Fieldwork

I’ve had dinner with Peter Higgs. Years ago now – probably the 79-80 academic year. Each year, the Mathematical and Physical Society at St Andrews University ran a series of talks, and invited guest speakers from nearby universities. The guest speaker would then be taken out to dinner afterwards. Peter Higgs was at Heriot-Watt over in Edinburgh, which was definitely in the ‘nearby university’ camp. He was thought to be a difficult speaker to get, but clearly the Society Secretary was silver-tongued, and he agreed to come. He delivered his speech and the Society President and Secretary swept him off for a dinner at the St Andrews Hotel (though it might have been Rusacks).

As it happens, the President that year was an absolute whiz at theoretical physics, and quite monopolised the conversation, while I just sat there toying with my haggis in whisky sauce (very nice it was too, mind). Nevertheless, it was clear that – when Chris Lear half-jokingly said The Magpie would be happy to have another Phi puzzle in that thematic area (after ones on Schrodinger’s Cat – for which there doesn’t appear to be a setter’s blog – and quantum entanglement) – the Higgs Boson would have to be in the frame.

But what to do? I anagrammed it (‘bongo sighs’, anyone?). The thing is, I can’t claim to be an expert in the area. But a quick scan of Wikipedia and other sources brought up ‘symmetry breaking’ and that did seem to have potential. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about symmetry, so naturally I felt I could develop this into a full-blown idea.

I have – a long time ago (not long after that dinner, in fact) – produced an asymmetrical Carte Blanche puzzle, which was generally considered a bit too much of a good thing. But it struck me that not only were ‘Higgs’ and ‘boson’ of the same length, but so were ‘symmetry’ and ‘breaking’ – perhaps if they were the only ones partaking of warped symmetry? I sketched out a grid – pretty much the one that was submitted – and found that it was possible to maintain the symmetry of everything else while just shepherding these two pairs into their private domains.

The big problem was the preamble. How do you set up the situation without actually giving it away? Alternatively, how do you not give anything away without rousing the ire of solvers for not preparing them for something? My solution (which was modified by The Magpie editorial team) was this:

Two of the unclued answers can be considered as inducing the other two, and the rest of the preamble should be read with that in mind.

After that I felt I could proceed with the usual CB-type preamble, having advised that said preamble had to be read through some sort of filter.

That still didn’t seem quite enough. At some point I came across Higgs’ suggestion of an alternative, alphabetised roll-call of all those with a hand in it. I Googled that, and found it had some currency outside its immediate statement, so it seemed fair game. By chance most of the letters were in situ so I had almost no rejigging of the initial grid to do.

To pre-empt Mr Lear, what might be next? Well, Marjorie and I were once nearly run over by Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair, and some years later we turned round at a Hockney exhibition to find we’d been joined by what looked like a small armoured vehicle with a twangy electronic voice. I’ve also presented a seminar only to be more or less demolished by Roger Penrose (but I have blanked out everything else about it, except that Hawking was supposed to be there as well). Radiation…tiling…

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