Design Notes - Not an Answer
This part is really only for people who are interested in designing puzzles. I haven't been
at it long - just over a month - but I have learned a little and I have a few theories
about what makes a good puzzle. Even for a puzzle with a simple idea like this one, there
are things that I did that, I hope, made it better. Doubtless there are more things I
should have done to make it great and if anyone has ideas in that direction I would love
to hear them.
For me, this puzzle was about expectations.
The tricky part was deciding exactly what to say in the preamble. I wanted the first few numbers to be prime, then continue with odd numbers hitting some primes as I went (not hard since they are pretty dense in that range), and finally mostly letting them fall where they may. The mind is quick to see patterns and I wanted to suggest a few trails to run down. The letter "e" appears with a fair degree of regularity so the spacing tended to have a fairly natural appearance. I engineered it to have a few clumps and a few bigger gaps but I decided against using any words with two "e"'s in a row in the perhaps mistaken belief that the eye would be drawn to them and might give away the pattern. Someone actually commented that they wished they could randomize the numbers when they looked at the page. I thought this was very acute.
One of the earliest comments asked if the arrangement of the numbers had any significance. I think, even though I truthfully answered that it didn't, that seeing the numbers arranged in a perfect square with one extra number nags at the back of the reader's mind. Why the extra number? We want things to follow a pattern. We want them to square up. The fact that it is one more than a perfect square must mean something. That's my theory anyway.
The next problem in composition was how much to say.
I needed to have enough numbers for the pattern to be unique. I couldn't have it match anything else and people here are absolutely amazing at finding number patterns. On the other hand I didn't want to appear to be droning on for the sake of droning on. I wanted to mention the count early on to suggest that it was something I knew before I began writing instead of something I generated near the end of the process. The title was something I wanted to say in the preamble but couldn't find a way to insert naturally.
I added a hint after a few days of inactivity on the puzzle. I assumed people had given up
on it. Comments appearing afterwards indicate I was probably mistaken.
The point of the hint was, of course, the pun on "ease" and "e"'s. This dictated the wording "true to say" and "in a sense". I threw in some information given in comments as filler to make the nature of the hint less obvious. Ideally, I like a hint to be a sort of mini-puzzle in itself.
Creating a puzzle should make you happy.
Self-reference is kind of an obsession with me and part of the charm for me was that the seemingly inconsequential introduction to the problem of finding the pattern is the pattern. I like that the words about how my puzzles can be hard or easy were deliberately chosen to make it harder to solve. They were also quite true. When I typed in the puzzle, the "e"'s seemed to leap from the screen shouting their positions. Particularly the first two. I had no idea whether the puzzle would take 5 minutes or 5 days to solve. I love the complex problems that appear on this site and the care that goes into them but I also love the way simple, low-tech ideas can provide an entertaining challenge as well. Hopefully we will continue to see great examples of both.