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Listener No. 4404, Earthquakes As Well: A Setter’s Blog by Tut

Posted by Listen With Others on 17 July 2016

This crossword started life as one themed on the works of the celebrated Arts & Crafts architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens. I admire nearly all of his work, from his “simple” private houses to Viceroy’s House in New Delhi which still takes my breath away. Perhaps the only property of his which fails to impress is sombre, leaky Castle Drogo, where his clients overruled him on almost all the important matters.

In the course of my research I became increasingly sidetracked by Lutyen’s father-in-law, Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton, a career diplomat who was also a poet and novelist, writing under the nom de plume of Owen Meredith. The pinnacle of Lytton’s diplomatic career came in 1876 when he was appointed Viceroy of India. In 1880 the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War brought down Disraeli’s administration and Lytton resigned. After spending a few years away from diplomatic circles, he took up the position of Ambassador in Paris in 1887. He was so revered there that, on his death in 1891, the French gave him a state funeral.

His poem, Lucile, was written in 1860, the relevant part of which seemed to me to have Listener potential. Though I don’t share his sentiments, in one verse he lists seven things we can do without and just one essential, namely cooks. Perhaps this is why the French adored him so much.

To stick to the theme, it seemed natural that there should be an unnecessary letter in each clue, not entered in the grid, spelling out all bar one of the unnecessary items. The last one, heart, was provided by the mildly cryptic title.

One of his unnecessary items, books, differs from cooks by only one letter, which suggested having a clash in that cell. Solvers had to choose cooks (essential) in favour of books (inessential) in line with the sentiment of the poem. Four more clashes in the grid had to be resolved to yield LYTTON (the author) and LUCILE (the title of his poem).

In my original submission, I simply said that all clashes had to be resolved thematically, but the Editors felt that it didn’t make the cooks/books choice sufficiently clear and changed the preamble accordingly.

My previous Listener was rightly slated by many for the simplicity of its clues. Although there were a few easy clues provided this time to get solvers started, I hope some of the clues proved a tad meatier. Also solvers of my previous Listener commented that it was far too easy to spot the theme. This time “Lytton”, once discovered, has some ambiguity, as Lytton’s father was also a writer as was Lytton Strachey. Had “Meredith” appeared anywhere in the puzzle, I’m sure the theme would have been discovered disappointingly early.

Because many of us travel a lot and must rely on the Internet for thematic information, I provided an alternative pathway into the theme by asking solvers to shade VICEROY, which was placed in a prominent position in the grid.

Thank you for the many kind comments that I’ve received since publication of Listener 4404.

As a novice setter, I also value adverse comments. In future I’ll probably never use the “extra letter in wordplay” device and I’ll always check that any quotation involved appears in the current edition of ODQ.

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