Listen With Others

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Listener No 4421, Post-it Note: A Setter’s Blog by Tramp

Posted by Listen With Others on 13 Nov 2016

I am quite a novice at setting barred-grid puzzles but I have been fortunate enough to have had two appear in the Inquisitor (IQ) series (Cover Version and Storm Front). Ever since I started compiling, it has been an ambition of mine to have a puzzle appear in The Listener. However hard I try, I struggle to come up with suitable themes for barred-grid puzzles. One day, around the summer of 2015, I happened to be searching through the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations when I noticed this opening entry for Philip Larkin:

“Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) —
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ First LP.”

from his poem, Annus Mirabilis (1974). This struck me as being suitable material for a barred-grid puzzle. I thought I could pick a 13×13 grid and spell out “Chatterley ban” across one of the rows and some phrase to indicate the Beatles’ first LP across another row. At this point, I had no idea how to portray the first two lines and I gave it no further thought, but the seed had been sown, as it were. Filling barred grids is not a forte of mine as I find it somewhat alien. My grids for the aforementioned IQ puzzles ended up containing quite a lot of short answers. Also, a large proportion of the entries were over-unched. Anyway, over time, I tried to develop my Larkin idea. When I think back now, some of my original thoughts were embarrassingly naïve. I can’t remember when, but at some point I got the idea that “In nineteen sixty-three” could mean “in the shape of 1963”. Eventually, I decided to try to use the letters of the opening line of the poem to trace out the number “63”. I tried “PLEASE TWICE ME” and “TWICE PLEASE ME” as alternative ways of indicating the Beatles LP. I spent ages trying to get a successful grid-fill. I gave up twice but I kept returning to have “one last go”. After what seemed like an eternity, I got a successful grid-fill and I was ecstatic. I was looking forward to writing the clues but I figured I needed a gimmick with which to spell out LARKIN. Whilst on holiday earlier that year, I had battled with a superb IQ puzzle by Schadenfreude (The Alternative Party). In this puzzle, he had used a neat device of including an extra word, in each of a few clues, which shared a letter in common with the answer, and, taken in order, these letters spelled out a phrase; I figured I could use this gimmick to spell out LARKIN.

I was pleased with the resulting puzzle and I thought some of the clues were good. Knowing Shirley likes to mention alcohol-related clues in her Listen With Others blogs, I think there were five or so such clues in the puzzle; my favourite of these was:

Top whisky: smooth drink (8)

which, quite handily, enabled me to generate the K of Larkin.

Having read the document giving advice for setters on the Listener website, I decided to ask two friends of mine (the brilliant pair of Alberich and Lato) to see if they would test-solve the puzzle for me. They duly obliged and gave me some useful comments and ideas for improvement. They also drew my attention to some possible shortcomings with the grid. At this point, the puzzle was tentatively titled Past It but I figured this needed some work. Earlier that year, I had written this clue for the Guardian:

Sticky after sex (4-2)

and I thought I could use the same idea for the title of this puzzle, since, for Larkin, the sexual shenanigans of 1963 came too late; hence, the poem could be seen as a “post it” note. I wasn’t 100% convinced it worked as a title but it’s the best that I could do and so I went with it.

I submitted the crossword in September 2015. About a week later, I got acknowledgement from Shane that he had received the puzzle, but, he mentioned that he didn’t like some elements of the grid and he thought it unlikely that the puzzle would be accepted for submission. Having said that, he was prepared to test-solve it for me. I was absolutely gutted as I pretty much knew it would get rejected. In the next few weeks, I made some half-hearted attempts at trying to improve the grid but to no avail. I gave up. At the end of October, I had one last attempt at trying to find a suitable grid. After about ten hours of trying, I managed to get a decent grid-fill: I hate filling barred grids! I wrote the clues over two days and sent it to Alberich to see if he thought it was usable. He came back with positive comments and so I sent it off for submission in November 2015. As an aside, unusually for me, none of the clues in the final version contain references to alcohol.

In October 2016, Roger emailed me a proof of the puzzle. I was absolutely delighted as all the hours sitting at a computer trying to fill a grid would pay off with a published Listener crossword. The vetters had a few issues with some clues and I was happy with their suggested rewrites. In particular, I was happy with the collaboration between us in order to improve the clue for SUBPLOT. On reflection, I am happy with the puzzle but I can’t help wonder that it would have been improved if I had somehow used two lines to indicate the “6” and “3” separately.

I would like to thank Shirley for her kind words; Alberich, Lato, Shane and Roger for making it possible and John Henderson: if it weren’t for John I wouldn’t be a setter.


5 Responses to “Listener No 4421, Post-it Note: A Setter’s Blog by Tramp”

  1. Tramp said

    I would also like to thank John Green; all the people who took the time to send in their comments (I really appreciate those). Finally, I’d like to thank Dave Hennings and the other people who wrote blogs for LWO.


  2. Gerry said

    I had convinced myself that the placing of the 63 in relation to clue number 19 was clever grid construction ……..

  3. Encota said

    Really interesting insight – thanks Tramp!

  4. Tramp said

    I think that was serendipity, Gerry; I don’t remember being that clever.

  5. A classic. And I was impressed that the six and the three WERE a single line…

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