EV 1502 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1502

Enigmatic Variations 1502

The Name of the Game by Ranunculus

Setters Blog

R

O

U

L

E

T

T

E

Unchecked letters of unused entries would spell ROULETTE; unclued entries can be preceded by either RED or BLACK and are entered in that colour, with entry numbers corresponding to roulette wheel colours.


I did consider opening with ‘Sadly, Ranunculus has chosen to provide a blog for this puzzle’, but I’ll let the reader decide on that. Instead, I will start by applauding the continuing efforts of the Numpties and their excellent hints. Incidentally, I similarly applaud the recent initiatives to encourage female setters, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could also attract more young setters, regardless of gender, to the ranks? When I started playing bridge competitively, I was surprised to find that anyone under the age of 27 qualified as a ‘junior’, but you could probably double that figure when establishing a similar distinction within the current cadre of setters. Advancing age is no barrier to becoming a crossword compiler, but neither is youth, so if you’re still in the first flush please don’t wait (as I did) till you are close to, or in, retirement before having a go at setting.

But I digress – back to EV 1502. I have always struggled to find suitable themes for my crosswords, the more so in recent times, but early in my setting career I tapped into a rich vein by using indoor games as the basis for a series of puzzles. Cluedo, Monopoly, Battleships and even Happy Families were pressed into service, and in 2016 I set an Inquisitor puzzle (Lucky Number) based on roulette. This puzzle single-handedly saved me from what Oscar Wilde considered the worst thing in life, because it was most certainly talked about (on fifteensquared at least), and not in complimentary terms. Suitably chastened, I resolved that after a period of dignified teeth-gnashing I would revisit the theme, and earlier this year I did just that.

I decided at the outset that this time around I would use the colours of the slots on a roulette wheel as the key to the theme, drawing on words which appeared in Chambers as part of a two-word phrase starting with either ‘red’ or ‘black’ (but not both, so eg ‘flag’ was ruled out). I felt that providing clues directly to the thematically-linked words would be rather dull, hence the idea of offering two options, with the rejected words also having some significance to the endgame. I’m no fan of pure DLM (definition/letter mixture) clues, but having not seen DLMs worked into conventional clues before I thought I’d give that a go. I had always intended that there would be 36 entries (with unique numbers, 1-36, as on the roulette wheel), and I quickly settled on 28 clues, allowing me 7 DLM-indicated pairs plus the truly unclued RUSSIAN.

Filling the grid was quite tricky. I wanted the normally-clued entries for the most part to be common words, both to assist solvers and to allow me as much flexibility as possible in the clueing. The seven ‘either/or’ slots had to contain exactly eight unchecked letters between them and there had to be alternatives for each thematic word which would provide the letters ROULETTE in the correct order. All 14 DLM solutions had to be adequately definable using a single word, while the 7 thematic ones needed to be in a slot of the ‘right’ colour. I would ideally have preferred that none of the unclued entries crossed in the grid, but in the end I settled for the red pair HATS and ANTS intersecting.

I’d already determined that in fairness to solvers the letter mixtures would start or end at a word boundary and would always span at least two words. Before I started writing the clues, I went through the fourteen words requiring DLMs and matched each one with what seemed to be the most promising pair of clued words – so HATS led me to PANAMA, which could be indicated by ‘item of headgear‘, but sadly there weren’t many as obliging as that! I tried to make the clues relatively straightforward, as the unclued entries meant less checked letters than usual and I didn’t want solvers to fall at the initial grid-filling hurdle. Ten of the DLM definitions came directly from Chambers while the others (drink/draught, headgear/hats, provoke/rouse, and silly/inane) seemed fairly solid.

