I have used Tom Swifties before, but I thought it had been far enough in the past to be worth trotting them out again. (In fact I stumbled on the puzzle a few days ago when I took down the 1995 boxfile, and, yes, nineteen years does seem a decent enough gap. I’ll be putting that puzzle up at the end of the month so you can make comparisons.)
The motivation for revisiting the idea was stumbling on the etymology of TASER. I have worked in the criminal justice system for twenty-five years now, and it’s odd how you just accept the names for things. I’d always thought you tased in the same way you lased – but no, there was another acronym involved.
Wikipedia has some additional information over Chambers (indeed, it’s pretty good on Tom Swift as well). So the question was how to combine the two. Once you spot that THOMAS A SWIFT’S and ELECTRIC RIFLE are the same length, a fair bit of credible grid structure is gifted to you, especially with 13 letters being nicely in line with IQ grid sizes. The central respelling gimmick I’d done previously in an EV, and it seemed a useful trick both to delay spotting the theme, and to confirm it when at the end. You have to choose carefully, of course – too many potential replacements is no help to the solver – so TRUMPET/CRUMPET and ELASTIC/PLASTIC are good. The first has no other options in Chambers, and CLASTIC is unlikely to spring to mind first for many solvers.
Then to choose the Tom Swifties. There are thousands (check out websites such as here and here), but that isn’t as many as you might think, particularly once you have the two outer verticals and some restricted words across the middle. Bring in symmetry and the choice drops further. I was already working on using the adjective rather than the adverb – no place for –LY endings given the other content – but it became clear that if I wanted a decent number above and below the middle, I’d probably end up with jumbles. Could I think of an additional thematic element?
At that point I recalled my boss mentioning that he had been threatened with a Taser held by the Minister (“In jest,” he claimed, uncertainly). “Shocking,” I said, and there we were with a justification for jumbling. I was pleased to get away with only four instances, and was able to arrange them symmetrically. And the grid looked not so bad when blank – I have found myself tinkering with a grid so that it ‘looks right’ on the page when the solver first sees it (this year’s Christmas Beelzebub being the most recent case in point, even before I’ve got anywhere near writing its clues).
It’s always pleasant to start a puzzle knowing that a number of clues have already been got out of the way. Having eight Tom Swifties already in situ seemed to imply the puzzle was half-done already… Well, not quite true, but things flowed quite easily.