Enigmatic Variations 1472
Test Match by Ploy
New letters in clues give TO GIVE TWO REAL WORDS / WHERE SAMPLE COVERS TEST STRIP; pH IS 10 indicates ALKALI and APE of SAMPLE is highlighted in blue where it overlaps LITMUS PAPER.
This was my ninth puzzle in the EV series, the first being in 2004. The idea of a theme involving litmus paper came to mind not long after that, but (and I imagine it’s a common experience amongst setters) not all ideas cooperate initially, only to “come fully to life” years later when looked at afresh. Such was the case here.
My initial intention for this theme involved part of the grid representing a litmus test and/or pH value, with a method (to be decided) of directing the solver to colour an appropriate area either red or blue. If possible, I try to make my puzzles “Chambers compliant”, and this was somewhat hampered by the dictionary’s uneven treatment of acid (which refers to its effect on litmus, but makes no mention of pH value) and alkali (which refers to pH value, but makes no mention of its effect on litmus), although the definition of litmus itself is balanced. But then, if our precious Chambers has a weak area, it’s in the definitions of some scientific and technical terms! There are other resources, of course, available to solvers, and I decided that verifying the relationship between acid/alkali, red/blue, and pH value would be straightforward.
Having tried various arrangements within a grid, I decided on LITMUS PAPER lying diagonally, and was delighted to find that alternate letters of SAMPLE could be made to coincide with the A, P and E of PAPER. This fixed some of the letters in the grid, and left me with the issue of how a pH value could be discovered by the solver. Acids have pH less than 7, and alkalis have pH more than 7, so a clash between ONE and TEN in the grid looked promising, and I found this was possible relatively easily. Adding “pH IS”, plus ACID and ALKALI (also diagonally) completed the set-up.
I always look forward to the clueing phase when setting a crossword, and I much prefer setting clues with gimmicks, as it adds to the puzzle, and it makes me work harder! Arranging for the gimmick to be relevant in some way to the theme is a noble aim, but not always practical, as I found here. So I decided on one letter in each clue needing to be changed before solving. With such clues, a principle I try to stick to is that both the surface readings, before and after the letter change, should make complete sense. They are usually thought of as “misprinted” clues, and how could correction of a misprint lead to a nonsensical clue, I ask myself?! I also believe that this device need not be limited to the definition only, which seems to be a preference in some quarters. Changing a letter in an anagram indicator, say, can lead to a pleasingly misleading clue, and an extra feeling of satisfaction (hopefully) when discovered by the solver.
Once completed, the puzzle was test-solved by Charybdis, who also kindly suggested the title. His solve brought to light an unforeseen anomaly which needed fixing, so once I’d sorted that out it went off to Ferret for a second, independent, test-solve. This led to further improvements, and resulted in a puzzle I was happy to submit. My thanks to both test-solvers for their indispensable input. In appraising the puzzle for the EV series, Steve B suggested some very helpful clue improvements which were duly incorporated. Thank you Steve!
Following publication, I was interested to read The Numpties’ Hints and Tips (thanks for providing those!), and pleased to see that initial reaction to “Test Match” from solvers was largely positive. As might be apparent from the above, thematic crosswords are not just the product of the setter working alone. They benefit hugely from the critical input of others, to reveal hidden snags, and to give a final polish to the puzzle that the solver tackles. I am always grateful for this.
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.