Edward Gorey (1925-2000) is sui generis, if ever anyone was. An American illustrator, with a fondness for cross-hatching, and who specialised in macabre subject matter, he lies somewhere between Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allan Poe (not so odd a line as you might think). Several people, some years ago in the 90s, assumed he was both English and dead, the latter allowing him to become one of the few people to get to read their own obituary. Who said Americans couldn’t do irony?
I first came across him via The Gashlycrumb Tinies – Gorey loved alphabets, as titles like The Utter Zoo Alphabet and The Glorious Nosebleed attest (OK, maybe not so much the latter, though it is an alphabet). He also published as Regera Dowdy and Ogdred Weary (whose The Curious Sofa falls into the vanishingly small category of comic erotica), while D Awdrey-Gore was a Christie-style novelist with her own mysterious disappearance. Anagrams, alphabets, mysteries – how could there not be a crossword in there? (And if your interest is piqued, you may also try here and here.)
Discovering that The Gashlycrumb Tinies was published in 1963 spurred me to produce a puzzle for the fiftieth anniversary (yes, the preamble could have been better worded). I’d already noted that author and main title word were eleven letters each, and the basic idea of substitution was in place at the outset. GASHLYCRUMB is obviously a Playfair word, and an early draft grid has the Playfair square beside it – then I turned the page to work on a new version of the grid and forgot about it. Probably just as well – it was hard enough getting the grid to gel, given the very specific names and order thereof with which I had to work.
One issue with relatively obscure themes is how to prevent a bit of Googling laying all bare. And the answer here was that I couldn’t, and, to some extent, didn’t want to. One aim with such puzzles is to introduce the subject matter to a wider audience, so Googling is to be encouraged. At the same time, there will be solvers who have no access to the Net, and some who deny themselves that access, so the puzzle has to be self-contained, without any element requiring knowledge to be able to proceed with solving. You could fill the grid and extract EDWARD GOREY (you knew there was a name there) and the less credible GASHLYCRUMB – which at least looked like a word, or two words pronounceable as one (one has to wonder whether Gorey knew it meant ‘hideous morsel’).
A brief word on the pseudonym. This goes back to 1985, when Brian Head used two of my puzzles in quick succession, with the consequence that the solution to one would coincide with the appearance of the next. So a new pseudonym was called for, and Pedro was born. I’ve used him a lot when the subject-matter of the puzzle has been a writer or other creative artist that I admire. I haven’t been perfectly consistent, to be sure, and there are a few Pedros lurking amongst The Independent’s Phis, but it did seem the right pseudonym for Gorey.