I can be fairly clear where this idea came from. Indeed, I could be absolutely precise if I hunted through my Zinio archive of GAMES magazines. A couple of years ago the noted US setter Patrick Berry produced a puzzle of interlocking eight-letter words, each coiling round inside a sort of cartouche. Patrick B is a very good cryptic crossword setter, but his definition-only puzzles often defeat me (he’s a devotee of lots of films and TV shows and pop albums which never stick their heads above my parapet).
But I worked my way through this one and started wondering whether there was a cryptic puzzle in it. We have the example of Azed’s Eightsome Reels which are eightsome solely because of the answer lengths. Here I saw a way of entwining two 8-letter words in a figure-of-eight shape, itself forming a 5×3 block (and 5×3 is close enough to 5+3…). Moreover two rows of four such blocks was 12×10, close enough to the standard size. And that would be 8 lots of figures-of-eight containing two 8-letter words – well, it was all getting rather heady.
8×8 = 64, and at some point I must have recalled the Beatles hit. I remember poring over the lyrics looking for extracts of useful length – things of 24 letters, say, that would span two rows of the grid? No, nothing useful. Things of an even number of letters that would fit symmetrically? Not that either. Obviously “Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?” fits that bill, but I hadn’t got 18 letters in a row to play with.
And the idea of a clash took hold. What made it inevitable was the thought that I would be able to ask people to highlight 18 cells for a 10-word quotation. 36 cells for a ten-word quotation is still pretty unusual – somewhere I have a puzzle that requires 42 cells for a six-word quotation, which may be the other extreme.
After that, I ensured there were enough across and down entries to give a decent amount of cross-checking, and ended up with exactly the right number to give LENNON AND MCCARTNEY in misprints without even trying.
The timing of the puzzle was next – I produced my fiftieth contribution to the Listener in my fiftieth year, and a correspondent has noted that this is my fiftieth solo outing as Phi. But I’m not 64 yet, and as I wanted the future tense of the quote to apply, it had to be got under way promptly. So it has appeared when I am still 19 if I stand on my hands. Shame I never learnt.