Enigmatic Variations 1483
Mixed Feelings by Stick Insect
Letters removed from clues give Gaius Valerius Catullus Carmen LXXXV; letters added give Change one letter per row; changes to the grid reveal the full text of Catullus’ poem (Carmen) 85.
I think this is my thirtieth published thematic crossword and you would think that, having had a classical education, the ancients would have provided a regular series of themes. However, this is only the second to be inspired by a Latin author and I haven’t managed a Greek one yet, so I will leave it to readers to decide if the education was wasted on me.
It did at least mean that I did come across this gem from Catullus as a teenager and I’ve always thought the poem brilliant in its simplicity. It’s one of the few poems that I can actually quote from memory: being only fourteen words of course does help with that. So when I spotted that the entire poem is in ODQ at some point last year, I wondered if it would be possible to reproduce it all in a grid, obviously using fourteen rows. I quickly came to the conclusion that some letter changes would be needed – I couldn’t see how REQUIRIS and EXCRUCIOR could be made to appear without them – but one-letter changes seemed to be enough and to provide a reasonable device that would mean solvers could demonstrate they’d got the theme.
I had a few goes at producing a grid, going down some blind allies until I produced something that seemed to work. In the end, the shortest Latin words – ID and, especially, ET – gave the most trouble as I needed to make sure there was no ambiguity in the solution by having a stray E or T (or I or D) appearing in the same row. As they are common letters, they would keep trying to reappear. I confess I didn’t even try to make the grid symmetrical, given the constraints of the thematic material.
For the clues, I wanted to point solvers clearly to the right place – it wouldn’t have seemed fair to expect non-Latinists to spot it in the grid without that – so I needed two messages to indicate the work and the letter changes required in the grid. Where possible, I like clue devices to have some connection to the theme so the idea of hating/loving superfluous/additional letters came to mind – perhaps a bit of a stretch, but it gave me something to work with. I worked backwards through the clues as I thought the addition of letters LXXXV might be tricky: having two interleaved messages meant I had some discretion on which clues involved those changes.
I hope the result was enjoyable and that some solvers may have discovered the poem for the first time. My thanks to all those who’ve provided feedback and to The Numpties for their hints.
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.