EV 1515 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1515

Enigmatic Variations 1515

Disguise by Jaques

Setter’s Blog

Corrections to misprints give READ TITLE CORRECTLY, indicating the title should be read as D is G, U is E. Hence, all Ds in answers are entered as Gs and all Us as Es.


Is there a title where, with an attack of literalism, there’s a hidden instruction to make some grid alterations? It would have to state, with a degree of deception, that one thing equates to another thing. A word or phrase would need to be found of the form XequalsY.

Using “equals” as the joiner is probably asking too much and would be far too obvious for the solver. Allowing the solver to stumble across a puzzle’s theme before starting on the clues is amongst the more irritating of setting failures. Maybe “is” or “as” to show equivalence could work.

Replacements in the grid would be better at equal length so as to maintain intrigue and the solver’s interest and, if the entries were to be real words, it had better be a short replacement. Somehow using a title like GIST where G & T are interchangeable or PAST for P & T felt too dull and repetitive, so perhaps two different replacements could be used. The title would be WisXYisZ or WasXYasZ, or the like.

There are many ways the modern setter can cheat, compared with the titans of the pre-electronic age, I asked a Scrabble program what it knew that fitted the shape ?IS??IS?. About four words popped up as candidates, but seeing as the first of these was DISGUISE the search was called off immediately, there couldn’t be a better example.

The nature of the equivalence was also interesting if D is G should Ds in the answers be entered as Gs or vice versa? The feeling is if the equivalence word had been “as” then D would need to be represented as G, whereas using “is” allowed for a slightly more commutative approach. In the end the question was a little moot as there seemed no chance of eliminating Es from the grid to replace them with Us, no D would go for G and U for E and the ambiguity of “is” in DISGUISE would make this acceptable.

I started by finding as many words as possible, preferably with multiple changes where both clue answer and entry were words and designed the grid around those. As the grid had no great strains on it, it was worth making a classic 12×12 grid with 36 clues and Ximenean checking and that was done after the first half dozen or so entries were selected and placed. Then the remainder of the grid was filled, while hunting for as many changed answers as possible. When it became clear that there could be approximately 18 thematic answers, that became a target to aim for. This gave a degree of harmony to the puzzle, half thematic and half message. It’s always good to present serendipity as thoughtful forward planning.

My normal approach when placing messages in clue adaptations is to start with the message, making it as clear as possible, then design the remainder of the puzzle around that. It’s the message dictating terms to the clues or even to grid size, not vice versa. But for once only a gentle hint was required, no “solvers must” instruction, so almost any number of clues could have been adopted. 18 available clues easily absorbed an 18 letter message that suggested re-reading the title might be helpful. Misprints were an obvious device to be approximately in keeping with the switch-this-for-that nature of the theme.

Cluing was then tackled misprints first, just on the off-chance that the normal circumlocution of such clues would be a stretch too far. Minor adjustments in the message or alterations to the entries could then have been adopted without more backtracking than was strictly necessary. But, for once, I need not have worried as the clues were produced absolutely in order, first working straight through the misprints and following suit with the remainder.

I guess at its heart the puzzle is designed to have a PDM, when the solver suddenly realises the nature of disguise in the title. It would be interesting to see what percentage of solvers arrive at this moment unawares.


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


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