The premise for this puzzle was the humble and much maligned Brussel Sprout. Now Logogriph can't speak for anyone else, but he's quite a fan of this humble seasonal veg and was positively ecstatic to find websites dedicated to all things Sprout-like. The grid was going to have to be circular (a first for Eclogue) and while there was a temptation to require solvers to use an entire green pencil or highlighter in a colour-fest-par-excellence, this was quickly rejected as to do so would have been seriously prejudicial to the rarely encountered purple side of the sprout family.
Also rejected, was any linkage to the works of the UK writer, Robert Rankin who regularly included Sprout humour in his earlier books, in particular the 'character' of Barry The Time Sprout, as well as such titles as Sprouts of Wrath and Sprout Mask Replica. Indeed, Rankin's official fan-site is entitled 'Sproutlore'. Pure escapism, but probably just a little too obscure for our seasonal conundrum.
That left a puzzle derived from Sprout varieties of which there are indeed many. The first entry on a Google search of "brussel sprout varieties" yields the following site, which was the source for the thematic material: Brussel Sprout Varieties
With an even distribution of sprouts through the rings of the grid, it became clear that a 50:50 compilation of inward and outward radials was going to be too tricky to achieve. This puzzle actually coincided in its construction with a puzzle heading to the Magpie (of which more anon, we hope), which used an even distribution of entry between inward, outward and then two entries which looped through the entry section running off one edge to return to the edge of the same sector, one in each direction. This seemed an excellent chance to repeat the measure, but even this necessitated the use of a couple of relatively obscure names.
Last year, SG3 caused some comment regarding possible (albeit unlikely) alternative locations for the thematic locations (which were in fact to be found on CHRISTMAS ISLAND). So, with a hint of devilry, Logogriph included REBELS as a solution which given the method of entry was potentially reversible. Therefore a correct entry needed solvers to actually count how many of each direction / start point were included in the 32 clue answers, or rely on luck. Six of the ten incorrects unfortunately relied on the latter which deserted them in the final analysis.
Each clue contained a misprint and in clue order these spell out a definition of the theme to draw solvers towards our humble vegetable hero.
In the testing stage some difficulty was encountered in the two afore-mentioned proper names, BROLIN, a one-time Swedish International footballer who eventually played for Leeds United and SHUAYB, an admittedly obscure Koranic prophet. Although Logogriph is an ardent footie-fan (Eclipse probably less so), he was surprised that the nemesis of England's 1992 Euro campaign was not more widely known, particularly given the trail of turnip-emblazoned tabloid journalism that surrounded manager, Graham Taylor in its aftermath. However, even without this knowledge, both names could be found through searching the Internet and it was eventually agreed all round that the puzzle was 'doable' and was accepted for publication.
In the final analysis, SG4 recorded 36 entries, of which 26 were correct. The puzzle was set alongside an easier offering from Centrigram which garnered 56 entries of which 50 were correct. So the sprouts didn't agree with everyone, but judging by the comments received, the challenge (for that is what it most definitely was) was generally enjoyed.
Thank you, as always to all solvers who commented and attempted our challenge. Maybe, just maybe, there will be an SG5 in 2013 - hopefully, one that won't give additional indigestion!
Happy New Year.
1 This was a hard puzzle, made more difficult by the fact that I refused to believe, until the evidence was incontrovertible, that I was working a puzzle about Brussels sprouts. I was hung up forever on 5, which I have concluded is the most Brit-centric clue ever written. Eventually the "NIL-ORB reversed" wordplay hit me, and copious Googling led to the soccer (yes! soccer, I say!) story.
2 My thanks to Eclipse and Logogriph for a very challenging puzzle.
3 I found this very difficult. Many good clues with some apparent but false misprints. It did not occur to me for a long time that East London could indicate anything but Cockney (the anagram was obvious, but the misprint wasn't), and #5, the last to fall, was baffling for this non-English non-fan of football… The preamble seems to allow, if not require, that the entries that exit the circle re-enter on the other side of the circle (e.g. the remaining letters of 1 go in spoke 17, etc.) but I could not complete the grid this way, so I guess that's not the intent. Also, I was expecting a Christmas theme; apparently the connection is that they're part of the traditional Christmas dinner in the UK (my condolences), but they aren't here, so this was elusive as well. Most of these, at least, are not in Chambers, and they're not all that easy to find on the Internet either; I found only one page that has all of them. Topnotch puzzle.
