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Listener 4122, Heart: A Setter’s Blog by Phi

Posted by phiology on 19 February 2011

Well, there we were in bed, and we felt the earth move…

Dirty minds, all of you. The above is not uncommon here in New Zealand, though I’m quite good at not noticing earthquakes. But there have been one or two that even I had to consider undeniable. And the other half – she’s the earthquake sensitive one – slept through the big quake in Christchurch last year, while I lurched awake, and made a mental note to check whether there had been an earthquake at what the level of daylight (I couldn’t see a clock) suggested was about 0430. Not bad: it actually occurred at 0435.

But once I started thinking about earthquakes, and also embarked on reading a book on NZ geology, then it seemed there was a puzzle in there. The concept of sliding motion between tectonic plates was in at the outset. In fact, the idea of vertical sliding was in at the outset, since the faultline in NZ is (very) roughly N-S – I was interested to see one of the editors think that the grid might have been fairer had the slipping been horizontal. That was never really an option, in my mind.

There followed what, for me, was a large amount of scribbling on paper trying to get some grids to work. The original plan was that two adjacent columns would slide together, creating new words all the way down the faultline. This was clearly unworkable, though I obdurately pressed on for about four failed diagrams too many. I suspect it might be possible, but I wanted the final grid to contain and/or retain thematic material, and the words I’d come up with just wouldn’t play ball.

Then the idea of letters sliding down within a single column occurred to me, and that grid fell out quickly. It also brought with it the idea of a Carte Blanche grid that didn’t actually fit the presented square in its original formulation, and that seemed a new concept. I settled on FAULTLINE down the middle (which, when combined with TECTONICS threw up a coincidental NZ in the pairings), and went for MERCALLI SCALE simply because it had an odd number of letters. With a central column, RICHTER SCALE would have been offset and, despite all the recent muttering about whether symmetry adds anything, I suspect that would have thrown quite a few people. (The NZ Geonet people use Modified Mercalli rather than Richter to measure local quakes, anyway. Here’s yesterday’s (which I missed) at GeoNet New Zealand.) I looked up PLATE in Chambers, and it had a wonderful range of definitions, and the idea of including these ‘redundantly’ in clues was born.

The idea felt sufficient of a novelty that I employed a tester. I’m in two minds about testers, ever since I tried two testers out on one puzzle, and got such contradictory responses that I ignored both. But this idea felt like it needed to be run past someone, and so it was sent off. The tester solved it, though not without some detours, and while I was interested in these vagaries, I didn’t in the end make a great deal of changes. He did spot, and get slightly distracted by, the transitive verb ‘to heart’ which I hadn’t even considered, but it’s another nice coincidence.

The editors accepted it without asking me for rewrites (though they made some themselves – always tempting, therefore, to say that any clue you disliked wasn’t my doing…). They found that my first answer was one of Chambers’ treacherously absent cross-references; I’d never noticed this, having filled the grid interactively with Sympathy, and happening to clue the word also at the computer. By the way, the veg in question is called SILVERBEET in NZ (see ODE) (our neighbour has it growing wild in his garden). A neat indication of the perils of electronic dictionaries – but that’s the reason for the warning in the preamble that seems to have misled some.

The puzzle predates the 2010 Christchurch earthquake by some margin – the actual one that set me thinking was in 2007, just before Christmas. There is, obviously, always the chance that the puzzle could appear just as a major incident hits. Indeed, the proofs arrived fairly close to one of Christchurch’s larger aftershocks on Boxing Day, which had me looking slightly askance. But if you cancelled things because something they contained might possibly be caught up in events, then you’d never publish anything.

Phi.

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One Response to “Listener 4122, Heart: A Setter’s Blog by Phi”

  1. (I’ve just come across this excellent blog. Why did nobody tell me!)

    I was so chuffed to be named as one of the runners up for Heart, because I had such a struggle with this one. I stubbornly battled on, trying all sorts of ways of fitting it to the grid, until it finally balanced and made sense. It almost makes up for having to abandon last week’s numerical, and once again blowing my fantasty of having an all correct year.

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