Eclogue puzzles come from any number of sources, but we always hope to entertain and if there's a little education to be had en route then that's all to the good.
There are a number of strands that led to the creation of OURS, which are probably worth elaborating upon:-
The famous comic novel "Three Men in a Boat" by Jerome K Jerome does regular rounds in crossword themed puzzles. Logogriph eventually succumbed to a long-standing recommendation to read this brief tome a couple of years back. Quite a few of these readings have spawned puzzles, but over the years, we've all probably solved four or five on this particular theme. So part of the thought behind this particular puzzle was to provide an antidote to the much seen and we guess, increasingly obvious theme by using it as a misleading route to something very different.
As a rule, we are not particularly keen on puzzles that 'trick' solvers, particularly where the subject matter is unlikely to be familiar. So we're not sure we'd make a habit of this type of puzzle. That said, we do like the opportunity to blend two loosely related themes, in this case the connection is four 'characters' in a boat. The balance to strike here therefore was to ensure that the route was a fair one. The preamble also had to be accurate but duplicitous to enable both interpretations to survive for as much of the solve duration as possible.
This puzzle ultimately hinged on the B/D clash between RAMPIRED and SHABRACK. Selecting the B in the middle of THBMES leads to the conclusion that we as compilers, the ever-diligent checkers and the Inquisitor editor himself have all got it wrong. And a few commentators on the solver sites convinced themselves (and possibly others) that we were all at fault. Really? However, for those who cannot believe this is so, and having rechecked their workings an embarrassing number of times, maybe, just maybe there is something else to look for here, at which point SYDNEY as an alternative comes to light. But what on earth has SYDNEY to do with Three Men in a Board, which geographically is so far removed from the THAMES? So now maybe it's time to look for something else.
Some of the best things in crosswords are often hidden in plain view. If a solver has been led to down a particular path they begin to look for the endgame before it happens. The placing of HARRIS and GEORGE is encouraging, J or JERO..ME is almost conclusive and probably MONTMORENCY (the dog) is already going beneath the grid with just a few clues to finish off. But of course, having seen and programmed yourself to see those things, discovering PINSENT, CRACKNELL and REDGRAVE becomes that little bit more difficult, even though they are presented both across and down 'in plain view'.
Then we have some very nice coincidences to weave into the fabric. We can construct a grid that has just enough letters to deal with most of the (arguably most famous) quotes from the book except for the final four letters. This can be linked to a GB-oriented OURS, as well as the coxless (F)OURS. Now while the cox is at the stern of the boat, they do provide the steering and arguably the leadership plus when shown on TV they are invariably the left-most occupant of the craft (i.e. orientation reading left to right). At a push, we could even note that the F hints at the missing FOSTER too, albeit we don't explicitly make that connection.
We are grateful as always to John Henderson and his team for their endeavours and the opportunity to present what is probably our favourite Inquisitor puzzle since Tour de Farce. Even the numerical sequence of 1444, seems vaguely apposite in a puzzle concerning coxless FOURS. We're glad solvers appear to have enjoyed the trip!
The original solution notes that went with the submission are presented below for reference:-
This is a misdirection puzzle, designed to make the unwary solver focus on THREE MEN IN A BOAT, rather than the Gold Medal winning GB Coxless Four team of the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.
Corrections to misprints provide “I LIKE WORK: IT FASCINATES ME. I CAN SIT AND LOOK AT IT FOR H (OURS)” , a quotation from THREE MEN IN A BOAT by Jerome K Jerome. The title and thematic omission represents coxless (F)OURS. GEORGE, HARRIS and Jerome (always referred to in the book as ‘J’) appear complete in the grid, but resolution of clashes does not quite provide THAMES, but in fact only give THBMES, and therefore the alternative of SYDNEY is required, with the protagonists in fact being (Sir Matthew) PINSENT, (Sir Steve) REDGRAVE and (James) CRACKNELL, leaving (Tim) FOSTER and not MONTMORENCY to be entered beneath the grid. “OURS” is also descriptive of the four’s membership of TEAM GB.