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Listener 4090: A Setter’s Blog by Dysart

Posted by dyste on 3 July 2010

Treasure Island came to me originally because I was thinking of a puzzle involving some hidden treasure, something along the lines of Merlin’s Olde Treasure Hunt (Listener 3883), though I didn’t think I could close to matching Merlin’s skill. The thought of the novel brought to mind “Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum” and that started me on a route to a grid. I decided at the outset that LONG JOHN SILVER would be an unclued entry (determining the grid size) , and that the theme would be indicated through a message including the third line of the song fragment and the book title (determining the number of clues). Then I thought of how best to represent the familiar opening words from the song in the grid. My initial idea was to represent the bottle of rum as RUM contained in some sort of bottle in the shape of a bottle.  FIFTEEN MEN ON THE DEAD MAN’S CHEST could be represented in various ways,  partly cryptic. I spent hours trying to construct a grid but found it impossible to produce something satisfactory without resorting to jumbled down entries. I came up with two tentative ones below:

Grid 1 – RUM in A  METHUSELAH

Grid 2 – RUM x 2 in JAMAICAN

6 down is a jumble of  RUM SHOP

I wasn’t altogether happy with the jumbled downs, since there was no thematic justification for them.

I decided to call the puzzle Derelict (after the poem by Young E. Alison) and set about writing clues. I happened to say to a friend, who is not a crossword solver but who shows a lot of interest in my puzzles, that I was planning one based on Treasure Island, and he immediately replied, “I bet you’re calling it Derelict.” This made me realise that it was a risky title if solvers were as knowledgeable as my friend, so I ditched it as a title but decided to exploit it as a thematic element . The obvious approach was for the word to be formed from discards from clashing answers, but, to be fair to solvers, I wanted the resolution of clashes to result in real words. This was an extra constraint, but it wasn’t hard to achieve. Shortly after that I decided that RUM could be an anagram indicator and was rather delighted to note that BOTTLE OF could convert to LEFT BOOT. This in turn led to the decision to have the rest of the couplet snaking through the grid, preferably in the shape of an island.

Initially I was not over-bothered about ambiguities in the trail since I was intending to ask only for the highlighting of the cryptic representation of the last three words, and I constructed a grid that actually had only 2 or 3 choices en route. Then I decided that I’d like solvers to outline the trail, which might look like part of an island. This is where things became very difficult, especially in the YO HO HO area. At one point I almost gave up, but a minor change to the barring enabled me to produce a grid where the trail was unambiguous. I couldn’t avoid a loop in the NE corner of the grid; this was a minor flaw, since it spoiled the impression of an island’s outline.

After some minor clue revisions following comments from two test-solvers I submitted the puzzle to the Listener editors. The first editor’s initial concern was that it was difficult to find a source other than the internet for the Alison poem, and this is not in accordance with The Listener team’s policy that thematic material should be verifiable without recourse to the internet.  Living abroad, I was not in a position to hunt  for a source in a library, and the only text I could track down on-line was an American anthology of poems, unlikely to be readily available in English libraries. One solution would be to ditch the Derelict element altogether, and therefore the clashes, but I was reluctant for it to go (as was one of my test solvers). It then occurred to me that DERELICT rather aptly described the discarded letters before they had been put to use again, so this might reassure solvers unable to trace the poem  in their choice of word to write below the grid. Solvers realising that the most likely choices to be left in the grid were those that made real words, would be faced with  [(GC)RETEIDL]*, from which DERELICT is the only possibility. A second concern was the overall length of the puzzle, which exceeded the maximum word count, so I undertook to re-write some clues.

The second editor, Derek Arthur, was also concerned about the difficulty of finding a text containing  the poem. An agreed solution was to make the writing of DERELICT under the grid optional. Derek also noted an ambiguity in the highlighting requirement. It was an ambiguity that I was originally aware of but which I dismissed because I’d intended ‘transmutation’ in the preamble to imply the formation of another object. He pointed out something that I had not noticed, that the alternative highlighting formed a capital I, which, as an abbreviation for iodine, might be linked with ‘transmutation’. I felt that it could have also tempted many solvers as it’s the abbreviation for ‘island’.

Alternative highlighting

My thanks to Derek for noticing something that had escaped me and others. My final preamble amendment, referring to something of little use to 1 down, resolved this ambiguity, and underlined the thematic point of the jumble.

Some solvers might have found the preamble a bit wordy, the result of  the several additions and amendments between submission and publication.

I should also record my thanks to two test solvers, who offered much-appreciated encouragement and advice. They may wish to remain anonymous, so I won’t reveal identities.

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3 Responses to “Listener 4090: A Setter’s Blog by Dysart”

  1. erwinch said

    Thank you Dysart, a most informative blog.  The ‘bottle of rum’ dénouement must rank among the greatest of finds in Listener history.  Of course, I did check which leg Silver was missing and found Stevenson’s very words:

    “His left leg was cut off close by the hip, and under
    the left shoulder he carried a crutch, which he managed with wonderful
    dexterity, hopping about upon it like a bird. He was very tall and strong, with
    a face as big as a ham – plain and pale, but intelligent and
    smiling”.

    It was a pity that Derelict is not better known but it did not spoil the puzzle for me.  As with Shirley, I found the toughest clue to be toe (toy) at 33ac, which was only found after Derelict was suspected.  I was very taken with Dave’s suggestion that the outline of the island might resemble Silver’s profile – a serendipitous extra.

    I too look forward to your next – well done!

  2. bb said

    All in all a very enjoyable puzzle. Regarding the optional nature of writing in “Derelict” under the grid, you note that it was made optional due to the difficulty of finding a copy of that poem if one lacks Internet access. Is there some irony in the fact that you are disclosing this on the Internet? I’m guessing the back-and-forth over “Derelict”, the submission of the puzzle, the testing, commenting, etc. also took place over the Internet. Time to update the policy, probably.

  3. Jack said

    Before the www, Listener solvers would often be forced to traipse to their local library to find the source required. We were never limited to the ODQ. I read entire plays and novels often in the vain hope of solving a puzzle. ALL local libraries now have free internet access. How is this different?

    The difference today is that those elderly and disabled who did not have access to a library in “the good old days”, can now access all these resources and many many more even from a hospital bed, and most conveniently from home AS WELL AS from their local library.

    The internet is now easier to use than Ceefax or a telephone. It does change at an unprecedented rate however, so a clued-up but helpful friend or family member is always useful. Once online, such helpers can easily be found there (a lost cousin in Australia for example).

    There are also many virtual communities of “Silver Surfers”.

    Fear of the internet as a pornography-infested hell is as irrational as fear of the telephone due to the “chat” line prostitutes’ cards found in every phone box (if you can find a phone box)or of the written word due to Playboy magazine. If you don’t want it you don’t have to get it: the content that is.

    I mean the internet as a library – banking, shopping and social networking are more complicated and can be riskier. But simply as a library the internet is wonderful: see wikipedia and its sister projects.

    It’s right that printed sources should be used. It’s wrong to assume that these are not now accessible to every solver.

    Great puzzle Dysart! Shame that you were limited by the otherwise excellent editors. In almost a thousand puzzles, I can count my disagreements with them on the finger of one hand. This is due to their remarkable way of almost always foreseeing all possible alternatives.

    Eds: please reconsider the internet thing – maybe first educate a little bit.

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