[At the time of writing there is still no news of the continuation of the Inquisitor puzzle. So there remains the chance that this – my 135th – is my last one. If so it turns out, I consider it a good one to go out on.]
Regular readers will be aware that a commemorative Inquisitor puzzle appears whenever one of our cats dies. Last year we lost Peanut, who we’d had since she was a frightened kitten on top of the Anderson shelter in our garden in Walthamstow in 1996. She was nine-and-a-half when we came over to New Zealand and we thought she’d have a couple of years in her new abode. In the end, she outlived the other three younger UK cats, and clocked up nine-and-a-half years in NZ as well.
So a puzzle was definitely called for. The name PEANUT is useful in itself, splitting into two words, each with plentiful compounds suggesting Theme and Variation treatments. It was also useful to check the Latin name, which threw up HYPOGAEA, which turned up in Chambers in its own right. I spent a lot of time trying to construct something where words forming compounds with PEA and NUT crossed so as to spell ARACHIS, but none of my attempts came to anything.
I’m not sure how the final idea arrived. At various times I jotted down multiple lists of the PEA- and NUT- compounds, and I suppose looking over one of these must have stirred the notion that there were misprintable words there the original letters of which would – rather self-referentially – spell PEA and NUT again. Quite how that all gelled – well, I couldn’t tell you, but it still left ARACHIS out in the cold. It wasn’t a word I could use so in the end I decided it had to go in diagonally. Does the entry for PEANUT in Chambers give ARACHIS? It does, which puts it in the ‘a bit obscure, but findable’ category.
Given there were six fairly well determined words to go into the grid (there were a few alternative misprints but not many), plus HYPOGAEA, plus a diagonal ARACHIS (and the misprints had to be in checked squares as well), I was actually well pleased with the grid that emerged on my first attempt, and stuck with it. I decided that I could nail down the misprints by adding definitions of the words actually appearing in the grid, in a way that would slightly complicate the clues as well.
Somewhere around this point the title also came to me, after noting that PEA had the definition ‘small piece of coal’. Wasn’t NUT the same (as in nutty slack)? It was.
And then I wrote the preamble, and I found that trying to describe the way the misprints worked in prose was not trivial. An example would be good. Another three-letter word with multiple compounds, including some you could misprint to form other words while the original letters spelled the three-letter word. Oh, I don’t know – how about CAT?