The most recent contest puzzle presented by Fireball Crosswords was a construction of mine titled “Into the Void.” It was my first meta crossword and a few people emailed me with questions about the puzzle, so I decided to post a bit of background on how this puzzle came together.
Over a year ago I was thinking about ideas for contest puzzle to feature on Life as a Puzzle and I got the idea of a “limbo” puzzle in which the letters L, I, M, B, and O appeared beneath entries that would represent limbo sticks. I wondered if the LIMBO letters could be presented as ambiguous curtailments of the down entries and realized SUPER/B would be a nice option for the B. Options for the other letters materialized and a managed to put all of the theme material into a workable grid with a bit of rough fill in the center section. I liked the way the draft turned out and decided to try submitting to Fireball rather than using it on the blog. Peter Gordon test-solved it and liked the overall gimmick. He encouraged me to make some revisions and resubmit it.
The puzzle had a few problems. In the original draft I used BEAMMEUPMRSCOTT as the central theme entry. Peter asked if this was a legitimate quotation from a “Star Trek” episode or film. A number on online trivia sources claim that “Beam me up, Scottie” was never used while “Beam me up, Mr. Scott” was the actual phrase. After searching through several online scripts I discovered that neither of those forms was ever uttered by Captain Kirk, and I needed to find a replacement entry that was 15 letters long, contained a synonym for “stick,” and had a P for the eighth letter. I came up with STAFFSUPPORTERS, which miraculously fit in the grid with minimal refill problems. The other problem came with the test-solving. Peter gave the puzzle, which had the working title “Underachievement,” to several solvers. They invariably reported that they guessed the answer LIMBO based on the title and the theme acrosses but did not find the hidden letter gimmick. Peter and I went back and forth on alternate methods for titles and meta instructions. We finally changed the puzzle to “Into the Void,” exploiting the other meaning of limbo that relates to the placement of the hidden letters in black squares. I suspect that some solvers did not even notice the references to the limbo dance until after figuring out the answer.
It was an exhausting exercise getting the puzzle ready for market, but I’m glad it worked out and that I have the experience of constructing a meta crossword in my curriculum vitae.