle is included in the Inquisitor subtotal, and one isn’t, largely because – well, more on that later in the year, when another milestone pops up.) My peak year for puzzles was 2015, just before the Beelzebub puzzle went west.
This month is also the 22nd anniversary of my first BBC Music Magazine puzzle (and they’ve just asked for more – hooray!), while I can see another big zero anniversary looming for another outlet early next year, which I will have to start thinking about. So perhaps the best thing is not to keep counting the passing years, and keep setting the oncoming puzzles.
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