Enigmatic Variations 1489
Dating Agency by Ifor
Unclued entries give discoverers of Carbon-14; fourteenth letters of relevant clues give RAN MAIN BULK MEASUREMENT. In some answers, N (neutron) changes to P (proton) and E (electron) is lost; cell 14 changes from C to N, as per beta emission.
The idea of beta-emission and the associated changes as a theme had long been in my mind; I decided that the inconsistency of Chambers in abbreviating electron and neutron but not proton could be circumvented. Ideally, I suppose, a two-step transformation such as NAN to NAPE to NAP would have been more representative, but too restrictive in availability of words. As it was the choice was limited (we need words containing both N and E, where losing the E and replacing N by P generates a new word), whence the short outcomes.
Reading around the concept moved me towards radiocarbon dating rather than just beta-decay as a theme, and revealed the two names of the same workable length, which I seized on. I took the liberty of calling Rubin Samuel rather than his preferred Sam, especially as the longer version turns up more than once in Wikipedia. It’s common in puzzles of this sort to assist their discovery by “unchecked letters in these entries can spell…”, but a look at the fairly friendly letters suggested that some phrase might be constructed from all of them, and when a search revealed that “measurement” could be made, that seemed to be the way forward. My preferred practice is to spell out where gimmicked clues appear – there’s usually some convenient subgroup of clues to draw on, and here it turned out to be the 5s, 6s and 7s. As to imposing the choice of fourteenth letters on solvers, my thinking was that the (contrived) phrase wasn’t vital to understanding the theme and could in any case be picked out by searching for a rarer letter from the names (like the checked K) in the shorter clues and testing that position against the remainder for plausible letter-sequences. Alternatively, of course, the change at 14ac once Ruben and Kamen had revealed themselves could suggest where the message lurked and so provide it as confirmation. I do like using clue numbering as part of a puzzle’s structure; how convenient that crossword and chemical conventions regarding number-positions coincide, so that 14C reads well in either context.
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.