In general, I would expect crossword compilers to find ideas for thematic puzzles from a variety of sources, e.g. interesting words from dictionaries, personal experiences and events, historical facts, or simply light-bulb moments. April 1st 2017 being a Saturday was one of those moments and entering “Famous April Fool stories” into Google, the first hit was “The Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time”. The #1 was called “The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest” with a video clip attached and it was also 60 years since being televised on Panorama.
A suitable theme was born with PANORAMA 1957 along the top producing 12 columns, the last four of which could be made from words with numbers in them. The actual Spaghetti Tree could be illustrated with TRUNK, BOUGH and BRANCH and by splitting “spaghetti” the strands could hang down with 3 of the 4 letters overlapping. Creating a symmetrical grid is priority in my opinion, but without the aid of clever computer programs, I could not work out a way of filling it with 180 degree symmetry, so to my disappointment, I bailed out.
Creating the grid so that APRIL FOOL could be read top-to-bottom enabled the gimmick of letter missing as a result of the wordplay. I notice that solvers get tired of extra letters as a result of the wordplay, but missing letters as a result of the wordplay only works if the grid has these letters in order and so personally I feel the setter has to work slightly harder, even if working out how to create the clue is easier than, say, misprints or letters removed from clues.
The completed puzzle was sent to John Henderson, editor of the Inquisitor, but he already had a puzzle pencilled in for that date. The only other outlet for the Saturday is the Listener, but I was concerned that the theme might not be discernible without the internet, which is a stipulation from the editors (a library is all that should be required). John Henderson kindly contacted Roger Phillips, who solved it and thought the theme was well-known enough for inclusion as a Listener puzzle – even though I had never heard of it before, having being born over 20 years later. I therefore have to thank John and Roger for their joint efforts in getting this puzzle into print.
Solvers’ feedback from JEG seems to suggest it was well received with no major hiccups or ambiguities. It appears that ambiguities create more heated discussion that anything else, but a setter will never deliberately insert ambiguities, only perhaps the odd red herring.
Finally, I draw your attention to the website above and #6 on the list, what seemed like an excellent and comical April Fool’s hoax from Patrick Moore.