I can pin down the inspiration for this one to a puzzle in CROSSWORD, the Crossword Club magazine. That was based on another Kipling poem, A Smuggler’s Song, with its refrain of ‘Brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk…’ I spent a while on the endgame: there was a quote trailing from a thematically numbered cell in the grid, and I was convinced it should be 24. Of course, it’s 25, but would I look it up?
But it reminded that I’d stumbled across another Kipling numerical – which is odd, as he’s not an author I tend to go near (even if he is among that small group of writers named after reservoirs). I thought this number was also 25, and was planning something with reflected bars in the pattern. But when I tracked the poem down it was 69. A moment’s thought told me the trick with the bars was still on. (I wonder if the poem has ever been translated into French, and what number they use?)
Then there was that last line, which suddenly seemed to have an imperative tone, telling me that T ? R, H ? R, E ? R, and M ? R. From then one it was a case of noticing how NEOLITHIC AGE split into friendly triads, and using those to identify the squares that needed amendment. All that remained was to use the ‘wordplay with an additional letter’ approach to give further thematic material, as it’s not one of Kipling’s most famous poems.
Then write the clues, and do the last once-over. 8 columnar additional letters for R KIPLING, 9 additional letters in rows for TRIBAL LAYS.
Which has 10 letters. Ah.
So we can start from scratch with a new grid and clues, or I can modify the preamble, and let everyone wonder. (I wasn’t expecting it to go unnoticed.) I did rather like the proportions of the grid and I’m not sure it would work as pleasantly with an extra row. The problem didn’t impede the thematic material in any significant way, so I left it out there to see what happened.