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Listener 4215, Getting in Shape: A Setters’ Blog by Rood

Posted by Listen With Others on 1 December 2012

Some OD comments …

12th February 2011, 9pm … so, I’ve received this e-mail from RO. “What do you think the attached grid might suggest …” it says.

I was instantly transported back to those mystery object rounds from ‘Ask the Family’ in which a close-up slice of something familiar is immediately recognised by the Potters of Slough as a rotary clothes line. On this occasion, having eliminated bottle opener and cheese grater, I get no further and am forced to concede.

A swift follow-up encloses the same diagram, now embellished with the letter pairs CC-UU-BB-EE and the word TESSERACT and tenders an invitation to assist in a joint effort. Would I like to join Gridmeister RO in producing a puzzle? – Oh, come on, is the Earth round? – Done deal!

13th February 2011, 2.33pm … yes, check out the elapsed time — a full grid lands in my in-tray. Unbelievable. Multi-symmetrical, good word lengths, no other duplicated adjacent letters on the main diagonal. Go RO

16th February 2011 and the email ping-pong has been hectic as we try to decide on the messages and how to generate them, as we’ll need a good few letters. RO has tweaked the grid and found a sequence from which we can generate the second instruction in wordplay missing a letter but a neat route to the long instruction eludes us. At last I try the old dog-walking trick and come back with the idea of a message pointing to ‘letters x & y in these clues’, something we think is worth a try.

1st March 2011. Two weeks of some tricky clue writing / mutual checking / cleaning and polishing, and a final draft is ready for two brave souls to test (thank you both). The first to respond ventures to suggest that it’s a ‘brilliant conception, very well executed’ and ‘a classic Listener contender’, so our target is endorsed.

… time passes …

27th August 2011. We hear from the first vetter – all seems well, a few clues to massage (mainly to eliminate link words) but we seem to have acceptance. A year or so later we have a publication date. The rest is now history.

But what about the real history. Where on earth did the idea for that original ‘attached grid’ come from in the first place – hope it wasn’t the product of someone not paying attention in class.

For that, over to RO …

Many school days were spent doodling odd shapes, but one that firmly sticks in the mind is the simple way of drawing a 3D “transparent” cube. Two overlapping squares, then join the four corners of each. This might appear simple, but could I transfer that idea into a Listener crossword?

Working out the grid outline was straightforward enough and I thought that the points between the letters C-U-B-E could be used to get the central four lines (thereby creating the main two squares), but creating a concise and logical instruction that will lead the solver to draw the remainder of the cube appeared not to be; I was going to need some help. Perhaps if the puzzle stopped at drawing the inner square and the four diagonal lines it might have led to an easier task, but spotting the word tesseract in Chambers, it felt as if the word was meant to be for this puzzle. The instruction therefore just became even harder to fathom out as it had to be done twice.

OD was going to be the perfect choice to help me work this conundrum out. Not only a great clue writer, but even more so, someone who knows the limit of acceptability to the solver. It was obvious there had to be two letters from each clue/answer, which limits the amount of gimmicks available. First and last letters of extra words was not challenging enough, and original with misprinted letters in definitions was too much of a challenge. So OD suggested we use the clues themselves and came up with a succinct instruction.

A criticism may be that the grid was carte blanche, but it was thought that with all those lines it would look too messy adding bars and so it was decided to remove them. However, in order to make solving easier, but naturally the setting harder, the creation of double mirror symmetry, still giving the standard 180 degree rotation was chosen. The grid fill didn’t take too long even with the restriction that no two letters could be adjacent on the main diagonal apart from C-U-B-E, but this wasn’t punishment enough.

I wondered if the second gimmick for the final instruction to copy the shape centrally could appear in the grid in the correct order. Luckily with a small amount of juggling I managed to alter the grid and we could then start on the clues.

Fixing the clues to the second instruction meant that the misprinted clues were also fixed, which forces one into frantically searching around for that often elusive definition. I think we managed to avoid the forced misprint on the whole, one of my bugbears, and the crossword was finally complete.

OD has already alluded to our test solvers and The Listener editors, but I thought I would add a comment regarding the feedback we have now received.

JEG is one incredible individual with the effort he puts into his analysis. He recreated all the different grid patterns that were submitted as well as the usual comments from each solver. This time he had to do it twice, which must have taken an age. One fact that we notice from this analysis is the slight difference between the definition of a tesseract in Chambers (cube within a cube) and the precise representation of what would seem a 4D structure. It was hard enough getting my head round the Klein bottle. We therefore apologise to the solvers who were confused whether they had to submit a complete tesseract or not. The dictionary’s definition, as the prime reference, was what we used and the instruction we felt was precise enough to lead to two cubes, one inside the other. From the feedback solvers have given us considerable praise, so we are glad most enjoyed.

Rood
 

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One Response to “Listener 4215, Getting in Shape: A Setters’ Blog by Rood”

  1. […] first Listener (No 4215, Getting in Shape) required the solver to draw a tesseract in the final grid. I believe that caused a bit of a stir […]

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