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Puzzle solution #1: The Devil Made Me Do It


Devil made me do it T-shirtI promised to post the solution to my first crossword puzzle, and here (below) it is. Those of you who have any interest in crosswords have either finished it or discarded it as unworthy of your attention. The rest of you are probably amused by the whole exercise. Why not a sudoku, you might think? It would likely have more literary merit, at least.

If you are at all interested in crossword puzzles and have not yet worked “the deformed first heir of my crossword invention,”[1] read no further before giving Crossword #1: An Early Report a try. I am eager to have your feedback.

Those of you who have completed or attempted my puzzle and who are still mystified by its supposed theme, read on. But before I present the solution, let me add a little “spoiler space” in the form of a brief scene that may or may not shed some light on a too-clever-by-half theme:

It was a scene of impossible beauty. In a verdant garden, beside a stream of sparkling water so dazzlingly clear that it appeared to consist of liquid diamonds, sat coiled a very large snake. Its skin glistened with the appearance of priceless jewels–rubies, sapphires, garnets, lapis lazuli–and made the diamond-like water look impoverished in comparison.

A beautiful scene, but an odd one: the snake was talking to itself.

Yet it was not alone. Behind it stood a rather short, stout middle-aged man. He wore scuffed black shoes, a rumpled dark suit with overcoat, and a gray fedora. In his left hand he held a small pad of paper; in his right a stubby pencil. His fingers and hands were stained with graphite, and he perspired lightly in the cool shade.

The snake ended its self-directed monologue or prayer, and with a slow turn of its head faced the man. “I was not unaware that you were listening, of course.”

“I’m sorry. I just happened to be passing through here–wherever here is–and couldn’t help but witness the recent unpleasantness.”

“And now you have heard my confession. Soon you will file a big story with your editor.”

“Ye-es,” answered the man with some hesitation, “I suppose I will. Though I am having trouble at the moment understanding just why. In fact, I wasn’t sure until just now I had an editor.”

“I know it,” spake the snake. Its diction was impeccable but peculiar. There was no hint of a hiss in its speech and it had an exalted, almost regal quality.

“I write for a newspaper. Uh, I didn’t just now coin the word newspaper, did I?”

“The answer to that is quite complicated.”

“Hmm. Let me ask some questions then. I heard the curses. Very impressive disembodied voice. Quite James Earl Jonesian.” The man seemed to be startled by his own words, paused, and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his brow before continuing. “I see that you have in fact lost your legs. It must be difficult to walk on your stomach?”

“That is not much of a question, but yes. It will take some practice. I will catch on quickly, however.”

“So I understand the couple has moved away from here. East. Will you miss them? Do you have any regrets?”

“I will stay involved in their lives, be sure of that. Yes, I do indeed regret the acquaintance and I am quite sorry for my role in the pitiful affair. I confess it was a mistake. What is done, is done, however. Now I will be their–your–enemy.”

“Hey pal, there’s no need to bring me into this. I’m just a reporter. Haven’t you ever heard of an independent, uh, press?” The man wore a puzzled expression and hesitated before continuing, “Have you?”

“Oh yes, I see your future as well as mine quite clearly.” The snake uncoiled a bit and moved–slithered–toward the stream. It gazed into the water as if watching its own future flowing downstream. “You will need a scapegoat, an excuse. I will come in quite handy in that regard. The devil made you do it. You will be sure to report that, often.”

The snake slid into the water and the man watched it swim easily away. Music from a cell phone erupted in his pocket. After hesitating briefly, he retrieved it and stared at it confusedly. The music and then words continued, “He’s allowed me to introduce myself … pleased to meet you … hope you guess my name.” The man answered the phone, but the music did not stop. The garden itself seemed to reverberate with it. The reporter now assumed a more confident, purposeful attitude and spoke excitedly into the phone, “This is a big story, Lou. Big headline. You won’t believe who I’ve been speaking to …”

Here is the solution to the puzzle (below I discuss the theme and what this exercise taught me about crossword creation):

Puzzle answers
(Download a PDF copy of the puzzle.)

According to 13-down, the answer to it and 52-down would describe “a possible reading of the answers to four starred clues if a famous villain had expressed remorse to a reporter.” The answers to 13-down and 52-down are HEAD and LINE. So the answers to the four starred clues, which all complete quotes and are anagrams of each other should be read as a headline:

  PENSTER PRESENT, SERPENT REPENTS

I sprinkled a few additional clues to the theme (the answers ADAM, EVE, APPLE, SIN and EDEN). It works for me, but I’m not sure it works for anyone else. Perhaps the scene above will help, but the bottom line is that the theme wasn’t successful. Real crossword puzzle creators do not find it necessary to write short, silly stories to make their themes intelligible.

There were other faults as well. Primary among these was that I created a grid that left six “uncrossed” answers. I should have known that New York Times puzzles never do this. Four of these answers in the corners of the puzzle (ADAM, HEAD, LINE and EDEN) were easy enough to find, but not so much for at least one of the two in the puzzle’s center. The answer to 38-across (APPLE) is easily derived after 66-across (STEVE) is found. But there is nothing to help with 29-down. The answer is the name of an obscure 20th century artist (APPEL). I blame Google and Wikipedia for tempting me to use his name.

Baedeker guide to GermanyAnother fault is that I had to make use of a couple of very dodgy answers after painting myself into the lower left corner. Two of the answers relating to my theme (SERPENT and LINE) and the answer to 42-down (ENRAGES)—and I couldn’t find a good alternative to fit in that spot—forced me to use ISPEG and YENEND as answers. Nevertheless, I came up with what I thought were creative clues to shoehorn these answers into the puzzle.

Lastly, I used too many obscure words. These words are generally familiar to tournament Scrabble players, but are unlikely to be found in moderately-difficult crosswords. (I am speaking here of DIMER, AREAE, TROPINE, REREDOS and ARENOSE.) Also, the possessive form of the name of Thebes’ ruler in the story of Oedipus (CREONS), was awkwardly difficult.[2]

All in all, for my first effort I’m not too discouraged. I’ll learn from my mistakes and create another one. Probably not soon, but when you least expect it, here it will be.

Thanks to all of you who worked the puzzle and especially to those of you who provided me with valuable feedback.

Notes

  1. A Bachster tip-of-the-hat to anyone who can identify the source of this (mangled) quote. [^]
  2. A friend, Steve P, pointed out a more serious mistake in the original version of my puzzle. The clue I used for 25-across was originally “Word preceding lunacy or following wind.” The answer is SHEER, but it is SHEAR that follows wind in “windshear.” I corrected the clue to read “Word preceding lunacy or blouse.” [^]

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