Saturday, 23 October 2010

Incompatible - Setters' Blog and Solvers' Comments

It is strange how ideas are born. In the case of Incompatible it was as the result of a loss of communication in an IM chat between Logogriph and Eclipse when each lost sight of the other due to some minor electronic glitch. Once the momentary lapse was restored the talk turned to disappearing acts, invisible ink, the Magic Circle and illusionists. Inevitably the subject of crossword themes came up with mention of past puzzles and their unusual submission requirements. Soon the discussion began to weigh up the possibilities of a new twist on the subject for a potential puzzle and although the topic in hand began to dwindle away at this point it was not forgotten by Logogriph.

By the end of November he had constructed not one but two inter-related grids along with a list of extraneous words to be slotted in to the still unwritten clues. The concept of getting to a 'hole' could not be delivered too quickly to the solver, as that would almost certainly allow them to remove the intervening stages - so it was always going to be necessary to have some part-solve grid either by code or substitution.  The other feature to be incorporated, (which was somewhat dampened down in the editing process) was the INCOMPATIBLE feature, namely that initially, the unclued lights had NOTHING in common.  This in turn hinted to solvers to a circular message in the grid which encompassed the 4 isolated squares.  Filling in two identical grids with different words and different constraints is tricky to say the least, but it can be done - it was always going to be marginally easier to use the unclued lights a second time for the final message, than the try for a second circular phrase as well - while that leaves the isolated squares unfilled second time around, it seemed appropriate that even at this stage, they were little 'nothings'.  We wondered about some of the words that had to be used - is there really a plural for SMORGASBORD, as well as the provision of the letters of the unclued lights second time around, but having settled upon the second grid, it was over to Eclipse for the somewhat tougher challenge of realising Logogriph's theory (comparison with James Patterson's current "book-writing" methods are probably fair at this juncture!).  Cue Eclipse.

Using the time-honoured  technique of stop-start Eclipse proceeded to take over a month to come up with the list of clues. Part of the problem was trying to juggle two lists of words - one, the normal list of words to be clued and the other the list of words each of which would become incorporated into the body of a clue as an extraneous word to be identified and removed by the solver in stage one. In this task it became difficult to keep track of which words had been earmarked for which clue; or more specifically which words hadn't! The solution was to move both sets of words onto a single page each aligned to an outer edge leaving acres of blank lined space in between for writing the actual clues. As the extraneous words were used up they would be crossed out with the stroke of a pencil. A change of heart would see them reinstated with the judicious use of an eraser. Simple!

With the clues finally written there came a short spell of editorial amendments and we were ready to submit the finished article for publication. With the final requirement of the solver being so unusual - i.e. submit a hole in the paper and nothing else! - it was felt that this would appeal to the Magpie's sense of the unusual if not the downright whacky, so off it went for their perusal.

The original 2nd message ended THIS HOLE AS YOUR ENTRY, which became MAIL HOLE AS YOUR ENTRY through the Magpie editing process - MAIL being the only real word that could still produce a valid grid with all the other prevailing alternatives. And with that we had an acceptance - in the truest sense of the phrase, "nothing ventured, nothing gained!"

Hope you enjoyed it - and judging by the comments below, many of you did!

Those who managed to go the 'hole' hog commented through the Magpie as follows:-

  • Loved this puzzle, shades of Dimitry's New Year Resolution; I've been hoping to see a similar jigsaw resolution ever since and here it was. Entertaining but not too difficult - agree with C.
  • Very good indeed, this, if only for its novelty, and could almost have been the Magpie puzzle. No chance of guessing the result here without following all the steps: a good mystery tour from start to finish. In 27a 'Jonathan' seems to mean 'American', but the justification's lost on me.
  • An excellent idea, although I wonder if the extra words might have been chosen and ordered more carefully to introduce some red herrings, perhaps in their initial letters. I thought the clues were probably only 'B'-grade and were a little disappointing, although the constraints of the specific extra words must have made them hard to write. The final submission was very satisfying.
  • It's always nice to have a puzzle with a solution is easily checked on the entry form, even if I was a little miffed that I couldn't actually produce a hole in my electronic entry.
  • I enjoyed this one. The extra words, viewed as a whole, seem very eccentric until the first instruction is revealed, generating a whole new puzzle. Buy one get one free! But I was a little nervous about my solution. I couldn't find anything to go in the blank squares in the second grid, and I know all too well that loose ends like this can mean I haven't understood something crucial.
  • I love this type of crossword - the one whose hidden message asks you to do something different.
    But the extra twist in this case - to cut out the entire grid - was genius ! My girlfriend cannot understand why I'll spend days on a crossword and then be happy when the end result requires me to post in a hole in a piece of paper !!!
  • Nice grade C with some clever clues and well-disguised redundant words, especially when one considers that the setter had to use the actual entries for the second grid and not just words with suitable initials, for example. 
  • There’s an uncomfortable feeling of having been a complete twit when one sends in a blank grid as instructed. Surely they can’t mean it? How will they know I’ve got it all right?
    But to fill a grid in, erase it all and fill it in again differently and then cut it out and throw it away takes a real effort of will.
  • Brilliant!
  • I suppose a puzzle cannot be truly minimalist if the solver has to do some work before submission. Eclogue must though have now established an unbreakable record for marking time.
  • I'm looking forward to kicking myself when I see what Yogi's Car was up to. Enjoyed up till then. Thanks Eclogue
  • I became rather frustrated, and even irritated, by Incompatible by Eclogue. I completely failed to get my head around all the ‘incompatible’ stuff. Right at the beginning I could not see how the seven unclued entries could be described as being incompatible. The preamble didn’t state that they were incompatible with anything else so they must be incompatible as a set. However, all seven words have similar meanings so, in terms of meanings are consistent/compatible and I could not identify any other obvious characteristic by which they could be described as incompatible as a set. I did complete the puzzle, with a refilled grid, but I had no confidence in what was required to be submitted. Perhaps my ageing brain is incompatibe with Magpies – I’ll give it another month and see! 
  • An example of what I at least regard as the perfect crossword: challenging clues, penny-drops, further work, but all the time being led through the maze by comprehensible means, rather than the ususal Magpie Great Leap Forward or Guess-what-I'm-thinking. How will the e-mailers send a hole? Should be easy to check. 
  • Got the message - refilled the grid then lost it. Hope I remembered the instruction correctly...
    Just redid it - a bit ambiguous?
  • Well it saves checking the entries on the submission page!
  • Hmm. This sort of endgame produces a serious bout of nervousness, as I try to convince myself that I really do need to follow the instructions literally. It worked with the lone S in Pointer's Hiding-Places, so it had better work here!
  • Loved it! Step by little step, all became clear.
  • Bags of originality and inventiveness here, going one better than the previous variations on "submit a blank grid" that I've seen. Lovely idea to use superfluous words to generate an alternative grid and great to see a new way of coding an instruction. My only minor issue was with the choice of title and preamble wording - I was left with a vague feeling that there must be a nuance of "incompatible" that doesn't seem covered by the Chambers definition. But that didn't stop this being a top quality puzzle.
  • The instruction in the first grid was clear enough and the second grid came together easily. The second instruction also appeared to be unambiguous. However if I have misunderstood this instruction, my submission will look pretty silly. The incompatibility has produced the ultimate in minimalist solutions (I hope!).
  • Ha Ha! I don't think we can ever have a more minimalist return.  I haven't seen James over the summer, but I'd like to know how he's going to comply with the instructions on his electronic entry!
  • The idea of mailing a hole is somewhat curious; I hope it is what is required.