Say what you like about the Daily Express (and many people do), you cannot deny that it has given us Rupert Bear. I remember receiving Rupert Annuals as Christmas presents, so noticing that Rupert would be 100 in 2020 immediately suggested that there should be a puzzle. Not only that, the four-frame layout, with rhyming couplets underneath each picture, also gave me a visual image for how the puzzle might look. The final published grid was the same as that first idea.
What fell by the wayside was the concept of rhyming clues. The little rhymes in Rupert Annuals are quite neat and to the point, while coercing cryptic clues into rhyme and metre tends to make them ungainly. Still, you did get couplets.
The original plan was not to have any bars at all, which might have shortened the preamble, but in the end I thought it would help confirm the rotational symmetry. Though I don’t think rotationally: every time I worked through the puzzle – writing clues, checking it for sending off, proofreading – I checked and double-checked that clue X was rotationally symmetric with clue Y and agonized anew each time.
Rupert’s precise 100th birthday was 8 November – a Sunday, an Enigmatic Variations day. So I booked the slot, only to find the editor absent-mindedly double-booking it. I stood my ground, noting I had a precise centenary while the interloper was a less rounded anniversary, and a day out, to boot. And I carried the day, only for the Enigmatic Variations series to be threatened with termination.
The puzzle was released for me to use elsewhere, and The Crossword Club was happy to take it. And then the Enigmatic Variations was saved – as with the puzzle for the Crossword Centre I felt I could not suddenly withdraw the puzzle (and, after all, it had been some time since I submitted to the Club). So with the Club it stayed.
I think, for my generation (a phrase that always makes me feel old), Alfred Bestall will always appear ahead of Mary Tourtel when thinking of Rupert, so I used him. And he filled a 13×13 grid’s middle with a usefully placed B, which Mary T simply couldn’t match…
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