Listen With Others

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Listener No. 4415, Right and Left: A Setter’s Blog by Ploy

Posted by Listen With Others on 2 Oct 2016

My last Listener puzzle had a musical theme, and then another possibility came into my thoughts, with no obvious external prompting. The Flanders and Swann song about a doomed love affair between incompatible climbing plants was familiar from childhood, and immediately suggested a “Right and Left” treatment, as invented by Ximenes, and subsequently used by Azed in many competition puzzles.

After several attempts at designing a grid to capture the principal features, I was delighted to find an arrangement which joined the two key items, “HONEYSUCKLE” / “AND BINDWEED”, symmetrically to a WINDOW LEDGE above. At 17 by 11, the grid dimensions were a little unusual, but an early check with the Listener editors confirmed that this could be accommodated.

To emphasise the Right/Left aspect of the puzzle, I decided to have the entries on the left-hand side running from right to left. I needed a clue gimmick to generate a couple of thematic hints, and chose to displace words right or left in some clues. To do this unambiguously, while maintaining surface sense, proved quite tricky, but happily there were only ten such clues! 7ac started with wordplay “Both sides of misalliance”, a reference to the song’s title and participants, intended to act as additional confirmation if spotted.

The puzzle was then thoroughly test-solved, and further polished up during the Listener editing process. I’m most grateful to those involved for the improved puzzle that resulted.

In pondering the right- and left-handedness of the plants involved, I checked various botanical sources, which appeared to confirm that Flanders and Swann had got it right. It’s important to take into account that the sense of rotation is in the direction of growth, i.e. as viewed from below. Nevertheless, a few solvers believed that the song had things the wrong way round, and one sent me a photo of an anticlockwise-spiralling honeysuckle on his balcony. Coincidentally, the magazine New Scientist briefly commented on the topic a few weeks after the puzzle was published, supporting the directions as described in the song, and giving a possible genetic origin for the behaviour. Whichever is correct (I’m not sure I’ll ever know!), the puzzle had, of course, to remain true to the lyrics of the song.

The theme proved hard to spot for some (possibly younger?) solvers – sorry! In a number of incorrect solutions, the preamble’s penultimate sentence had apparently been overlooked. This resulted in the drawing of unbroken lines which did not distinguish between the two sorts of twining. And several solvers were drawn initially to French and Saunders as the comedy duo, an unintentional red herring. But I was pleased that feedback was almost entirely positive – thank you to all who commented.

Phil Lloyd

One Response to “Listener No. 4415, Right and Left: A Setter’s Blog by Ploy”

  1. John Nicholson said

    It was me who sent the photo of the honeysuckle on our balcony. I thought that we might have a rogue plant but when I google honeysuckle vines pics they all go the same way as ours. Likewise when I google bindweed vine pics they all grow the opposite way to those in the grid.

    I loved the puzzle and think Ploy was right to follow the lyrics, but surely they are wrong?

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