Listen With Others

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4000 – Quadrivium by Arcturus, Dimitry, Trev and Viking- Setter’s Blog

Posted by Listen With Others on 10 Oct 2008

Work on this puzzle could not commence until the co-editors were fairly sure how much space would be available in The Times. The eventual disruption to the puzzle pages, and the tightness of fit for the final version, show how risky the venture was. During the summer, Dimitry and Viking had a chance to meet up to discuss how to proceed. It was decided that the outline grid produced by the latter would be a feasible base for four sub-puzzles, each with an M-theme. Dimitry had some years ago identified a good quotation that could be used for M = thousand in a bell-ringing context, and which could be pressed into use here, while Viking chose M = music. It was agreed that Arcturus and Trev, the previous co-editor and the statistician, should be invited to produce M-themes, each with 35 clues and 8 thematic elements.



Identifying M-battles seemed straightforward. Also, Dimitry and Viking quickly identified six M-works that had the same word lengths as the composers, which gave the inkling of a theme. They went their separate ways confident that they could complete their sets. In the event Dimitry, having decided to use only battles beginning with M, had to use a rather obscure one to complete his octet, while Viking found it hard to get the two to complete his. He even tried M-composers in the hope of having four of each, but this proved even worse. Eventually, using only books on his own shelves, he found four more, one of which was reasonably well-known and added to the first six. Herrmann’s cantata Moby Dick was inviting until it was discovered he didn’t write the film music, so this would look like an error. So it was down to Métaboles by Dutilleux or Match by Kagel. Dimitry recommended the former since he has a recording of it. Ironically, Kagel died on the Thursday before the puzzle appeared. Viking was also toying with an encryption message somehow involving Symphony, Mahler, Thousand, but being troubled by overlapping letters. Dimitry suggested the key that was eventually used (though with the components reversed to give better letter correspondences).


In due course, Arcturus and Trev produced their thematic ideas and lists of possible entries, so grid filling could be undertaken. Viking helpfully suggested that the constraints were such that the grid must be infeasible. Dimitry was much more optimistic, but it took him two weeks to find a fill that satisfied him (having in the interim filled 38 different versions of the grid) and which arranged the thematic entries symmetrically, this entailing some selection of thematic entry lengths so that the two opposing sets contained the same selection of word lengths. One day later came a second fill with better words and the day after that a fill concealing the names of all four setters and Kea, who had agreed to test-solve the final version.


It was now time to write clues. Dimitry agreed to find a novel gimmick, Viking opted for misprints, Arcturus was happy to do normal clues, as his theme had no “message” to reveal, while Trev agreed to use “extra letter in wordplay”. Dimitry produced a set in remarkably quick time, especially remarkable since he decided to avoid anagrams because his entries were jumbles (though not random ones).


Viking found it hard to decide on what to do about his thematic elements. He was not keen to do wordplay for such as Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, so it seemed better to clue the works. It would be difficult to find varied definitions for the names in the set, not to mention “Minuet in G”, which was the Beethoven work at that time. It was therefore decided to have definition-free clues and rely on solvers eventually deducing the M starting letters for further help. Withholding definitions would also give solvers a clear indication that the clue is thematic and doesn’t contain some devious misprint. (Having settled on that, it was inevitable that some clue would, inadvertently, be & lit: Low luminance in the evening for “moonlight”.) Both Dimitry and Viking had concerns that the thematic treatment would allow solvers to avoid solving some clues, but were reluctant to move to devices such as DLM-type jumbles of FLOTOW+MARTHA, etc. Viking eventually persuaded himself that there were really two answers to each such clue, so if the solver got one from the grid or the other from the clue, then this wasn’t very different from a normal clue-solving process and the ability to short-circuit the other was a blemish he could live with. It was decided to see what Kea made of it.


Clues duly arrived from Arcturus and Trev, and were simultaneously analysed by Dimitry and Viking, then adjusted by the original setters. By the end of the August Bank Holiday weekend, a full version was ready for Kea, before Dimitry headed for Edinburgh and the Festival. This meant that Dimitry and Viking could again meet up to discuss Kea’s report.


All four setters are indebted to him for the speed and insight he applied to the task. Other than suggestions for clue adjustments, he commented on two features. One, as we hoped, was the music theme. He suggested it was better not to change to a different device, but to ease a couple of the clues and to replace “Minuet in G” by “Moonlight”. The other feature was that EMIT at 7dn could be anagrammed as the money item MITE, an unintended thematic element. It proved impossible to make a minor grid change to remove it, so we decided to replace the rather hard clue at 6dn by an easier one, in the hope that this entry, and at least one crossing one, would be in place before the theme was deduced, to show 7dn could not be MITE.


The final tweaks were quickly made and the puzzle delivered in good time, allowing Viking to switch attention to the use of colours to enliven the grid and to the other items to appear in the paper on the day. The subeditor and the designer at The Times did a remarkable job in fitting the puzzle into a single page, as well as negotiating the sponsorship of 4000p prizes, which was Trev’s idea. We are indebted to the Editor and Deputy Editor of Books for allowing such disruption to their pages, and to those other contributors who were inconvenienced. Finally, we are grateful to the Times Crossword Club personnel, who managed to overcome the normal conventions in order to display the large grid.



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