“147” Variant Sudoku

The Backstory

This is my first published Sudoku, so I’m keen to hear what people make of it. I’m fairly confident everything checks out, but I do apologise in advance if I’ve overlooked something! Thanks so much for taking a look 🙂

Green and red highlights are for aesthetic purposes only, reflecting the opening layout of the balls on a snooker table. The clues provided in the grid – 4, 15, 27 and 147 – I chose based on their association with the game of snooker.

The rules

Normal Sudoku rules apply.

In addition:

  • In the 2×2 square cages labeled with 147, both rows of the cage are to be treated as 2-digit numbers which must sum to 147.
  • The numbers provided in the top left of the other cages indicate the sum of digits in those cages. The cage labeled 14 / 7 on the bottom row of the grid sums to either 14 or 7, as to be determined by the solver.
  • Digits along thermometers increase from the bulb.
  • Finally, the sum of all digits around the perimeter of the grid is 147.

(For clarity, the given 4 in the second row belongs to both the 147 and 27 cages, and the given 5 in the centre of the grid belongs to both of the 27 cages.)

Click here to load the puzzle in Penpa.

Video of my solve

I have also recorded a video of myself solving the puzzle and discussing some of the design process.

The Strange Mosaic Inn: a cryptic triptych

Some loosely cryptic poetry written under the mind distorting influence of insomnia, a few years back.

Night One
The 2am ramblings… lacking definition.

Again (2): The Strange Mosaic Inn (3,9)
Down ‘dan… (4,3,3)
Across …confused, or beat. (1,5,2,4)
Stop! (2…,4)
Grave, no? I’d say, yeah. (3,4)
(But no need for alarm.) (1’2,2,8,2)

Re: The Insomniac
Down and out…
…a cross to bear.
No… more!
Too many.
(I’ll be sleeping in.)

Night Two
More cryptic ramblings from the Strange Mosaic Inn.

Anger in the midsts of lost days. (5)
But with time, this, I understand: (4, 4…,1’1,4,2)
With this place, I oust my chaos. (5,2,2,3)

Arse this… I’m over it.
Where is my out?

Night Three
Snookered at the Strange Mosaic Inn

Little cueman rattled (4,4)
the black in the middle (8)
using the rest (3,4,8,4)
drifting against the nap. (1,6,5)

Calm tune
You sing everyone else
A sating sleep.

Solving the unsolvable

* Spoiler alert *
The answer to this clue appears at the bottom of this post.

Some friends and I gathered online today to have a crack at the infamous “DA” cryptic in Melbourne’s Age newspaper. David Astle is a devilish setter, much revered and (gently) reviled on the crosswording scene. You’ll find him on twitter @DontAttempt – say no more.

This clue was our final solve:
7ac. Stable strap hurting head, stricken by beer (10)

We’d solved the cross letters as:
(Pretty uninspiring cross letters, and, crucially, no first letter in place.)

At this late stage of a puzzle, if you’re still struggling even to confidently identify a clue’s definition element you know you’re looking at something pretty difficult — likely an obscure final answer, or tricky wordplay or misdirection, or all of the above! When you come up against this from a setter with a penchant for the diabolical, it’s easy to get mentally overwhelmed by the possibilities.

We’d scratched our heads over this a few times throughout the solve. Following our best intuition for DA’s misdirecting ways, we were inclined to see “Stable strap” as the definition, meaning some kind of equipment used on horses (ie in stables).

This was a hunch, but it lead us to an idea. If this was really the definition, the final answer seemed likely to be a niche piece of vocabulary that we might never have seen before. We wondered if DA, knowing the various impediments to solving this clue, might have tried to balance the clue with less difficult wordplay. Perhaps he might exploit some more run-of-the-mill cryptic-ese, or at least some of his more common Astle-isms. #benevolent-creator

Running with this, we reasoned that BEER could simply represent ALE — one of the most common synonym pairs used in cryptics — which fit nicely at the end of the answer to give us –A–T–N–ALE. Seemed reasonable.

