Whatever else happened on 16 July, 1986 I can’t recall, but my notes tell me that that was when I completed this puzzle.  I assume that reasonably shortly thereafter I sent it to the Crossword Club.  And then you hit one of the mysteries of more than one published series of puzzles: the pipeline.

Actually, I think Brian Head once confided that it was ‘less a pipeline, more a scrum’, though I haven’t got the letter in which he made the statement.  So when, earlier in 2013, he asked for submissions for CROSSWORD, I reminded him he still had this puzzle from the 1980s.  He replied and reminded me he had two others of mine of the same vintage.

What can one say about a puzzle completed half a lifetime ago (27 years, and I’m 54 now)?  The puzzle came with me over to NZ, but somewhere along the way lost its typewritten set of clues, though I managed to keep copies of the submitted grids (blank and solution) and the original handwritten clues.  Some of the clues in the proof Brian sent me were not in the handwritten version, and one or two of them in the proof were a bit odd (one had acquired the word ‘undine’ from somewhere).  Goodness only knows what I submitted.

As far as inspiration goes – well, that’s a bit tricky after all this time.  I do still think it an odd poem, particularly when Brooke starts reminiscing about England, singles out Cambridgeshire as being the prime spot – except for here, here, here, especially here, and don’t forget here…  You can’t help but feel he’d turn against Grantchester if slightly miffed one morning.  So I must have started mental doodling and coming up with the playful forms.  Can I tell you now which was first?  Not a chance.  I must just have accumulated enough to make it worthwhile generating the remainder.

There was quite a lot of thematic material – Brooke was rude about a lot of places – which mandated a larger-than-customary grid.  Even then, I ended up with a few words not in Chambers.  The worst of these was AORUS – at the time, I had a facsimile edition of Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary, in which you could definitely find it.  Like many such facsimiles, it was of an early edition, and more recent editions do not feature that city.  Nor does it turn up, as a city at least, on a Google search.  But it still gets quite a few hits, as it seems to have a new life in gaming.  The other non-Chambers  words were BOITO (who should have been more familiar, surely, in the year of Verdi’s bicentenary) and ACOL (which had made it into the dictionary by the time the puzzle was published).   The old edition also defined HEPATICOLOGY differently, with that definition disappearing in later editions, though in the end I retained the clue.

I also wanted to exploit the fact that poet and place both had 12 letters, and devised the dropped letters from answers idea – clue word A, drop two letters, anagram, enter word B, which is defined by an otherwise redundant word in the clue to A.  Quite tricky, I thought – you had to solve the clue, determine the dropped letters, and even then you wouldn’t know which letter in each pair contributed to which theme word, not until quite late on anyway.

The puzzle was tested by Les May.  That’s a name which will mean lots to cruciverbalists of a certain age.  Les was a dominant figure in the 1980s, winning Azed competitions, setting Listener puzzles, while never quite being part of any particular group, and very much always his own man.  He retired from active participation in things cruciverbal quite suddenly, feeling it was beginning to take over his life.  I believe he continued to solve nonetheless.  (I haven’t – as of 19 December – had the usual Christmas card from the Mays, so I do hope he and Jo are all right.  (Card arrived 20 December.))

To my surprise Les guessed Brooke and Grantchester from four pairs of dropped letters, which gave him quite an advantage.  Solvers despairing of understanding the title might take heart that even Les only got it after writing up his solving report – there was a PS crammed at the bottom of the last page explaining that he’d only just noticed it as he was preparing to send his comments off to me.

And that’s really about it at this remove.  A curious experience to see a puzzle from long ago finally make its appearance.  There are, as I said, still two of that vintage in Brian’s pipeline; one of them is even larger than SADYGOLOCITA, so may never see the light of day in CROSSWORD itself, at least not without elbowing the second puzzle to one side.
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