Thirtieth Anniversary by proXimal
Central squares in the upper/lower halves of the grid spell ANNUS HORRIBILIS and PLATINUM JUBILEE, referring to 1992 when the EV started and 2022, the current year.
As the puzzle states, the first EV puzzle was published on 18th October 1992. My first recollection of solving an EV puzzle was two years later in 1994 ̶ I still have a copy of ‘Categories II by Dives’ where I have filled in some entries, but I have not yet completed it. Fast-forward 28 years and it was now a few months before the 30th anniversary of the EV that my thoughts turned to creating a celebratory puzzle.
I’d had good feedback from an EV I’d compiled earlier in the year based on The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (EV1536 Gallimaufry), which was the first puzzle of mine using an eightsome-reels format, so I’d always hoped to come up with another twist on the format. I surmised that the hubs of the reels could be filled in groups of three in the shape of a figure three with a column of five checked cells to the right and that would meet the Ximenean-checking requirements (max 3 unchecked cells in eight-letter entries) and, for elegance, would mean those entries are the same length as the reel entries. The usual eightsome-reel entries could be called ‘Zeroes’ (if a bit blocky) with a bit of setter’s licence and that seemed a very nice basis for a celebratory puzzle using the theme 3,0 and 30.
I decided to use an 11×13 grid, which would mean there would be a thematic 30 numbered hub cells to populate. The next step was to look for something thematic to use in those cells. After some research, I found that ANNUS HORRIBILIS was a name given by the Queen to 1992 and fortunately enough PLATINUM JUBILEE taking place in 2022 had the same count of fifteen letters, meaning the answers to ‘Threes’ in the top half could populate the upper hubs and likewise with the bottom half.
I then set to work using Qxw to create a workable grid. The only real constraints were the populated hub cells, but they had to interact with cells in the eightsome-reel entries and it proved too difficult to create a grid using any logical pattern for the ‘Threes’ other than jumbling. I thought this would still be OK, as solvers would find three letters per column in both halves but just not know which order they were in; I was pretty sure that using some logic in working out likely combinations wouldn’t hold solvers up for too long and it might make a nice diversion as an endgame. Also, finding out either the upper or lower fifteen-letter thematic message would give a clue to the sort of thing that the other one might reveal.
As the corner cells in such grids have consecutive unchecked cells, it is usual to provide the letters in the preamble. I always prefer such letters to be provided in a thematic message and looked for something that might be appropriate for these twelve cells. I recall considering ANNIVERSARY and CELEBRATION, but frustratingly finding them both to be one letter short of the twelve needed. As usual, perseverance paid off and I realised that using the pseudonyms of the previous two editors RUSTIC and SAMUEL gave me the required number, while also giving a nod to their tenures (both longer than mine!).
I was able to incorporate the letters in the corners without constraining the concept and even managed to fit a self-indulgent STEVE onto one line as a hidden extra, as I had done with my previous eightsome-reel puzzle. It was only after painstakingly filling the grid that I realised some of those twelve corner cells which would normally be unchecked were actually checked by some of the ‘Threes’. Still, I thought it would just be a bit of extra help for the solver and I would just not refer to the cells as ‘unchecked’ in the preamble.
The clue-writing was pretty standard, as normal clues with all the gimmickry happening in the grid. As usual, I’d tried to minimise the number of obscure entries in the grid and used wordplay elements in clues which should mostly be known to solvers without requiring much dictionary work. I decided to be particularly generous to the clues for the ‘Threes’ as solvers only had five letters out of sequence as checkers for those answers. Hopefully solvers found it balanced, interesting and fun; I was certainly happy with the way the thematic parts came together.
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.