Next, perhaps we needed a synonym for HURTING, with its first (“head”) letter removed (“stricken”)? A bit more complex, but not an uncommon construction. If correct, we might expect an ING in the answer, which also fit for -A-TINGALE.

Finally, we needed a synonym for HURTING that fit ––A–TING (with that first letter to be removed.) Since DA fairly regularly exploits the synonym pair hurting/smarting, we wound up with MARTINGALE.

At this point, one of us recognised the word, but thought it related to gambling. A Google search confirmed that martingale can mean both a method of gambling or a strap connected to a horse’s bridle!

This all goes to show that with a bit of careful thinking about a setter’s process you might be able to crack a few of those seemingly intractable clues, and learn some fancy new vocab in the process.

But, hmm… could we really call DA a benevolent creator? I think the neighs have it.

Please… (Cryptic #6, 15×15)


Complete or Print “Please…” at AmuseLabs.com

… and keep your eyes peeled for a theme-appropriate Easter Egg!


I’ve tried to closely manage the difficulty of the clues. I’d say there’s a good handful of tricky clues, with the rest ranging from easy to middling.

The main difficulty with this crossword is the specificity of the theme, although clue solving it not affected by the theme. British solvers are most likely to clock the theme early on, and to solve all of the missing letters. Resolving the theme will be tricky for solvers unfamiliar with the subject matter, though not impossible.

Watch out for one clue that introduces an uncommon (or completely novel?) wordplay that relies on translation between different English language accents. This one will be easiest for Australian solvers to crack.

And FYI international solvers, 34-across’s wordplay involves a 2-letter Australian reference.


The original version of this crossword, built at the beginning of 2018, was perhaps my third or fourth attempt at cryptic construction, and my first attempt at a themer. Returning to the idea this year I was aghast at the poor quality of the original! About the only convention upheld was grid symmetry. Otherwise it was a right dog’s breakfast! Grid structure was a disaster, with many double-unches, including 4-letter answers with only one checked letter. And clueing was questionable, to be charitable.

I set about to rebuild it, but was fairly confident it would be impossible. The theme placed unusually rigid constraints on what theme words I could deploy, and how they could be placed in the grid. In a number of cases there were only one or two options available, often entailing some kind of compromise, most notably with the 2-letter answer that forms part of 16-down. I was on the verge of abandoning the cause, after a few premature declarations of success, when finally it came together. The grid is by no means neat, but it meets all the conventions… just! If you look closely you’ll see the central white square is the lone bridge between the two halves of the puzzle, without which the grid would be invalid.

I was very much in love with this theme when I first conceived it. My enthusiasm has waned a little since, and it’s definitely not my favourite, but I still think it’s a pretty cool concept and presented me with an interesting grid setting challenge.

I’m still feeling quite green in my clueing skills, with my wordplays a little constrained, though as usual I think there’s a few standouts to be proud of. And I’ve started a more concerted process of building a stronger repertoire of indicator words, abbreviations and so on.

One Down (Cryptic #5, 15×15)

Dive in!

Hint version: This version highlights the themed clues, and offers an additional hint to kick start your solve.
Complete or print “One Down (Hint version)” at AmuseLabs.com

Expert version: You’re on your own!
Complete or print “One Down (Expert version)” at AmuseLabs.com

(…keep your eyes peeled for one of my famous theme-appropriate Easter Eggs…)

The back story

I’ve been sitting on this crossword for quite a while. My most recently published crossword, High Definition, was my most accessible so far, so I thought it was a good moment to release a more challenging one.

I’m really pleased with this one. Something LR (@LRxword) mentioned last year put me onto the idea, and it proved as challenging to clue as I expected! The upside was that the gimmick permitted a surprising range of possible themed answers (thanks to Tristan at @xwd_bot for his automated dictionary search wizardry). This gave me the flexibility to pick the answers that offered up the niftiest clues, and avoided any compromises on grid structure – there’s no double up of checked or unchecked letters; all answers have at least half of their letters checked; and most answers start with a checked letter. The grid has more 3-letter answers than I would prefer, but there were so many great 3-letter theme options I couldn’t pass them up!


