Enigmatic Variations 1464
Brilliant by Chalicea
Richard FEYNMAN tells in an anecdote how in 1920 Arthur EDDINGTON, the British astrophysicist, declared that he understood how the STARS shine; his hypothesis was the FUSION OF HYDROGEN INTO HELIUM.
“Asked in 1919 whether it was true that only three people in the world understood the theory of general relativity, [Eddington] allegedly replied: ‘Who’s the third?”
The first was, of course, Einstein and almost any ten-year-old knows that, but find me a ten-year-old who has heard of Eddington who, in his day (the twenties and thirties) was almost as famous as Einstein. It was in 1920 that, as the Astronomer Royal, he worked out how stars shine.
I’m married to a nuclear physicist turned computer expert for CERN so scientific things are often the subject of conversation and Physics World arrives regularly in the mailbox. Whenever I have commented on the brightness of the stars, I have had a mini scientific lecture about helium, and when the Feynman story about a feminist group was quoted there, he said ‘Isn’t that a potential crossword theme?” Here’s the snippet of text from Feynman’s ‘What Do You Care What Other People Think?‘
“The other story they objected to was told by the great astronomer Arthur Eddington, who had just figured out that the stars get their power from burning hydrogen in a nuclear reaction producing helium. He recounted how, on the night after his discovery, he was sitting on a bench with his girlfriend. She said, “Look how pretty the stars shine!” To which he replied, “Yes, and right now, I’m the only man in the world who knows how they shine.” He was describing a kind of wonderful loneliness you have when you make a discovery.”
My pleasure as a setter is the construction of the grid (the writing of the clues, which takes about three times as long, comes second for me). My aim is to include as much thematic material as I can into a grid and to avoid the extra letter and misprint gimmicks if I can, so that the crossword is solved ‘in the grid’ and not ‘in the clues’. I struggled here to fit Eddington’s hypothesis (which was proved in the thirties) as well as his subject (stars) and his name, to be highlighted, into the grid as well as a rather clumsy paraphrase of his words. Finally, I abandoned symmetry and my grid appeared.
Ifor kindly test-solved the finished item with lots of clue tweaks and improvements and suggested that, since this year is the hundredth anniversary of Eddington’s discovery, I should ask for a date-related inclusion in the EV series and the EV editor was happy with that.
However, he was not so happy with my finished item as he couldn’t find adequate references to Eddington’s discovery in standard reference books (there are six in the ODQ, including the one about an army of monkeys typing all the books in the British Museum, but not the exact one we needed about why the stars shine). He suggested that I include a Feynman reference in a gimmick in the clues and a preamble addition – RICHARD FEYNMAN would mean adjusting a mere fourteen clues.
With my current dislike of those gimmicks, I went back to the drawing board and it was my lucky day. After a few hours of fiddling, FEYNMAN appeared in the grid and required the adjusting of 20 clues.
We need the occasional easier EV and the Chalicea ones are usually that. In this one there is the added gift of nine solutions with no unchecked letters (yes, that’s considered to be a flaw that is frowned upon by editors as those clues are automatically solved) but I plead that all the thematic material (66 cells out of 169) justifies a slightly unorthodox grid, and the unclued words add difficulty that is compensated for by the clue gifts. I hope solvers were happy with that and that some encountered Arthur Eddington for the first time. (Poor Arthur – he didn’t marry that girlfriend – he died a bachelor!)
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.