Listen With Others

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Listener 4183, Continental Drift: A Setter’s Blog by Shark

Posted by Listen With Others on 21 Apr 2012

My debut Listener – how long have I waited to say that! Indeed this was almost a debut puzzle as it was the third one I set about four years ago. Although I can remember where I was when I set it (I won’t bore you!), the difficulty now is that I cannot remember why I thought of the puzzle. I don’t think it was based on a Listener puzzle using outlines of places, as I had only been solving for about a year, but I do remember thinking that the outline of Africa could be constructed using the letters of the word.

I got an outline of Africa and placed it over a large grid and worked out that it needed to be slightly longer than it was wide and therefore plumped for a 13×12 grid. But how to choose the letters? What if Africa was an odd-one-out. Continents – not enough. Countries – yes, although there are far too many. European countries were the way to go. I sat down with Chambers looking up all possibilties preceding another word, and listed them in length order. Highlighting every occurrence of A F R I and C in each, I could work out a possible symmetrical grid using every down entry. However I soon realized that if I were to use every down entry, I would never make the across entries into real words. There was no point in using only a few down entries, so I went for across jumbles. Luckily the grid could work this way ensuring symmetry. Solvers on the whole are not keen on jumbles, so I wanted to make the clues easier. I thought of cluing these with the wordplay producing the jumbled form. I had never seen this gimmick when I set it, but I have seen it since.

I sent the puzzle off to John Grimshaw in December 2008 and never heard any response until Shane came on board when he and Roger discovered several “lost” puzzles. Thankfully the editors decided they would re-solve them (not actually knowing if it had been solved in the first place).

Here comes the debate. Solvers on the whole have given positive feedback and so I am pleased it has gone down so well. However, several solvers noticed the connection very early on. I can assure you the comments would have been very different if you had solved the original format. The grid fill was not an issue with the editors, but the denouement proved too difficult with my initial preamble. This merely stated that the solver had to find an odd-one-out, without any extra pointers, which proved to be a stumbling block. I had to agree with the editors that the theme was enjoyable enough without the added difficulty and the extra leap would merit criticism. Talking of editors, I don’t think anything happened to Roger at the end of the Listener dinner (see 20 down) but has anyone seen him since?


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