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Listener No. 4402, Right and Wrong: A Setter’s Blog by tnap

Posted by Listen With Others on 3 Jul 2016

Although I’ve set a few crosswords, Right and Wrong was the first one that I’d submitted for publication. It was quite an interesting experience! And it all started about 2 years ago, – such is the gestation period for crosswords.

As is probably the case with setting most thematic crosswords, the hardest part is finding a suitable theme. I happened to stumble across the Edward Waterfield quotation whilst looking in ODQ for something quite different. It immediately struck me as a possible basis for a crossword, as I liked the idea of riddles, right parts and wrong parts. As a mathematician, I’d never heard of Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon – and I have subsequently been surprised by how many people seem to have a copy!

Thinking about how the word Scott (the wrong part) might morph into Liddell (the right part) I realised that, by repeating the words, I could do 35 separate letter replacements. Thus the letters of SCOTTSCOTTSCOTTSCOTTSCOTTSCOTTSCOTT would be replaced by the letters of LIDDELLLIDDELLLIDDELLLIDDELLLIDDELL, and it seemed to me that the obvious way to do these replacements would be in 35 answers in clue order. I thought that the non-repeating nature of the letter clashes would create an interesting challenge, but that there was sufficient information for solvers to discern a pattern. Serendipitously, I had already counted the letters in the lines of the quotation; so the idea of 35 clues giving the letters of the third line of the quotation and also giving 35 answers requiring modification sprung into my head.

All I had to do now was construct a suitable grid. Easier said than done! My initial idea was that every letter replacement would be checked. I tried a few different grid patterns, adding in the necessary (clashing) across and down letters from SCOTT and LIDDELL at what seemed to be appropriate places, and then I tried to fill the grids produced with a combination of manual effort and Qxw. None of these attempts worked – it seemed that there were too many L’s. I also felt I had to use a grid pattern with a high degree of cross-checking to make the crossword fair, but that was of course making the grid fill harder. So then I started adding in letters, one pair at a time. After placing the first 20 or so pairs of letters, I could still easily get a Qxw grid fill, but then things started to get harder. After a process of adding letters, tweaking and re-filling the grid, and using what appeared to be the best grid patterns, I finally got down to 29 of the 35 pairs of letters correctly placed, and options for making the other letter replacements unambiguously at unchecked locations. Not what I’d hoped for, but close enough I thought. I reasoned that if a solver had correctly identified the theme and the method of entry, then replacing the unchecked letters wouldn’t be too hard. And, making a virtue out of a necessity, it would also mean that solvers would have to correctly identify all the clue misprints and the clue-order replacement method.

I then set about writing the clues, on and off over several weeks. I like writing a few clues and then coming back to them later, to see them afresh. I also like my clues to make sense as a mini sentence, but I find that’s not easy when trying to follow the very precise Listener style. Anyway, once done, I handed the whole lot over to a bridge-playing friend of mine, Steve, who used to do Listeners regularly but doesn’t do them so often now. He managed to solve correctly (which was reassuring); he also made a few suggestions for improvements to the clues and we were ready to go. I packaged everything up in accordance with the Listener Notes for Setters and fired off the e-mail in July 2015.

I had been warned that the vetting process would be thorough and that the vetters wouldn’t pull any punches. Yet, when I received the vetters’ comments in April, I was still surprised by the almost forensic level of detail with which every clue was examined and criticized. Despite both vetters saying they thought mine were a fairly good set of clues, many of my original clues had been amended and quite a few had been completely rewritten. I was pleased, though, that my theme and grid had passed muster. And once I was over my initial shock, I could see that the vetters’ amendments had indeed resulted in a fairer and better crossword. So many thanks to the Listener Crossword team!

I have just received the pack of comments from John Green. Another surprise for this tyro setter is just how many people povide a commentary with their Listener entry. Reading through these comments was, however, a heart-warming experience, as virtually everyone commenting seems to have enjoyed the challenge that I set them. It has certainly given me a spur to continue setting. I have a couple of ideas in the pipeline, but nothing concrete as yet – I must get on with it!

One Response to “Listener No. 4402, Right and Wrong: A Setter’s Blog by tnap”

  1. David Mansell said

    “…sprAng into my head” not “sprUng” (which is the past participle.

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