Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Answer is 5

Eclogue's first foray into the world of hard copy was aimed at the Independent's Inquisitor series. An initial tentative query was met with an encouraging response and so off went the puzzle for consideration. After a few months the news was good. The Answer is 5 would be accepted for publication in the Independent Magazine..but first a few editorial amendments. A brief and amicable exchange of emails between editor and setters followed and a number of agreed tweaks were made. The puzzle was set for publication.

If anyone ever managed to work out Logogriph's taste in movies, music and books, he would have to strive a lot harder for themes for crosswords.  However, that not looking likely in the near future, he can sit back, turn the DVD player on and settle down to a world of possibilities.   For this puzzle, it was a boxed set of Clint Eastwood's DIRTY HARRY movies.

Like most good thematic puzzle ideas, "The Answer is 5" was born through a fairly simple set of coincidences.  It is the two juxtaposed iconic scenes from Dirty Harry that set the ball rolling - the first occurs when Harry Callahan sees a bank robbery in progress:-

"I know what you’re thinking: "Did he fire six shots, or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well do ya, punk?"

In this instance, the answer is 6 as Harry produces a dry click on the next trigger pull after the apprehended robber asks 'I gotta know'.  However, in the final scene against the primary villain Scorpio.... the Answer is 5.

So, we've got a good premise for a before-and-after puzzle, where some form of modification is required from the initial grid-fill to the final one.  Next we have the useful facts that CLINT EASTWOOD and HARRY CALLAHAN both have 13 letters, so that looks promising and finally how many Dirty Harry films were there... the Answer is 5.  I think I can see a theme running here.

So the trick is going to be to construct a grid that has CLINT EASTWOOD initially at 5 (probably down, and probably central) which converts to his on-screen alter-ego.  Real words, before and after is an expected pre-requisite these days and this looks achievable even with 12 of the 13 words needing to be changed.  Magpie solvers will have seen that a similar mechanism was used in DEAF by ECLOGUE, where a perpendicular RAY BRADBURY sandwiched between a C and an N in converted into a thematic CONFLAGRATION.  These two puzzles were constructed in close proximity time-wise, so the techniques used were very familiar, primarily sorting out the central spine and words that convert around it first, while building the outskirts thereafter trying to maximise the average letter length as we go.

Unfortunately, during the trial and error construction, it became obvious that 1 across was not going to stretch to the 6 cells necessary to enable the central spine to be numbered 5, hence why the starting and opposing corner cells were removed.

In setting up the clue list, Eclogue looked to construct a question (for use as misprints or similar mechanism) to which the answer was indeed 5, and the number of Harry films was the obvious choice.  The question ultimately became "How many films with five down as lead character have there been?", but this necessitated an H at 5 down, which was almost certainly going to be unclued.  Again, a coincidence comes to the rescue in that H of course begins the character name.

For those unfamiliar with the films, it was still felt too much of a leap of faith to go from CLINT to HARRY without some additional encouragement, therefore a thematic component, primarily the names of the films themselves was to be included in the clue to every 5th solution - ultimately ending with SCORPIO to mirror the first film.  We needn't have worried though as the almost annual recycling of the series by Channel 5 coincided with publication, plus the fact that all of the film titles also appeared in a temporally adjacent episode of the BBC 1 quiz show Pointless.  As I say, coincidences everywhere!


Published by the Independent on 17 November 2012, this puzzle was originally submitted in March

Eclogue would like to thank John Henderson and Jane Teather for all their help and assistance in bringing their inaugural Inquisitor puzzle to fruition and to all solvers who have commented throughout the internet.

Logogriph will now hope for lots of boxed sets in his Christmas stocking along the lines of 'themes we'd like to see please....' (well, he can hope!)