This is not a recent puzzle, as my notes tell me it was completed in Kansas City, back in the days when international travel was a thing. That just happens to be where I was when I finished it, and has nothing else to do with the puzzle (well…see below), but it gave a reminder of the pipeline process puzzles have to go through.
Bryant and May are two detectives created by Christopher Fowler for a series of novels reflecting the golden age of detective fiction – impossible situations, locked-room mysteries and the like. There are close to twenty novels in the series, the most recent coming out in July 2020. They play a lot with London lore – the rivers (even before Ben Aaronovitch), the curious customs and traditions and so on.
The names of the detectives have clearly been chosen for period relevance. In the books, John May is cool, suave and up-to-date with technology, while Arthur Bryant is shabby, full of esoteric knowledge and not to be let near any machinery. Oh, and if the internal chronology of the books is to be trusted they are both about one hundred years old (with their first case occurring during the Blitz). And, ah, yes, I can link Arthur Bryant and Kansas City:
Though I’m pretty certain that’s not the Arthur Bryant Christopher Fowler describes.
Anyway, Chris Lancaster, past editor of the EV is a fan (as, I have since discovered, is the setter Ifor) – the books are very much up a cruciverbalist’s alley…though I’ll just leave that simile there, I think).
So, how to construct a puzzle to tickle Chris L’s tastebuds. Bryant and May to most solvers will say “Matches” if it says anything at all. The brand name still exists (in Swedish ownership) but it’s a bit hard to work out when the actual matches last were made under the name (the 1970s looks the best guess).
The question is therefore how to work ‘matches’ into a puzzle theme.
The idea of having matched sides to a puzzle occurred to me. It rather defeats the object of solving to have both sides identical, but I have often toyed with the idea of a letters latent puzzle where the entries admit of two interpretations, each with a different latent letter. And, well, here it is (there are clearly other things you can with the idea, though).
The puzzle emerged in its final form more or less at the outset as the picture shows (the previous page has exactly the same grid, but without a list of possible entries). I was more interested in forms where the paired entries gave rise to different types of speech (such as PRAYED and PAY-BED, or ASHAKE and ASH-KEY). I had to fall back on DUSTER/MUSTER, but you can’t have everything.
I like the Right and Left puzzle concept, but it’s a slog writing the clues – still, you get there in the end. After which the puzzle sat there – I’d accumulated quite a few in the EV pipeline.
And then came the decision to terminate the EV series. The new editor was kind enough to say he would use one of mine in the last weeks, and I argued in favour of this one since it represented a link with his predecessor. Next it got bumped a week to accommodate a Covid-19 related puzzle, and then a further week to squeeze in what I think may be the last Oxymoron EV.
But the EV received a reprieve, and so I found myself in what would have otherwise been the final slot. I’d already noted that the puzzle number was 1450, and to my mind that really calls for Rupert Brooke and Grantchester as the theme. I hope nobody was disappointed that it wasn’t.
I hope too that no-one was disappointed that it was quite easy – at least, my sense is that it was easy, and I had a response from a solver saying it was the easiest of mine they’d tried; but then a solver on the Big Dave site said it was at the hard end of the spectrum). Still, I was amused to see the announcement of a run of simpler EVs – my suspicion remains that Matches could have fitted among them quite readily, except it looked rather ferocious.