Enigmatic Variations 1452
Setter’s Blog by X-Type
Bridge letters should be selected to show IK BRUNEL.
Some of you may know me from my occasional Back Page Cryptic and Quick puzzles; plus my comments on the Big Dave Crossword Blog. I’ve been setting puzzles now for over 45 years – starting with local newspapers in the early 1970’s and then jumping straight in to the Listener (the “crème de la crème” of Thematic Crosswords: originally being a BBC magazine from the 1920’s onwards; then latterly, after its demise, the puzzle appeared in the Times on a Saturday). For my Listener puzzles – and for occasional other ones in the Inquisitor series; and even for one or two initially in EV – I am known as Jago, which is Spanish for “James”, my real first name. (For a brief biog of myself and many other well-known setters, see “The A-Z of Crosswords” by Jonathan Crowther, pub. Collins, 2006.)
In amongst my many Listener puzzles, I have twice had thematics called “Pardon the Interruption” (versions I and II, a few years apart); which had the conceit of each of the across and down entries not actually intersecting at one crossing point and thus being “interrupted” by the crossing entry: the sort of “reverse” of the usual idea of crosswords, you might say! (For such a simple idea, they were surprisingly difficult to set, I might tell you.)
Anyway, I was musing on whether to do a “version III” of that idea for EV, when it struck me that I could vary it by making one of the crossing points into a Bridge instead of an Interruption; so that a letter from each of the two intersecting words had to share a square (or a “cell” in the jargon) and effectively “fight” for the right be seen in the solution. Having had that initial idea, I then needed a theme to go with it (I’m not usually satisfied just to have the wordplay: I like there to be more to a puzzle than that): and so I then thought of the “grand master” of Victorian bridge design, Mr Brunel. His full name “Isambard Kingdom Brunel” was too long for the usual 12×12 grid: so I shortened him to his initials – hence “I K Brunel” in the solution. And those particular initials, I & K, gave me all sorts of problems in trying to fit “bridged” words into the grid, using them!
As it happens, I was still fighting with the grid when Steve Bartlett (the EV editor) emailed me to ask if I had a “slightly easier” puzzle that I could submit fairly soon to the EV series, because they wanted to encourage the Big Dave solvers to try the EV as well. That stimulus was just what I needed: and over the next 24 hours I burned the midnight oil (almost literally) and I managed to fight the grid into submission (though I had to resort to one abbreviation “Glos” – the English county of Gloucestershire – but it’s in Chambers, so I was OK!). Steve was very happy with the final puzzle and – with only a couple of minor tweaks – it saw the light of day on the 13th September; two days before my birthday….
Jim Coulson (X-Type)
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.