Listen With Others

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Listener 4271, Extreme Behaviour: A Setter’s Blog by Nudd

Posted by Listen With Others on 28 December 2013

I wondered whether to start by apologising to those I have berated in the past for not leaving real words in their grids – but no, I think I have only so complained when I thought a little more effort could have achieved that end. In this case I don’t think any amount of effort would have got me close to that particular ideal.

Instead, I must apologise to John Green for the horrible pie I left him to mark, courtesy of all those misplaced letters.

It was a Tiburon puzzle about 3 years ago that generated the spark for this one. His Aristotle / Larkin ‘beginning, middle/muddle, end’ quotes brought back to mind the two lines with which Eliot starts and closes ‘East Coker’. It was only when digging a little deeper that I discovered that Eliot’s closing line was in fact originally attributed to Mary Queen of Scots – so from two slices of ‘Four Quartets’ I now had the option of two speakers to consider.

Anyway, whatever the source, it was pretty clear to me which way this particular pair had to be tackled. As both quotes were 20 characters long, I aimed for a grid with 20 each of across and down entries – and managed it quite well (I thought) with good average clue lengths and decent unching. Then came the challenge of populating it.

Because of the almost 100% non-words there was no opportunity to get even a partial automatic fill, so that part became a manual slog. At first I just modified and entered random words until I had some kind of promising structure, then it was a case of using Chambers word search to explore possibilities … and of course to do so I had to first undo each part light. Hence, where e.g. I had. -C-L-N- I’d need to offer Chambers a choice of N-C-L– and –L-N-C and be returned a list including nacelle, necklet, nucelli, nucules, aclinic, colonic, xylonic etc. as my base word.

A slow process compounded by the need to keep equal numbers of each modification type; but eventually, grid full, I clued the puzzle and shipped it off for test solving. ‘Difficult but fair’ was the consensus at that stage – but I also got back more than I had bargained for. The ever inventive Artix commented that it was a pity the quotation originators did not appear in the grid. Of course it was! Not just a pity – why on earth had I not thought of that at the outset? Well, now with the challenge in place I just had to rise to it.

That meant a complete back-to-square-one rewrite (a situation which Darren & I were also to have to face a few months later on the Rood ‘Fourplay’ Magpie). There was no simple short cut, so everything done to date was thrown out and I just started again, this time with the suitably treated and symmetrised TTSELIO and STUARMT as the initial grid occupants. Thereafter it was a repeat of the original slog and, upon completion, I turned to Roddy (who had not previously seen it) who did a fresh test solve and kindly helped me to tidy up the preamble.

… The customary interlude ….

After publication, as many do, I checked out the Answerbank to see how the puzzle was being received, and was surprised to see that only two people had made what they call the ‘Friday night club’. Interestingly, the second of those mentioned a previous puzzle using these same quotes, so I hunted it out in Dave’s database. Sure enough there was indeed an EV of that nature some years ago. I had been completely oblivious to its existence, but must now of course congratulate Oxymoron for what is clearly a brilliant idea J

I have since received the usual amazing follow-up package from John (and not a word of complaint about the checking chore with which I landed him). Again, the consensus seems to be ‘hard but fair’ with solving speeds predictably correlating to how quickly the quotes were spotted. Sincere thanks to all who took the trouble to leave the most welcome feedback, to my test solvers, and of course to Mr. Green.

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