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Listener No 4448, Get Me Out of Here!: A Setter’s Blog by Nemo

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 May 2017

A few years ago, I was thinking about setting a Hallowe’en puzzle, and I suspect that Aramis’ excellent (and difficult!) Tetris puzzle (No 4297) was in the back of my mind. I came up with the idea of a tribute to The Cask of Amontillado in the form of a brick wall. I had not read the story in ages and could only remember the general plot. Upon revisiting the work, I was delighted to find that the main characters, Montresor and Fortunato, had the same number of letters in their names (symmetry!). The quotations immediately leapt out, as well, but I couldn’t get them to work, unless…. Once it occurred to me that removing NEMO could lead to an intersection of MONTRESOR and ME in the NW corner, the title became a no-brainer. I could also attach IN PACE REQUIESCAT to FORTUNATO in the SE corner, and the overall structure fell into place. I knew that I needed rows, as well as paths, to provide the solver with some sort of reliable foothold. I would note that, as in the story, the grid/wall is eleven rows high (mostly as a result of name lengths and luck, but for which I’ll take full credit as a stickler for detail).

I reckoned that, in addition to the characters’ names, quotations and structure, including both the title and the author in some form would make for a thematically comprehensive puzzle. Setting EDGAR ALLAN POE across the centre of the grid was easy enough. The first serious obstacle was placing the title. I knew that I wanted it to run from NW to SE (there wasn’t enough room for it to work vertically, and I thought that any sort of horizontal placement would give away the game too quickly) – it was long, but not quite long enough to wind elegantly along a reasonably straight, diagonal line from corner to corner. Plus, there was the problem of finding a suitable point to cross Poe’s name. Further, anticipating that the grid fill would be meandering and a bit of a mess anyway, I didn’t want the title’s appearance to be too clumsy; it needed to have some sort of reasonable flow. Since, without bars, the construction was largely fluid at that point, I ultimately decided to end the title in cell 6 and work my way to the top from there. The idea of “working up” was important to me, to give the sense of building the wall like Montresor did, and I numbered and lettered the clues accordingly. Again, to avoid the appearance of a haphazard structure, I arranged the starting points for the “path” entries to be generally symmetrical around a central, vertical axis.

One final point on structure: I initially had in mind that there would be a single, central brick to be filled in, to suggest Montresor’s final sealing of Fortunato’s fate. So, in the initial draft, E A POE would appear across the centre, absent the central P. My test-solver (to whom I am very grateful) suggested that I make better and fuller use of the grid and block out alternating letters of the entire name. I took his advice, of course, but, in doing so, my original web of interweaving words fell apart and I was left with a mostly vacant grid, with some thematic guideposts. Not having the strength to recompose the entire puzzle at that time, I put it aside for about a year.

When I picked up the puzzle again, my test-solver’s sage advice had stuck with me – I should try to enhance the grid as much as I could, perhaps not as a prerequisite for a correct solution, but in case anyone might be paying attention. So, in keeping with the story, I decided to make Row A about the bones (CRANIA and SCAPULAE) scattered along the floor of the crypt. I also saw in ROMAN A CLEF an opportunity to attach a “manacle” to Fortunato (technically, he was chained around the waist, but the story had already been so cooperative with my design that I took a liberty).

I next decided to be even more ambitious and include a number of thematic clues and answers. I started with a list of words that I considered essential (I wish I could have worked in “flambeaux” or “carnival”), and others occurred to me as I constructed the grid. Several of the answers are directly mentioned in or related to the story (ROQUELAURE (spelled “roquelaire” by Poe), RALE, LEAGUER (a type of cask, though not clued that way), MOTLEY, SMOTHERS, IMMURE and CRYPT) and others are thematically suggestive (CRIANT (motley), ICER (murderer), CRUET (a wine container), CELLA and NAOS (both inner chambers), PARIETAL (see further below), and A QUATT’ROCCHI (an Italian tete-a-tete and a gift of a word for this puzzle). Three clues (B1, 11 and 13) are directly suggestive of the story, and several others are related to alcohol or drinking (3, 7, 22, 32 and 33).

(A quick aside: based on feedback from the internet discussion groups, clue 33 (PARIETAL) seems to have been somewhat controversial; for the record, I consider it to be essential – a clue based on a definition of “wally” was my first idea once the structure was settled, and clue 33 was one of few clues to have been included in each draft of the puzzle (with a few tweaks during the vetting stage).)

With these various self-imposed constraints, I now had to go through the (somewhat painful) process of setting my thematic words and otherwise filling in the gaps. I was ever mindful of providing ample checking and avoiding any possibility of an ambiguous solution. (I don’t remember the exact number, but after completing the grid and taking into account the title, quotations, etc., there are remarkably few unchecked cells.) I tackled the grid in clusters – ROQUELAURE/A QUATT’ROCCHI had to be built around each other, as did IMMURE/GUMSHOE and CRYPT/PYRETHRUM. Navigating the central barred-off cells was particularly tricky. In order to meet word length and space constraints, I needed to maximize the “work” that each clue and entry could provide; words like COAL-PORTER, MOONSCAPES, PYRETHRUM and ODALIQUE were particularly useful.

I appreciate the comments of certain solvers who found the method of entry to be a bit of a slog; I am not sure that I could reasonably have expected otherwise, given the occasional tedium of setting the puzzle. The dots (which were not my original idea) were meant to be helpful.

My ultimate goal was to prompt interested solvers to (re)visit the original work and, in so doing, perhaps recognize and enjoy some of the “Easter eggs” scattered throughout the puzzle and clues. Based on the solvers’ blogs and other internet feedback, it appears that several solvers took the journey and found the results not too unpleasant, which pleases me immensely and for which I am grateful.

Nemo.

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