Famous Last Words

I’m conscious of the Hieronymus Bosch puzzle earlier in the year, but, on the whole, I don’t think I do so many anniversary puzzles.  And yet, here’s another.  Not sure how it came to mind – presumably some feature of media coverage of various World War I anniversaries reminded me that Saki died in the trenches.  When I checked the precise 1916 date, the anniversary was a Monday which pointed me at Enigmatic Variations.

Years ago, I happened on Saki and went from a selection to the Collected Stories very quickly.  A recent toe back in the water wasn’t so enlivening, but still enjoyable, and there is certainly no-one else like him.  I shall one day do a puzzle on The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope, I’m sure. 

There are many Saki quotes in various references, and a commemorative puzzle could use any.  In this instance the circumstances of his death provided a suitably instructive phrase (though I had a slight qualm about the expletive), so a number of entries were determined after a quick check with the thesaurus.  Obviously there had to be some reference to one of his works and Sredni Vashtar, with that implausible SR- opening just had to go on the main diagonal.  Obligingly the creature’s name was the same length as that of the type of animal it was, and the second clue type came to mind.

Which left the remaining clues to yield the key phrase – and there were enough for that and a few over.  I had several options for the author – the pseudonym, the surname, the surname plus two initials, but in the end I had to fall back on the least satisfactory option of surname plus one initial, which I don’t recall ever seeing used.

All in all, I thought it a relatively straightforward puzzle, but the editor reckoned it one of the hardest, so it will be interesting to see solvers’ reactions.