Sunday, 18 March 2012

For St Agnes

Published in the January 2012 edition of The Magpie this puzzle was originally thought of as being suitable as an offering for the Christmas 2011 puzzle on the Crossword Centre. SGIII would have been its working title but in the event SGIII became something else and this became For St Agnes. Having expanded and improved the grid it was hoped it might be suitable for submission to The Magpie.  Ultimately, the editorial team there identified a further connection with St Agnes Day which occurs in January, providing suitable thematic timing also.

The subject matter: St Agnes's flower, the snowflake, of the genus Leucojum.

Jumbles in the entries led to 9 squares in the grid being comprised only of the letters SNOWFLAKE, these squares forming a 3x3 Sudoku pattern within the grid in which no letter of SNOWFLAKE was duplicated in any row or column of the Sudoku. A nod to the commonly held idea that no two snowflakes share an identical pattern.

Part of the reason for the change in setting priority on this puzzle was, as Logogriph found with increasing exasperation, the grid was an absolute swine.  There were a number of features that were to be retained - namely that the 'aisles' between the 3x3 Sudoku matrices were to contain real words rather than jumbles.  It was slightly ironic that ROSEWALL (a tennis player of yesteryear) attracted so much comment, given that this was not the original entry and the only one changed by the Editorial team.  It is only when a setter sits down and tries to work an idea through, that he concludes he's made a serious error of judgement and that what seemed like a good idea, is in fact potentially more trouble than it's worth.  The ability to come up with even jumbles using some combination of SNOWFLAKE, while maintaining both the Sudoku pattern required as well as grid symmetry is to put it mildly, somewhat difficult, and should only be undertaken when there's a Q in the month.   Logogriph let out a newly commissioned eulogy to St Agnes as a workable grid finally sat in front of him.  However, as we all know that's only half the story and little did Eclipse suspect that the task would prove just as tricky for the clue-writing.

Each clue held an extraneous word, the first and last letters of which formed two interwoven messages. One described the Sudoku nature of the puzzle and the other gave two descriptions of the word snowflake, both paraphrased from Chambers.

And finally the January connection: the feast day of St Agnes is commonly given as the 21st of January.

Given the huge amount of effort that went into this one, it was gratifying that the audience was suitably appreciative, as detailed below.

The feedback:

For St Agnes by Eclogue

I solved many of the clues in the top of the grid and noticed that there seemed to be a few Ks, but no more that one per row or column which made me think of sudoku. Then it wasn't too hard to guess the extra words in the clues leading to Leucojum and SNOWFLAKE.

I ended up trawling through Wikipedia's list of male tennis players (I would have gone through the females too if I hadn't found a suitable name among the males) to find ROSEWALL and determing the vital uchecked letter. I had been previously wondered if "became hostile" was SAW RED. I could have gotten his name from his appearance in the pre-match ceremony of the Australian Open men's singles final which was conveniently played just before the end of the month.

This was definitely this much gentler than the previous Magpie "Sudoku" puzzles, since the puzzle didn't just lead the solver to a Sudoku puzzle that was then required to be solved (well, it technically did, since the barred of cells and two possibilities for the jumbles in 42a and 37d were resolved by the Sudoku puzzle, but this is a trivial problem).

Patron saint of Sudoku? Winter precipitation? Loved this one, Eclogue. I particularly remember how solving the ‘inner puzzle’ assisted me complete the actual crossword, which presumably it’s supposed to do, with the whole jumbling thing going on. Cool – in more ways than one.

A triumph of grid-filling. Well done Eclogue!

Big fluke I solved this when I did: I'd done all except a couple of clues and was still wondering how the N/Ls would resolve in 37/42. While perusing Bradford for some other puzzle, I was turning a few pages when (on p 644 6th ed) 'St Agnes flower' leapt out (having nothing above, below or to the right of it), under the heading SNOWFAKE with Leucojum as the other entry. I later found 'St Agnes...' in Chambers would have provided teh same, but would I have looked it up? Can't say. With such heavy grid constraint, even with jumbles, a good effort to get so many unjumbles in. A very neat version of Su Doku.

Thoroughly enjoyable and an excellent puzzle at the end to show the symmetry of the positions in the grid and the different flakes.

Interesting concept, suitably picked for a warm January!

