Enigmatic Variations 1541
Difference by Ifor
+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +
Pairs of letters comprise single-letter elemental symbols. Differences in atomic numbers (Z, absent from grid) correspond to T, R etc via A = 1, 27…
Single-letter elements are fertile ground for the setter, and a concept I’ve used before (Listener 4506), so the general idea for the puzzle came fairly readily. TRANSMUTATION was the obvious choice for the bottom row, so the first issue was whether all of its letters could be produced by the two-step sequence. A little exploration revealed that in fact the entire alphabet could be so formed, and that by and large repeated pairs of elements could be eliminated. Time, then, to attempt a grid. This was done by constructing dictionaries of suitable words for each clash pair and instructing the gridfill program to draw on these dictionaries for appropriate lights after seeding the grid with the correct letters on a trial-and-error basis. I was determined to use antiquary/k as an example of a pair of long words with wildly different meanings, and a means of including a Q, so that went in manually first. Having contrived a fill, the final step was to refine it to achieve the almost-pangram; as I recall this required partial deletion, the “hiding” of an X and a J in what seemed sensible places, and a bit of finger-crossing while fresh fills were attempted. Once done, the whole thing was then set aside for a day or two prior to checking the arithmetic – obviously any error would require a complete rewrite. All seemed well, so the cluing could be started. I prefer the challenge of gimmicked clues, which from the setter’s perspective these are not (although the defined and derived words are different, the structure is still the standard definition plus wordplay). But it got done; on, then, to the usual sequence of testing, submitting, minor tweaking at the editor’s behest, and proof-checking. And there you have it – I hope it proved to be an interesting challenge.
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.