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Listener 4304, Warning!: A Setter’s Blog by Ozzie

Posted by Listen With Others on 20 August 2014

In 2008 I was in England for a 75th birthday celebration. While on the Tube in London one hears the phrase MIND THE GAP again and again. It occurred to me that it might be the basis of a puzzle: the phrase would appear in the finished grid but would not be clued. I remember reading a post on the Crossword Centre from Roddy Forman applauding those puzzles in which the clueing reflected the theme: so there was the possibility of introducing gaps in my clues – or some of them. I tucked the idea away: surely there had already been such a Listener puzzle? (I have been assured, not; though there was one entitled ‘Mind the Gap’ a couple of years ago.)

The next month I was in Bali for work – Ozzie is an Aussie, so Bali is in quite easy reach of my home, Sydney. I took my Chambers with me of course. (Three cheers for the phone app.) I was a guest in a beautiful compound set at the edge of a cliff overlooking a river and rice paddies; no sign of Western habitation. After my work was done I had plenty of time to sit and think, so I started on the grid.

I wanted the removal of the phrase to reveal words, some of which might have to leap across two, not necessarily consecutive, gaps. Rather than placing the phrase in three runs – 4, 3, 3 – which would not allow of symmetry, I would have just two: 4, 6. I was not sure whether the second would lie directly under the first. Then I thought of placing THE GAP where it lies, between TRAIN and PLATFORM. Hmm, asymmetry; but replace TRAIN with CARRIAGE, … I was away. I did not experiment a great deal; for instance, I did not try reversing their positions. Grid construction is less appealing to me than ideas for puzzles and clue-writing, but I found, to my surprise, that I proceeded quite quickly.

I did not expect to find very long words in the Downs that would, on the replacement of a letter, reveal other words in different partitionings, so I decided on a shape wider than high: 14×11. To ensure an acceptable average word-length I decided on long Downs at either side; and of course there would have to be rotational symmetry to assist in the final placement of bars. I was stymied in trying to find a ten-letter word to match ENDOSTATIN. So I e-mailed my colleague and test-solver, Dysart. (As I wrote in a previous setter’s blog, never has setter better vetter had.) I needed a ten-letter word beginning with ER and ending in L: was there such, by any fluke? There was: ERYTHRITOL.

The puzzle sent to Dysart was a good deal harder than the one eventually published. The grid was an unnumbered carte blanche with clues listed in conventional order, but without numbers, and not separated into Across and Down, the 11s and 10s bunched in the middle suggesting where the division might occur. Additionally, and perhaps unforgivably, it contained the entry IRON FE. And the ten thematic letters did not appear in phrasal order. Dysart is a doggedly persistent solver; he eventually conquered the beast, but advised, what I feared I knew, that IRON FE would never be accepted. He tweaked the grid to give OREOS and a word shorter than AFTER, which would have rid the puzzle of THEREAFTER: I was loath to do that. The Times Atlas came to my aid with IROISE, the only word that would have served. Subsequent testers urged revealing the ten letters in phrasal order. I had tried that and failed. I am not sure what versions they tested or which was submitted for publication initially, but I think it was no longer carte blanche, and had the ten letters jumbled. It entered that logjam that built up before the change of vetters started to free it.

The first response was to reveal in the preamble the nature of the tampering. I was reluctant to do this, as I thought that the penny-dropping moment might give pleasure to the solver. In the meantime I had persevered and found clues that gave the letters in correct order, and resubmitted. I should mention that at this stage in two clues the missing letter was at the beginning or ending of a word; I Intended that observant solvers would notice the double gap and be led to the nature of the tampering. Unfortunately, justification in printing does not guarantee even spacing, so those clues had to go.

I know that solvers do not enjoy insertion of bars. For my part, I very much like the way repartitioning reveals new words: I hope that that aspect of the puzzle may have partially compensated for the chore of bar-entry. I think that ARI woukd be a very doubtful entry were it not for the fact that it had been, elsewhere, a clued entry.

A personal note: there are a number of entries associated with the heart and heart problems – ERYTHRITOL, SERA, TYPE O, ENDOSTATIN, AORTA(L). Some may have also observed that AORTAS, reversed, occurs (it was clued in my final submission, but understandably rejected as both aesthetically displeasing and unnecessary). This was entirely unconscious; the year before, however, I had had a heart episode, fortunately got myself at 4:30am to a hospital, and, four stents later, my heart was right as rain. So the association may have been subconscious. For those who do not know, a stent is inserted through the GROIN.

Ozzie.
 

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One Response to “Listener 4304, Warning!: A Setter’s Blog by Ozzie”

  1. Jaguar said

    I suppose the thing about having to draw in bars is that it’s rather fiddly and always possible that you might discover a plausible alternative, and it must be rather tough to check too. But that said I did enjoy this puzzle pretty much all the way through, and while it was tough to complete the endgame it still felt satisfying to complete it and look back on a wonderful construction. So thanks, Ozzie!

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