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Listener No. 4381, Awful: A Setter’s Blog by Towser

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 February 2016

This is only my second Listener publication but I usually try to solve about 20-30 a year and have (hoorah!) won a new Chambers once…

The idea for Awful had been kicking around in my head for some time and would have lain there bar the fact that my first publication (‘Nonconformist’) received a number of kind and encouraging comments. And, thus encouraged, I decided to look further at the idea. It’s a very old joke – “My dog has no nose! How does he smell? Terrible!” – which I thought most people would have heard. Obviously, a dog without a ‘nose’ loses its first letter so I compiled a list of some 100 dog breeds (including many obscure ones) which threw up a number of obvious favourites such as (b)eagle and (b)asset. As an indicator of the theme I decided on a hidden phrase in the grid, played around with ‘How does he smell’ as one diagonal and ‘My dog has no nose’ as the other but found the central conjunction of the two diagonals to be too restrictive. Half-completed a grid with the latter phrase but the headless dogs just leapt out so it was clear I needed something more.

Some distant education had taught me that R was ‘the dog letter’ and – boy – did I have lots of terriers to play with (which were not used in the end). So I tried to balance headless dogs and those breeds that contained the letter R – delighted to see that a Kerry Blue would enter as ‘eyblue’ if the nose and Rs were removed as this fitted a space in my half-prepared grid. And ‘County Down’ for its clue was too good to miss. Well, ‘pointer’ for clue and ‘setter’ for Towser were soon added to those that had to be included.

I submitted to the first editor who made many, many helpful comments – with revisions duly made and resubmitted. He had solved it in about an hour – with the clue lengths shown as to be amended before entry into the grid. So, for example, ‘Kerry Blue’ was given as (9, two words). I gave the second editor 2 options – as (9, two words) for the clue or (6, two words) which I believe made the crossword harder as the R would not be so obvious; similarly, ‘safari park’ could either be (10, two words) or (8, two words). The former option was chosen to supply a January puzzle that was not too difficult and one that would fit in with the overall pattern of mixing difficult and easier crosswords. The editors’ decision is final – and fully respected. The original title was to have been ‘Terrible’ but I just hated the sight of those Rs…

I’m still very new to this rather eclectic world (though I have a further submission in with the first editor and am working on two further themes). Absolutely delighted to see that other setters will test drive a possible crossword and plan to take advantage of that in the near future.

Paul Taylor.

Listener 4381 Inspector Morse Book CoverShamelessly, I take this opportunity to promote a book just published – “Inspector Morse: A Literary Companion” – by the Irregular Special Press. It’s by me and reflects my interest in crosswords, beer, crime fiction, and the works of Colin Dexter (and it contains one Listener Crossword based on Morse). It is over 300 pages, illustrated, and treats of Morse as a very real policeman; it seeks to cover every aspect of the great detective.

Publisher’s blurb

“A magisterial, beautifully presented, splendidly researched companion to the life of the late Chief Inspector” — Colin Dexter.

Paul Taylor has provided the most detailed account of the habits, opinions, loves and hates of Inspector Morse from all the available written sources. While fictional television programmes may be marvellously produced, directed, scripted and acted they must remain forever fictional and have no part in this book – which is based on the real Morse, the real Lewis and Strange, the very real Oxford, and a large number of crimes (particularly murder). No details, however, are provided of the solutions to those crimes.

Among the many interesting discoveries made by Taylor are the true Christian name of Lewis, a sample of Morse’s handwriting, the exact location of Lonsdale College in Oxford, the dates of all the cases investigated, and an exact timetable of the events leading to the demise of the Chief Inspector.

The companion is arranged alphabetically – from the AA to Zeta III (the Barotse Chief) – with detailed entries on Morse, Lewis, Strange, and crosswords. The A – Z is followed by a number of appendices including crosswords devoted to Morse (and their solutions); a list of all people, brand names, and organisations mentioned in the cases; a complete gazetteer of all places; each and every public house; and explanatory notes on many of the quotations discovered in the text. There is also an extensive bibliography.

Priced at £14.99, it is available from Amazon or direct from the publishers at Endeavour House, 170 Woodland Road, Sawston, Cambridgeshire, CB22 3DX (01223 473025) at a price of £12.99. Readers of this site can get 10% off the £12.99 by quoting MORLIT to the publishers. Further details may be found at

This is an essential volume for anyone interested in Morse and Oxford, in crime and its detection, and in the celebration of Colin Dexter’s skill in recording the cases.


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