Not submitted because didn't quite finish. Virtually completed the grid and got both interlaced instructions.
Really enjoyed the challenge and just regret not starting at the beginning of January.

Thank you -- I liked this very much, and was surprised that it was possible to make a puzzle with this sort of Latin square in it. It might have been the Magpie Puzzle of the month.

However did we survive before Su Doku?

Prettily wintry. Slow progress to start, with the jumbles making the long intertwined messages hold out for longer than I'd expected, but soon enough the snowflake dropped.

A nice idea. I assume no two snowflakes are the same, though I haven't checked. I don't normally like jumbles, but was impressed by this one.

By far the most satisfying of the Sudoko themed crosswords I have ever done.

Puzzle of the issue.Enjoyed tremendously and the thematic elements blended well.

Is this 3D Sudoku?

Pleasing. There were several steps in the discovery of the theme and how it was to be applied. Had to use
Google to understand the title. Disappointed that, while doing so, I came across a plea for help in solving the puzzle!!

In the end I quite liked this but I didn't feel that way half way through when I was slowly - very slowly - getting individual clues, providing short answers and not much feedback. Then I picked out a key word from the interwoven phrases (I already had PUZZLE AND SQUARE, not forgetting CLUMP, but they weren't helpful) and juggled a few things to fit. Knowing the words to be removed made solving the rest somewhat easier but the realisation that there was a sudoku hiding in there made filling the remainder of the grid fairly straightforward and left but a couple of clues to complete - and understand as best I could. Finally I had to satisfy myself that there were, indeed, 25 answers entered normally and it took me some time to realise that "IN LOVE" was actually entered normally as I had entered the individual letters logically and not as words. All I now wonder is why we were told that 25, rather than just 'some' answers had to entered normally.

I am not very familiar with Eclogue but couldn't fault much. I would never have got from LID to TILE (in 11d), however, without knowing both and knowing that there had to be a connection. FILS and SELF also strained my understanding, but it wasn't important in the end - the complete puzzle, and that is what matters at the end, left no other options.

A clever idea, reasonably well executed and correctly graded, but who was St Agnes or, more to the point, what had she to do with snowflakes or snowdrops?

A classic C! And great fun.

A reminder of my one and only Listener prize - a bottle of bubbly for a sudoku of ROAST DUCK.

An excellent puzzle. The construction was impressive although I think it would have been improved if the jumbling had been less random (eg if answers had been jumbled if and only if they intersected the su doku arrangement, or something similar to keep the number of normal entries reasonable). Despite noticing the "coincidental" large number of W's and K's it took me until the grid was almost complete, and the messages obtained, before fully realising what was going on. The clues were pretty good (though I didn't like "quick" as an anagram indicator in 1ac) and fun to solve although I felt too many of the extra words stuck out a mile - nonetheless, the 'interweaving' meant that the messages didn't appear until the majority of the clues were solved. The last to fall were AWEEL, SKEGS and finally ROSEWALL, a name I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know. But for a few minor imperfections this would have rated as the best of the issue.
Fine piece of construction, which eventually rescued me from an error. Most enjoyable, congratulations Eclogue.

Quite a tough C as crosswords with jumbles are likely to be. Clues were straightforward so the puzzle made slow but steady progress.

A nice idea, but curiously unsatisfying for the work involved in bringing this to a conclusion. I'm not sure if the nine SNOWFLAKE squares are meant to look like a snowflake, but I'm not sure that they do!

Some clues were made very hard by the absence of usage indicators, which I thought were now meant to be used in all Magpie clues. For instance, AWEEL at 29ac is Scottish, and KEN at 33ac is South African. There were more examples.

6dn appears to be ambiguous, as once SLOW is removed, the clue simply reads 'Beat up game with clubs', so the UP could relate to either FLOG or GOLF. It doesn't really matter as the entry is jumbled, but either word could be an answer to the clue. For that matter, the word SLOW is not the best choice of superfluous word, as 'slow game with clubs' could well be a description of golf!

Other minor quibbles - at 20dn, FENS is plural, but the definition (marshland) is singular. More importantly, at 50ac, LEW is not a diminutive form of LUKE, but of LOUIS/LEWIS, as per Chambers.
A very clever construction by Eclogue. The puzzle itself was not too difficult to solve once I realized the theme was Sudoku.