EV 1493 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1493

Enigmatic Variations 1493

Cell by Oxymoron

Omitted letters give GUY, JOHN, DONALD, ANTHONY, KIM making the CAMBRIDGE SPY RING (changing letters to M and P in the fifth column); their surnames are highlighted.


[Comment from Steve Bartlett (proXimal), EV Editor]

This was the final EV puzzle by John Harrington (Oxymoron in the EV, Schadenfreude elsewhere), who died in 2019; John had 72 EV puzzles published, with his first being EV306: Gazza in 1998. I believe he has had more puzzles published in the EV series than any other setter, although Kruger is on 71 and likely to match that contribution before the year is out (I am sure someone will correct me if this is wrong!).

This puzzle was written for CAM (Cambridge Alumni Magazine) for which John contributed regular barred puzzles, hence the theme. The puzzle had been in the custody of his tester, who could raise no interest from the magazine to use the puzzle following John’s death. I heard about this and contacted the tester to offer to run it in the EV series, as I thought it a shame for the puzzle to remain unpublished.

I have only edited posthumous Oxymoron puzzles and have kept intervention to a minimum, as it would be usual to agree changes with the setter. There were only a few changes from the original with this one — the incorporation of the title in the preamble (in line with EV style), some changing of repeated indicators and a clue change based on feedback from the tester, which I also agreed with. I guess John didn’t give more information than the first names, as the Cambridge connection would be understood; I was quite happy that solvers could still easily locate the required names without knowing it had a Cambridge connection.

I had a comment from one solver that it was a nice feature that the names were leaning to the left, this probably being thematically intended; I also take the changes to characters in the fifth column being thematically intended with reference to fifth columnists.

I have always enjoyed John’s puzzles; I would class them as solid fair puzzles with compact sound clues, and they had a thematic consistency which never required a leap of faith from the solver. To be so prolific in so many series with consistently good puzzles over decades is a remarkable achievement. This was the EV farewell puzzle from a great contributor to the series and it is a shame that we won’t see any more. Thanks for the puzzles, RIP Oxymoron.


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


4 comments on “EV 1493
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  1. Thanks, Steve for the setter’s notes..

    I guess every solver has a bête noire and Schadenfreude/Oxymoron was mine.

    I really struggled to get inside his clue writing head, yet when the solution was published, I often realised that the answer and theme was staring me in the face (reminds me of another John H!).

    When the solution was published I invariably realised that if I spent just a little more time thinking through things I would have cracked it. If he had set Toughie puzzles, I am sure they would have always occupied the Friday slot.

    Eventually, I started to get there, and there was a beautiful sense of satisfaction when you finished one of his works. With this puzzle, the penny drop moment was so satisfying.

    Definitely one of the Crossword all-time greats. Farewell, Cornish Tormentor!

  2. Thanks to Steve for the notes. I hadn’t noticed the significance of the 5th column until you pointed it out. A clever finish to an enjoyable puzzle.

  3. As the tester of all John’s puzzles destined for CAM I have to thank Steve for offering to run this last puzzle in the EV as a reminder of John’s talent as a setter. I remember when John asked me to test his very first attempt at setting a cryptic puzzle over twenty years ago and straight away it displayed all his trademark qualities of concision and precision in clueing, beautiful grid construction and extreme difficulty but absolute fairness in the battle between setter and solver.

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