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Listener No. 4377, Russian Roulette: A Setters’ Blog by Rasputin

Posted by Listen With Others on 11 January 2016

Collaborative setting is no easy task.

Two’s a crowd.

Rasputin consists of three setters: “R”, “A”, & “S” who each “PUT IN” their own threepennyworth (or more, on occasions). Here’s how I (that is, “R”) saw it:

R: I came up with the idea.

A: No, you didn’t!

S: Oh, NO! NO! NO! [She often writes in capitals]

R: Yes, I did….

A: You can’t even play chess….

S: I used to teach grandmasters in the former Soviet Union, so I think I should know….

A: I knew you were a spy….

R: Are you?

S: No, I’m just a schoolteacher / skiing instructress / 3* Michelin sous-chef / parachute instructor / frog-breeder / hang-glider / Hamlet expert / bramble chutney-maker /….

Well, on this occasion, I truly believe that I did come up with the basic idea. Not that I am much of a chess player. I just loved the strategy behind Alekhine’s Gun. I’d seen it on the ‘Net and thought that it was exceeding smart: just load up your pieces and keep on firing them until the enemy has nowhere left to hide… resulting in one of the most extraordinary (beautiful?) words adopted by our beloved language, namely ZUGZWANG (my Lord! It’s catching, S!).

So, having (sort of) designed an asymmetric grid that had many a clash in the “thematic area”, with unabashed enthusiasm, I submitted the idea to my co-setters. They loved the concept, hated the grid. S set to work and changed ALL of the grid entries (and rendered them symmetric) whilst A applied his mind (multi-dimensionally, as is his wont).

A: How about the clashes not just leaving chess pieces to be used, but the rejected letters forming something helpful too?

R: …er…what?…. like ALEKHINE’S GUN?

A: No, that would be too direct…

S: …and it’s got a K in it. Same as KING. So that would be confusing…

R: oh?

S: No, why not something literary?

A & R: … like?

S: Well, Eliot, of course. Part Two of “The Waste Land” is entitled “A Game of Chess”, as you would OBVIOUSLY know….

R: Really?

A: Yes, maybe, I remember that from school….

S: Of course, you do… EVERYBODY knows that… don’t they?

A: We could always use it as a code….

And so it came into being: a mozza pudding of mildly obscure knowledge mingling a classic chess position with a detail from one of the most famous poems of the 20th century.

88 e-mails later, clues back and forth, forth and back, beyond and nigh, up, down and sideways, we were ready to submit. Listener Editor #1 approved, passed it on; Listener Editor #2 (on his way back from his local library) found it all too unfamiliar to the man on the Clapham Omnibus (whom rarely have I seen tackling the Big L but oft is observed attached to the Ethernet).

Luckily, S offered to share her last piece of crispy bacon with him at the post-Listener-knees-up-dinner breakfast – catching him off his strongest guard – and he relented.

Affirmation of acceptance, a last few tweaks, into the paper, and here we are. Mighty relieved — all R, A & S of us — we are so chuffed that it was do-able and also met with a generally favourable reception. ‘Twas fun to set and we thank all of those who helped us along the way (testers, editors and psychiatrists alike).

“R” (with the approval of “A” and “S”).

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