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‘Forgotten Middle Rows’ by Encota: a Setter’s Blog

Posted by Encota on 5 Mar 2017

I’d like to position my Iain Banks – themed puzzle very much as a celebration of his life, by quoting from his (I think only) non-fiction book, Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram, where he is delighted to be getting paid to do a tour of Scotland’s Distilleries – and his friends keep ringing him up with dialogue pretty along the following lines…

From Raw Spirit:
‘Banksie, what’s this about you writing a book about whisky?’
‘It’s true.  They are going to pay me to drive round Scotland…whatever, visiting distilleries   and drinking whisky.’
‘So it wasn’t a joke?’
‘No, not a joke.’
‘And you’re sure it’s not a dream you’ve, like, mistaken for reality?’
‘Definitely.  I have a signed contract.  Want to hear it rustle?’
‘Just wanted to be sure.  So, you’ll be wanting help with this…’
I suspect it’s at least partly how he’d like to be remembered!

I’ve been a fan of Iain Banks’ work for many (tens of) years now and have looked forward every year to a new novel or science-fiction (speculative fiction, if you prefer, SF) novel.  Still can’t believe there’ll never be another.   It would have been his 63rd birthday in the week of publication (16th February), had he not only made it into his late fifties…

I was always intrigued by the story that Iain’s father had meant to register him at birth as Iain Menzies Banks but forgot.  Iain Banks later chose to adopt his Forgotten Middle Name for just the one genre of his novels, namely his SF works, publishing these as Iain M Banks.

I always love a puzzle where the device and the theme are somehow related.  So could I create a puzzle where in one (SF) direction letter Ms needed including in some way, and in the other direction Ms had to be subtracted?   I looked through all the possible IB titles (almost 30) and selected three SF ones for the Across direction – MATTER, THE ALGEBRAIST and SURFACE DETAIL.  I then picked the three non-SF novels for the Down answers – COMPLICITY, CANAL DREAMS and STONEMOUTH – which originally contained a letter M that could be removed for entry in the ‘non-SF’ direction.  Of course I needed to hide MENZIES somewhere in the grid, too.

I then required a set of word- or phrase- pairs that allowed an M to be added or subtracted: ABLE and AMBLE, for example.  I had these word pair buzzing round my head for weeks!

In picking the Title I also added Rows as a synonym for Banks.

I double-checked that IB had sold enough copies to justify his inclusion in a Listener – i.e. that it wasn’t in the ‘cult’ category.  Selling over a million in each of his genres seemed to more than justify that OK.

I was very fortunate to have the help of some very experienced setters and solvers during the review process (Shirley, Darren and Steve – thank you!!!) who helped me translate a novel idea from ‘early draft’ form into something very acceptable.  Add to that the finesse of the Listener editors in the final reviews and I was delighted with the result – thanks Roger & Shane!  And apologies if I have forgotten anyone!

The view looking up from my computer chair – A (top-shelf) Row of Banks*


Tim / Encota

P.S.  *I understand there are at least a few Iain B fans amongst you – extra Bonus Points if you can spot which two books are elsewhere (one on a different row and one elsewhere in the house).  And the PG Wodehouse novels in the photo are there entirely coincidentally – no Rosie M Banks connection intended 🙂


2 Responses to “‘Forgotten Middle Rows’ by Encota: a Setter’s Blog”

  1. The Quarry is missing altogether from the shelves pictured, Raw Spirit is on a lower shelf. Good to see Peel and Radcliffe there too!

  2. Encota said

    Well spotted Colin, first one home: I wondered who’d be tempted by such a challenge! I have thousands of books – these shelves are but a small ‘window’. For example, surely everyone has at least four different editions of Chambers dictionary, don’t they? 😉

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