Listen With Others

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Listener 4145: A Keep – Setter’s Blog by Phi

Posted by Listen With Others on 30 Jul 2011

Mervyn Peake puzzle? Well, it’s been done, hasn’t it? There was that one back in CROSSWORD magazine 20+ years ago, and then that Inquisitor in 2008. Well, yes, now you come to mention it, both by me.

[Actually, the first one of those had some wonderful anagrams in it, inspired by observing that TITUS GROAN becomes OUTSTARING; this led to the discovery that GORMENGHAST, with the S replaced by U, can become GRANGEMOUTH, and TITUS ALONE (S -> X) transforms to EXULTATION; incidentally, none of this TEA and Sympathy malarkey in those days – it was all done by sweat of brow and brute force anagramming.
“Brute force anagramming? You were lucky – when I were a lad, I had to chisel out the individual letters of my anagrams from the cold granite.”
“A chisel? You had a chisel? Luxury…”]

Sorry, where was I?

Noting the centenary of Mervyn Peake was a reflex action, but finding that it fell on a Saturday upped the ante immediately. I drafted a grid quite quickly, but, while it was a perfectly fine puzzle idea (and we’ll come back to it in due course) it wasn’t that mysterious beast, a Listener puzzle. So I cast around for a further idea, and looked at the opening paragraph of the trilogy. The depiction of the castle there gave me the idea for the skyline effect – I particularly wanted one turret ‘point[ing] blasphemously at heaven’. That meant the puzzle would be carte blanche – pointless giving the outcome at the outset – which in turn led to some interesting solving challenges, and some thought into how to address them. Obviously, with a CB, you expect some hints about the symmetry to emerge (generally from the pattern of across word-lengths appearing as you solve), but here they would be deeply hidden by the fact that the first few clues would not adhere to any symmetry. However, making the main body of the puzzle symmetrical would still allow for some hints as to the pattern to emerge. Against that, I wanted some castellations to ensure you placed the Downs correctly. I may be very much on the side of symmetry in puzzles, but that doesn’t stop me wanting to play with the concept!

I also planned some very long entries – especially vertically – as anchors for the grid. But, as it happens, MERVYN PEAKE and GORMENGHAST are the same length (indeed, the R, N and A are shared, as that 2008 Inquisitor puzzle utilised), so two of my long answers were immediately unclued, and of much less value.

Obviously one of the first things you need to do for an anniversary puzzle is to ‘bag’ the date, and this I did. It turned out to be my last formal contact with Derek Arthur as an editor. His death was a tremendous shock. On a more practical level, the moratorium imposed while the editorship regrouped provided a worrying impediment to the timing. Not least, my earthquake puzzle moved to January this year – rather close to (indeed, slightly under) the six-month deadline for a setter’s repeated appearance if the Peake puzzle was to hit its anniversary. But the editors agreed to make an exception, even though, by this time, they had another CB for the preceding week – in fact, I had to change a corner of the original grid because of a clash of vocabulary between puzzles.

Editor 1 failed to finish, and came back for a hint (the division point between across and down clues) – which editor 2 decided against giving solvers, so I reckoned that this would appear as a tough test. What we all three managed to miss was the absence of a clear statement that the clues were in the right order, which, at the moment of writing (late afternoon on 9 July, NZ time), is causing agonies of indecision in a certain online forum.

Later note: having now seen comments from solvers, it’s also clear that the statement about numbers was less than helpful. I’ve tended to submit carte blanches with clues asterisked ever since I spotted (on a set of proofs) the unfortunate occurrence of a rare two-sentenced clue having its second sentence start on a fresh line – without numbers (or some other distinguishing feature), of course, this looks like a new clue. Numbers do help with notes and so on but (in good old retrospect) might not have been the best solution here. I have had a Listener CB with a preamble clearly stating that the clues were in random order (come to think of it, that was the one with the two-sentenced clue), but this wasn’t the moment for a repeat! [If you want to try this puzzle, click the image on the right; solution in a few days – Ed]

At some point I revisited the title. It was originally ‘Keep in View’ (told you it was a visual stimulus). Looking at that one day, I suddenly realised the obvious anagram and replaced it for submission, rather tentatively, as I already had wind of some of the publicity that would surround the centenary, and thought it might be a bit of a giveaway. Editor 1 loved it, so that was that. I do know one solver twigged the theme before solving a clue, but I gather that didn’t make it much easier.

Let’s just go back to that other puzzle I mentioned. I don’t like to waste ideas, and this was a perfectly good puzzle, so I finished it off, and it went in as an Inquisitor. Once again, I had to ‘bag’ the date and a reminder to that effect was my last exchange with Mike Laws. (So I am forswearing anniversary puzzles for a while at least.) But, for those of you who also do the Inquisitor, Plumrot is me, and the genesis of that pseudonym will accompany the solution notes.

As a happier coincidence, my copies of the centenary reissues of the Gormenghast books (including the newly discovered sequel by Peake’s widow) arrived today, on the date of the centenary itself. (And the puzzle, of course.)

This makes a third CB in sequence. Looking back, I’d note that each idea is strongly visual – quite unusual for me; each also plays slightly differently with symmetry. 50-50 had the concept of the nested Ls, which I didn’t want to show at the outset, (much the same as the visual element of A Keep); Heart relied heavily on the image of sliding two halves of the grid. You may be relieved to know that my next Listener idea has a grid with bars and numbers.


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