I haven’t checked out the 2018 anniversaries yet. I tend only to do that at the very start of the year (or the tail-end of its predecessor, if I’m really on the ball). You look for Saturdays (Listener, IQ) or Sundays (EV) and the big double-zero numbers in particular – none of this Sergei Eisenstein’s 119th that the Google Doodle is currently pushing.
(The one exception to this is the BBC Music Magazine puzzles where I check out anniversaries on various music publishers’ sites around the time my next set of publication dates is revealed to me around November.)
Even to hit the IQ timescale requires a bit of preparation, so any anniversary I’m likely to commemorate is going to be no earlier than October, based on only checking in January! In 2017, this threw up Arthur C Clarke on a Saturday in December – perfect. It’s some years since I read him, but he’s undoubtedly part of my literary development.
I ended up considering the Odyssey tetralogy. These titles all were essentially numerical in composition, at least the parts that differentiated between volumes. Years ago I managed to squeeze a reference to 2001 the film into a clue to COMMIT (no, can’t remember it) and this gave me the idea of using the Roman versions of the years in a Letters Latent puzzle. Not immediately going to give you obvious words, that. Clarke himself is nicely symmetrical (6,1,6), which starts to structure the grid. Even so, an 11×11 grid had too many across entries to contain solely the years, so I dug around and found LOOP/HOLE – Clarke’s first published story as a writer, though actually the second he’d sold – to make up the numbers.
It was very much a puzzle where a poorly-chosen title could give the game away, particularly to anyone looking out for it. (And Odyssey might not even require that much vigilance on the part of any theme anticipators.) Clarke was a major proponent of ‘hard SF’ – stories with technologically sound concepts. (The endpoint of that line seems to be Neal Stephenson, who occasionally appears to be writing a Haynes manual rather than a novel…) This mutated to The Hard Stuff, in default, I have to say, of anything better occurring to me.
One final twist was an email from the editor asking about the previous week’s puzzle (thankfully he copied in Encota, the setter responsible…). The concern was whether we’d hit on the same theme. I was pretty certain we hadn’t – if Tim had gone for an anniversary on 9 December and I had (as I knew) hit exactly on 16 December, then they weren’t going to be the same. And so it proved, but not before Tim had told me his theme. Memo to future adjacent setters: I will try to resolve this without letting on about my themes!