Remote Control

I don’t recall covering quantum entanglement in my degree course, though my awareness of the Einstein quote about ‘spooky action at a distance’ goes back a long way.  (It sounds even better in German: spukhafte Fernwirkung.)  The phenomenon – where a pair of (say) electrons, previously ‘entangled’ but now separated, retain some sense of connectedness, so that making a change in one of the pair instantly produces the opposite change in the other member (see here for a better description) – gave me an idea for a puzzle several years ago.  The attraction of the idea was that once the solver had worked out how to resolve problems in one section of the grid, there would be similar things to resolve in another part of the grid that otherwise looked complete.  Action at a distance indeed.

The fact that SPOOKY and ACTION were the same length also factored into my thinking early.  The original concept was for clashes to resolve to SPOOKY in a clockwise arc in the upper half of the grid, with ACTION in a symmetrically placed anticlockwise arc (so it still read right to left) in the lower half.  First problem: keeping the letters reasonably separate generated a huge grid.  Second problem: what of symmetry?   The original concept used mirror symmetry with the axis the horizontal midpoint of the grid, but rotational symmetry felt better, and more in tune with the subject matter.  At this point, the question of what else to put in the grid, and what to derive from the clues presented itself.  Sticking ENTANGLEMENT across the middle and crossing it with QUANTUM gave a solid structure to the grid, and the part-quote and its maker could go into the clues.

The grid fill was tricky.  Oddly, the part that felt as though it should have been slightly freer – the top, where only one of the clashes had to satisfy both words – was actually harder than finding pairs of words satisfied by both letters at the bottom.  That still feels a bit odd even now – perhaps it was just the added burden of recording how the clues should work that made the top segment feel harder.  Certainly it’s the segment with the odder, rarer words, all jostling to keep out of the way of that Q, which was a major constraint, and kept the words that could be used on the short side.

Quantum entanglement had started to crop up in all sorts of places – I think I first encountered it ‘in the wild’ in Simon Singh’s The Code Book, and it was certainly quantum cryptography that kept it popping up from time to time in news articles.  (The other theme – the possibilities of instantaneous communication over extended distances – always seemed to neglect the problems of conveying one of the pair of particles across the relevant extended distance.)  I sent the puzzle to some regular Listener solvers for testing, and back came enthusiastic responses, and the BBC Focus magazine produced a special edition on Twenty Ideas for the 21st Century (or similar), and there was QE in third place on the cover.

And three days before I saw the advert for the Focus special, the Listener rejected it because the theme was too obscure and not findable in standard references (a tester’s response to that decision consisted of a letter followed by an underscore and an exclamation mark).  But it’s sort of fair enough, if a little backward-looking.  The days of ‘standard references’ are numbered (there are many who would say we’ve already stopped counting), and puzzles have appeared where Google has been recommended.  I had made sure that Googling the material deducible from the puzzle threw up what you needed to know – and from the first draft of the grid to just a few minutes ago when I sourced the link above, Google has thrown up the essentials of QE in the first three hits every time.  (You should never Google something just once in this process – a cursory Google search is a recipe for disaster.)   We should embrace alternatives, as it opens up so many more themes for puzzles, particularly contemporary ones.  I sense a possible weakening of the stance – certainly a recent Listener puzzle had a denouement that I could only imagine verifying via Wikipedia (and much more fun it was to verify it there as well).

Fortunately other outlets are expanding the range of references deemed credible – my last blog, for instance, was for an Independent Inquisitor based around the ‘real’ name of Batman’s adversary The Penguin – among them the Magpie.  So, after humming and hawing a little, off it went there, to be accepted.  And since I’m writing this a little in advance of receiving comments from The Magpie, there matters rest…

…with one exception.  Shortly after the puzzle appeared a comment turned up on the blog.  I have just released it from the ‘Pending’ folder, as it made reference to an aspect of the solution – now the closing date has passed it’s safe to let others see it.  I did explain this decision to the writer, a Mr Adrian Johns, who was commenting on the appearance of his name in the puzzle – and it does appear, symmetrically placed on the central vertical, A above JOHNS.  As it happens, Mr Johns’ name, that J notwithstanding, is short enough for it not to be too implausible it should appear (Fearnley-Whittingstall, on the other hand…) but it reminded me of the time Azed put his name into the top two rows of a 12×12 grid: JONATHANCROW, followed by THER under the JONA.  The sequel to that – which is a remarkable and poignant coincidence – can be found here.

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