Nothing at all complex about setting this puzzle, but I’m happy to provide a setter’s blog.
I thought it might be a nice idea to plan a puzzle around what is a pretty famous newspaper headline: IT’S THE SUN WOT WON IT. This appeared after the 1992 Election when the Conservatives won, unexpectedly so since Labour had been predicted to win right up to polling day. Especially because of the unconventional spelling, it was essential that solvers should be able to track the quote down. It was brilliant therefore to find it was in every edition of the ODQ since the headline was written.
I had in mind from the start using a ‘numbers for words’ substitution to give ‘1992 election’ in the grid. I then tried to put the quote in the grid itself for the solver to highlight along with ‘1992 election’. This proved extremely difficult but I eventually made it with the I (2nd last letter of the quote) crossing the I (6th letter of election) with its path through diagonals.
It would be very important, especially in a puzzle like the Listener where solving records are kept, that highlighting would be unambiguous. While the quote was all there, I thought it would require quite a complex preamble to ensure this. This was further complicated by the fact that the two parts to be highlighted crossed. In particular, the solver would have had to be told in some way that the T in election (which adjoined the I) was NOT the (final) T in the headline.
So I abandoned that idea for the one that finally appeared, ie extra letters in the wordplay for 17 clues giving the quote which solvers were to write below the grid.
I then decided to put MAJOR and KINNOCK in the grid to give 24 cells in all to highlight. MAJOR was put above KINNOCK to symbolise the outcome of the election.
The trickiest part of constructing the grid was to find suitable answers for those entries where words were to be changed to numbers. This was particularly hard as the four cells were adjoining and they could not be left unchecked. I aimed to find answers where the letters did not mean those numbers, ie I was looking for answers where the letters in the number appeared together just by coincidence. In the end I managed that with three of the four, barONEss, neTWOrk, NINEtte, with the other being NINEpins. Only when these answers had been settled, did I try to construct the rest of the grid while the part where the numbers were remained unchanged.
All that remained then was to write clues. Two test solving volunteers independently tackled the puzzle and both made invaluable suggestions – many thanks to them. When the puzzle was finally ready for submission, I noted that the 20th anniversary of the headline was in April 2012. In its previous preparation, date had not been a factor. So in my covering note to the Listener editors, I mentioned that April 2012 might be an appropriate date, while saying that the puzzle had nothing to do with the Titanic.
Many thanks to them for publishing it on what was very close to the 20th anniversary.