Innings/Outings by Mohawk – A Setter’s Blog
Posted by clanca1234 on 10 February 2013
I’m afraid this blog will be a little sketchy – it’s four or five years since I compiled the puzzle, and my memory of the process is not what it should be.
I can’t even remember how I hit on the idea of a pub cricket puzzle – I think I wanted to do something with pub names, and this seemed a good way. I played the game on car journeys as a child, and introduced it to my own children, though the growth of motorways and A-road bypasses has made it increasingly difficult. But I was aware that not everyone would be familiar with pub cricket, so the first thing I did was to google it.
The first entry that came up was Wikipedia, unhelpfully calling the game ‘car cricket’, which I’d never heard it called. But the game I knew came next, and – you’ll have to believe me here – at that time my search produced no reference to other versions involving drinking games or sexual harassment, which I’m afraid a number of solvers found.
The variety of pub names in Britain is such that I felt I needed some way of making them verifiable, so I checked in my Brewer’s (14th edition, but I don’t think the chapter’s changed much), and sure enough that aptly-named tome had a reasonably long list, if far from comprehensive. Some solvers have pointed out that it gives Bear and Ragged Staff rather than just Bear and Staff, though I’ve certainly seen pubs called both, so apologies for that.
Next I needed a clue gimmick that could generate PUB CRICKET and a brief summary of the rules. A LEG IS A RUN NO LEGS IS OUT or some such. And I needed a final step. I decided to make it a game between across and down, and hit on the idea of a substitution to convey the x for y scoring format. I honestly can’t remember what order the next steps came in –I just know it was a very complicated process pairing the pubs to get scores that I could reflect in the grid, and getting the right number of clues that were not involved in producing pub names or scores to convey the message. Oenophile/xenophile was a very happy spot when trying to turn two into six.
I first thought of the title Innings, as a way of linking pubs and cricket, then moved on to Innings and Outings to reflect the fact that it was a driving game, thinking this would also allow me to construct an apt clue gimmick. But having constructed a grid around a 33-letter message, I decided to split the clues into three groups, in, out and “in and out” – less satisfactory in terms of the theme, but perhaps more challenging to solve.
This was the third advanced cryptic I set as Mohawk. One was rejected by the Listener and published in Crossword, another went in the Magpie, and this one sat in the Listener slush pile for the next few years, until I got a surprise email in December to say it was being considered for publication, and could I have a look at the following dodgy clues. It was quite hard to reimmerse myself in the mindset of all those extra/omitted letters and misprints after all this time, and to work through all the possible alternative solutions thrown up when you have three different types of clue. Roger and Shane did a lot to improve the clues and eliminate ambiguities.
I then had to re-solve the edited puzzle myself. Even though I knew what the endgame was going to be, it took me 45 minutes. I wondered, slightly in awe of my 2007 self, how I could have been so devious as to want to inflict this pain on my friends and fellow Listener solvers.
So it was lovely to get the puzzle into the Listener after a gap of a few years, and I’ve had a very gratifying response to it so far. It’s a lot of work putting together an advanced thematic puzzle, and as a dilettante debutante I have the utmost respect for all those setters who continually keep coming up with new ingenious ideas and putting them into practice.