If the closing date is Christmas Eve, then the blog goes up on Christmas Day. Merry Christmas to all my readers. It looks like a splendid Christmas Day is in store, and this year the pohutakawas are in wonderful form this year – I’ll try to put some pictures up with the regular weekend update.
But of course the blog must cast its eye back to the generation of this puzzle. It’s what I call a ‘manufactured idea’, which sounds a bit derogatory, so let me explain.
There are, to my mind, three types of idea (that is, without considering the actual thematic content):
- It might be something you read or something you see or something you hear, but it just screams ‘crossword idea’, and you may go more or less straight off and complete the grid;
- It might be something that you jot down as looking promising, but can’t quite get it to work until several months or even years later;
- It might be you feel a need to set a puzzle (or have been asked for one) but no eureka moments come, and the list of things in the ideas book is still just a list, so you go off and manufacture something.
‘Manufactured ideas’ aren’t inferior to the other two things on the list, simply because they’ve been hewn from the living rock rather than arriving on wings of divine afflatus. Sometimes they become quite intricate – Assistance for the Solver in The Listener a few years ago arose from feeling a need to do a Listener puzzle, then reading something about the Baker Street Irregulars, and wondering whether I could generate something. These ideas tend to circle round manipulation of words at the more mechanical level – misprints, omissions/additions and the like – rather than carefully chosen theme words being thematically modified.
And so it was here. I thought about new ways to approach the carte blanche puzzle, and I also looked at the puzzles where clues were arranged so that their answers were in alphabetical order. Could the clues to a carte blanche be in non-standard order? At that point the idea of labelling columns (and/or rows) came to mind – somewhere the idea of grid references was also active! It occurred to me at an early point that one column would hog one initial letter, which was a good thing, and I also put in two grid-spanning entries. Four-way symmetry was adopted to maximise the information solvers found. I wanted the columns to have some relevance so I left one word (composed entirely of letters from the first half of the alphabet) unclued and with a letter unchecked. It didn’t really matter which of the options it was – better, in fact, that it wasn’t thematic, so that it couldn’t simply be guessed.
I suspected this would be a tricky puzzle and I’l say more about comparative levels of trickiness when I blog ‘Off We Go” from the same day’s Listener early next week. For now I’ll just note that there’s a degree of freedom (in terms of difficulty) available to someone generally pegged as being at the easier end of the spectrum!