Listen With Others

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Listener 4235, X and Y: A Setter’s Blog by Ron

Posted by Listen With Others on 21 April 2013

I was just walking down the street when the idea for the theme came to me. Apologies for starting with what may be something of a cliché, but in this case I swear it is all true. We had been bought a copy of “When We Were Very Young” as a present for my oldest offspring and I’d been reading the poems to him. The next morning on my way to work, blearily staring at the pavement, the idea struck me.

Everything fell in to place rather nicely; when I got home and realised the poem was called “Lines and Squares” it felt like it was meant to be and I spent the next few days pounding the streets examining paving slab configurations (only a mild exaggeration). Eventually I realised I could take a 12×12 grid with 2 words in each row and column (averaging 5.5 letters per entry, the ‘bear’ minimum), turn it into nine 4×4 squares, displace the middle section and end up with something that looked a little like some of the pavement designs I’d been looking at.

It wasn’t completely straightforward turning that concept into a grid that fulfilled Ximenean unching requirements but with a little trial and error I realised that it was possible, while also obtaining 90˚ symmetry, a pleasing extra. My concern at that stage was that a smarter solver than I might be able to work out the grid pattern without solving any of the clues; hence the decision to present the down clues in alphabetical order of solution rather than conventional order.

Fitting the sillies into the grid (trying to simultaneously visualise the start grid and the final grid) also took some mental gymnastics. I knew I wanted to pay homage to certain prolific bloggers and, as a devotee of Australian soaps in my childhood, I was also keen to fit in a (flaming) galah. Other than that I had a long list of about 12 other silly synonyms that I tried to insert where I could. Not much to say about the clue-writing apart from the fact that I was pleased when “baker’s man’s request = pat-a-cake” (too obscure?) and “Canine penetration makes thigh mark” (too risqué?) made it through the editors’ nets.

The hardest part was trying to make an end-game that wasn’t completely impenetrable. I don’t have much patience for puzzles where you have to spend longer finishing the puzzle than solving the clues and so I didn’t want to be responsible for ‘one of those’. But when I sent the first draft to some guinea-pigs there seemed to be a split between those who spotted the final stage quickly and those who struggled to make it from the completed grid to the completed grid.

So I started to make some tweaks. I made reference to a “thematically appropriate final grid shape” and after further feedback, made it even more precise by referring to it as a dodecagon. Then I added the ‘extra clue’ which I thought might give some help to solvers who were otherwise completely flummoxed. The editors also made some specific suggestions to link the X and Y in the puzzle’s title closer to the “Lines and Squares” to avoid people getting misled with thoughts of co-ordinates.

All of this led to the preamble growing to an inordinate size (118 words in my first draft turned into 182 in the final puzzle) but in retrospect I think it was the right thing to do and I’m gratified to have received comments along the lines of “once you’re there you know you’re there”. Having said that, it’s probably equally true that what is elucidation for one solver is obfuscation for another. So apologies to anyone who was bamboozled (or who took one look at the preamble and didn’t bother starting), but thanks to those who test-solved/vetted it, everyone who solved it and gave feedback, whoever bought my son the book in the first place, Alan Alexander Milne and the architects of London’s pavements.


3 Responses to “Listener 4235, X and Y: A Setter’s Blog by Ron”

  1. Jim360 said

    Many thanks for an entertaining puzzle and blog, Ron!

  2. youngoffender said

    Certainly one of the most enjoyable puzzles of the year, stretching but never quite impossible – thank you!

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