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Listener 4307, Spiral of Salami and Walnuts: A Setter’s Blog by Wan

Posted by Listen With Others on 9 September 2014

The idea for setting a puzzle based on a prime spiral came to me about two seconds after seeing that such a thing existed – it just leapt off the page as perfect for a theme. I sent a note to my mentor, the dearly-missed Radix, and asked him what he thought. He loved the idea and said that he couldn’t recall seeing its use in a puzzle before. My original thought was to call it ‘Prime Locations’ and then have ‘SEA FRONT’ etc. in the locations of prime numbers. However, at some point I noticed that the discoverer’s name, STANISLAW ULAM, had an anagram of either SALAMI or WALNUTS in it (I can’t remember which) and was nicely surprised to find that the remainder anagrammed the other, and so the finished form was born. I thought that it would be fun to actually put definitions for salami and walnuts in the prime spots, thinking that a lot of solvers might have worked out the anagram of the title before getting to the endgame, so that they wouldn’t be expecting it. If my logic was sound I suspected that it might raise a smile, which would be a nice conclusion to a crossword.

I was keen to use 90 degree symmetry as it seemed more ‘spirally’, so it took me a while to build a grid that I was happy with (I see from my files that I used my nineteenth grid, a rather apt number, but more on that later). I sent the grid to Radix before writing any clues, as I always did to get his view. He was very strict on grids and had his own Radixean standards of barring and best-avoided ‘bad words’ like plurals with an S – there are a couple in the grid used but the S’s form part of the salami and walnuts which met with his approval. (I had written this before learning that a number of solvers had inserted BATEAUS instead of BATEAUX which saddens me, there was certainly no intention on my part to trick anyone.)

Radix was also keen on thematic gimmicks where possible and it was very possible here as I only needed to draw attention to prime numbers. I came up with the gimmick of reading only prime-numbered letters in a word in prime-numbered clues, one that I hadn’t seen used before. I set about writing the clues, which came very easily and naturally, giving me a feeling of confidence about the puzzle. Unfortunately though, when I sent the finished puzzle to Radix to check the clues, he realised that I had misspelt part of my salami and walnuts in the grid, thus the whole puzzle was useless! He was very upset and blamed himself for not having checked the grid properly before I started on the clues. It took some effort to convince him that it was my fault alone and that I liked writing clues anyway, so it was all good practice. A few more grids later, I started on the second set of clues but for some reason these were not easy at all, and in fact I really struggled with some, so it was very reassuring to read that solvers enjoyed them. Radix taught me to sit on my clues for a while, and during that time I will highlight what I think are the weakest half a dozen or so and try to improve them. Then I do the same again and again until I am happy with them as a set. Of course I then may need to rewrite a few (or more than a few in the case of a Listener) during the editorial process.

From the original puzzle I lost a few thematic clues which I liked, but I gained a few too. Of those that I lost, I particularly liked ‘Animals calmly going about farm’ (cALmLy) for LLAMAS, and ‘Wingless birds! Hearsay according to Edmund’ (hEArSaY) for EATHE. Of those that I gained I particularly liked how ‘…burnt twofold perhaps’ worked for ‘…burnt wood perhaps’.

It wouldn’t be fitting to write about the puzzle without acknowledging the role of the editors. They are incredibly patient and helpful to newcomers like me who can be a bit slow in understanding the strict requirements of clueing for a Listener. They also insisted on a change to the preamble which I thought wrong at the time, but have to admit has been proven to be right.

It wouldn’t be right either to finish without paying respect to Radix. No-one has ever helped me so much for no return. I think of him often and I think that I always will.

I hope that solvers enjoyed the puzzle.

Wan
 

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3 Responses to “Listener 4307, Spiral of Salami and Walnuts: A Setter’s Blog by Wan”

  1. shirleycurran said

    Yes, indeed, so many of us owe so much to Radix. He coached, encouraged and advised unstintingly and I think I shall always hear him saying “You could improve the unching”, “You might be able to do this with only real words in the final grid” or “Ideally, the device will in some way be thematic.” That, more than anything was his trademark and his touch was evident in your lovely salami and walnuts – “Thank you Wan” and, as I have said before, “If you are in some crossword paradise enjoying a quality malt, Thank you Roddy!”

  2. Gail Busza said

    I don’t think you tricked solvers with bateaux. Chambers has the plural of beau as beaus or beaux, but the plural of bateau only as bateaux – that’s how we decided which to use.
    We really enjoyed this and the lovely final PDM of seeing the definitions of salami and walnuts in the spiral.
    Thank you Wan!

  3. Jaguar said

    Thanks for the setter’s blog — interesting that the title essentially occurred to you straight away, I was expecting a more involved process to find an appropriate anagram to work with. Interesting how the mind works. A very fine puzzle, anyway, thanks Wan.

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