The last time I had an Inquisitor and an Enigmatic Variations puzzle the same weekend I wrote a joint blog. So here we go again, but this time, I will fold in some thoughts about the Independent daily from the Friday before, as there’s a degree of commonality.
First, though, a few specific thoughts about the EV, which had been scheduled for July 9. The original puzzle for June 25 had an aquatic theme, and was considered to be unsuitable at the time of the loss of the submersible in the North Atlantic. So my puzzle was brought forward, and the other will appear at a later date.
The likelihood of the stars in Ursa Major known as the Pointers becoming a cause celebre was low. Where did the idea come from? Probably from simply noting that the stars’ names both had five letters, with the implication that they might therefore space evenly across a smallish grid.
It was always the intention to have the clashing answers irresolvable, so that something had to replace both options. And, of course, the Pointers don’t point the way they do in the heavens. There was also the careful sidestepping of anything to do with the word ‘point’ in the preamble. But it all hung together.
I’ve written about experimenting with symmetry before. I’m a great fan of symmetry; I think it helps concentrate a setter’s mind on ensuring there are adequate numbers of checked letters (I’m always unsurprised by the number of carte blanche style puzzles where the instruction that ‘solvers should not enter bars’ seems merely to conceal unhelpful cross-checking).
But symmetry does not have to be the same old 90° or 180° stuff we’re used to. Mirror symmetry is an option, and there have been recent appearances of symmetry about the diagonal. The grid at the bottom of this page blends mirror symmetry for one set of bars, with rotational symmetry for the other. I’ve tried this elsewhere – once in an EV, where I miscounted my own bars, and then we removed another to assist with cross-checking. It was still mostly symmetrical. There’s an EV awaiting the editor’s verdict with a blend of the same (and I think I got that right this time!). And there’s even an asymmetric one in a pipeline somewhere…
And, of course, there was Friday’s Independent puzzle, which was my first serious attempt at the double symmetry with a blocked version. You had to be careful not to paint yourself into a corner, but it looks viable.
There were comments that it looked inelegant, but I imagine there were also plenty of solvers who never noticed. And I wonder how many noticed that Directors had rotational symmetry for the grid entries and mirror symmetry for the thematic material? That’s probably the most common way you’ll see the two overlaid.
Carte Blanche à Trois takes things one stage further. The point was to see how far one could go towards the situation where an ostensibly ordered system becomes chaotic. The solver knows, in principle, that the bars have an order, but is missing the precise details. That’s true enough of the ordinary Carte Blanche, of course, though the placement of the bars there proceeds more rapidly. Here one doesn’t know – once it’s established that the first word is six letters long and Across – where the opposite number of the bar at the end goes. Which pattern applies? If it’s the mirror symmetry section, is the symmetry horizontal or vertical? Is it a 6×6 section or the 12×6 section?
For this blog to appear promptly at the closing date, I was necessarily writing it in advance of solvers’ comments. (In fact, at the time of writing (July 1) I was unable to access fifteensquared at all due to site issues.) The editor’s test-solving team mentioned nothing either. So I don’t know whether any solving techniques were developed or even attempted. Perhaps it was solved purely as an asymmetric grid. However, given that CBaT emerged on the restored fifteensquared ahead of Directors, I can now see that some people used the multi-symmetric aspects to solve and others did not. Perhaps it was simply that no techniques emerged in this first appearance. For instance, with a normal CB, even without word-lengths, you can generally tease out some information about the across entries because their ordering is palindromic in terms of lengths.
Perhaps I’ll have to do another one! If so, I’ll know that there’ll need to be a focus on the ‘seams’, where the component grids meet. I recall a lot of tweaking of those component grids, ensuring that there wasn’t a host of 3-letter entries buttressing the central axes of reflection. In fact, the placing of the bars along those axes was a distinct task – whether to cut off a word, or to allow it to sprout into an adjacent grid. The sudden extension of an entry into another symmetry remains one of my favourite features of the puzzle, and certainly nudges me to have another go.
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