Listen With Others

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3983 – Reappearance by Poat – Setter’s Blog

Posted by Listen With Others on 14 June 2008

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Oddly enough, the initial seed for this puzzle came when I was toying with the idea of pantomime horses splitting up and cantering all over the grid, with the new joins possibly spelling a message of some kind. But I let the matter rest after concluding that it would be an unusual panto that had more than one horse.

Subsequently, flicking through a volume of Yeats poetry while staying at a friend’s house, I came across ‘The Second Coming’ with its familiar third line, and this prompted memories of reading part of the Chinua Achebe novel while at school (and my garbled attempts to pronounce the names of the protagonists). So I decided to try and create a grid that included Achebe’s name, in tribute to this landmark work in African literature – which itself is rarely, if ever, encountered in Listener puzzles – using the same twist of answer-halves ending up in different slots, combined with omission of the central letter. The line in question also had thirty-four letters, which looked like a handy limit on the number of clues.

First of all I planned an ambitious grid that would feature (i) CACHEBE and WBYEATS as unclued answers, (ii) middle letters being omitted from all answers, the omissions spelling in turn the relevant line, and (iii) second halves of answers randomly situated in both across and down locations, rather than being placed symmetrically in opposition to their first halves. In the event I found it hard to produce a suitable fill, and decided that the solve would quite probably be too difficult in any case. I subsequently determined to include the letters of CHINUA ACHEBE hidden in the grid as a starting point, it happily being twelve letters in length, and to show the poem’s title as twinned unclued answers. I also settled on having across answers entered in accordance with the first part of the relevant line, and down answers in accordance with the second – meaning that the omitted letters need not have any additional significance. All grid entries were
therefore of even length, though down answer lengths were odd. Finally I thought it best to use a symmetrical entry method for halves of across answers, giving further leeway to solvers in a puzzle that might be tough to break into, even if the quote were identified fairly early.

Having done a bit more research into the poem, I learned about Yeats’ thinking on what he called ‘gyres’ – his word for contrary and conflicting spirals within the process of history. Thus the ‘widening gyre’ of the opening line anticipated the forthcoming cataclysm when he believed a new era of contraction would begin. Based on this concept, an early working title for the puzzle was ‘Spin Cycle’, and this prompted the somewhat unusual appearance of the hidden name (as if it were starting to spin from a level plane into chaos, falling apart into the ‘mere anarchy’ of line four).

After a few attempts I ended up with a satisfactory fill, and had also ensured that there would be 34 clues to write – I was thinking of using either misprints or extra letters in wordplay to spell out the line of poetry. But these methods are pretty hackneyed (not to mention non-thematic), and I thought there would be subtler ways of pointing the solver towards the relevant information. Furthermore I prefer plain clues, on balance. I had included seven widely-spaced answers, the initials of which would spell W B YEATS, and these, combined with the surmised unclued answers and preliminary information from the grid, were intended to be the route to a solution. The seven special clues for these answers were arranged with mismatched definitions and wordplay, ‘turning and turning’ in a cyclical sequence.

As a further self-imposed constraint and since I had the right number of clues, I now elected to compose them with initial letters matching the quote, but in numerical order rather than normal clue order. I thought the acrostic would be sufficiently well-hidden this way, but might provide an enjoyable ‘Easter egg’ for a few particularly alert solvers after unravelling the puzzle. Indeed, none of my testers or the Listener editors picked up on this before seeing the solution notes; I had included an oblique hint in the draft preamble, but this was sensibly removed and the feature was left as something to be discovered. Finally, my test solvers having deemed the original title to be misleading, since the puzzle was based on line three rather than line one of the poem, I amended it to the slightly dull ‘Reappearance’. This was approved by the editors as a useful hint towards getting SECOND and COMING.

Incidentally, a correspondent speculated before the puzzle appeared whether there would be a tie-in with the Ian Fleming centenary (instead, it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the appearance of Achebe’s novel, which I understand is currently Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime). Alas, The Casino Royale wouldn’t quite work for the unclued answers, but I hope solvers were suitably stirred, if not shaken.

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