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Author Topic: Scatter themes: thoughts?  (Read 6712 times)

Todd G

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Scatter themes: thoughts?
« on: November 20, 2008, 07:02:52 AM »
Hello, newbie back again.  I've looked at a hundred or so themed puzzles, and most follow a similar pattern of having a few long thematic entries.  I have an idea for a theme that takes a different approach: scattering smaller thematic entries throughout the puzzle.

I know of one example of this: Susan Harrington Smith's Tue 17 Jun 2003 NYT puzzle, which contains several words that rhyme but use different spellings:  HOOEY, DEWY, LOOIE, etc.

Here's my theme idea: entries where the number of letters is related to the meaning of the entry.  An obvious example is FOUR (four letters long), or CINCO (five in Spanish).  Less obvious would be something like INSECT (creature with six legs) or BARREL (where a six-shooter's bullets are housed).  I've got a list of possible entries, but haven't worked out a grid yet.

I'm thinking/hoping that I wouldn't have to explain the theme: after several entries where the number in the clue matches the length of the entry, I would hope the solver would get the theme.

What do y'all think of the idea?  And what do you think of scatter themes in general?



Neville Fogarty

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Re: Scatter themes: thoughts?
« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2008, 07:55:11 PM »

First, about your number of letters is reflected in the clue.  That's a nifty little bonus for you as the constructor, but unless it helped out solver in some way or was particularly clever (I'm not sure how that would happen - my apologies!) I don't think it would be a great theme.  I think of it sort of like having a puzzle with all of the letters of the alphabet in it: Nice, but not necessary, and not enough to sell a puzzle on alone.

Now, for scatter themes in general, I think that they can be hit or miss.  There was a NYT puzzle that I can't remember a darned thing about date or author-wise, but it had SNOWWHITE in the center with the names of the seven dwarves - clued as regular words - scattered about the grid.  SNOWWHITE was clued along the lines of [Character with a rrelationship with 7 others in this puzzle].  I thought that puzzle was well done.  I'm personally working on a scatter-ish puzzle in the fact that its a rebus type appearing in shorter answers, but with symmetry - this one may not prove to be as successful :)  However, I think that for a scatter theme to be executed well, it should become plain to the solver by virtue of a tie-in clue that there was some theme.

Hope that helps!


Todd G

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Re: Scatter themes: thoughts?
« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2008, 11:19:03 AM »

Thanks for your well thought out response.  A few comments, if I might.

First of all, the puzzle you're thinking of was the Tue 4 Jan 2005 NYT puzzle by John Underwood (aren't search engines wonderful?).  Thanks for the chance to see another example of a scatter theme.

Second, I rechecked, and the Susan Harrington Smith puzzle I noted does not seem to mention the theme anywhere in the clues.  Perhaps there was some kind of external clue.  But I think I could argue that my theme would be easier to figure out than hers, since I would make reference to it several times in the clues.

EX: This composer penned nine symphonies, all of them famous [BEETHOVEN]

Here, the fact that Ludwig von Beethoven wrote nine symphonies is fairly well known, and therefore useful to the solver.  I agree that all clues won't be quite as helpful, but others would be, like an INSECT having six legs (fairly common knowledge, I think).

Of course, the best way to see if this would fly would be to submit one of these puzzles to an editor and see if (a) the puzzle is rejected completely, (b) the puzzle is accepted but an explicit statement of the theme is added, or (c) the puzzle is published with no explicit mention of the theme.  If I get to that point, I'll be happy to share my results here.



P.S.:  Good luck with your rebus theme!


  • Guest
Re: Scatter themes: thoughts?
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2009, 01:27:02 AM »
I don't know if you're still working on this idea, but I think it would work better if the clues didn't actually contain the numbers, but just implied them. Here's what I mean by that:

"It's this many" = FOUR
"It's this many, in Madrid" = CINCO
"It has this many legs" = INSECT
"He wrote this many symphonies" = BEETHOVEN

And so forth. If you just say "Composer who wrote nine symphonies," it doesn't matter if the solver notices his name has nine letters or not. But if you do it this way, the solver won't have any idea what "this many" means until after he's gotten a few of the answers from their crossings. But then you get that moment where the key turns in the lock and suddenly everything makes sense, and that, I think, is what would make this puzzle work.

Also, just a word of thanks, because reading your post sent me off on a train of thought that resulted in the idea for a totally different counting-based theme, which I'll probably post about later after I've worked out the grid. So: Thanks!

Todd G

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Re: Scatter themes: thoughts?
« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2009, 08:15:26 PM »

Let me return the thanks.  I like your idea.  That idea is currently on the back burner, but I do want to get to it at some point.

Glad I was able to inspire you.



  • Guest
Re: Scatter themes: thoughts?
« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2009, 11:07:37 PM »
I like it if the entries are "scattered" uniformly.

I tried this not long ago and had a lot of entries throughout the grid follow the theme but they were randomly scattered and that bugged me.

I'm working on one now where EVERY entry and/or its clue follows the theme - it's a challenge.


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