I made some play with these puzzles appearing the same weekend, so I thought I might try and blog them together. This is partly because, in some way, they have a similar genesis, even though the puzzles fall into distinct categories. The solving blogs are up as well: Treasure Hunt here, and two for Northern Lights: here and here. They do seem to have turned out rather different in difficulty.
Treasure Hunt was finished first – I have its completion data as 2 July 2017 (my birthday, as it happens). That probably predates the start of Northern Lights, which has a completion date of 29 October 2017. But not by much, and Northern Lights is the older idea.
The islands off the far North of Scotland are a remarkable landscape. We’ve been a couple of times, once crossing by ferry (past the Old Man of Hoy) and once by plane (the return journey being kept so low by threatening clouds that it might as well have been by ferry). There’s a lot of sky (all the better when it isn’t filled by threatening clouds) and then those names, many of them ending in ‘ay’. That turns out to be the Norse for ‘island’, so that saying ‘the island of Egilsay’ is saying ‘the island of Egil’s island’, and thus slightly tautological like ‘River Avon’. I’ve had those ays hanging round in my mind for a couple of decades. Not helped by the tea-towel, of course:
It’s never been the same since that barbecue…
The ‘ays’ are also the basis for Pig Latin, of course, so out came the souvenir teatowel and I got the main names transcribed backwards. And then put them into the grid. It wasn’t an idea that needed any fancy footwork, so I added a bit of fun in hiding Pig Latin in there as well. It was specifically designed so that the omitted words fell out one on top of the other – once I had settled on TRANS(LATIN)G, I needed ??????(PIG)[vowel], and probably not too many in the ???? if I didn’t want checking problems. SER(PIG)O was pretty much unavoidable.
So Northern Lights was just a ‘bundle the words into the grid without too much manipulation’ idea, and so was ‘Treasure Hunt’. Once the basic idea was there, there really wasn’t a great deal of fiddling that you wouldn’t do for (say) a Beelzebub.
There have been Treasure Hunt puzzles before (and there will be again), which allowed me to get away with saying that the treasure was hidden in the usual way. I carefully dotted the grid with Xs so that people would have to make a choice. I hadn’t intended to omit the Xs from wordplay originally, but trying to clue TWIXT as anything other than X in TWIT proved too hard. And it also felt wrong, somehow – the X, as a thematic element, should not be extraneous like that in the clue. So out they went altogether.
I had a late pang that the arrow pointed NW, which suddenly seemed terribly unimaginative. But it was a bit late by then. It’s always somehow pleasant to get a puzzle into a standard barred grid, without too much in the way of fully checked or somewhat underchecked answers.
So these were two broadly similar puzzles to construct, once you had the workings. But they do fall into different categories. Northern Lights is clearly heavily entry-based – the theme affects how individual entries become answers, but otherwise if SEGIL was a word (and it feels like it ought to be – it is, at least, a surname) it would just be entered. There’s nothing really going on at the grid level.
For Treasure Hunt, while the answers are entered slightly oddly, you do still read SUOVETAURILIA (isn’t it a lovely word?) in order down its entry. What happens to it leads to a sort of elevation of things to the grid level – the theme is mainly in how the grid looks, not in how the answers are entered. Obviously, the answers are manipulated but the theme is at a different level.
And you can combine these. Thinking back, I had an IQ puzzle in which solvers had to decide where the Tardis was to be found, and you had a choice of two places. (And so the puzzle had two answers – I wonder how the entry checker coped with that.) Whichever one you chose, the grid was full of real words even if they had been truncated by the Tardis flying off. So entries were manipulated in the service of a visual effect.
If our winter solstice wasn’t proving so cold, I might try inventing a terminology…