Fun though it is to have an Enigmatic Variations, an Inquisitor and a Listener in short order, these days the blogosphere exacts a revenge. I cannot, of course, make much in the way of comparison between the three while two of them are still open for entry. Something on that will follow at the end of the month after the Listener closing date.
I can be clear where this idea came from. My ISP, as you might expect, has a page where you can access mail remotely from another computer. That page has two boxes – one for the personal details, and the other containing a factoid. It might be Amsterdam, or cockroaches, or coffee – and one day it was Tug-of-war. The factoid was rather gruesome, about a rather violent contest which led to some team members losing their hands. Sensing an urban legend or foaftale I clicked through, and ended up on the Wikipedia page, and learnt rather more about tug-of-war than I expected.
The image of the scarf or whatever tied to the rope being tugged and jerking back and forth according to whoever was winning gave me an idea for hiding the key phrase. (You will note that if you restore TUG-OF-WAR to column 8 then each row fits without any running off one end to resume at the start. Each column – other than TUG-OF-WAR – is nonsense, though, to be honest, I haven’t actually checked that there isn’t some form of rude or cabbalistic message lurking there.) An early question was whether to use TUG-O’-WAR or TUG-OF-WAR. The former, having an odd number of letters, was preferable from the point of view that any contest would be on a ‘best of an odd number’ basis. But Chambers has the F, and that’s where I followed.
Then how to indicate the ‘winning’ letters. That got enmeshed with the idea of jumbles providing some way of having ‘unchecked letters’ in the grid, so I allowed myself some of those while determining that other columns would have real words containing an interrupting TUGOFWAR letter. This in turn suggested the clueing regime. The LEFT and RIGHT fell out from the fact that I wasn’t going to allow either team to win by that much, so both end columns would be jumbles. What sort of team names could emerge from such jumbles? Obviously nothing too specialised, and LEFT and RIGHT, if a bit bland, would be quite evident as the grid filled.
I aimed for two words per row, but eased up on that when I ended up with a jumble of a non-Chambers word going down. I left TRIMPOTS in (just the sort of slightly dotty word you expect Chambers to fall upon with a gleeful cry), but allowed a few rows to have three. It was still fewer clues that a standard 12×12. I was aware that it might be a hard solve with a lot of cold-solving before much could be entered, but I tried to ensure that interrupting down letters were clearly marked – though oddly enough this has a built-in drawback: the accurate positioning of such letters tends to mean you should avoid anagrams, but anagrams are also often an easy way in!
Solvers may be interested – or perhaps daunted – to know that this EV is appearing out of created and submitted order because it is easy, or, at least, easier. Its predecessor was deemed to be too hard for just now, and Contest was substituted so that the average difficulty of the final quarter of the year was not too high.