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Listener 4212, Resolution: A Setter’s Blog by Raich

Posted by Listen With Others on 10 November 2012

I had the idea from quite a while back to set a puzzle to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

The grid would very broadly represent a map. A block of cells containing the letters MISSILES would appear in Cuba without being identified. To illustrate the peaceful resolution of the crisis, solvers would move the contents back to the Soviet Union across the Atlantic Ocean (a grid entry). The contents would be put into an empty block of the same shape and size. Solvers would be asked to highlight USA, CUBA and USSR. These would appear in the grid in appropriate positions.

This meant a grid with ATLANTIC OCEAN (6D) as an entry running down an entire column. The grid would therefore have 13 rows. An empty block of eight cells (2×4) had to appear to the right of it. Because of this, symmetry was dispensed with. Introduction of the box led to further constraints, especially around it, in ensuring answers fit an appropriate model for unchecked cells. The answers had to have enough cells cross-checked by other answers to be fair to the solver. Two of the three countries involved in the crisis were west of the Atlantic Ocean as was the location of the missiles. I’d hoped therefore that there would be more cells to the left of 6D than to the right of it. I could not achieve this, however, and 6D ended up in the middle of the grid, though this was not the original intention.

The three main characters (KHRUSHCHEV, CASTRO, KENNEDY) had 23 letters. I lost count of the number of times that I checked the spelling of the first of those names. I see why contemporary newspapers usually referred to him as Mr K! For elegance, I wanted to have exactly 46 clues. The puzzle would then be divided evenly between two sets of clues with nothing over. This created further constraints in devising the grid. I decided to go for ‘one letter missing wherever it occurs’ – known in the trade as Letters Latent (LL) – for the three names – and ‘extra letter from wordplay’ for the other part. I also ensured that all the grid entries from the LL clues were NOT real words. This would help to distinguish between the clue types though I’m not sure if anyone noticed in the event. The clues, in any case, after advice from my test solver (TS) and the Listener editors, were fairly unambiguous. Feedback suggests there was little confusion between the clue types.

I had to decide on a 23-letter message from the ‘extra letter’ clues – as a possible (less happy) outcome of the drama. It ended up as ARMAGEDDON IN LATE OCTOBER. I’m very grateful to my TS for suggestions here. My initial version was quite different and much inferior. Changing was not too difficult as clues had only to be revised slightly to give a different ‘extra letter’. The grid was unaffected. If the LL part had to be changed, it would have been a very different matter with an entirely new grid possibly needed.

When sent to my TS, the preamble, unlike the puzzle that finally appeared, did not refer to the grid entry for the Atlantic Ocean. My TS found the countries to highlight but then got stuck and asked for a hint. I said that 6D was thematic and the TS found the solution reasonably soon after that.

As well as several improvements in clues suggested by the editors, the preamble was changed on their advice to avoid possible ambiguity by referring to cells being moved ‘en bloc’. I think this may have made the ‘moving of MISSILES’ step a little less difficult.

There was some comment on real words not appearing when MISSILES were moved. Raich has had a number of puzzles published where appearance of real words gave confirmation of a final step. I frankly did not attempt that here as half of the answers (from LL clues) were not real words anyway.

Finally, I must thank my TS for all the help and the Listener editors for accepting the puzzle.

6 November 2012


One Response to “Listener 4212, Resolution: A Setter’s Blog by Raich”

  1. Gail Busza said

    Many thanks, Raich, for a very enjoyable puzzle – we did notice that the LL answers were not real words!

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