4 Was I being particularly slow, or was this a brute? I laboured for quite some time until I scrambled two segments together. I then very luckily guessed from L and U that the centre had to be Brussels, and my 'Bubb' had to be part of 'bubble' then did a search on sprouts and bubble and found a list of varieties, a few of which slotted into the grid (Bedford Fillbasket for sure managed to fix a lot of letters!). From there, it was a question of part stumbling, part solving, part back-solving and I finally got there - I think. The last to fall was that accursed gypsies clue - I might have twigged it much sooner had it read 'gypsies heard ..' etc but for ages I just could not see how the wordplay related to faughs.
Anyway, I found this one hell of a workout, and Eclogue really tested my solving ability and patience, Very satisfying to finish, and once again an enjoyable seasonal test. Many thanks Eclogue, I look forward to being beaten up again next year.
5 This was a toughie but I really enjoyed it. I even like the subject matter!
6 Thanks and Season’s Greetings to Eclogue, whose puzzles are always a welcome challenge at Christmas. This was the hardest Greeting so far, and there were times when I thought it might go the same way as the Brussels sprouts on the children’s dinner plates. The theme was fun, and fell out quite early when I googled Royal Marvel, but it still took a long time to finish, with some devious misprints and definitions. The last clues to be solved were 1 to 4.
7 Much more of a challenge. Initially I misunderstood the preamble and thought that entries going beyond the rim or centre should continue on the opposite side, eg 26 at 10, till I realised this could not possibly work. With slightly more than half the clues solved, I was stuck for some time. Eventually I realised that the innermost ring could be Brussels and the great oracle Google came to my rescue to find varieties of Brussels Sprouts and let me fill the first and third rings. Anyway thanks to Eclogue for a stiff workout and for managing to incorporate both an Islamic prophet and a Swedish footballer into a crossword, and now I await an opportunity to show my knowledge that Bedford Fillbasket is a variety of sprouts.
8 Congratulations to Eclogue - this was very tough! Caught as a homophone indicator? Amazing.
9 I quite enjoyed this, but the rather loose clueing has left me unsure of some of the entries.
10 Seasons Greetings was much more of a challenge, I really thought I would never solve it (and I'm still uncertain about a couple of the entries). I am much better informed than before about Brussels sprouts. My wife, who grows them, had not heard of any of the varieties, so could not help. I found 5 a problem, knowing nothing at all about football. Again, no clue really stands out, though 17 and 21 were elegant and tricky.
11 Rather hard to get through as there was limited ability to research sprout varieties (I jotted down eight from a website earlyish on, only to find seven unused - there are oodles and no one site seems to give more than a smallish percentage) and hence limited feedback from the grid.
12 It has taken me all week and was very difficult for one not acquainted with sprouts.
13 You either love or hate them, and I'm in the love club. That was a tough challenge to find the different varieties as without them I'd have struggled on a few clues.
14 Unlike previous Eclogues, we found the clues to be really tough, not helped by a few dodgy definitions and the unmentioned clashes . However, we got there in the end [Unfortunately for this solver, there were no clashes - Eclogue]
15 This was a VERY tough puzzle I thought - probably the hardest of the year. The clues were difficult with some of the misprints very tricky to spot, plus the thematic material was not a message (as I expected) and completely (apart from Brussels) unfamiliar to me. Still overall it was an enjoyable challenge…
16 I found this a real challenge and was nearly defeated before I really got going. There were some excellent and devious clues and the theme only became apparent at a relatively late stage. I particularly enjoyed the way that some of the misprints were disguised with some "red herrings".
17 Eclogue’s offering was a real challenge, as anticipated, involving an awful lot of cold solving until Brussels revealed its festering self in the central ring. I remain uncertain whether I really wanted to know as much as I now do about the varieties of sprouts I might continue to avoid. Still, an excellent puzzle, which kept me well occupied on a lengthy train journey.
18 … struggled at the beginning with trying to cross over the middle to a quadrant on the other side.
19 Phew! One which I concluded with a sense of relief, or even release from torture, rather than fulfilment. The clues were very difficult and the thematic information very hard to find. Time and again I came across what looked like definitive lists of sprout types which still did not contain the ones I needed. Still, we complain if puzzles are too easy so thanks for a mighty challenge. (Pity about the misprint, Kinshasha, in clue 23).