Listen With Others

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Listener 4144: Location, Location, Location – Setter’s Blog by Shackleton

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 July 2011

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way; and write when there is something that you know; and not before, and not too damned much after.” I carefully (and uncharacteristically neatly) recorded this quotation in a small notebook some 25 years ago at a time when I was reading through much of Hemingway’s work, and it seems quite apposite now. But Shirley twisted my arm ever so nicely, and wrote a wonderful blog, so it would be churlish of me not to say a few words about setting this puzzle.

I have to start off by expressing a debt of gratitude to Pieman for asking me to test-solve his excellent Liberty Bell around April 2010; not only did this sow the seed, but gave me enough of a head start that I was able to complete the puzzle and submit it in time for publication on the anniversary. In the couple of months after the test-solve, I kept on seeing patterns in the bars of puzzles I was working on, and eventually I became obsessed about finding a compelling symmetric phrase that could be written in the bars. Preferably (though I didn’t hold out much hope) there should be a thematic connection to bars – musicians, the legal profession, gold bullion, atmospheric pressure, Scottish jokes, fish (‘SWIMS’ was an early possibility as part of the message), high-jumpers, pole-vaulters, and barflies were all fair game. I spent quite a while exploring the possibilities. Hemingway wasn’t immediately obvious because the symmetry didn’t cover the middle letters, but the strong thematic connection made me examine this possibility quite carefully. Spotting 1961 was a eureka moment – very exciting; even Hemingway’s age was 61 at the time of his death! And the timing of this discovery could not have been more perfect.

I took these ideas down to Italy for my summer holiday and worked through various grid ideas. I wasn’t sure initially what to do about the N. I think it was clear in my mind from the beginning that drawing its diagonal was going to be the means to ensure that solvers understood the bar theme, but it took a while before coming up with the (in retrospect) fairly obvious idea that it should also be a dividing line between two entries. In the end it was this that just loosened up the constraints enough for me to construct a fillable grid into which I could also fit ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. Before this, the early grid prototypes had a block cut out of each corner; and at one point, the most workable grid I had insisted on putting both ERNEST and SHACKLETON in the fill, but I was quite relieved when I was able to discard this. In the end I was very pleased with the N aspect of the grid, as the various wrong alternatives were all plausible: a forward slash (i.e. a backward N) being the natural way to divide the cell, an H might stand for Hemingway, and a bar along the top of the cell might look like a small N but is ruled out because of symmetry.

By the time I left Italy I had the grid, fill, and an initial full set of clues which I honed over the following months. Given the necessity for both a carte blanche and a message (referencing the bars in order to make the thematic connection), I tried to make the clues a bit easier than usual. Writing the ‘misprint in the definition’ clues was as enjoyable and time consuming as always. The hardest was for SWING-SWANG – I could think of only one misprint for defining SWING-SWANG which produces an ‘I’ – namely Pernod to Period – and this needed to be at the beginning of the clue to avoid any change in capitalisation. I expect there are some other treatments, and I’d be interested to hear suggestions. Incidentally, Piers Ruff (Pilcrow) points out that there is a Swing-Swang lane in Basingstoke which, belying its name, appears to be quite straight. With the puzzle coming together so nicely, a satisfying bonus was the clue for STAG (‘In depression there’s time for whiskey – single malt?’) – quite apropos given the subject matter.

Many thanks as always to all who took the time to comment on the puzzle and the clues.

Ernest on Ernest

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