Enigmatic Variations 1500
The Obvious One by proXimal
With one exception, each down clue has an extra letter provided through wordplay to form the entry; extra letters, in clue order, spell out the first part of the theme (THE OBVIOUS ONE). Solvers must replace the contents of two lines of 11 cells each to show the second part of the theme. Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended; all final entries are real words.
As these round-number milestones are often celebrated in crosswords, I’d decided to do the obvious for EV1500 and follow suit. I checked EV1000 and the more recent Inquisitor 1500 to research what had gone before — the EV editor at the time had written EV1000, so I didn’t feel too bad bagging the slot for myself in likewise fashion — both puzzles used Roman numerals in their thematic design, so I vowed to steer clear of that.
I noted that 1500 spelled-out gives 11 letters for ONE THOUSAND and FIVE HUNDRED alike; this would work very neatly in a standard 13×13 grid, reading in two rows. I like having things for the solver to change in the grid rather than finding them to highlight, although that can depend on the complexity of gimmicks used and consequent constraints on grid-design. I’ve got a few puzzles in pipelines at various outlets which require the solver to enter non-words and then rectify them in the endgame to produce all real words in the grid. None have been published yet, so I decided to trial such an idea in this puzzle and see how it goes down.
So that would be the endgame and I’d want ENIGMATIC VARIATIONS to be produced through a gimmick during the grid-filling stage. With 19 letters and using the space as a non-gimmick entry, I could have this produced through just across or down clues quite easily, so I designed a grid with 20 down entries to accommodate this idea. As two lines of 11 would need to be changed in the grid, most of these entries would have to be non-words able to be changed in the endgame to produce real words.
As the theme would be fairly obvious, I thought using a novel gimmick to produce the non-words would be something that would add to the interest of solvers. Messages are often spelled out through extra letters in wordplay, but usually with the answer without the extra letter being entered; I’d never seen the extra letter forming part of the entry, and so decided that this would be a novel twist to produce the non-words in the grid.
The compiling utility Qxw can handle this idea without a problem — I just needed to specify the gimmick of adding extra letters to entries to form ENIGMATIC VARIATIONS, leaving the gap for a space, and then specify that entries so formed could have letters in the right places replaced by the two lines of ONE THOUSAND and FIVE HUNDRED to make real words. Cue much tinkering and the grid was designed.
I knew that the preamble wouldn’t be too long with such a simple design and not much thematically going on, which was good — I surmised that solvers should be able to work out which lines to replace, as there would only be one way to make the non-words into words using two lines of 11 cells. The main thing to bear in mind when writing the down clues was to ensure the extra letter unambiguously appeared in the right place to be entered in the correct cell for the non-word; this meant that for those clues I was not able to use full anagrams, as the position of the extra letter would be in doubt.
The continental series of EVs ran quite nicely up to EV1499, so I thought I’d have a link in the title of EV1500 to round off the series by using ‘One’ (as the six subsequent EV titles had used) with ‘The Obvious One’ seemingly apposite. Finally, I ran it through a tester who completed the puzzle without a problem and the Numpties spotted a couple of mistakes which I duly rectified, so thanks to them.
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.