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Listener 4123, Les Six: Setter’s Blog by Raich

Posted by Listen With Others on 26 February 2011

Not the most complex puzzle construction, but happy to present a setter’s blog nonetheless.

As it happens, Raich is very familiar with French political developments, language and culture. When the number of French Presidents since the Fifth Republic was introduced in 1958 had reached six, it seemed a ‘critical mass’ might be there that a puzzle could be based around. The Fifth Republic introduced a new system with a directly elected President with very wide powers, with an election for President every seven years (this was later reduced to five) – maximum of two terms allowed. The Presidents are very well-known.

The title of the puzzle suggested itself from a group of early C20 French composers known as that.

My first thought was to put LES PRÉSIDENTS DE LA CINQUIÈME RÉPUBLIQUE within the grid in the shape of the perimeter of the map of France which solvers would have to find. In France this is known as “The Hexagon” after the geographical shape of the country. I would then try to build a puzzle involving the Presidents around it. The Hexagon might have given further opportunities to use the ‘six’ theme. Despite quite a few attempts I could not achieve this, trying to fill the grid with other words without ambiguity was very difficult unless very elaborate details of the shape were given in the preamble which might reveal too much. The fact that there were two Qs in the phrase did not make it any easier.

So that idea had to be abandoned in favour of what actually appeared. As the puzzle would be very easy if the Presidents appeared in the grid, the approach adopted was that anagrams of their names would appear in the grid and solvers would be given an instruction that this was required.

The two earlier Raich puzzles in the Listener series had ‘last steps’ which had turned out be quite difficult so I tried to make the last step in this one a little easier and so plumped for the highlighting of Élysée which in France is used as shorthand for the Presidency. I was just a little concerned that this might not be so familiar to UK solvers so checked this out in advance with a couple of people. The message came back that it was very well-known.

The instruction was MÉLANGEZ LES PRÉSIDENTS DE LA CINQUIÈME RÉPUBLIQUE. While the instruction was in French, it was thought this would be very easy to translate with mélange as a mixture appearing in Chambers (though mélangez in the message is the plural form of the imperative verb) and ‘Presidents’ and ‘Republic’ would both be simple to deduce. French numbers are pretty well-known, not least because of Eurovision voting, so again it was considered no major problems should occur with ‘cinquième’. Also that there was no need to refer to the foreign language in the preamble as (1) it might give too much away (2) the title of the puzzle already hinted at ‘Frenchness’.

How to present the instruction? In the end, I decided to go for the idea of the message emerging from clues as they were solved. To increase the difficulty level a little in a puzzle like the Listener, I went for two different clue types (A) wordplay having an extra letter and (B) wordplay with one letter missing. The latter are harder to solve than the former and I avoided using them in the case of three-letter answers, the wordplay would then have only two letters. Ideally I tried to have an equal number of each type of clues, but fell just short (by 2 – 24/20 instead of the 22/22 of a 50:50 split). The major constraint that led to this is that in the ‘missing letter’ clues, the relevant letter that appears in the instruction has also to appear in the relevant answer in the grid.

Constructing the grid was quite difficult. Having to split one President’s name (GISCARD D’ESTAING) in two meant there were 7 anagrammed entries altogether and ÉLYSÉE also had to be accommodated. In 3 of these anagrams all the letters were different so there could be at most one unchecked letter in the answer – otherwise there would be ambiguity. It took quite some time to get the grid to meet the recommendation in the guide for Listener setters in regard to minimum average word length but I got there in the end.

So then the clues had to be written and fingers crossed for President Sarkozy’s well-being as the arrival of a seventh President between submission and publication would have holed the puzzle below the waterline. As you know, he made it. The next presidential election is due in 2012.

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