By a fortuitous set of circumstances we found ourselves in Europe courtesy of KLM, which meant Amsterdam. We had a hotel near the Concertgebouw, just across the Museumplein from the Rijksmuseum. We had tickets for a concert (now available on CD – yes, the very concert itself) at one, and we certainly intended to visit the other.

You go to the Rijksmuseum for a range of things, but the Rembrandts are high on the list. The Night Watch gets a room about the size of a football field to itself. Well, not quite – there’s a lot of subsidiary material in various booths around (including a tiny collection of Frank Auerbach interiors when we visited) – but the space means you can actually see the painting. This is quite different from the strange security vault crammed with tourists that is the Mona Lisa (years ago I went to see the Raft of the Medusa instead – this time round we didn’t go in the Louvre at all).

Anyway, you could even get up close to read the information panel, which gave the name in Dutch. Nachtwacht had a lovely assonance, and stuck in the mind. Wherever there are patterns in letters a crossword idea may lurk, and the acht – well, I had to go and check, but Dutch and German do share it for ‘eight’. So, a number as well…

It might all have stayed there, except for something I can’t quite recall – I mean, how do you suddenly spot that:

  • The other letters in the painting title are N and W (OK, I grant you that’s probably a doddle)
  • That W inverted is M (again a fairly obvious point, I suppose, though not obvious in relation to art)
  • M and N are symmetrically placed in Rembrandt?

Each observation is perhaps trivial – it’s the fact that they all pile on top of one another that allows the puzzle to emerge. By the end of our month in Europe, I had the bones of the puzzle in place. I remember that, when it came to actually getting the words into the grid, the bottom right was a bit of a fiend when it came to juggling unchecked letters, and getting the N and W clashes more or less evenly dispersed around the grid.

Later in our trip we ended up in Paris, as hinted above, and a puzzle – without much French about it – also emerged. More on that when and if it appears.