A very clear moment when the seed of this puzzle was sown: waiting at the vet’s, when a man with a large cardboard box came in to make a delivery. On the box was THIS WAY UP (yes, it was the right way up). I’d seen this phrase multiple times before, of course, but that day it was suddenly a Playfair phrase. Not only that, but a Playfair phrase with U, W and Y – S and T as well, for that matter. What would the bottom row of that code square be?
Q, in fact, squeezed on, so it had to be worth a try. My first thoughts went to the letters themselves. Allowing for a couple of blocked-off squares, you could make them all from bars (THIS is particularly efficacious). I played around with a few grids where rotating bar patterns changed entries. Pretty dreadful to grid, and I couldn’t think of an easy way to write the preamble. Shelve that, then (and that’s ‘shelve’ and not ‘abandon’).
ROtating letters stuck in the mind, and I next wondered about invertible letters (N, O, S etc.) and the M/W pairing. I coded up a few words that meant ‘overturned’ and looked at their potential for those letters. I then sketched out a grid that allowed some of these to be entered ‘upside-down’ with the pertinent letters available for cross-checking.
I’m not sure how the grid came to be elongated – it just sort of fell out that way. There’s also a circularity about it in the way the mainly inverted words seem to be mainly top left and down that side, only for the upright entries to encroach as you move across the bottom and up the right. Well, it looks like that to me.
My vetter thought it a Magpie D or E, and the Magpie’s own test-solver initially failed it, though with a suggestion for an additional inversion to make the gimmick clearer. I took that on board, and went off and found a few more I could introduce. (The changes, rather annoyingly, took out a nice neat clue which, because it has a misprint, I am unlikely ever to be able to use elsewhere!)
Back it went with these alterations, and the next I heard, it was slated for publication. I feel somehow chuffed to have finally landed a Magpie D!
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