Last week there was a reasonable amount of discussion about 23-down: 7 – 5 = 2? It wasn’t difficult to work out for most after some lateral thinking, but it was never intended to be hard despite its odd, seemingly foreign nature. Steve asked about how this clue materialised, as a number of things have to come together in the puzzle for it to work. It’s quite common for coincidences to occur in the same crossword, like one clue/answer having a relationship to an adjacent clue or another one, but cross-referencing isn’t always appropriate and shouldn’t be done for the heck of it. Across a crossword’s 32-odd clues, with definitions and wordplays with multiple parts, there’s always a chance of some cross-over. But that’s not what happened in this case. When I was writing The Stickler for the Daily Telegraph 6 days a week, I had an average of about 4 minutes to spend on each clue. In order to get the job done, I developed ways to speed up the clueing process, and one of those was to choose words for a grid that I had already sussed out from a clueing perspective. The greatest stumbling block for a setter like me is an answer that is hard to clue, as it will take extra time (time I didn’t have) to find an acceptable clue and the prospect of reworking the grid to get rid of it. By analysing an answer for clueing options BEFORE putting it the grid (which is possible through my crossword software, Crossword Compiler, via an anagram function and direct reference look-up), better words are selected and the clueing process (later) is faster. Such is what happened with 23-down the week before it actually got used in The Stickler Weekly. I saw the prospect of SEEN = SEVEN minus FIVE(V) at the time of designing the grid, and couldn’t work out how to do a good definition within the clue itself, but realised it would work the way it eventually did, just not in the current situation. If you look at 28-across in The Stickler Weekly 197, you’ll see where the seed started: I changed the answer to SEEM, and put the SEEN idea away for the next week.
So, in order to make it happen, SEEN can appear anywhere in the grid, but 2(-down) must be available and unique, and a viable synonym preset in the grid before the rest of the words are selected. Crossword Compiler will happily fill around any preset words.