There will be relatively few people who will ask themselves the question of how they might capture the Cheshire Cat’s grin in a crossword puzzle. This is probably true even among the crossword fraternity/sorority.
But that question floated unbidden into my mind as I walked to work one day. It was necessary to show the cat, have it disappear, and leave the grin remaining. After a while I recalled my 2004 Listener puzzle Double Carte Blanche, which had required the overlaying of two grids of different patterns, but which had only matched in ten squares (one each per row and column) which spelled PALIMPSEST. With only ten filled cells in the solution grid, it was probably the easiest solution to check for a long while (there has been a completely blank solution grid, I think). Beyond a certain point it was probably quite hard to get wrong, though perhaps also quite hard to get to that point.
The same approach would allow me to have a double grid, with the matching letters in the shape of a grin. One would be the cat + grin grid, one the no cat + grin grid – you’d see the cat in one grid, and it would vanish, leaving only the grin behind, in the other. CHESHIRE CAT itself has 11 letters – a suitable width. Hitting on the ‘We’re all mad here’ quote (which falls into two 7-letter chunks) gave me a way of aligning the two grids. The fact that the unchecked letters in the quote could be arranged to spell A MEW was a fortuitous observation at the end of the process, and seemed to be a serendipitous confirmation that the idea was a good one!
After that, there was a lot of fiddling around with grid designs (an idea to have mirror symmetry, with Os for eyes, just wouldn’t work), and then with grid fills, checking and checking again that only the letters of CHESHIRE CAT matched.
That sort of detail distracted me until very late in the process from noticing that one of the grids wasn’t quite symmetrical (fortunately solved by simply switching a plural -S from an across answer to a down one), and I somehow managed to submit a grid with 12 columns. I can’t actually find that grid in my files, so I assume that the mistake came about because I was trying to put up a simple barless blank grid with a horizontal division – but I got the additional rows right, so I can only kick myself for failing to set the number of columns at 11.
Lewis Carroll remains a potent source of thematic material for crossword setters everywhere, so I doubt this is the last time I’ll be using him. At times I have cudgelled an idea for a puzzle from simply musing on an episode in one of the books (there’s one based on Sylvie and Bruno that has fought back for years…) but this may be the first where an idle thought has blossomed so quickly.