Listen With Others

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Listener 4188, Painless: Setters’ Blogs by Rasputin

Posted by Listen With Others on 26 May 2012

Artix’s Blog (The R of Rasputin)

RASPUTIN, as you may have gathered, is a trio of setters: R, A & S who all give their (cryptic) INPUT*. I’m R. We formed last year, and have had one Magpie and two Inquisitors already published. This was our Listener début.

Working as a team is never quite as easy as it sounds, and Rasputin is no exception. S tends to collate the ideas and produces the grids on Crossword Compiler for Windows (though A doesn’t have this) and R prefers using EXCEL. We try and fail to have a system. It’s organised chaos that invariably devolves into a slanging match over whose clues should be used.

“Painless” was one of our first creations, aimed to commemorate Rupert Brooke sitting down in the Café des Westens in Berlin in May 1912 and nostalgically musing. S is the current “Queen” of the circular grids (having seemingly taken over Mass’s mantle). A had the idea. I was asked to join the team.

Whilst not entirely novel in its construction, at least the church clock face justified the circular format, and the dénouement put the hands at roughly the right time.

Now all we had to do, it seemed, was get together an acceptable set of clues. We split the 48 radials into three packs (A 1-16, R 17-32, S 33-48) and each submitted our ideas. And find a title (“Peacetime” was the original working title; then came “Hands on”; not until May 2011 did we agree upon “Painless”).

Then comes the fun: endless e-mails, degressively more abusive, displays of overt protectionism, nigh on insults. In this case, the message count probably ran to over 50. And that’s before you get to the test-solvers, who tweak and change a few; and then the editors, who insist and insert, delete and destroy. (Though, in this case, they genuinely improved a number, and certainly tightened up the lax or the ill-defined).

Direction indicators had been an issue: R wanted as many as possible, so as to make it a particular feature; S said this was not normal practice and would require unnecessary lengthening of the preamble to explain it to solvers; A sat on the fence. The test-solvers didn’t seem to mind too much, the editors were less keen. Almost all of them had to go before the final version (“NW to SE” in one clue was the only true survivor). Tant pis, next time.

There was a flood of surprised satisfaction when we finally realised that we had got our slot … this is the Listener, after all. And immense delight with the generous and complimentary reception the puzzle got. Thanks to all involved in the process, test-solvers, editors, all those who attempted it, and of course, to S & A.

PS: I’m not quite sure why (and I’m not certain if he is either in retrospect) but after we’d submitted this puzzle, A created a Rasputin group on Facebook. It still has only three members signed up.

PPS: The weekend of publication – by pure coincidence, I assure you – I found myself in Berlin. So I set off to try to find the site of the Café des Westens at 18/19 Kurfürstendamm. It closed in 1915. It is now a Vodafone shop. Ho,hum.

Ilver’s Blog (The A of Rasputin)

So how should we do this? Should I write the first draft of the blog and you comment? Or do you want to do alternate sentences? Or should we all write different ones which are mostly contradictory and then argue about how to resolve which is most accurate and which is the best? The joys of compiling as part of a group! As many of you many know or have twigged Rasputin is more than one setter, working together – a number of comments on our puzzles have identified a different style and complexity within the clues. So this is my recollection of how this went.

One of my co-setters has something of a reputation for circular puzzles. I had not set one but thought it would be good to use this expertise to develop a Rasputin circular puzzle. I was mulling on the train what theme would justify a circular and a clock seemed one of the ways to go. While faily obvious, the Brooke poem had quite a bit of promise for the following reasons. “Stands the church clock at … and is there honey still for tea” had 48 letters and so would work for the outer perimeter as it was divisible by 12 and hence could form a circular which represented a clock face. The missing “ten to three” could be represented by the hands of the clock using Rupert Brooke; each word had six letters so fitted very well with the circular concept. Finally, it was the anniversary of the poem relatively soon.

I got to work and immediately fired off an e-mail to my co-setters as this seemed too perfect an opportunity to miss. Thankfully it was one of the ideas that received traction with universal enthusiasm and the basic concept was good enough that there was not too much debate. A 48 outer ring was unusual, but there was one in Don Manley’s book and a check of the websites revealed that while this poem had been used before, it was not recent and not in this format. Our circular puzzle expert very quickly produced a grid with a slightly adjusted perimeter, losing the “the” and including “yet”, an interior circle with a further part of the poem “to forget the lies and truths” and with Rupert Brooke reading in the right direction. I spent some time trying to come up with a grid which went back to the original perimeter but failed. The Rupert and Brooke were reversed and both read outwards. The interior circle read “the centuries blend and blur” and a number of clues were entered with a letter missing which when taken together read “the old vicarage”. OK, but did not work as well.

Working with our expert’s grid we wanted to include a bit more thematic material if at all possible and debated, trying to have an equal number of radials reading in and out with a message concealed in radials working in a particular direction. Or having extra letters giving an instruction. Once again our expert resolved the issue by changing a number of entries such that “old vicarage” appeared in the third circle using a number of identified letters.

So this left the issue of what to put in the preamble and what to include in a message. In order to have the final PDM take place at the end, the changes to get to Rupert Brooke needed to be hinted at through a message in the clues. We debated and decided on “Erase Four Cells Insert Poet”. This happened to be 24 letters. I cannot totally recall now, but I wonder whether these were radials all reading one way. I certainly recall debating whether we could do that. Clue writing followed the usual mostly good-natured course – ha ha. Clue writing for us seems to be an entirely anarchic process. While we started out dividing up the clues and doing one third each on previous puzzles, I find it difficult to explain how they get done now. Broadly it seems to be everyone has a go at whatever they feel like and after some period of time we have a full set of clues, many with a number of alternatives. One setter collects all of this and does her best to keep everyone’s suggestions. We then exchange abusive e-mails, usually go into a sulk for a day or two, patch things up and somehow “agree” on a final set. I would descibe the clue setters as two conventional, and one truly brilliant and very off the wall (sadly not me!).

As I recall one of the debates we had was whether you could use directional indicators within a circular puzzle, eg NW etc. On this point we felt they were justified and hoped the editors agreed, which thankfully they did. The editorial process as ever sharpened up many of the clues and resulted in some excellent suggestions (eg 33a), but also required a rewrite of the message to “Alter four cells to show poet”, which was more accurate. The preamble took a while to agree, with plenty of debate around the element referring to “three questions”. I think when it came back from the editors, none of us could quite remember why this was there but chose not to change it – it just about worked.

We always have plenty of debate on titles. This started with a working title of “yet”, became “timeless” for a while and finished being “painless”.

Many thanks to the editors and test-solvers for their patience and help and to my co-setters for their rude comments on my poor clues. So, finally, does it work setting as a group? Absolutely. The final product is far superior to that which I can manage on my own, even if the path to get there is not entirely PAINLESS.

3 Responses to “Listener 4188, Painless: Setters’ Blogs by Rasputin”

  1. I’d probably like A’s Rasputin Facebook group if I could only find it among the multitude of ones there !

  2. Dave said

    Did you consider a clue paying tribute to Peter Sellers’ “Balham, Gateway to the South”?
    “Honey’s off, dear”.

  3. shirleycurran said

    Well, we’ve managed to produce the longest series of blogs ever haven’t we, but I, as the S of Rasputin, whilst agreeing that compiling as a group was one long, hilarious bicker, have to deny some of the credit allocated to me by the R and A. You only need to look at the comments in the Magpie on last month’s A (Artix’s) or attempt to solve this month’s Ilver D to see where the cluing genius lies. (Conventional, indeed Ilver!)

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