EV 1455 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1455

Enigmatic Variations 1455

The Golden Oldies

Setter’s Blog by Skylark

Extra letters give MURDER SHE WROTE; the perimeter contains a work from each of the QUEENS OF CRIME: CHRISTIE, SAYERS, MARSH and ALLINGHAM.

This was inspired by my childhood passion for mystery books – after reading Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, I was hooked on Agatha Christie’s works. When I was coming to the end of Christie and Holmes, I tried a Ngaio Marsh, and loved them too, particularly A Surfeit of Lampreys. Later in my teens I was captivated by Dorothy L Sayers’ books, thrilled by her use of codes (Playfair and a Book Cipher in Have His Carcase) and description of early 20th century Oxford in Gaudy Night.

Like many others, I love the ‘aha!’ moment when the murderer is revealed (and of course, trying to spot them earlier myself). The mystery of barred puzzles is what attracts me to them too – the aha! moment is often more surprising and thrilling than in detective fiction.

So years later when I was starting to compose crosswords, I wanted to create a Queens of Crime tribute grid. I’d also heard of the TV series Murder She Wrote, which sparked off a link in my mind. Since they were writing in what was called the Golden Age of Crime, I wanted a title that reflected that.

Wanting to run Queens of Crime down the centre meant it had to be a 13×13 grid, and that the Christie book must be The Mysterious Mr Quin, which took up a side and a half. I was glad Sayers, Marsh and Allingham had some more succinct titles allowing me to fit one of each of their books around the perimeter.

I created this before Vow, my debut EV (1428). Steve Bartlett, the EV editor, gave me some very helpful feedback on my early clueing and I think, suggested the title. But one treat, I hope, awaits me – the Albert Campion books, which I have not yet sampled. I hope I don’t find them too dated.


A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.


7 comments on “EV 1455
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  1. Thank you so much, Skylark — this was really good fun, the EV I’ve enjoyed most so far. And thanks to The Numpties, for the hints to get me started, and the persuasion to give it a go even though it’s October. It seemed a similar level of difficulty to the 3 September puzzles that I managed to complete.

    I certainly found it more straightforward than last week’s, though probably for the same reason: lots of unclued squares which depend on getting the theme. It’s just that this week I spotted the theme (well, something theme-adjacent) early on, and last week not at all. But that’s down to my interests, rather than the innate difficulty of the puzzle.

    With only a few answers, I had the extra letters M_UR_E (where gaps may or may not contain further letters), and luckily guessed as MURDER and the ‘golden’ age of crime, confirmed by spotting Dorothy L naySAYERS lurking — presumably the extra letters would spell out ‘murder creators’ or similar.

    And for the group the authors were members of, that’d be the DETECTION CLUB, with just the right number of letters to fit down the middle. Handily, their The Floating Admiral is right at the top of first pile of books we see entering on our bedroom, bringing them straight to mind. (It’s a detective story with each chapter written by a different author, who had to continue the story on without knowing what the previous authors intended.)

    At that point I only had 2 answers crossing the middle column. One fitted with ‘Detection Club’ and one didn’t, so I just presumed I’d got that one wrong, and scurried off to look up the club’s initial members: Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, and Freeman Wills Crofts. ‘Sayers’ (6) ‘Christie’ (8) ‘Berkeley’ (8) ‘Crofts’ (6) add up to the required 28 letters, so I must be along the right lines. This is going so well! Back to finding more answers.

    I spotted CHRISTIE, after which, as you’ve probably guessed, things stopped going quite so well.

    Eventually I decided EXTOLLED must be right, implying that DETECTION CLUB wasn’t — even though I’d found 2 of its initial members. But the “EE” fortunately made me think of QUEEN, and I saw where I’d gone wrong. (Mainly in jumping to conclusions and filling in large unclued areas without bothering to solve the crossing clues first.)

    That Q, and a few other letters, recalled the Christie title, and the Sayers one followed. At which point, I have a question: what, specifically, does ‘unchecked’ mean?

    I’d presumed it meant ‘only in one word, not crossing with another word in the opposite orientation’. So I then pulled up lists of Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh books, scanning for a title which could use the Q from ‘ESQUIRE’. But it turns out the only Q I needed was the one in ‘QUIN’ and ‘QUEEN’ — so that must count as unchecked, even though it’s in 2 crossing words.

    The titles helped greatly with solving the rest of the clues. As did the rest of the authors’ names — after a minor diversion in the 3rd column, where I was pleased to spot ultiMA followed by a crossing R, so appended the required S and H, preventing solving those across clues until I discovered the real MARSH elsewhere — and somehow I managed to fill the grid.

    I then had enough extra letters to work out the phrase (and realize that I’d been wrong to interpret the Numpties’ spelling of ‘flunky’ in their hint for 16a as meaning it had an extra E in it), giving the rest of the extra letters. And crossing those out in the clues helped with working out wordplay in a few where I’d bunged in from the crossing letters and definitions. It’s a haphazard approach, but it got me there in the end.

    Sorry this comment is so long, but I loved the journey. Maybe one day I’ll be good enough at crosswords just to start by solving the clues as written, but I don’t think that would’ve been anywhere near as much fun!

    1. Hi Smylers, thanks for the commentary of the solve, glad you enjoyed the puzzle. In answer to your query, unchecked does mean not shared by crossing entries, so the solver can’t check that they have the correct letter in two ways.

      As you mention, the Q is shared by two entries (as is an E), so is technically checked. However, as the Q is shared by two unclued entries, it isn’t a perimeter letter checked through completion of the clues — a better phrasing in the preamble would probably be ‘unchecked by clued entries’. I think the Q and E at the ends of the unclued entry were included in the preamble to help rather than hinder, but apologies if they confused the matter.

      1. Thanks, proXimal. And in fairness to the preamble as written, a simple count of those letters would’ve resolved the ambiguity.

    2. Thanks Smylers, so glad the puzzle entertained you, and sorry for the confusion over unchecked, a word that confused me too when I embarked on these puzzles (relatively late comparatively). I too tend to enjoy puzzles where the theme gives me a hint early on, but there’s still some mystery to keep me interested in the solve.

      I was unaware of The Floating Admiral, but it sounds fascinating.

  2. Smylers – do please keep posting these sorts of queries if you have them. Older hands (in any sphere) do tend to take conventions for granted. I say this because I’ve just posted a comment on 15^2 referring to an “unch message” – as I’m sure you’ve guessed, this refers to the help that a setter sometimes gives by way of anagramming the UNCHecked letters.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Skylark. I had a lot of fun with this one. I also found that, unlike the featured detectives, I’m pretty dependent on Wikipedia when it comes to solving mysteries. Thank goodness for the Internet!

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