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Listener No 4452, Bobs: A Setter’s Blog by Nud[d]

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 Jun 2017

Well I was asked by Shirley to write a blog on this puzzle, and was more than happy to agree – but now I come to tackle it, there’s not much to say really.

It’s actually a puzzle I created about four years ago in the days when I was a bit more productive. I obviously had more time on my hands in those days too as the idea came from one of those occasions when I sat idly flipping through my Chambers and happened across a word I had not encountered before. As soon as I saw it, it stood out as a potential subject for a simple and traditional puzzle with no need for internet trawls, secret messages, encoding etc. so I thought it might just make a nice change.

So much for the idea – putting it into a grid was a little trickier. Once I’d chosen where to place the word itself to kick things off (that act causing constraints from the outset), everything else had to be a modified entry. That meant essentially no real words, so no opportunity for using any kind of grid-filling software to do some of the donkey work. I did start things off by compiling a longish list of modified candidates and let Crossword Compiler (“other packages are available”) come up with a few suggestions for partial grid-fills using those, but never got particularly close using that method. And the really tricky bit was always going to be finding ‘words’ to fill the remaining gaps.

I picked at it for quite some time, getting very close but not quite there with a pretty enough grid. In the end I decided to ask for a leg-up, and sent copies of my closest efforts to Chalicea and Shark both of whom had a go and came up with suggestions for getting round the odd stumbling block. I ended up incorporating a tweak or two from each of them and was then able, with a bit more faffing, to come up with a completed grid which worked. My thanks to both of them – and to Artix for the test solve.

It was nice to be able to clue a puzzle without needing to think about a clue gimmick, and I came up with what I thought was a good set. What I had failed to anticipate was the space problem I had created: Whilst the average answer length was a healthy 6.5 letters, the omissions left a much shorter entry length of about 5.3 which of course resulted in a larger than ideal number of grid entries. The consequence was a first pass overhaul from Roger to shorten a number of clues, accompanied by a request that I continue the process to keep as many clues as possible to single line entities. All that accomplished, the resultant set of clues was much punchier than my original version, and probably none the worse for the abridgement.

That’s about it really – except to offer the usual thank you to Shane & Roger for accepting my offering and of course to John Green for his sterling work. I always feel guilty for including non-words in a grid as it must make the checking so much more demanding, so this time around please accept my extra profuse apology John. Anyway, having just received the bundle of comments from the aforementioned, I’m pleased to hear that there seems to have been something in the puzzle to suit just about everyone.

As a little extra, I know Shirley will be off unearthing a couple of hares in the grid – I wonder if she also spotted the setter’s name nestling at the foot of that central column? Now there’s an idea for future Curran commentaries!

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