The Hindu Crossword 11335 by AfterDark featured a technical marvel – a quadruple pangram in a 15x15 British-style grid.
Why is it a technical marvel?
Fitting the entire English alphabet four times in a 15x15 blocked grid requires the setter to predetermine 104 letters in an about 160-letter grid. Doing this with meaningful, clueable words, while also meeting the requirements of symmetry and checking, is an extraordinary achievement - not just rare, but possibly the first-ever in a British-style 15x15 grid. [If you have come across any other, please let me know.]
First-ever quadruple pangram in a 15x15?
Quadruple pangrams have appeared before in American-style grids. The first quadruple pangram in the New York Times (NYT), created by Peter Wentz, was published in Nov 2010. To accommodate the quadruple pangram, a non-standard 16x15 grid was used for this puzzle. In Dec 2012, American setter Matt Gaffney took up the challenge of fitting a quintuple pangram into a 16x15 grid. He didn't quite achieve it, ending with a grid six letters short of the goal.
In March 2013, Raymond C Young's crossword created a quadruple pangram in an American-style 15x15.
British-style grids have fewer lights in comparison with American-style grids, which makes the quest for a quadruple pangram even harder.
How did AfterDark do it?
In the setter's own words:
The first step was to choose the right grid. I had to look for a 15x15 that had a high letter count, yet avoided 3-letter solutions (in THC, 3-letter solutions are rare). Also, I had to find a grid that didn't have long words (they pose a big challenge in fitting in rare letters) and could accommodate more words. Fortunately, Crossword Compiler software helps in giving out such stats. I zeroed in on a grid with a mean word length of around 6, and an option of 38 words.
The second step was to deal with the difficult letters like Z,Q,J. In general, I chose slots where these letters could avoid a crossing. I then started from the NW quarter, trying to optimise the usage of difficult letters. And moved anti-clockwise, quarter by quarter, constantly checking for the number of times I had used the letters.
That was only the beginning. Each quarter ended up changing many times.
Strangely, after trying too hard to fit in the rare letters, in the end I was stuck with K, H & G. This happened because, every time a word choice was given, I opted to ignore the easy letters as I believed I could fit them in any time. When it came to the NE quarter at last, I was left with just 3 words but 7 letters to be included. This, again, led to a total alteration of two quarters.
There were words I deliberately avoided for one of these reasons: they were obscure (the barometer for that essentially was whether I had heard of the words somewhere or not), they didn't lend themselves to good definition, or they were "unclueable". Despite that, a few obscure words crept in, but I ensured that the wordplay and crossings would help the solver.
The last word that fell in place was – ironically - 1A, which throughout the process had remained intact (it was the first to be filled). To make place for a G in the end, DAZZLE became DANZIG (I had a luxury of an excess Z). Then what was taking EONS (3D) came out GUNS blazing.
AfterDark (Shrikanth Thirumalaiswami as he's known outside of crosswords) is no stranger to crossword grid artistry. Some of his past specials have been: every answer containing double letters, a pangram of end-letters of answers, 3 lipograms (A, E and T) with the letter excluded from the grid as well as the clues, a triple pangram.
Do you like pangrammatic puzzles?
I landed on this very interesting article which reasons that pangrams don't matter in puzzle-making and, with their Scrabble-y words, tend to annoy the solver.
Compassionate solvers, not wanting to hurt a puzzle's feelings, might soft-pedal a bad solving experience by saying: "This puzzle is lame, but at least it's a pangram." My friends, it's probably lame because it's a pangram.
Another puts forth a defence against that argument.
Like all technical accomplishments, it has nothing to do with whether a theme is clever or the fill is fresh. It’s completely artificial.
By the way, so is the syllable count in haiku or the meter in a sonnet.
Solvers and setters, which side of the debate are you on?
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