EV 1468 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1468

Enigmatic Variations 1468

Communication by proXimal

Setter’s Blog

Extra letters give DECET ROMANUM PONTIFICEM POPE LEO X, the papal bull (and sender) served on MARTIN LUTHER; alluding to Luther’s Bible translation, six answers are translated to German.


I rekindled an interest in cryptic crosswords, but from a compiling point of view, just over a decade ago. I found a clue-writing website called DIY COW (still running and highly recommended), where I learnt the basics and good practice of clue-writing. From there, I had my first full crosswords published on Big Dave’s site in his NTSPP series under the pseudonym eXternal. My first puzzle published in a national paper was in 2014 and was a barred puzzle in the Inquisitor series in The Independent. Since then, I have had been very lucky and had many opportunities to progress in setting different styles of puzzles for various outlets. I became editor of the EV in 2019, taking over from Chris Lancaster.

I hadn’t previously published one of my puzzles in the EV, but thought it would be nice to start the year with one of mine. I did a search for anniversaries in January 2021 and one of the sites brought up the excommunication of Martin Luther. I recalled learning about Luther in History at school, so was sure he would be fairly well-known and once I realised the papal bull was dated as 3rd January 1521, coinciding 500 years on to the date for the first EV slot of 2021, I knew I had my theme.

As with many barred puzzles, I started backwards from the endgame; MARTIN LUTHER is 12 letters and would fit nicely into a 12×12 grid, which are my preferred dimensions. The excommunication indicated to me that he should be removed from the grid, and I’d always want to leave real words after the removal. I would need a method of leading the solver to Luther in the course of the solve, which is often done through a message using a gimmick. I noted that the Latin title of the bull could make a substantial part of that message and if I included the sender as POPE LEO X, including spaces, I could get a grid of good average entry length and make most of the clues use the gimmick. I chose extra letters in clues as a gimmick to spell out the message, as it could be seen as having to expel the letters. That left me with six clues to act as spaces in the message, where I didn’t yet have a gimmick — these could be kept plain, but I like to give the solver something extra to do, sometimes. I checked Wikipedia’s entry for Martin Luther to see whether I could gain some inspiration and his translation of the Bible into German appeared as one of the most influential things he had done. I knew that there were many German loanwords in Chambers and so this got my mind thinking about clueing English words to be entered as their German equivalents.                 

I made a list of German words I knew would be in Chambers and particularly noted ones where they had English equivalents with the same letter counts, which would avoid me having to say anything about answer/entry lengths being different. Once I had whittled it down to a nice list of six, I tried working on a 12×12 grid in Qxw; the spacing of the six had to be exactly right so that the entries would match the spaces in the message. I also didn’t want any of the six overlapping or interfering with each other significantly, as this would make it more difficult for the solver. Once I’d done this, I needed to populate the grid with the letters of MARTIN LUTHER to be deleted (column by column, I decided) and making sure the deletion would leave real words. A few hours using Qxw revealed it was possible and I had my grid.

I tried to find Latin equivalents for the English/German words as definitions in the clues. I thought this might be a neat nod to the Latin/German translation, but it wasn’t always possible and I resorted to Latin-rooted words in some cases. Nevertheless, I used ‘via’ for MOTORWAY/AUTOBAHN and ‘bona fide’ for REAL/ECHT, so maybe some people noticed. I was also pleased to get some religious references into the clues using the APSE of PROLAPSE, NAVE upwards in EVANGELS and the definition for HOLY GRASS, for example.

Cryptic clues are usually cited as having two ways to get to the answer, but this can be problematic in barred puzzles where the thematic nature can lead to obscure entries. We’re effectively wiping out the definition part of the clue for obscure entries, as the solver won’t know it, so I don’t think it is fair to use wordplay with obscurities. I generally use wordplay elements which would be known to a Toughie solver, with only a smattering of elements you might see only in advanced puzzles, such as the more unusual abbreviations. There’s a higher degree of checking in the grid to compensate for this, but there are also often the addition of gimmicks which again swings against the solver.

My first two test-solvers thought the puzzle was fine, but couldn’t confirm one of my thematic German entries of LAGER as ‘store’. I hadn’t been able to get a grid-fill without using LAGER, which I had known could only be confirmed in the Chambers etymology of ‘lager’, cited as Lagerhaus/storehouse. Both said it was a minor thing, but it did nag at me a bit and I decided to see if I could use an alternative. I managed to switch in ANGST, but it meant a completely new grid-fill; I have no idea why I overlooked ANGST on my list, as it is an obvious one and can be clued using the five-letter DREAD. So, I redid the grid, wrote a new set of clues and sent it off to a couple of more testers, who came back with positive feedback.

Once it came to the Numpties looking at it for the hints blog, there was further discussion about whether the preamble was fair. They had rather a tough time of the puzzle and we decided to send it to another setter (Ifor) for further comment. We’d discussed some modifications to the preamble in order to make it clear that the six answers needed to be replaced by other words rather than leave it a bit ambiguous in that the solver might think the original answer needs modifying in some way such as anagramming. Ifor confirmed that this would be a good idea and also advised about adding a final column to which the letters of MARTIN LUTHER could be removed; in my original puzzle, I had simply had the letters deleted from the grid.

I hope solvers found it an enjoyable experience. I should acknowledge a typo in 26 down which appeared as ‘not good’ instead of ‘no good’ and I hope that did not adversely affect anyone’s solve significantly.


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


6 comments on “EV 1468
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  1. Thanks proXimal for giving such a detailed insight to your approach to setting this puzzle. I managed to identify the ‘sender’ fairly early on and although this gave me an idea of the likely theme it still took me a long while to get to complete the grid and endgame. I was so intent on the solving that I have to admit that the significance of the date passed me by! I really enjoyed the challenge and look forward to more of your puzzles.

  2. Thanks for giving the background on this puzzle. Makes me appreciate it even more (especially considering you rewrote the whole thing for the sake of one word). Like Denise, I was so focused on getting everything correct that I missed some of the big-picture items — like the significant anniversary and the fact that the German-translation clues appeared where the spaces in the message were (I had just assumed they were interspersed randomly…slapping myself for not seeing it).
    It’s a stretch, but I was wondering if the title, COMMUNICATION, was also serving as a reference to your puzzles in which the X was omitted (from the pangram). Of course, X-COMMUNICATION would have been a dead giveaway…maybe.

    1. Hi Lee

      Thanks for the response. The title was really just a reference to the bull and also I liked the idea of using most of the word ‘excommunication’, without giving anything away. Nice thought on the title being X-less, though.

      1. Ah, figured.
        Also, if you had any role in getting these weekly hints up and running, as well as the September “easy” series, thanks! Don’t know if I would have gotten into EV without ‘em.

        1. The setter’s blogs were my idea in the first place, but proXimal, as the EV editor, is the one who acquires them every week. I then put these posts together using the information he provides. The hints posts are almost entirely created by the Numpties, so my role involves very little!

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