The Hindu Crossword 9729 appeared in the paper today with the by-line of Gridman, out of turn as M.Manna's sequence of 7 grids is not yet over.
The Hindu doesn't generally shuffle its setter sequence, so this was curious. More so because the grid did not look like Gridman's at all. It isn't one of his standard grids, and it isn't a particularly pretty grid either. Black patches at the top-right/bottom-left? Two consecutive unches at the start of words? What's happened to Gridman, was my first reaction.
With the puzzle solved, all of it made sense. It's a special puzzle, with a message encoded in the grid. Did you see it while solving? If not, do you see it now?
The filled-in grid is below. A few hours later, I'll replace it with another that highlights the message. Look for the message meanwhile, and leave a comment about it. Update: Grid replaced!
Hidden Message Deciphered
The perimeter spells out, starting from the bottom-right in clockwise direction:
WISH YOU A HAPPY NEW YEAR
Congrats to Ganesh, sriks7, Bhavan, Col Gopinath, Musical Scientist, raghunath – you got it right!
To accommodate the message around the entire perimeter, perhaps, Gridman chose a grid with unusually high blacks/unches. A better option might have been to hide in a longer message to avoid blacks in the perimeter. Or to put the message in other parts of the grid, such as the circle spanning the 2nd row-column. The special grid would have also retained its fairness/aesthetic value that way.
Of course, the clues are uniformly sound so the grid does not cause difficulty in solving.
A secret message of this kind is called a Nina, which I wrote about a couple of months ago over here: What is a Nina?
This was a treat, a promising cruciverbal beginning to the New Year 2010. Thank you, The Hindu and Gridman, for giving us solvers an unexpected New Year gift.