I have been asked to write a setter’s blog for ‘Fieldwork’ but there really isn’t much to say about this puzzle. Fieldwork came about after the Listener editors expressed an interest in receiving some easier puzzles. I was walking in Rutland by the side of a field of BARLEY and the word FALLOW came up in conversation in the context of crop rotation and I wondered if there were other six-letter crops I could rotate in a grid.
The puzzle was a private nod to the late Roddy Forman (RADIX) who helped and encouraged me when I started setting. He loved symmetry in puzzles and this one gave me the opportunity to symmetrically place the various types of modification. Also, the clues to the symmetrically placed five-letter answers gave the first letters of the unclued crops and the clues to the symmetrically placed six-letter answers gave the final letters. In his own puzzles, Roddy was insistent on AT LEAST Ximenean unching so that was another thing for me to aim for in the grid construction.
Having chosen crops with the letter pattern unch, A, R/L, R/L, vowel, unch, unusually for me, I produced the grid first. The main aim being to allow the required rotation to take place with the minimum disruption to crossing entries. I then completed the grid fill. I didn’t know at that stage whether I would use CARROT or MARROW but in the end C and T proved easier than M and W to insert into clues as misprints.
The puzzle nearly didn’t get off the ground because I was worried about the use of the theme words. Although CROP is defined in Chambers as ‘to cut short’, I felt that ‘to crop’ implied to shorten by cutting from the top, as animals do when grazing. To crop a picture involves removing the edges so, despite the Chambers definition, I was very unsure the puzzle would be accepted when I had used the word to mean – cut the ends off answers. In the event neither the editors nor any commenters on the puzzle mentioned this so perhaps I worried unnecessarily; although personally, I wouldn’t use crop in the wordplay of a clue to mean shorten.
ROTATE is regularly used in wordplay to mean reversal so I was not worried about that. My slight doubt concerned the existence of the phrase CROP CIRCLE. The title fieldwork did not help differentiate between the two phrases but the preamble was worded to make it clear that theme word X is a verb and theme word Y is a noun. One could not “apply CIRCLE (Y)” to an answer to get the entry, and CROP CIRCLE/CIRCLING is not descriptive of what happens to the unclued entries. I just had to hope that by including FALLOW as one of the unclued entries, the correct phrase would present itself to solvers.
It was only during the editing phase that I learnt that The Times online cannot cope with subscripts, so in the clue to DEAMINATE, ‘remove NH2 group’ became ‘remove nitrogen-hydrogen group’. On the day of writing this setter’s blog, an article in The Times online used the word astrology when astronomy was intended! No wonder quality scientific reporting is so scarce in The Times. But before I get into a rant, I’ll finish.
Thank you to all those solvers who took the time to comment on the puzzle. And a big thank you to Shane and Roger, the editors. Unless you are a Listener contributor, you cannot know the care they take to polish and perfect the puzzles in the Listener series, but like me, I’m sure you are grateful they care as much as they do.