EV 1485 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1485

Enigmatic Variations 1485

Elementary by Opsimath

Setter’s Blog

Superfluous letters from wordplay give IF THIS IS A MAN and THE PERIODIC TABLE; the original title of the latter IL SISTEMA PERIODICO and the author PRIMO LEVI are to be highlighted.


One of the clearest memories of I have of my early education was when our regular Science teacher was away and the Head of Department stood in for one lesson. A refugee from pre-war Nazi Germany, he decided that 11-year-olds needed to know about the Periodic Table. In my case he was right! In 30 minutes he explained how the Inert Gases were content with the number of electrons in their outer shells, while elements on either side were keen to share one. Thus, Sodium and Chlorine, both highly reactive, would instantly combine to make the seriously stable NaCl = common salt.

Intensely lethargic myself, I soon decided that Chemistry would be the easiest route to a University Degree, and so it proved.

Some twenty years later I wandered past a bookshop in Soho and for some reason a book caught my eye. Not Primo Levi’s “Periodic Table” but a partly fictional story of his war-time activities with partisans and anti-fascists. Soon I moved on to his other works and realised how he managed to do what the Nazis had tried to eradicate. With his own experience of Auschwitz, Levi managed to bring back to life some of the individuals that the Nazis had reduced to sub-human level, and therefore unworthy of any respect. Where the Germans had tattooed them with numbers, he gave them back their names, and occupations, and character – their “voice” as it were.

So these two interests came together for me, along with the coincidence that I’d been living in Italy myself at the time of that life-changing science lesson, so I reckon to speak Italian quite well.

Another twenty years on, I’d discovered Listener crosswords and eventually had a go at setting some puzzles myself. My old teacher and crossword mentor, RADIX, had told me he’d set a puzzle based on Primo Levi’s book The Periodic Table which he offered to the Listener. It turned out to be too convoluted for them to accept, and I wish I still had his original draft.

Finally, it occurred to me that LA SISTEMA PERIODICA could provide a symmetrical grid-fill, with PRIMO LEVI on a diagonal. I quite soon completed a satisfactory grid and – very luckily – sent it off to You-Know-Who for a check, confident in my work.

Well, Shirley immediately saved me a great deal of embarrassment by pointing out I’d got my genders wrong!

I consulted with my older sister: was “Il Sistema” right? Now, my dear “abla” is a wonderful Grandmother, a decent Cook, and a fine Jobbing Gardener but I did not expect this academic reply: “Oh, Italian words such as SISTEMA, DIAGRAMMA, and PROBLEMA were of Greek origin, so they retained their masculine gender.”

Well, blow me down with a feather! Has she missed out on a prominent career in Academia? Or has she done more for Humanity by providing us with 14 adorable grandchildren?

Thankfully, I was very quickly able to put things right. “IL” and “PERIODICO” fitted in just as easily, and I sent off the result to The Telegraph.

So, many thanks to Chalicea and my sister and of course the EV Editor for his patience in improving many of my clues.


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


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