EV 1533 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1533

Enigmatic Variations 1533

Nothing by Hedge-sparrow

Setter’s Blog

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Due to ARITHMOPHOBIA, all numbers are absent from the puzzle, hence numbers 1 to 12 are omitted from answers before entry.


The idea for this puzzle first emerged when I was considering a different potential puzzle theme. That other idea still has not resulted in a puzzle, but the ARITHMOPHOBIA idea took off quite quickly. Rather unusually, my initial concept for the puzzle turned out to be pretty much what the puzzle eventually ended up as. The theme suggested a puzzle where numbers were entirely absent – for example, clue numbers, length indicators, use of numbers as part of wordplay in clues, numbers as entries, and so on. Although the idea itself is a simple one, it turned out to be harder than expected to eradicate every occurrence of numbers in the puzzle.

The case of avoiding numbers as entries led on to the idea of having some answers which deliberately included numbers as part of their construction (e.g. neTWOrk), and having solvers remove these number elements to leave (if possible) real words as the final entries in these cases. Somewhat arbitrarily I decided to experiment with the numbers ONE to TWELVE as the elements to be removed from twelve answers before entry.

Some of the spelt-out numbers between one and twelve lend themselves well to being “internal” parts of other words, whilst leaving real-word remnants when they are removed – examples I ended up using included cannONEer, neTWOrk, wEIGHTily, boNINEss, etc. Others were less helpful, however, so I ended up using some rather obvious words and phrases in some cases, such as FIVE star and ELEVEN-plus: I hoped this wouldn’t make the entry method for these thematic clues too obvious too quickly.

My favourite size of grid is 12×12 (or 11×14 for a rectangular grid), but here I went for 13×13 to accommodate ARITHMOPHOBIA in one of the main diagonals: this also made accommodating twelve thematic entries a bit simpler. I had some leeway with the choice of thematic entries, so constructing a grid wasn’t too onerous in this case. The first filled grid I came up with had the thematic entries scattered randomly around, but I then decided it would be more elegant to have these entries symmetrically placed. This made grid construction a little more challenging, but I eventually managed to create a suitable grid. Ideally, I hoped to avoid having any spelt-out numbers appearing as adjacent sets of cells in the completed grid. I scanned my completed grid several times for examples of these, and made alterations to remove any I found. I hope I found and removed them all!

Writing the clues presented a different sort of challenge. It’s amazing how often cardinal numbers (especially ONE and TWO), ordinals (especially FIRST and SECOND), and particular numbers such as fifty, hundred, thousand and million (to represent L, C, K, M, etc.) are used in wordplay of clues! I wrote a set of clues, checked through them, and found several instances where I’d inadvertently broken my “no numbers” rule, corrected them, and again hoped I’d not missed any!

My original submission of the puzzle to the Enigmatic Variations (EV) editor Steve Bartlett had the grid as a complete carte blanche (i.e. no bars). On reviewing the puzzle, Steve suggested that bars could be inserted in the grid without being detrimental towards the primary “no numbers” theme, and I think he was quite right: the change didn’t interfere with the main thematic aspect, and it made the puzzle more accessible. Steve also kindly suggested ways we could deal with other “number problems”, such as how to indicate to solvers that an answer / entry had two words without using the word “two”, or how to indicate how many entries were “non-Chambers” words. He was even kind enough to offer to avoid using the “2016” publishing date of the recommended Chambers dictionary in the preamble. In the end, I think (and hope!) the only number left was the EV series No. 1533!

So that was about it. As always, I had some very kind comments from solvers, so thank you for those – always very much appreciated (setters are only human, after all! )! I was particularly pleased that one kind solver “Denise” mentioned that she’d enjoyed the title of the puzzle – NOTHING. This was intended to suggest “Number (No.) Thing” – i.e. Number Phobia, but I wasn’t sure if anyone would see it, so I was glad that at least one person (and probably more) did. The thematic entry that caused the most problems seems to have been “TWELVE-NOTE”, according to Chambers an alternative to “TWELVE-TONE” to describe the atonal music of Schoenberg and others. As a lover of the music of the likes of Vaughan-Williams, Elgar and Finzi, who all largely rejected atonalism, I’ve always been amused by Vaughan-Williams description of the music of the aficionados of atonalism as “twelve-tone row” (where “row” rhymes with “cow” ” in this case, rather than “know”), so my clue was a self-indulgent nod in the direction of RVW and co. Apologies to all Schoenberg fans I’ve offended!

As always, many thanks particularly to Steve and to Chris as EV editors, and to all those solvers who have enjoyed Nothing and have taken the trouble to write or send me kind comments about it – it really is very much appreciated.


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