The fact that Steve managed to solve the puzzle as submitted was good news, particularly since the preamble at that point was about as unhelpful as it could be! It was duly tweaked, as were a couple of clues which provided potentially distracting letter mixtures, and the puzzle was ready to go. Well, nearly ready – I was keen (some might say obsessively compelled) to improve on the clue for HYGIENE, but I struggled to do so. There wasn’t anything really wrong with the clue as it stood, but it was like a paintbrush hair on a freshly-painted skirting board – the defect is invisible unless you’re lying on the floor with your head six inches from it, but you know it’s there. To my relief, in the week before publication I finally came up with a clue with which both Steve and I were happy.

I hoped that presenting the clues as 1-36 would provide a mild hint, and I know that this and the GAME in the title enabled one or two solvers to guess the theme. As I was writing this blog I did wonder whether the clues could have been presented in the order that their numbers appear on a roulette wheel. Surely too weird? Or could I have started numbering the entries from 0 and had a ‘green’ solution top left? Hard to achieve, and too clever by half.

Anyway, the roulette theme can now be consigned to history. My thanks to everyone who tackled the puzzle, and particularly to those who have commented on it. I hope that solvers who found the puzzle tough still enjoyed the challenge and, most importantly, didn’t feel that the endgame required any unreasonable mental leaps. And it could have been worse: it could have been Inquisitor 1466…

Ranunculus, September 2021


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


6 comments on “EV 1502
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  1. Thanks for the setter’s blog, Ranunculus – that was an interesting read. And I fully recognise the setter who only really gets started after retirement!

  2. Oh, my! I didn’t recognize the significance of the clue numbers until now! That would have made the choice between BLACK HOUSE and GREENHOUSE for 2D quite a bit more straightforward (thankfully, I chose black in the end). I already thought this was a construction marvel, but now even more so.

    Earlier on in the solving process, I thought the game might be draughts (because of 6D), and the unclued entries would have to represent either a red draught or a white draught. It’s interesting how many of the “black” words can also be found in Chambers as “white” words. Imagine having to write the thematic entries in white ink! I’m glad the actual name of the game emerged before I tried doing anything so drastic.

    Thanks, Ranunculus, for the blog and for the puzzle. I had a great time unraveling this one.

  3. Many thanks Ranunculus for providing a setter’s blog, I always enjoy reading about the thinking behind the construction of an EV.
    For me unravelling the DLMs was the most challenging part of this ingenious puzzle. I didn’t help myself by making an error with the first pair (35&36) that I solved where the answer ‘jumped out’ at me as being:-

    35. TUNS Are bursting with English wine TUNSA = AUNTS
    36. Doubt that man’s upset to take RELATIONS in.

    I’m curious to know if this was a deliberate red herring or just one of those coincidences that occasionally appear in crosswords. Either way it was a brilliantly constructed puzzle which was a pleasure to solve.

    1. Thanks, Denise. I’m glad you enjoyed the puzzle.

      Before publication I did go through all the clues to make sure that there weren’t any letter mixtures that would provide vaguely plausible alternatives for the either/or slots, but only once all the normal solutions were in place (eg a MOUSE competing for the HOUSE/ROUSE slot would have needed to be dealt with), so I didn’t look for other potentially valid DLMs – the one for AUNTS is very good, and completely accidental :smile:

      Incidentally, the blogger on 15^2 took ‘crust’ in 4d (‘See crust on lasagna in marketplace, reflecting excellent Mediterranean food’) rather than ‘food’ to be the definition of ‘bread’ – I wouldn’t have been happy with this as the definition, but thankfully it was irrelevant in terms of the resulting word.

  4. Thank you for two interesting reads (I was prompted to look at the 15^2 review of your earlier puzzle as well) and for refuting a contention of mine. I’ve always maintained that setters are the only creative artists not permitted to return to their themes (no-one ever said “not more b****y water-lilies, Claude” or its equivalent) and you’ve triumphantly proved me wrong.

    1. I couldn’t bring myself to re-read the comments on that Inquisitor puzzle, but somehow it managed to achieve a wholly undeserved 7th place in the poll for ‘favourite puzzle of the year’, so I guess Oscar had a point.

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