Shortfall

Regular solvers of the Inquisitor may recall a couple of my puzzles that were called In Memoriam and In Memoriam II.  Each marked the passing of one of our cats, and each was based around that cat’s name.  When the cat is named Sooty that isn’t so hard, and even with a cat named Cousin something can emerge.  (I have some sympathy with solvers who wondered at naming a cat Cousin, but there’s a reason – see the Cats page.)

But what to do when the cat that dies is named Little ‘Un.  It’s not obviously a name that can appear from the operation of a gimmick, and while it looks a fair enough name, typewritten on a web page, with apostrophe in plain view, it’s a very different thing to appear from latent letters or misprints.  So the name itself probably can’t form the basis of the gimmick.  At which point, you start casting around for examples of little things and the seven dwarfs come to mind.  And at that point things go a little hazy – how on earth did the idea of dropping their names from paired answers, together with the title Shortfall, pop into my mind?  I really can’t remember, though I do think the title came arrived as the last element, though not very tardily.

This time IN MEMORIAM went in as an answer and I built the grid around that.  Some of the dwarfs’ names offered substantial restrictions on available pairings from which they could be omitted – SLEEPY, for instance.  S/LEEPY – not too many words beginning LEEPY-; SLEEP/Y – bit of a cop-out to use – say – OVERSLEEP; SL/EEPY – gosh, yes, Chambers‘ oddities do include STUNS’L – but no EEPY-, dammit; SLEE/PY has a single option for its first component, but SLE/EPY just pipped it for versatility, if that isn’t too strong a word.  The presence of unhelpful antepenultimate consonants in GRUMPY and HAPPY led to two second components beginning PY-, which I’d have preferred to avoid, but less so than wanting to avoid clueing RUMPY-PUMPY.

In the end, I was rather pleased with the way the grid turned out in terms of the combination of reasonable word-lengths while packing in all the thematic material.  When it came to the clues, I realised that clueing every component of the paired answers would make for a huge puzzle, which would surely run into space constraints.  So I rapidly switched to definition only clues for those components.  (The thought of having to write a cryptic clue for ZYGODONT wasn’t entirely unconnected to that decision, I suppose.)

The Inquisitor editor decided a placing near Christmas would be appropriate given the resonances of pantomime in the thematic material.  That’s not quite where you expect a puzzle based on the passing of a 15-year-old cat to end up but I intend the puzzles as much a celebration of the pleasure the cat has brought us.  If you have been to the Cats page, you will know that, sadly, another such puzzle is on the way (editorial intervention permitting – I haven’t finished it yet), but with a different approach again.

 

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