Years ago, on Call My Bluff there was a sort of running joke that one definition every programme was a Scottish word for a sheep. Once a series it wasn’t even a bluff. That was using the OED. Despite the Scottish element, if I were to suggest an animal with multiple names from the Chambers menagerie, I would go for the antelope.
But if it was a fish, it would have to be the salmon. I compiled a goodly list of them in preparing for the puzzle. I always knew there was a lot of them out there (down there?) but the catalogue I collated was nonetheless surprising in its extent. And it included OUANANICHE.
That’s one of those words which, once seen, has to be used, so the puzzle was under way. But getting a shoal of ten-lettered salmon up a ladder would have made for a very large grid. An early sketch had a much shallower incline but had to be abandoned when I realised it was approaching thirty columns wide.
In the end I focused in on having SALMON and LADDER in there, and it suddenly became clear that the six-letter synonyms were the way forward. In particular, I wanted KIPPER in there as an example of a salmon (on a par with discovering that PINK is a shade of yellow). The ladder idea felt like it needed some sort of ‘hand-on’ process to connect one ‘step’ to the next. And so the idea of pairs of anagrams emerged, with SALMON and LADDER at opposite ends popping out as a sort of unpaired pair. I slotted them all in, in what looked like a sensible order, only to realise that KIPPER was adjacent to BAGGIT. I was rather surprised to find there was a two-word option for that anagram. But I took it as the touch of serendipity that comes as a confirmatory touch that a puzzle is on the right track.
With a strong diagonal element SW -> NE, OUANANICHE had to go in as a down entry in one of the resulting triangles. But something with so many vowels is very friendly, and it wasn’t hard to get a grid around it.
The final step was to make the salmon less evident by introducing the deliberate failures to cross-check in selected down entries, though I decided the three-letter ones were not fair game for that.
It is a big puzzle and needed editing to fit the template. Quite a few clues were shortened to save lines here and there, and the preamble you saw was a little more than a third of my original, and I suspect that might have been a little too much judging by some of the comments received to date. But if John Green had wanted his slot at the bottom soliciting SAEs for annual records, you wouldn’t have seen the puzzle at all.
The final title also was not my original – Way Upstream (and thus my project of a series of puzzles using the titles of Alan Ayckbourn plays was frustrated at the outset…). That original offering was deemed a bit of a giveaway, and the editors proposed an alternative. One person’s giveaway is another’s bafflement, of course. I had expected OUANANICHE to hand the theme on a plate, but there were several who looked at a word starting OUA- in disbelief (always check Chambers), with some reports suggesting it was the last piece of their personal jigsaw.
Now try and drop OUANANICHE into your next conversation…