Listen With Others

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3976 – Hard Rectangle – Harpy’s blog

Posted by Listen With Others on 29 April 2008

A map in a book about Venice was the trigger for this puzzle, the sinuous curve of The Grand Canal perhaps making a nice feature to snake through the middle of a crossword grid. Given the city's many literary connections, the next step was to check in the ODQ for inspiration. Browning and Coleridge yielded nothing tractable, there was a possibility with Byron, but what was this? – “Underneath Day's azure eyes, Ocean's nursling, Venice lies”, courtesy of Shelley. “Day's azure eyes” could go nicely at the top (and had thirteen letters to boot!), and the grid could feature a map of Venice. A promising start.

The aim was that solvers should be unaware of the Venice nature of the puzzle until pretty far down the solving path, the city slowly “emerging”. So having “Day's azure eyes” appearing within the grid itself would not be ideal – it therefore became a final step for the solver to complete in a box above the grid. The next problem was to decide how to make THE GRAND CANAL appear, but not too obviously. This ruled out things like clashing letters in those particular cells. However, land and water could be distinguished by shading, with the alphabet split accordingly. A little annoying that this would be a rather lopsided business, with the water grabbing a lot of the “friendly” letters (ACDEGHLNRT). However, the land still had the three vowels I, O, and U, plus the S, so the approach wasn't ruled out.

At this point, it was decided to use the title of the puzzle as part of the solving process, and after a little playing around, it transpired that (with a few repeats) HARD RECTANGLE could be made from the water letters. This fitted nicely as the shape of Venice required a rectangular grid, though whether solvers would deem the puzzle “hard” was another matter! A number of people commented favourably on the accuracy of the map, which is pleasing as great care was taken in overlaying a pattern of crossing lines over the city map, while at the same time ensuring that The Grand Canal would be represented by the appropriate number of grid cells. But despite the much-appreciated efforts of one of the Listener editors, the electronically published grid got distorted into an almost square shape, though thankfully the version in the printed Times appeared exactly as it should have done.
Having completed the basic design of the grid, now came the task of positioning the bars and filling it. This would clearly be tough, given the many constraints, and a symmetrical bar pattern was quickly abandoned. Success finally came with the help of Ross Beresford's “Tea & Sympathy” software (and it was great that a little acknowledgment of this could be made at 26 down). But it wasn't all that easy. Initial attempts led nowhere, with many arrangements of bars being tried. So the puzzle was put to one side for quite a while. But, on trying a radically different approach, it proved possible to fill the grid after all!
It was odd that the letters PB appeared to the left of SHELLEY in the bottom row. This was entirely fortuitous, being determined by how to disguise SHELLEY as bits of two adjacent entries, and by the alphabet split mentioned above. So no claim can be made for designing this in!
Generating messages from clue letters is a popular, and possibly overworked, device, but was the logical choice for this puzzle. Many of the gimmicks used to achieve this are met very frequently, and so it was decided to try something a little more unusual. The idea of unjumbling a word in the definition, with the removal of one letter, was eventually chosen. This turned out to be a good choice as it received a number of appreciative comments. It was also amusing to construct clues of this type. The technique has been used in The Listener series before, despite what several solvers thought, for instance in last year's “Curry” by Kea. Maybe he invented it?
With the clues written, the puzzle then went to two test-solvers for assessment – Harpy is most grateful to them. After final polishing, it was ready for submission to The Listener, and fortunately was accepted with only minor changes, which was great.
It was very pleasing to receive many favourable comments on this first outing for “Harpy”, with only a very small proportion of negative remarks. Thank you to all who provided feedback, whether by personal communication, or Crossword Centre messages. It was also good to read the solvers' reports provided by Gregson, Erwin Hatch at LWO, and George (vs The Listener). All being well, this won't be the last puzzle from –

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