Scratching the Surface by Cranberry
Extra letters give REFERENCE MINERALS FOR MOHS HARDNESS SCALE; the standard ten reference minerals are provided by modified answers.
I love learning things from the various themes in crosswords; science is perhaps a little under-represented so I wanted to create something with a scientific flavour. The Mohs scale provides good source material and offers an opportunity to produce “A HARD PUZZLE” (as it was originally styled).
Although it wouldn’t be possible to have all the ten thematic solutions symmetrically placed, it was straightforward enough to build a grid where they were reasonably evenly distributed, including having five each in the Across and Down lights.
The device of jumbling the thematic solutions together with some extra letters (originally, this was up to four) meant that providing enumerations for entries, rather than solutions, seemed unfair on solvers. For example, the original answer TRADE SCHOOL would be more fairly enumerated as (11, 2 words) than as (10) for the modified ORTHOCLASE. So, I decided to use a carte blanche – otherwise the ten solutions to be altered would be too obvious. However, a complete carte blanche would likely be too difficult to get started on, so the bars touching the perimeter were included to help solvers get a foothold – and led to the new title, SCRATCHING THE SURFACE.
Following revisions, the ‘problem’ of fair enumeration was eliminated as none of the answers to be modified had two words – it would have been possible to present the puzzle as a regular barred grid, with enumerations referring to grid entries rather than solutions. However, I liked the extra challenge created by a (nearly) carte blanche and hoped solvers may enjoy this slightly unusual presentation too. Plus, it still felt fairer to give enumerations for solutions – and just those extra few bars provide a surprisingly large amount of information to help get started. Even though it’s undoubtedly A HARD PUZZLE, as originally envisaged, I do hope that it provided a satisfying challenge.
Many thanks to the editor and his team for all their work and helpful advice – and to all at Big Dave’s too, where I first started out setting in Rookie Corner, a fabulous opportunity for new setters. @CranberryFez
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.