EV 1494 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1494

Enigmatic Variations 1494

The North American One by Sea-kale

Setters Blog

Paired answers are synonyms for JETS and SHARKS from WEST SIDE STORY; extra letters give SONDHEIM and BERNSTEIN. TONY and MARIA cross the ETHNIC DIVIDE, desiring SOMEWHERE.


Both our fathers enjoyed solving The Daily Telegraph crossword and my husband Peter and I always intended to have a go at cryptic crosswords when we had more time. Eventually we got started, initially relying on the Shorter OED and gradually accumulating the aids – Chambers, Bradford, the Chambers Crossword Dictionary, Chambers Crossword Completer and Bloomsbury Anagram Finder – which enabled us to solve them and learn the crossword language. We began with The Times daily crossword and the FT Saturday crossword, moving on to The Times Jumbo, while eyeing with curiosity the barred thematic Times Listener alongside. At first, we were put off by the seemingly unintelligible preambles, but in 2010 started attempting a few which did not look too daunting. We bought a selection of Listener crosswords published by Chambers in 2008 and arranged in ascending order of difficulty; this was very useful in developing our ability to solve them. Once we had become addicted to the barred crosswords, we needed more. We asked my mum to send us the EV from her Sunday Telegraph and we joined The Crossword Club in 2017.

I decided to have a go at setting puzzles in 2019 and submitted one to The Crossword Club. It was rejected for various reasons: although I was aware that one should avoid double unches [unchecked cells], I was ignorant of numerous other rules, such as the requirement generally to have an average word length of 5.5 or greater and the limitation on the number of unches allowed in words of a given length. I had another go and was thrilled when my puzzle was published in February 2020 – we raised a glass or two of champagne. A second puzzle was published by The Crossword Club in January of this year; this was well received and was spotted by Shirley (Chalicea), who discovered I am female. Fortuitously, she had arranged with Steve (proXimal), the EV editor, to have a Lady Setters’ Month in July and there was a vacant slot which I was invited to fill. Although naturally excited, I was slightly concerned as to whether I could produce a puzzle of the required standard to order. I need not have worried as I have received great support from Shirley, Steve and others.

It had been agreed that the puzzles should be themed around continents to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics and, by the time I came along, only North and South America were still available. I chose the former and had no need to agonise over a title as it was to be called The North American One. It usually takes me a long time to think of a suitable theme, but ‘West Side Story’ came to me quite quickly. I had not realised when I first thought of it that this year is the 60th anniversary of the film version and that Steven Spielberg is due to release a further adaptation in December. As is well known, the original play was inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The Jets (white Americans) and the Sharks (from Puerto Rico) are two rival New York gangs and Tony, formerly of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, whose brother leads the Sharks. As hostility to their relationship mounts, Tony and Maria sing, “There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us. Peace and quiet and open air wait for us somewhere.” All ends tragically, with Tony dying in Maria’s arms.

I decided early on that words hinting at Jets and Sharks should be placed either side of the ‘Ethnic Divide’, with Tony, Maria and Somewhere crossing it, and began with lists of synonyms for (or types of) Jet and Shark to see which I could place in the grid. I tried placing ‘Ethnic Divide’ diagonally in the grid, as it is not a phrase included in Chambers, but could not get that to work. I therefore clued ‘Ethnic’ and ‘Divide’ separately in the central row. Although I now have Crossword Compiler and Qxw software to aid compiling, at the time I simply used the various books we use for solving, together with sites such as Crossword-solver, to fill the grid. I prefer to avoid too much time looking at a screen and enjoy coming across all sorts of irrelevant information in Chambers as I hunt for suitable words. It seemed a good idea to have the hints to Jets and Sharks in paired clues, and I also wanted to include the title and the creators of the work. ‘West Side Story’ has 13 letters and fitted neatly into the central column (to be unclued), which left Sondheim and Bernstein to be dealt with by extra letters in the wordplay (avoiding gimmicks to be used by the setters scheduled for the weeks either side of mine). I had planned to incorporate other aspects of the plot, but the construction proved to be beyond me.

Once the clues were drafted, it was time to have the crossword test solved and a number of clues were changed as a result. The crossword was then sent to Steve who made further improvements. It was noted that the grid appeared to be four mini-grids – something which should normally be avoided – but it was thought that the treatment of the thematic material justified this. A further problem was that two test solvers failed to notice the ‘Ethnic Divide’ and could not understand the positioning of the words hinting at Jets and Sharks. This was addressed by highlighting the words ‘Ethnic’ and ‘Divide’ in the grid to draw attention to them.

I would like to thank most warmly Shirley and Steve for all their help, encouragement and support and my test solvers, Peter, Charles, Ifor and David, for their kind remarks and for the trouble they took in suggesting improvements.


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


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