I keep a list of ideas that strike me as having potential for crosswords (not that I capture every idea that flies past, alas). Sometimes the idea is more-or-less fully-formed, others it may just be a phrase that has potential. This was one of the latter. A moderately well-known phrase, with a number (always nice to quantify how much theme you’re going to have to squeeze in) attached to a word with a common abbreviation. It had POTENTIAL stamped all over it.
Of course, you then have to wipe off the obscuring marks made by stamping POTENTIAL all over it, and look at the idea unadorned. And at that point you have to wait for the idea to interface with some of the common crossword tropes. I’ve done several puzzles with initial-and-final letter gimmicks – either changing them, or having them hang over the edge. I could, of course, just have had the latter, but this time I came up with the scheme of having the whole thing encased in a slightly larger square. If you do relatively easy puzzles, it doesn’t hurt to turn up the ratchet occasionally just to remind solvers you can do the harder stuff. Also the idea of the extra days being given back didn’t seem quite to be captured if they were merely appended as excrescences outside the grid.
The next stage is to compile a list of potential words where the initial or final D can be removed. Who’d have thought (D)RIVEL was a possibility? Pleasing, too, to find a good long one in COUNTERMAN(D) – and it would go symmetrically with GIVEUSBACK – though mostly, they were short. That suggested a fairly compact grid, which also meant the slightly-larger version would still look of normal dimension. Then put them into a grid – and, at that point, I realised that my first grid design had relatively few Ds elsewhere. (I think this is because the D-words on my list tended only to have a D at the front or back – the word that went into the body of the grid tended to be D-less.) Could the Ds be eliminated entirely? They certainly could. That was an unconsidered option that nonetheless proved entirely thematic and right. Such serendipitous finds are remarkably pleasant when they come up. The title, too, was a neat concoction – a few years ago I had ‘The Consequences of Being Mortal’ in The Listener, so titles referencing death that don’t (as it were) seem to be a theme.
Except then James Leonard died, and suddenly the title of the almost-finished puzzle seemed a bit of a millstone. This time, of course, the pipeline came to my aid. Even if I submitted it as my first puzzle to Chris Lancaster, the actual publication would be far enough ahead that it wouldn’t be an issue. It’s nonetheless poignant that the solution will appear just as another crossword luminary – Roddy Forman – winks out.