I’d probably rate this as my hardest puzzle to date, primarily because of the theme. Double definition clues can be challenging at the best of times, so this puzzle’s reliance on them – in a themed way, no less! – will likely present some head-scratchers. For this reason I have provided both an expert version and a hint version of the puzzle. The hint version identifies the themed clues, and offers a bonus opening hint to get you underway. Expert leaves you to fend for yourself.

Outside of the theme, I feel most clueing is pretty fair and manageable. I might have pushed the boat out a little with 29-down… I’ll let you be the judge!

And FYI international solvers, 34-across involves an informal Australian term.

High Definition (Cryptic #4, 11×11)

Dive in!

Complete or print “High Definition” at AmuseLabs.com

The back story

I had the idea for this crossword a while back and am pleased to have finally pieced it together. With a somewhat limited range of well-known theme words to choose from, it was looking difficult to theme all the across answers of a full-size grid, so I went with another 11×11. By theming all across answers, I spare the solver the problem of distinguishing the themers from the standards. Although I could equally achieve this by flagging themed clues with an asterisk, there is something neat about theming the full cohort of across clues.

This approach did, of course, facilitate a quicker build. I found the grid a little harder to compile than I expected, but once complete I wrote the clues in one sitting of maybe a couple of hours. Miles quicker than usual! The task was made a little easier by the reasonably high number of short answers and the lack of themed wordplay, and not having to concern myself with definitions for the across answers was useful, but I think my speed is also a sign of progress in my clue writing skill.


The lack of definitions for across answers introduces a certain level of difficulty, but once the theme is spotted the solver has an additional piece of information to assist. There are some very simple themed answers, too, which should help in cracking it open early in the piece.

In most cases I feel the wordplay is pretty uncomplicated, with little in the way of unusual indicators or obscure synonyms. There is a single clue (4-down) requiring very specific local Australian knowledge – which even many locals will lack – but I think it’s nice to include local references, particularly cruciverbalist in-crowd stuff. In any case, it’s a short answer that’s well solvable from the cross letters and the definition.

Pardon My French! (Cryptic #3, 11×11)

Trigger warning: This crossword is decidedly offensive! If you have an issue with vulgar language, you’re best to avoid this one.


I decided to go with a smaller 11×11 grid for this one. For one, I wanted to make all across clues themed, and this wouldn’t be possible with a larger grid as I had a restricted set of possible theme answers to work with. I also wanted to experiment with a puzzle that would be quicker to build.

I’ve been a little apprehensive about publishing a crossword based on offensive language – I think some might consider it a faux pas – but I liked the concept, and, in my typical style, by the time I really considered the bigger picture I’d thrown so much energy into it that I didn’t want to abandon it! I do hope the solver will, indeed, pardon my French! And that some of the neater clues justify the awkward price of entry 🙂


Being a themer, this puzzle is automatically a little tricky for beginner solvers, but is easier than my previous puzzles for a few reasons. The smaller size means a) there are fewer clues to solve, and b) answers are shorter than usual. Additionally, although the theme influences solving, it is clearly explained, there’s no confusion over which clues it applies to, and the theme idea itself narrows the space of possible solutions.

Also, to provide a friendlier experience to the solver, I made a deliberate effort at using less convoluted clueing techniques. Which also gave me a bit of an easier time!

Dive in!

Complete or print “Pardon My French” at AmuseLabs.com

Gridlock (Cryptic #2)

This was my first serious attempt at compiling a cryptic crossword. It was exciting to manage to cobble together the themed answers. I hope you enjoy it too!

Looking at the clues now, a year on, I see a number that I’d probably like to rework, but I think everything’s fair. I do wish I’d been more conscious of avoiding double unches! I’ve tweaked a few clues in light of that oversight.

Difficulty: I’d say about average. A few easy ones, a few tough ones, and the rest somewhere in the middle. For international solvers, as I’m from Melbourne, there are one or two Australia-based references. Only in 27(c)-across is solving affected, but it should still be within reach to the knowledgeable solver, or solvable from the rest of the clue and cross letters.

Enjoy! And please, I’d love to hear your feedback!

Complete or print “Gridlock” at AmuseLabs.com