Listen With Others

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Listener No 4480, The Code Duello: A Setter’s Blog by Agricola

Posted by Listen With Others on 31 Dec 2017

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve always been fascinated by Playfair puzzles. I know that they aren’t to everyone’s taste – Playfairs are the cryptic crossword equivalent of Islay whiskies – but I wanted to see if I could write one that had a wider appeal. The challenge is to come up with code words that are interestingly thematic but also comply with the Notes for Setters’ prohibition of anything that can be (easily) guessed from the theme. My initial idea was a puzzle that included lots of different quantum physicists’ names, plus cats both alive and dead, but I only started to make some progress when I settled on something less ambitious.

Having limited myself to two names, finding pairs of words that differed only in their first letter turned out not to be as difficult as anticipated. The trickiest part of the grid was the top left: there was no obvious alternative to QUEST / GUEST and everything else had to be fitted around that, which is why I in the end I had to resort to three-letter words for 2 and 14. If anyone can think of an alternative to QUEST / GUEST then I’d love to hear it! I also tried to make the cat’s final appearance more spectacular, but nothing quite worked. There’s not a lot you can do with C-A-T: if Schrödinger’s thought experiment involved a hamster or a ferret then I could have had a lot more fun.

This was my first submission to the Listener and the original draft of the puzzle was very rough at the edges. At the risk of plagiarising every other blog, the final version owes a great deal to the skill and patience of the editors (patience especially, since the version I gave them to solve didn’t include the asterisks).


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