Enigmatic Variations 1481
M-ND — — by –R—X
Letters omitted from the preamble are used to fill empty cells in the grid.
No more! Back to proper text now. I remember a friend (and one-time co-setter) who produced a puzzle which had no preamble as such: all of the instructions were hidden inside the clues. Apparently Nimrod in the IQ did something similar recently too. Long after the former came to light and months before I saw the latter, I was musing idly as to what other preamble gimmicks might be feasible.
Thus germinated the concept for this puzzle, but rather than no preamble, why not one disguised with deducible omissions whose letters would fill the gaps in the grid (though one correspondent was curious as to how A PIGLET ON MY COMPUTER could have caused such chaos!)? I couldn’t recall having seen that before (at least not in this format) and so thought the idea worth pursuing. Grid design came next. I knew I had to be careful not to have too many omitted letters or else the clued answers would rapidly become unacceptably short, and the risk of ambiguities could emerge. I also have always admired setters whose thematic “stuff” appears symmetrically in grids so thought this could be a useful restriction to impose upon my design. (Even if not specifically disclosed to solvers, some would hopefully notice the feature and maybe this would help them finish off their gridfill).
Of primary interest was to have appealing (to me, at least) new words made that had little or no relation to the original answers other than the shared letters. Over several days, I started to make a short-list of potential candidates. ENTHUSE to PENTHOUSE and ABELE to GABELLE especially tickled me. Then, as so often, I realised that I could never get all of the ones I fancied into a workable grid. So the puzzle was modified, resized, modified and modified again until I was content with the version that was published.
Some people (apparently) say that –R—X tends to produce clues that are rather on the harder side. But here I tried (honestly) to make them more approachable than often in the past, especially since the bracketed word lengths would be misleading in several cases. Considerable thanks are proffered to the EV editor for the final amendments (and further mollifications) and for the banter in an amusing deliberation about whether to keep on with the reference to Donald T after he’d been banished to his own golf courses. (The puzzle was submitted pre-election, but edited thereafter).
Hopefully, solvers found it an enjoyable diversion, something a little out of the ordinary, but not too taxing and it produced the odd extra smile over the long weekend. And for those that found it tough to get going, I trust that they took advantage of the excellent hints page produced by the marvellous Numpties. And finally, please believe my sincere thanks to all who were kind enough to comment or send messages; it really is what keeps setters going.
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.