Listener No. 4389, Teeing Off: A Setter’s Blog by Nutmeg
Posted by Listen With Others on 3 April 2016
I’m afraid this isn’t going to be much of a blog, more a few musings about the puzzle. I have no recollection of what gave me the basic idea – I must have had the unclued grid in hand for at least a couple of years before getting round to clueing it last summer. I may have thought about clues earlier and gone through the same thought process as I did then, namely how best to present the puzzle.
My usual aim with a puzzle is to provide entertainment, while giving the solver enough to get his/her teeth into to make for a satisfying solve. I’m not good at generating ideas, and my puzzles don’t tend to entail any fancy tinkering about with the grid after initial filling, so interest has to be supplied in other ways to keep the solver engaged. I’d filled the grid without any thought as to how to clue the puzzle – in general this isn’t a problem, but it proved to be this time. If the unorthodox entry method became apparent too early, completion could become a bit of a bore – to be avoided at all costs! If clues were presented in the usual manner, it wouldn’t take long for the penny to drop. Even if the twelve words were clued separately in random order, and the rest of the puzzle normally, there wouldn’t be much of a challenge.
So I decided to try a carte blanch approach, as the distribution of clue lengths, in particular the 8 & 7-letter words, together with the long 14-letter entry, was restricted enough to give the solver a start, and the non-unched 4-letter words, usually frowned upon, provide help later on.
I’ve not used carte blanch much, but the main problem seems to be pitching the difficulty of the clues given that (1) a lot of cold solving is involved but (2) the solver may have a pretty good idea of the starting letter, which makes the clue easier and (3) judging the difficulty of my own clues is something I struggle with in any case. However, I set to and got the clueing done, spending some time on how to handle the two vertical thematic entries that hinted at entry method. I obviously didn’t want to give away the definitions, though about clueing without definition, and wasn’t sure that leaving them unclued was fair to the solver.
Usually I tend to trust my own judgment (I try to be critical!) rather than use a tester, but this time it seemed essential to get a frank opinion of how the puzzle appeared to a seasoned solver. Shirley and Charles very kindly agreed to test it for me, and assured me it was solvable, fair, enjoyable and potential Listener fare, also suggesting a couple of things that could be improved – many thanks to them.
The last thing I changed was the title, which I wanted to hint at the entry method but not give it away. I had already gone through several – Separate Ways & Whither being two that I can recall. It may have been Countdown and the ‘inverted T’ choice of numbers that led to my eventual choice of ‘Teeing off’, which had the potential to hint at the red herring of golf…