Listen With Others

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Listener 4178, Confused: A Setter’s Blog by Tea Leaves

Posted by Listen With Others on 17 March 2012

At the last Listener dinner, I met Shirley properly for the first time when I presented her with the Bronze Casket after her table came first in the quiz held during the meal. On a variation of the “no such thing as a free lunch” principle, she then bent my ear about writing a setter’s blog when my next puzzle was published. I protested that anything I wrote would be a piece of fiction since my memory is pretty shaky and the development of one of my crosswords is a very haphazard process which I do not keep a record of. She is, however, a very persistent lady and, with my arm very firmly twisted, I have surrendered! So here goes….

I had been playing around with the idea of creating a puzzle incorporating colours for some time. My first thought was to remove the letters in the completed grid and replace them by colouring in each square using a code such as A = red, B = blue etc. The result might be a flag or a well known painting: this task proved totally beyond me. I then thought about the finished “picture” being an abstract one of my own creation: this would have proved a nightmare for John Green to check (although he always says that this should not be a deterrent to a setter) but I found that around 200 “pixels” (coloured squares) yielded a very mediocre artistic effort.

At some point the idea jumped into my head of entering every answer as a colour so answers such as BARED could be read as “BA red” i.e. entered as BA and RED RUM would be treated as “red RUM” i.e. RUM. Now Machiavellian thoughts took over! I wanted to create the preamble from hell! Could it be a Carte Blanche, with answers having to be modified before entry and every intersection being a clash (i.e. a colour clash)? Perhaps the nature of this crossword could even permit every single square to be an intersecting clash.

Now I had to start the hard slog of producing a grid which included creating my own “dictionary” e.g. L could be “defined” as LOR, LUMBER or BEIGEL (I found beigel very pleasing!). For a word to be deemed a colour, it had to be defined as such in Chambers. With the limited number of words available, I was not convinced that a grid could be found with the characteristics I was seeking and the first casualty was symmetry! Eventually I came to believe that a grid could be created and my thoughts turned to how the clashes could be resolved in a satisfying way. I thought of “any colour as long as it’s black” and then “black and blue”: after a while I had the title i.e. CONFUSED which with F = T (FIST) yield CONTUSED (black and blue).

The use of Henry Ford’s quote determined an 8×9 grid with MODEL T FORD centrally placed. Starting from the perimeter but also working from the centre, a possible grid started to emerge: there were several false dawns — the most irritating being when intersections involved the same colour (i.e. no clash). The immense difficulty of creating such a grid enabled me to rationalise that the intersecting D of (BLUE) MURDER and (CYAN)IDE was indeed a clash albeit very marginally!!

Eventually a grid was found, and the clues were written with the message concealed in a straightforward way (extra words) which helped solvers to determine where the down clues started. The crossword was submitted with the following preamble:–

Tea Leaves has developed psycho tendencies. He seems to feel that “crossword” means an expletive to be sought from a frustrated solver! In this puzzle all answers are longer than the space allocated to them in the grid (which is unknown in any event due to the absence of bars). Having deduced the consistent method of entering the answers, it will be seen that in each square there is an intersection resulting from both an across and a down clue: unfortunately every single one is a clash!!

All across clues contain an extra word. These words in clue order yield a message suggesting appropriate physical violence to be carried out by the solver. This should help in uncovering the puzzle’s motel theme and resolving the clashes. Clues are presented in conventional order. Numbers in brackets indicate the length of the answers before they are shortened. The completed grid should not contain any bars or numbers. The Chambers Dictionary (2008) is the primary reference although one answer is in Collins English Dictionary.

The key element of this preamble which did not survive was a Psycho red herring. About five clues hinted at the film (a couple remained in the published crossword). “Motel” was a cryptic indicator of “Model T Ford”, the latter being read as “Model, T for D” i.e. Motel.

The vetting process was delayed due to the tragic death of Derek Arthur and I awaited the feedback from the first vetter with bated breath. As expected, a number of clues needed to be rewritten (rigour is not my strong suit — I think my clueing is more suitable for The Guardian!) and the significance of motel was not spotted. It was, however, pointed out that my pseudonym could have been treated thematically i.e. TEA LEAVES = EAVES. I confess that I had totally missed this! Now we thought that the Psycho red herring could be strengthened by having a Hitchcock style signature hinted at.

The second vetter solved the puzzle without recognising the significance of clashes — he merely omitted the colours in each answer. He was unhappy with the puzzle and concluded that the problem was with the red herring. Reluctantly I was persuaded to drop this feature. Some time was spent reworking the offending clues and, at the last gasp, we decided to offer the setter’s thematic signature as an “optional extra” — in case it was thought I had overlooked it (perish the thought!).

As ever, I was indebted to the vetters who do a tremendous job: just how do you let a setter down gently when a “brilliant” idea does not quite work?!

Tea Leaves


One Response to “Listener 4178, Confused: A Setter’s Blog by Tea Leaves”

  1. ted bainbridge said

    Read “take a fist to” as to punch = black and title “confused” as grey (as in grey areas) so had 2 colours for final grid.
    Having mised fist as the cryptic word instead looked at “described” and translated this as to remove all letters.
    Thus ended up with model t ford squares coloured black and rest of grid coloured grey and no letters at all!!!
    Amazing how one can misinterpret things which were initially meant to have only one interpretation.

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