Enigmatic Variations 1484
Herculean Task by Check
Clashing across letters spell CONSTELLATION; clashing down letters spell WITCH, WARDROBE. Stars (Leo sign also accepted) replace the clashes and are joined to show the constellation Leo.
I picked up cryptic puzzles around three years ago in a setting I’d imagine is a fairly common point of origin for a few people interested in the hobby – the pub. I’d buy the paper and immediately donate the puzzle pages to some friends until one day I heard them discussing the parsing of a clue and joined in, bewildered. Fast forward three years, and it’s safe to say I well and truly have the bug. I started setting puzzles for said friends fairly soon after I was capable of doing the ‘back page’ cryptics with mixed results – these puzzles were typically more appropriate for Viz, and may have made Cyclops in Private Eye blush.
Last year, just before the first lockdown came into effect in the UK I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a number of setters and solvers of the thematic cryptic puzzles. The most common question of the event as a new face was “have you tried setting?”, and I’d be wildly remiss if I didn’t mention the sheer amount of encouragement and enthusiasm that came from everyone I met that night, including our EV editor.
When thinking of my first theme, I entertained a lot of highly complex thoughts such as “People like to draw things in the grid, right? What can I do with that?”. The idea for a constellation jumped out one night when sitting outside of the – er – pub again, and from there it was just a case of narrowing down options of what would work in a grid. The shape of Leo seemed perfect, and after a quick inquiry as to whether the ST could accommodate the slightly strange grid shape, I was off.
I liked the idea of keeping everything quite self-contained, and the use of clashes to spell a message seemed perfect – no clue device, no further instructions, just a grid fill and hope. Thus, the resulting nudge had to be quite overt, and WITCH/WARDROBE having the same amount of characters as CONSTELLATION was a blessing. It was originally to be HERACLES/NEMEA due to his fateful encounter which immortalised the Nemean Lion in the night sky, but it was then I received the first of many comments along the lines of “keep it simple, stupid!”. This then remained in spirit as the reference in the puzzle’s title.
Some tidying up and one submission later, I received the feedback that the idea behind the puzzle was sound, but it was a bit rough around the edges and would need some toning down in places. I think in my mind, I’d tried to be too obscure with some things – probably in an effort to impress on my first outing – and ultimately robbed the puzzle of some degree of fun. No point in being ‘clever’ if no-one’s going to enjoy it, right? Some editorial back-and-forth later, and we’d agreed on a much fairer grid and set of clues, and I’d gained an appreciation for making sure the puzzle is fun rather than just hard.
I should say Steve has, in my mind, gone above and beyond what I’d think would be a normal conversation with the editor (including an impromptu refresher course on grammar at one point), and my extensive back-and-forth with him will hopefully cut down on red pen earned by future submissions!
Ultimately, I hope that some of this rambling tale will inspire some of you who use the site and may have thought about setting to give it a go. Within the comment section here, or indeed on some other discussion sites there will undoubtedly be people willing to give you a nudge in the right direction or, when the time comes, test your puzzle and offer feedback. The community around cryptics has been phenomenally welcoming to me, and I certainly wouldn’t be writing any of this without the aforementioned 50 people in one evening asking me if I’d considered setting, and breaking out the continued Father Ted references of “go on, go on…”.
Finally, I’d like to extend my gratitude to Artix as someone who provided a lot of consultation for the puzzle (among other puzzle ideas both good and bad) and has been an immense help to getting my foot on the ladder. Shark provided invaluable feedback in testing; both have been big helps in getting up to speed. Two of my newer friends Chris and Sue I met through another forum and are very quickly becoming a springboard for ideas and testing. Together, they’re a fantastic example of what can happen when you reach out! Finally, my gratitude goes to Steve for publishing what is hopefully the first of many puzzles from myself, and anyone and everyone who willed the EV back into existence after the brief scare last year.
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.