Dürer is popular with setters. How else do you get out of D_R_R? There is little more dire than DIRER and only he who foolishly dares tries DARER.
The images themselves not so much, perhaps, though, in the course of this puzzle’s progress from idea to publication there was an Enigmatic Variations puzzle based on Dürer’s Melencolia I, making much play of the magic square within. You could probably get half-a-dozen more puzzles out of that engraving’s symbolism. And I always think the angel looks more miffed than melancholic.
So I wasn’t the only one looking at Dürer. I’m no great shakes at the visual arts, and my knowledge of them is patchy and idiosyncratic. So I can’t recall where I first encountered this other great Dürer engraving. It’s a profoundly gloomy image, with the figures scarcely emerging from a dark background, but I find it hard to forget.
So much so that I rejigged the supposedly completed grid on the grounds that it didn’t reflect my memory. The three 4×12 blocks were originally horizontal, but the engraving is resolutely vertical. Flipping that initial grid across the diagonal gave me the verticality I wanted, with all three protagonists becoming down entries.
Once you’ve reinterpreted the title as Night, Dearth and the Lived then the grid fill has its constraints. In particular, I wanted as many reversible words as possible in the appropriate section, as I didn’t fancy dreaming them up for the clues! I remain disappointed in the number I achieved, based on the clue-writing process…
I don’t particularly like knight’s moves as a gimmick, but this really did cry out for them. I think there’s a difference between being asked to trace unspecified thematic words via knight’s moves, and being asked to find ALBRECHT DÜRER. There are never that many Bs in a puzzle, and the chance of more than one L-B-R sequence is limited. And then you had four squares which you knew had to be part of the route, including the starting point.
There’s a reason for those squares as well. Dürer signed his pictures with his initials in a square. I thought it a bit much to bring in a clash along with everything else going on, but at the very least I could have his initials in two squares.
The working title was Troika, which is nowhere near right, but it’s short when you’re writing file names. I changed this to Graven Images on submission as I saw the theme being the three distinct images in the engraving, but the editorial decision was to treat the whole as a single image.
The two Listener editors have different solving styles, and one is consistently quicker than the other (at least with my puzzles). I was interested to note that they reversed position for this one. Solver comments since then have been ‘very hard’ and ‘about average’. All of which rather confirms me in my claim that the setter has relatively little say in assessing the difficulty of his/her offerings.