I found myself clueing EL ALAMEIN this week (rather heavy on the vowels…) and it reminded me of an incident several years ago – probably the 1990s.
I was on a train, and just down the carriage from me were an elderly couple engaged in a crossword. (I say elderly, but they were probably around the age I am now, which isn’t elderly at all, of course.) It was in The Puzzler magazine, and it was a General Knowledge puzzle where all the clues were phrased as questions. The couple weren’t as quiet as they might have been and were sharing their deliberations with the few of us in the rest of the carriage.
They had just solved ‘What was the name of the place in Egypt which saw two battles in 1942 in World War Two?’ And from what they said, they were right – but it wasn’t what they had written in. The second E was to be first letter of ‘What was the name of the scientist associated with general relativity?’ “Einstein”, they said confidently- followed by, “Oh, but it has to begin with I”. Inference: they had spelled the Egyptian placename EL ALAMIEN.
There followed a long debate about whether Einstein spelled his name IENSTEIN, which they clearly didn’t really believe, but which developed into their entering IENSTIEN for consistency’s sake – only to find that the penultimate letter needed to be I in the crossing answer. Shortly after that, they went on to a different puzzle.
Transliteration is a bit of a vexed situation at the best of times, so I don’t look on this as a comment on their spelling ability. What struck me as odd was how convinced they were of their initial answer, convinced enough to wander through all sorts of conjectures about EINSTEIN that they didn’t think right, but put in anyway. All that rather than query the initial spelling of EL ALAMEIN, which was never raised in their discussion at all. Perhaps the male solver was a veteran of the campaign and had always spelled it thus? (In which case, they can be elderly again, as they would have to be a good decade older then I am now.)
A good reminder to always check your assumptions after entering something confidently.
Upcoming puzzles spot: regular Independent appearances on Fridays 23 and 1; a Times cryptic on 21 February; a Times Quick Cryptic from Pedro on 24 February; a Telegraph Toughie from Kcit on 29 February; and an Inquisitor on 2 March, when I hope to be back with a new puzzle on the site.
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