It’s 8:20 pm on Saturday and I just finished this weekend’s Listener puzzle, “Jumping to Conclusion” by Sabre, over dinner. It’s a stinker, and despite some nice clues and a surprise at the end, this may be my least favorite Listener puzzle in quite a while. A number of the words and parts of words have to be entered not in a straight line but in a series of chess knight’s moves, which opens up the number of possibilities so greatly that it’s kind of tedious to work out the right answer.
Also, there are ten clues that you need to solve with no help available from crossing letters at all, and an eleventh (34 Down) that you have to solve with the only possible help being the first letter (from solving 33 Across). These clues are entered entirely in knight’s moves, but you can’t work out more than a few of the knight’s moves until you have solved every one of those eleven clues. When I went to bed last night I had all but three clues solved, yet I still had 19 empty squares in the grid, 19 squares where there were too many possible paths for the words to take to be able to fix any more letters. I took another stab at the puzzle this afternoon and solved two more clues, but I still had 11 squares I couldn’t nail down. Eleven squares left indeterminate because of one unsolved nine-letter word! And what I had worked out didn’t give me so much as one single certain letter to help with solving the last clue! It looks as though, for the knight’s-move portion of the diagram, the constructor gave the absolute minimum number of clues you need to determine where all the letters go once you’ve solved all the clues. That seems kind of stingy, and it’s not hard to find several more words of five letters or longer that the constructor could also have given.
Even once I did have the last clue solved, working out the one possible way to enter the letters so that all the words could be made took me quite a while because of all the possible paths that had to be considered and narrowed down. There were a couple of nice surprises at the end as a reward for trudging through all of that, so I wouldn’t say it was a bad puzzle, but all in all not an interesting enough puzzle to reward the amount of slogging needed.