Listen With Others

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Listener No 4440, Nostrum: A Setter’s Blog by Mr E

Posted by Listen With Others on 27 Mar 2017

I guess I must have come across the phrase “sea legs” while reading something, and had “C legs, centipede” occur to me. That led me to make up the riddle, “Why is a sailor like a centipede?”. And when such an idea occurs, I naturally wonder whether there might be a puzzle in it.

It was natural to compare this to Carroll’s “Why is a raven like a writing-desk”. And I was aware of the reply “There’s a B in both”, not from Huxley, but I believe from having read one of the Thursday Next books (which if I recall correctly did not include the “and an N in neither” part).

I did not want to put sailor, centipede, raven and writing desk directly into the grid but make the solver work a bit for them. When I discovered that I could use DRIVING TEST with a change of four letters, I decided to put that and RIVEN into the grid. I had once experimented unsuccessfully with a puzzle where pairs of clue-answers had to be jumbled together to make the two entries, and I used that here with PLEASE and DIRECTION becomong SAILOR and CENTIPEDE. As for the sea, Caribbean might have worked but Mediterranean felt good. I was pleased that it was not too difficult for me to fill a grid with the necessary elements, including LEGS properly placed. (I am not one who can make up grids where lots of fancy things have to happen . . . but I have some ideas for puzzles that require such – maybe I should seek a co-setter?)

I decided not to attempt misprints in the clues but just go for the easier ‘extra letter indicated’ to get the messages.

I hoped that the editors would consider the quote familiar enough even though not in ODQ, but they decided a pointer to it was needed; that led to the circled cells with MAD HATTER (which, I did not realize [apologies for that z, I’m American!], was not a phrase actually appearing in the Carroll book). I considered that solving the clues and then solving the riddle felt like difficulty enough; thus I chose to indicate MAD HATTER rather than something less specific like CARROLL.

My hope was that the solver’s path to the end would be something like this:

centipede => 100 legs (what else is there to think about a centipede?)
sailor + 100 legs => sea legs, C legs
LEGS is easily found in the grid
13 more letters needed, sea and C shape, and title ‘Nostrum’ => Mediterranean in a C shape in the grid.

The editors decided that symmetry ‘about a horizontal axis’ needed to be in the preamble.

Regarding specific clues:

14ac I started by defining Elmo as the Sesame Street character; it was decided that that might not be familiar enough, and was changed to refer to St Elmo.
1dn – I have no sense of cricket vocabulary; hope the surface sense (with help from editors) is ok. I do tend to spend a lot of time working to come up with clues with natural-sounding surface sense.
28dn – intentionally phrased to suggest The Raven . (not planned in advance, just happened when writing the clue)

I have not yet seen solvers’ comments, but I feel happy with how the puzzle turned out.

Mr E


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