Listen With Others

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Listener No 4441, It’s Dark Up Here: A Setter’s Blog by Colleague

Posted by Listen With Others on 2 Apr 2017

This is my 7th Listener to have been published and I have never done a blog before. In fact I am not even sure what “blog” stands for. Having read some dire blogs online I can only assume that it stands for Bloody Load Of Guff.

Anyway, I have been persuaded, cajoled, threatened and bullied by Shirley Curran to produce something this time. Incidentally Shirley is a very canny lady. How else do you make sure that you are not photographed at a Listener Dinner unless you are the one taking the pictures?

So, here goes. Once upon a time, a long long time ago (early 2015) I suddenly thought of the TV series “Ever Decreasing Circles”. This was a programme I had enjoyed after The Good Life and thought that I knew well (but more about that later). Anything with a geometric shape in a theme is, in my view, crying out for crossword treatment. I started to muse about the origin of the phrase ‘ever decreasing circles’. I had a vague memory of something but I could not quite pin it down. Some research helped to reveal all.

Flying in ever decreasing circles is what the OOZLUM BIRD does until it disappears up its own a**e. It was also the main plot of the film Carry On Up The Jungle. The author Charles Seife also said ‘Like the mythical oozlum bird, Wikipedia seems to have the ability to fly around in ever decreasing circles until it flies right up its own rectum’.

Thus a theme was developing with two strands – the oozlum bird and the TV series.

Obviously CIRCLE was a key word and so thematic items needed to be included in a circular way. But things are never that easy! EVER DECREASING CIRCLES is one letter too long to be entered in a circular way. So the letter “O” was needed to do duty as a circle. The length of OOZLUM BIRD, on the other hand, was just the right number of letters for its head {OO} to disappear up its rear end {RD}.

Having six O’s replacing “circles” and two O’s in “oozlum” meant a preponderance of the letter but after many attempts at rotating the two phrases it all looked distinctly possible whilst not being too obvious – and finding a word ending in ‘Z’ to boot.

The elements of the other part of the theme – the TV series – also had to be included. I thought it was great luck that two of the characters were six letters long (Howard and Martin) and two were four letters (Anne and Paul). Therefore I could introduce these four names into the grid in a pleasingly symmetrical way. My original idea was to flag up the missing character (Hilda) for solvers to write below the grid. However, at the suggestion of the Vetters, I agreed that this was not really necessary.

All the necessary thematic pieces were then in place and all (!) that remained was to complete the rest of the grid. I do all this manually as computers do not understand me (or is it the other way round?).

I felt that most solvers would be aware of the oozlum bird or the TV series but not all would be aware of both. Therefore, as a hint towards the theme, I decided to include the extra words in eight down clues all of which could precede the word “circle” and the extra words reduced in length by one letter taken in clue order.

Voila! The grid and clues were complete. However, the Vetters spotted another problem. I had carefully checked the spelling of the characters names on my complete box set of the TV series (yes, I know, how sad) and also on the individual notes that came with the DVD’s and, yes, everything was fine. Anne was definitely spelled as Anne. Except that on the credits at the end of each episode it was given as Ann! If you cannot trust the BBC who can you trust? So I had to lose my beautiful symmetry.

I enjoyed the title of the puzzle although others felt it may be distasteful. Just my schoolboy sense of humour I suppose.



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