Listen With Others

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Listener 4136, Cross-reference: A Setter’s Blog by Nudd (or “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life”)

Posted by Listen With Others on 1 June 2011

Maybe this one was not the most testing of challenges, but I’d hope that it provided adequate entertainment for the army of discerning Listener solvers. As a veteran of barely ten composed puzzles, it was indeed an honour to find one of my offerings considered suitable for Listener publication – however, I can’t claim complete credit for this, so first and foremost, a note of thanks:

Firstly, for their help and encouragement when I initially attempted setting, a big nod to Homer and Zero – their advice served to point me in the right direction (or away from the wrong one) at that early stage. Thanks also to subsequent testers of my efforts – and specifically in the case of Cross-reference to Chalicea and Radix. Lastly a doff of the topper in the direction of Chris, Dave, George and Shirley for their excellent solvers’ blogs, and to all who kindly take the time and trouble to submit feedback on any puzzles by whatever means – it is much appreciated, often constructively helpful, and of course adds an extra dimension to the whole effort.

Now for the puzzle itself – I was going to say that ‘the idea came to me …’ but this was more a case of ‘an idea came to me …’ since the finished article differed somewhat from the original seed. My primary intention was to construct a puzzle in which the words were more important than any kind of endgame (for which I’m afraid some simple highlighting had to suffice). I was toying with options for generating two answers from one clue when it occurred to me that I might instead use the clue to generate two words but then merge those back into a single answer. It was then a short step to decide that two half-words, run together in opposite directions, might generate some mileage, and may prove to be a bit different for solvers.

My first step was to start to compile a list of words which could work, and I soon recognised how many possibilities there might be. I also had grand ideas at that point to do something ‘clever’ with the discarded half words, like anagrammatise them and let those results appear maybe as extra words in other clues – for example, DEMIREPS and SUBLATED would combine to give SUBLIMED, but their discarded halves might additionally yield PREDATES. Sadly good intentions did not prevail, and that effort proved short-lived … my list of possible words shrunk significantly, and I was also stuck for any smart idea as to the purpose of those spare words (save in generation of an extra-word message, which threatened further layers of complexity and ingenuity which was, for me, in short supply at the time). I consequently opted just to lose the discards.

Just before constructing the grid, the Dolittle animal occurred to me as a means of indicating or reflecting the required treatment of the clues – that immediately obliged me to opt for 12×12 instead of my preferred 13×13, so I could neatly accommodate ‘Pushmi-Pullyu’. It also gave me a suitably vague working title of ‘In my life’ (as in Rex Harrison’s song from the Dolittle film musical).

I decided to focus a little more on the half-and-half elements … how about a number of ‘normal’ clues, then half of the remainder generating a message, and half being composite clues. I then hit on an idea of triple element clues for those composites, giving me a further opportunity for halving – seven would contain definitions to the two component words with wordplay only to the composite grid entry. The other seven would have a definition only of the grid entry with two sets of wordplay to the two component words. Indeed, after some effort, that’s how the first version ended up, was tested, tidied up and submitted.

The one casualty at that stage was the title – I had realised that I needed to use Hugh Lofting in the message, to point to his original creature (which was a gazelle-unicorn cross). The first film version had used the same animal, a llama, at both ends – so as a literary prototype, that would have just translated to palindromes in the puzzle. Hence, ‘In my life’ was out, and ‘Cross-reference’ took its place.

First vetting then caused me a major rethink. Roger suggested some significant improvements – bar off four original words to improve some under-unching, and switch all the triplet clues to pure full doubles, with full wordplay and definition to both component words (and no indication of the grid entry). He felt that the original version left some of the grid entries guessable with no strict obligation on the solver to solve all components of those clues. It made a lot of sense, consequently I got even more practice at (re)writing double clues.

After that major surgery, the puzzle passed to dear Derek, who had a bombshell in store for me. He only actually changed one clue in the puzzle, but did mention that he thought he had seen the theme before, and quite recently. I thought immediately that I was holed below the waterline, but an ensuing exchange of correspondence established that the other puzzle had merely served to leave the Lofting name fairly fresh in his mind, and that he thought there was still plenty to differentiate my offering. I subsequently managed to track the other puzzle down – it was in the Crossword Club mag (to which I have since begun to subscribe!). Fortunately, that puzzle, whilst referencing Pushmi-Pullyu, employed entire words which formed another word when written backwards, so my use of the two half-words was indeed a different treatment.

End of story – a few months’ wait, and there was my (first?) Listener – on almost the 125th anniversary of Hugh Lofting’s birth.

Remembering Derek Arthur and Mike Laws, two fine editors and setters. The crossword world is much the poorer without them.


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