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Listener No 4446, Edwardian Pioneers: A Setter’s Blog by Dysart

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 May 2017

This blog is partly a tribute to Radix as this was the last puzzle he tested for me before his untimely death. As a result of his scrutiny I made improvements that I might not have otherwise made.

Early in 2013 I was considering a puzzle with jumbled entries. Such puzzles used to be quite common in the Listener, but I hadn’t seen one for several years. Simply thinking of jumbles suggested The Jumblies by Edward Lear, one of my favourites from childhood. I feared the theme might have been done already, but as far as I could ascertain it hadn’t. The poem’s title gave me a gimmick involving words jumbled around ‘I’, making new words. Since the grid was meant to represent the course of their travels I wanted a Jumbly (or in this puzzle a Jumblie) on each line, but that alone didn’t seem enough. Verse VI has items the Jumblies acquired on the way, but I was drawn to the geographical names. The hills of the Chankly Bore was an obvious first choice because they could feature in the grid in a undulating line. My early grids featured just the hills of the Chankly Bore, which gradually moved from the upper half of the grid to the lower half. During my grid trials, Sympathy’s autofill function entered SIEGED in the north-west sector (the sort of serendipitous moment that occurs surprisingly often). The final step of the endgame would involve changing the G to V to provide the vessel. Later it struck me as too obvious, so I decided to use it as a trap, and searched for an alternative location. 8d had LEESE as an entry, which could be altered to SIEVE and still result in real words. All that remained was to ensure that changing SIEGED to SIEVED would not result in a real word. All those constraints presented me with a constructional problem – three of the jumbled entries had two I’s: INSIGHT (from THINGS), SENITI (from STEIN) and MID-AIR (from DIRAM). I tried to avoid these but failed, so hoped solvers would not consider it an issue.

Solvers needed a way into the theme, and the opening line of the poem, quoted in ODQ, seemed the best option. To sustain the theme of jumbles, I decided to jumble the definitions around an extra letter. This proved quite a challenging task. Some were fairly straightforward, others, such as IN GREMIO, NASALIS, HETAIRAI and DITOKOUS required some contriving, and I couldn’t always avoid modified definitions that stood out like a sore thumb. The result of all this is Grid A below.

After submitting the puzzle to Ozzie (Terry Clarke), a regular test-solver and much-valued mentor, I received a thorough critique of clues, some of which required attention. I completely re-wrote a few, then saw that I could get in TORRIBLE ZONE with some minor grid changes (which gave me another headache, namely to get a modified definition for ANTLERED). One benefit of the new grid was that BONITO was eliminated; it contained an ‘I’ but was not a thematic jumble. Now every across entry containing ‘I’ in the grid was thematic. I also shortened SIEGED to SIEGE, so the whole entry looked more like a candidate for SIEVE. I wasn’t entirely happy that the new grid had two 5-letter entries with two unchecked letters, but that is not uncommon in the Listener so I set my reservations aside, wrote new clues and sent the modified puzzle to Radix (Roddy Foreman) – grid B below.

Grid A Grid B

 
His response was extremely positive, but he noted the thematic entries with two ‘Is’, which he considered a weakness. He had even spent time trying to re-fill the grid to avoid the problem, but had been unsuccessful, probably because he didn’t want to interfere with my grid too much. After reading his comments I felt I couldn’t let the grid stand, and made a determined effort to deal with the problem At first I thought the only thing to do was to change the grid design, but any changes in the problematic NW area would affect the SW, which contained much of the geographical material, and that had been difficult to engineer. In the end I was able to resolve the issue changing seven entries. I also made some further changes so that none of the letters of 8d coincided with the letters of SIEVE, hence LEESE became LERNA. In grid C, below, the changes, affecting almost the whole of the top half, are highlighted.

Grid C

 
The new grid presented further cluing challenges. Coming up with a thematic definition for ORATORIO was even harder than for IN GREMIO, and PEEING (requiring an O), was far harder than PLYING, where ‘folding’ had become ‘flooding’.

The original title of the puzzle was Intrepid Travellers. Ozzie thought that ‘Intrepid’ might be a word jumbled around ‘I’, but ‘Printed’ didn’t make any thematic sense to him. This set me thinking. It occurred to me that ‘Pioneers’ would be appropriate since it was a thematic jumble of OPENERS around ‘I’, and the down clue gimmick revealed the opening words of the poem. And since the poem was by Edward Lear, Edwardian seemed the right companion for it. My only worry was that some solvers might guess the poet or even the whole theme from the start. Radix assured me that the title had given nothing away to him.

Thanks are also due to the Listener editors, who tweaked a few clues and gave me an opportunity to make any final adjustments to their tweaks.

I have yet to see the statistics so I don’t know if anyone fell into the SIEGE/SIEVE trap. I hope not, because my intention was not to catch people out, merely to give them an extra bit of puzzling when they checked dictionaries and atlases to find TIVES is not a word or geographical name. Any obscure name resulting from a changed entry would have been flagged in the preamble.

Dysart.
 

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