I have been pondering how to flood a grid for some time.
[Yes, I know – vandal, and the paper will get soggy. Yet…isn’t that what interactive solving is for?]
Effectively, it’s thinking in terms of a third dimension to the grid – how to make certain cells elevated. The flooding is merely the way to draw your attention to this.
My early thoughts were around approaches that classified certain letters as ‘taller’ than others. Once the ‘flooding’ had occurred, these letters would be proud of the ‘water’ and could spell something thematic.
But this runs into a dead-end. Suppose you decide you want SOLID GROUND to be what’s left visible. You can have no other usages of S, O, L, I etc anywhere in the grid because obviously they too would be – er – obvious. That’s quite a constraint – and SOLID GROUND, which only just occurred to me, is about the best candidate I’ve come up with; at least it leaves you A, E, and T to play with.
But I really wanted more content in the final message, which meant using more of the alphabet, with correspondingly more restrictions elsewhere. So I ditched that.
One option I didn’t really explore was simply designating certain cells as elevated, no matter what letters they contained. For instance, label the columns A-M, the rows N-Z. Then indicate (say), JP, AS, FT and so on – and these cells spell your message. That could work, though it didn’t particularly suggest elevation to me.
So I put things aside until one day the idea of repeated sequences came to mind. It’s easy enough to use programs to find words with duplicated triplets – I put *123123* into Sympathy. It’s rather harder to find the name of an island that can be anagrammed from the available triplets: San Cristobal wouldn’t have been my first choice, but the Galapagos are well-enough known.
I then remembered an Independent daily (it’s 8,511 of January 2014) where my starting point had been words like CLIFF-FACE, so I then went looking for single triples (if that makes sense) as well. ISLE readily popped out of the options.
With only eight thematic entries, the grid wasn’t too hard, so the next step was to decide how to point solvers at the endgame,
Misprint clues are such a joy to write (I probably should put an emoji of some sort there), but I chose them anyway. FLOOD THE GRID was obvious, and a decent set of letters for the purposes of including misprints. To fill the rest I settled on REPEATS IMPLY HEIGHT until I saw it could be read as REPEAT SIMPLY HEIGHT – possibly a bit confounding, even if it was less grammatical. So I tried REPEATS EQUAL HEIGHT, but the misprinted Q ended up in the clue for QUOTED, which is by no means a useful coincidence. It was back to the original, and word lengths in the preamble.
Also in the preamble is an obscure bit about unchecked letters which is there to distinguish between FORT(ISS)(ISS)IMO and FORTI(SSI)(SSI)MO. It’s the only time Percy Grainger’s oddball recommendation of ‘louder, lots’ has seemed appealing.
It was hard to think of a title that didn’t hint too much, so I settled on A Dramatic Instruction, as I guessed it would appear that way to solvers. In the circumstances, with the puzzle becoming part of a thematic collaboration, it was probably better that the title was non-descriptive.
The puzzle was under way when I mentioned to the EV editor an idea I’d had about a sequence of puzzles over X weeks culminating in a sort of meta-puzzle. And he pointed me at Brock (some of whose puzzles I’d already vetted).
Brock’s idea was a sequence of puzzles on environmental themes, so all I had to say was: “Well, I’ll do floods”. The rest of the story behind the collaboration is probably best told in the blog about the final puzzle in the series.