Listener No 4442, Got Me!: A Setter’s Blog by Towser
Posted by Listen With Others on 9 April 2017
I had the fortune to have had 2 Listener puzzles published and I was casting around for another idea. While idly dictionary-hopping – a habit of many of us I guess – I came across metagrobolise (or metagrabolise) which means ‘to puzzle out’ and was coined by Rabelais. The potential ambiguity over that 7th letter, a 13-letter word meaning ‘what solvers try to do’, and the fact that I had recently been delving back into his works (for sheer enjoyment) were all good omens indeed (and even better – as the vetters pointed out – that my well-omened word contained the letters of Rabelais).
I guessed that 100% of solvers would know of Rabelais and Gargantua, slightly less of Pantagruel, and fewer still of Panurge. In terms of characters I shouldn’t go any further but surely the motto of the Abbey (‘do what thou wilt’) would be known to most even if not immediately seen as Rabelaisian? I decided that metag-etc would be too easy to spot if entered across or down so checked out the 4 diagonal options (settling on bottom left to top right for the cross-checks it gave). Easy enough to fit in the author and the 3 characters, a little harder as to how best to disguise them. I also knew that the final grid would need to meet the average length of answers, the number of unches, and for all entries to be proper words.
It was fairly obvious with Francois – a simple split into Franco and a word starting ‘is’. Similarly, I could split pant / a / gruel but it rather leapt out so I thought about using a clash – possibly santa / gruel or pinta / cruel, etc. Gargantua should split nicely into vinegar / mantua and I’d look at Panurge later.
When clueing goes well it’s pure joy and such was the case for well over half. The others were a bit of a struggle and I had to seek help and return again and again till I was just about satisfied. So I now had a completed grid with 180 degree symmetry and six key words in. How best to let the solver know what they were looking for (without too much grid-staring)?
I chose to use both across and down clues and spell out 2 hints by using the first 2 letters of redundant words. One phrase of 16 letters – ‘do what thou wilt’ in the original French (which appears in the ODQ) appeared to have problems as it would require words beginning yc and ue but yclept and UEFA came to the rescue and I had great fun in adding 8 redundant words to 8 across clues (involving a fair bit of redrafting). All I now needed were 16 letters for the down clues and, luckily, I looked again at Rabelais on the Internet only to discover that he used an anagrammatic pseudonym for publication – of Alcofribas Nasier. What a marvel I thought (as I amended the down clues) – 2 hints but one in French and the other a nonsense name so both would need accurate solving.
I used the title ‘To Puzzle Out’ when submitting but it was changed to Got me! At the suggestion of the vetters (to form the anagram of metagrAbolise with Rabelais). Many thanks to all who gave assistance and especially to the vetters who spent much time and effort in producing the final grid.