Annual Turnover

This week’s Listener puzzle, “Annual Turnover”, was a little easier than average in difficulty, and a good thing for me, too, as I had a lot of rewriting of the play to do this weekend. The 13-letter theme word at 28 Across is a familiar one to me, as I’ve seen it used in word puzzles a number of times, and I got it from only three or four crossing letters; that helped a lot in finishing the puzzle. I also guessed at what the pattern of clashing letters was after I had only three or four of them, and I feel fairly sure I’ve seen in an American crossword somewhere or other the same device of replacing the letters in certain squares with the same symbol used here, resulting (if my memory is right) in the very same pattern. Maybe in a crossword in Games magazine?

As I copied the answers onto a fresh printout of the grid, I noticed that the setter could have removed several of the bars to make some of the words longer and give more crossings. Now, Ximenes developed the practice of giving every word in a bar-style cryptic crossword at least one unchecked letter (that is, a letter used only in one direction and not crossed by a word in the other direction), so that none of the answers would completely fall into place without the solver having to solve the clue. But he intended that for plain bar-style cryptics, and I don’t think it applies so well to a novelty cryptic like this one, especially where the puzzle’s gimmick interferes quite badly with the usual help you expect to get from crossing letters. Giving a few additional crossings where you can seems just sporting to me, and anyway the longer words are usually more interesting for the solver to find. Besides, there are already entries in the grid here with all their letters checked — 3 Down, 20 Across, and so on. So, unless I’m missing something, I think the setter would have done better to give the extra help and give more crossings where he or she could.

To wit: If the three-letter entries at 15A and 47A were extended to four letters, symmetry would be preserved and both would still be valid entries (that is, either words or phrases found in Chambers). Similarly, if you erased a couple of bars to extend the symmetrical pair of five-letter entries at 1D and 42D to six letters each, one of these would still be a valid entry, and the other could easily be changed to any of several possible entries because of the multiple possibilities for its second, third, fourth, and fifth letters. (Another plus: Several of the possible entries would have been more interesting than the one actually used.) Again, if 14D and 34D were extended by one square (toward the edges of the grid), one of the longer entries that resulted would already be valid, and the other could be turned into a valid entry just by changing one of its unchecked letters. Finally, running down the middle column, above and below 19D, are two perfectly good potential three-letter entries that are instead divided by bars into individual unchecked letters.

Still, all in all a pleasant puzzle, not terribly remarkable or surprising or difficult, but fun to solve.

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