Listen With Others

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Listener 4249, Play’s Opening: A Setter’s Blog by Shark

Posted by Listen With Others on 27 Jul 2013

I suppose what you really want to know is what this business with the line is all about. I will get to that, but probably it is easier if I mention how the puzzle developed in order to put it into context. Three years, ago this puzzle was finished and submitted to the Listener at a time when Roger was still first editor. It was only just over a year after my first thematic crossword puzzle had been published. That one was in the shape of a tennis racket, which, if I think back, may have had an influence on this puzzle. I like pictorial themes, a puzzle where an object or pattern appears is pleasing to the eye (e.g. my Africa based debut Listener). So I wondered if it was possible to have a grid looking like a football pitch? With artistic licence regarding the dimensions, a 14 x 12 grid would suffice to get two penalty boxes and a centre circle. As with all themes, the solver needs a way in; no one likes a GLF (giant leap forward). The easiest way is to add a gimmick to the clues suggesting the solver draw three lines on a football pitch. Not exactly much of a puzzle. So I wanted to add something football related into it but not beyond the scope of anyone without knowledge of the game. To make life even more straightforward, I wanted a way of precisely guiding the solver regarding where to draw the first line. Some may think I am a Liverpool supporter, which is not the case. Chambers had Kop in relation to Anfield, so there was no need to dive off to the internet or other reference books for help. Anfield had all different letters, and KO meaning kick-off as part of Kop meant I could even start a game of football in the grid. I could put Kop into the grid as well making the P signal the start of the first penalty box. The second penalty box may have been too obvious to spot and I didn’t want the game given away too early, so I made sure that the grid could be altered making all real words.

I wanted a thematic gimmick in the clues and if I used the letters of Anfield being passed from one clue into another, then this should suffice. This meant the misprinted and correct letters had to be from the letters ANFIELD, which is not as easy as it sounds, given that I pretty much restricted the clues they were from.

The idea that the grid would act like the start of a game of football meant I could again use the letters of Anfield, which is why the clues were somewhat restricted. Which ones? At this stage I had finished the grid, which, in hindsight, was a bad decision. There was a D sitting nicely in the corner and I could connect a path of play from the centre spot (kick-off) right into the corner. (bi)CORNE sitting nicely down the grid meant I could ask the solver to add an R under the grid signifying where the line ended up.

So we have two reasons for the line. It merely signifies a possible path that the ball could take following kick-off. In the newspapers the path of the ball is often represented schematically like this. Secondly it was a corner. Well it wasn’t really, as anyone could tell you with knowledge of how to get a corner. The editors wanted this removed, and rightly I must add, given that the ball was hitting the corner flag, not making a corner.

With hindsight, I should have suggested to the editors that I reworked the puzzle to score a goal (in fact, I should have done that even before submitting it). I already had an entry with SCORE in it, which could have easily been incorporated into the puzzle as this could be a thematic clue. So with a minor tweak, I could have put the D at the point in front of the goal. In fact I have done it while writing this blog (see below).

There is one other point that will undoubtedly be raised by the purist football fans or the erudite solvers who went off to look up the rules of football. After a kick off, even though all your players are not in the opponents half, the ball must still be passed forward. One could argue that this is the wrong end, but then who is to say that one of these passes was not intercepted by the opponent and then carried on back into their own half. I reiterate, it is merely a possible path from the kick-off in football.

I must finally make a point about solvers who reject a puzzle purely based on the theme. There are a number of themes that I am not thrilled about, but I take the puzzle as a whole. I agree that we solve thematic puzzles because they have themes, but to me the theme isn’t everything and it is a little narrow-minded to expect a theme to cater to one’s liking every week. In fact there are a number of aspects that I strive to get when setting a puzzle, including the penny drop moment, the aesthetic nature of the grid, the balance of clues, the logical process of the solve, and an enjoyment factor. I may not have achieved the last with some solvers, however, I hope I have scored and ticked the boxes with the rest.

Please note this is not the correct entry grid:

Listener 4249, Setter's Blog


5 Responses to “Listener 4249, Play’s Opening: A Setter’s Blog by Shark”

  1. Nick Beeson said

    There were a couple of points that I thought detracted from the puzzle. You have – almost – satisfied me as to why to choose Anfield. But the path of the ball did not, in itself, signify anything; the ball could have gone anywhere on the grid, and so the path was, essentially, random. To do otherwise would have been almost impossible, I realise, as there are very few such sequences that are well known. (My first thought was that it was going to reflect the night when Arsenal won the league!). But, as I say, such a random element was a weakness, IMHO.
    I cordially loathe the subject matter, but would never let that, in itself, spoil the enjoyment of a puzzle. And I did quite enjoy this.

  2. Matt G said

    Absolutely agree that the topic of the theme isn’t the important thing, but how it ties together. That said, I found the theme confused by the rubric. For example, the rubric indicates that the circled cells are to be delineated in “a thematic order”, implying that the line’s shape, or the sequence they are visited in is thematic – would it have been worse to indicate that the only rule in the order of visiting the squares was to spell out a relevant word? Similarly, would it have been too much to specify that two cells were unfilled, rather than a few? By having the first two words spelt out as Anfield, and KOP, and referring to them as thematic implies Liverpool FC is the theme, not a generic football stadium – perhaps referring to them as an illustration of the theme, or part of an example of the theme.

    I found those things detracted from an excellently constructed and clued crossword.

  3. Dave Russell said

    I was dismayed that I knew enough about this utterly pointless activity to complete the puzzle – just shows how this nonsense seeps into one’s life.
    Enjoyed the solve though, for which thanks.

  4. Lee said

    Am I really seeing somebody on a blog about *crosswords* complain that *football* is a pointless activity…

  5. olichant said

    Shark, I absolutely hate football (bad schoolboy memories, coupled with a total lack of talent) but that did not in any way interfere with my unqualified enjoyment of this lovely puzzle. I absolutely agree with your thoughts about the actual appeal of the underlying theme versus the other qualities of a cleverly constructed, enjoyable thematic crossword. The reconstruction of the penalty box in the south was a particularly nice touch, I thought, and raised a big smile after many hours of head-scratching. Thank you!

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