Round these components, we solely sometimes point out the weekend puzzles with out black squares; once we do, I often advise that curious solvers shouldn’t be terror-stricken.
I’d be mendacity, although, if I stated that they didn’t generally throw up an absolute bear. With the Listener, as soon as each decade or so, a puzzle seems that’s so baffling and misleading that solvers get in contact with one another, tersely avoiding spoilers. “4677. Bought wherever?” “Ten days in and simply the perimeter.” “Keep it up, I promise.”
The explanation I try each Listener is that the primary I tackled was one among these. Titled Writer, and devised by the terrifying Sabre, it took me and a buddy numerous merrily baffled hours. It was our first encounter with a puzzle the place an throughout clue may conflict with a down; we couldn’t have guessed that resolving the clashes would contain studying the Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Concern, studying from it a “e-book code”, and later making use of that fictional code to a real-life e-book (Holmes once more, in The Ultimate Downside) to obtain additional directions.
Ever since, I’ve been searching for the identical thrill of repeated penny-drop hits clearing a fog of debilitating bewilderment. The answer has simply been revealed – and that, my pals, can be a spoiler warning – for a Listener puzzle that has had us solvers recalling beloved bears previous, like Mash’s audacious Carte Blanche With a Twist, the place we needed to think about the grid was not a flat floor however a clear “bottle” in a kind that seems to be mathematically inconceivable.
This one was concocted by a well-known face in these pages, Enigmatist, and when my researches advised me it was his first Listener since March 1993, I suspected one thing was up. It was. One other trace was the unhelpful grid, reproduced in full right here. The rubric kindly knowledgeable me that in most clues the wordplay would differ from the entry, generally enormously.
So as soon as I had labored out what could be a definition, I knew that the wordplay may not affirm it, I couldn’t ensure what number of cells it could occupy and didn’t know the place to place it. That most likely sounds preposterous; it was.
I ended up working from multiple piece of paper. Listed here are a few of them.
As I solved late into successive nights (others have advised me they merely uncared for their day jobs for days), working off instinct and fumes, I might think about that I would quickly transfer in direction of the endgame(s); the rubric had advised me I’d ultimately be erasing a lot of the grid and including “a hoop”.
Enigmatist’s numerous pseudonyms make reference to Elgar. Would possibly music one way or the other be concerned, I questioned. It was, however not Wagner or Elgar. Names, not clued, began to recommend themselves within the columns:
However it couldn’t be.
Or might it? Thank God I had on within the background a documentary celebrating the twenty fifth anniversary of the Spice Women’ debut album to provide me confidence. And so it proved. We had been working to duplicate its sleeve:
Two and a half weeks after beginning, I hurled my entry within the postbox an hour earlier than the final assortment. I requested Enigmatist how he feels in regards to the drain on the productiveness of a subset of the nation. “As a solver,” he replies, “I really feel that if the penny drop is in proportion to the time invested within the fixing of a puzzle, then it’s price it.” It was. The audacity of demanding such an effort for a shocking payoff put me in thoughts of my days on the quizshow Solely Join, once I tried to make it possible for the ultimate episode, whereas cerebrally exhausting, required contestants to know the Carry On movies, say, or Frozen.
Is there a pleasure, I questioned, in combining an exacting exercise with material regarded by some as trivial? “Certainly,” he says. “It’s one of many thrills of modifying Inquisitor,” the barred puzzle that seems within the i newspaper on the weekend, the subsequent being one among Enigmatist’s personal, as Nimrod.
I had different queries. I’ve observed that near-impossible puzzles are inclined to have extra approachable outings both aspect of them; this, Enigmatist says, is deliberate: “That means, a minimum of on one weekend out of two, lawns get mown, canines get walked and households get spent a while with.” And far of that time-drain is right down to a solver not being positive what she or he is being requested to do. I had observed the potential EMMA fairly early, however leaped on the chance that it’d relate to the army slang “toc emma” and disappeared down a rabbit gap of archaic telecommunications codes for a spell.
This, Enigmatist assures me, was an inevitable artefact of all the anomaly, and never deliberate: “I needed to keep away from pointless trap-setting. Gawd, the puzzle was onerous sufficient.” That stated, the take a look at model didn’t even supply the generally useful letter counts, and the rubric was “significantly shorter”. I’m glad I by no means noticed that.
The expression different solvers have given me most frequently for the endgame is “jaw-dropping”. Even after seeing that the “_”s within the names above had been to be accomplished with outsize renditions of S, P, I, C and E, there was one other course of, on the finish of which I might see that these giant letters might in flip get replaced with synonyms for “scary”, “sporty” and the others, leaving actual phrases. “I have to confess to a bit of disappointment (spot the litotes),” our setter tells us, “that the letters of SPICE prevented the definitions and the descriptions within the downs from showing in sleeve order, however hey.”
However nothing, I say. No less than his title was spelt appropriately. In the 1993 puzzle, he ended up because the misprinted Engimatist. See you in 2049.
The Delivery Forecast Puzzle Ebook by Alan Connor, which is partly however not predominantly cryptic, will be ordered from the Guardian Bookshop.