Liberty Bell

This morning, a little before noon, I finally finished this weekend’s Listener puzzle, “Liberty Bell”, by Pieman. A fun puzzle but a bit of a workout, as it’s not easy to fill the grid and then there’s still more to figure out after you have.

Part of the puzzle is that only a small number of the bars that separate words are given. We have to fill in the rest of the bars as we solve. This part is not difficult, as the word lengths are given as usual with the clues. But then, once we’ve filled the grid, we need to erase as many of these bars as we can (but not any of the bars that are given at the start) to make new, longer words.

So if you had SPORT in the grid, and the next letter after it were a Y, you’d erase the bar separating SPORT from Y to make it SPORTY. You also do this with whole words: If you had TAPES next to TRY, say, you’d erase the bar between them to make TAPESTRY. We have to do this wherever possible, and it’s possible in quite a lot of places. When we’ve done all that, we get a short quotation out of it, and then we have to make a few more changes to the grid to reveal a “refrain”. Took me a while to figure out that last step, but when I finally did, the result was a nice, silly surprise.

Now that I’ve solved the whole puzzle and know that the final result is, I can see why the constructor had us fill in the grid and then erase some of the bars. There was a puzzle by a well-known constructor from, I think, the ’70s, in which a similar gimmick was used, but it was possible, with a little imagination, to figure out what the final answer was going to be long before you’d filled in the whole grid. With this puzzle, there’s just about no chance of that. I think you really do have to work through the whole thing, solving all the clues and then erasing bars to create longer words and so on, to reach the final answer.

However, this also has the disadvantage of giving us an abundance of three- and four-letter words to actually solve, with the longer words only to be revealed later as the bars go away. More longer words and fewer short words in the first place would have made for more interesting solving. Ah well, I guess you can’t have everything. It’s certainly a remarkable piece of construction.

Two odd little points: There isn’t anywhere on the entry to write down the short quotation; I suppose you could in theory solve the puzzle and submit your entry without ever knowing what the quotation is. (Unlikely, as the quotation isn’t hard to figure out when you’ve removed all the right bars, and you have to remove all the right bars anyway or you’re not going to end up with the right answer at the end.)

And I believe the horizontal bar across the top of the square containing the number 44 shouldn’t have been given to us; it looks to me like it should have been one of the bars we have to fill in for ourselves. It doesn’t affect the result, though.

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