Thursday, December 5, 2013

Alphabetical jigsaw (Puzzle No. 3,306)

The Nation Puzzle No. 3,306

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): easy.  A lot of anagrams and rebus clues.  The whole left side went pretty fast, and there were only a few bumps in the road.  Even the strange clue at 27a is attainable: a good introduction to the visual puns that Hot and Trazom sometimes throw at us. 

Hozom’s comment:  Monkey Puzzle Tree, in which Hot and Trazom share their thoughts about Araucaria, particularly with respect to his willingness to bend the rules in favor of a promising clue. They also liked the “80 percent” quote which I led off my weekend Araucaria post with.

Back with the solution and annotation on Monday.  Join us this weekend for Sunday brunch!

Alphabetical jigsaw

The passing of Araucaria suggests an obvious topic for this week’s post: the alphabetical jigsaw.  Araucaria is credited with inventing the form, certainly polished it, and may well have been its most prolific constructor (a book with sixty of them was published ten years ago, but alas it is out of print).  The alphabetical jigsaw comes in both block and bar form: the bar form, which we’ll look at next week, is also called an “abecedarian jigsaw.”

The obvious spotting feature of an alphabetical jigsaw is the lack of any numbering of the clues or the grid.  Clues are provided in alphabetical order of their answers, and the solver has to use logic to determine where each one belongs in the grid. 

In the block form, there are traditionally 26 answers: one starting with each letter of the alphabet.  That’s a boon to the solver, since you’re effectively given the first letter of each answer. 

The solving strategy is pretty much set for everyone: run through the clues and get as many of them cold (from the clue itself without any intersecting letters aside from the known first) as possible.  Then mark the enumerations of each row and column in the margin of the grid. 

Here’s the place where you get a toehold: there should be one or two values for which there are only four clues with that enumeration.  You need two or preferably three of the four to get started.  Note the locations of the letters where the clues intersect each other (e.g. the ninth letter of one intersects the sixth of another).  Then figure out which of the words you have have a common letter at that intersection point.  Once you get two of those intersection points, pencil in the three words and see if that gets you the fourth.  Once you’re to that point, it’s off to the races. 

Another tool for placing words is to find the uncommon letters: you know there have to be at least two Js, two Qs, two Xs, and two Zs in the puzzle, and one of each has to be the first letter of a properly enumerated space.  If “zoological” is your Z answer and “fritz” is your F, then you can look for a place where the last letter of a five-letter answer intersects the first letter of a nine.  If there’s only one such spot, that’s where your words go. 

Constructing the block-form alphabetical jigsaw is a little more challenging.  Most of the typical 15 x 15 grids won’t work, either because they have too many answers[*] (most of them are 28 or 30) or because they have squares that are the beginning of both an across and a down (not allowable because they would require two answers with the same first letter).

Now Araucaria being a master, not only did he make excellent grids, he also established a tradition of setting his alphabetical jigsaw clues in verse, two clues at a time.  Other constructors have emulated this touch, which can make the puzzle tougher if the breakpoint between the pair of clues is somewhere other than the break between lines of each verse.

Here’s a particularly lovely example from the Guardian last year.  Post links to more of your favorites in the comments.

*–while it might not be as elegant as having exactly 26 lights in the grid, you could work around that by having one or two answers spread across multiple lights, and thereby work in a 28-light grid.

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