Listen With Others

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Listener No 4457, Polo: A Setter’s Blog by Apt

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 Jul 2017

The precise origins of this puzzle are a bit hazy to me, but I remember playing with the concept of an apposite message appearing in the grid in an infinite cycle, in various convoluted and in retrospect obviously impossible ways. I found Hofstadter’s law just by trawling the quotations on the Oxford Reference website looking for nice ones with a vaguely sciencey flavour, and it seemed to fit the bill. I remember solving Raich’s 2009 puzzle on the similar ‘Parkinson’s Law’ (with WORK expanding in the grid to fill the “time available for its completion”).

After several grid designs and attempted fills, I settled on the circular shape which seemed to work well with the infinite loop theme, with the quotation running round the perimeter. Some of the unchecked cells in the irregularly-shaped perimeter look a little odd but the grid hung together overall, with decent entry lengths and unching as far as I could see. The quotation needed a bit of rephrasing to fit in the right number of cells, but since it was going to have its tail lopped off and attached to its head it didn’t seem unreasonable to change a few other words. With assistance from Crossword Compiler and QXW I managed to get a fill that didn’t seem to have too many obscure answers.

I chose misprints in the definitions to hide the HOFSTADTER’S LAW message, providing a pointer to the theme. I can’t say that using the incorrect letters rather than the corrections was much of a deliberate decision — I was most of the way through the clues before I realised I was doing them the unconventional way and wasn’t minded to go back and change them! In general I think using the corrected letters is preferable since it’s easier as a solver to tell you have the right one, but I don’t think a bit of variety every so often does any harm.

Clue writing was a slow but not too painful process. Most clues didn’t need any special gubbins which helped, but some of the misprints were a bit of a challenge. I must thank Ken Clarke for getting himself re-elected and therefore not inadvertently ruining one clue.

With everything finished I sent the puzzle to a couple of test-solvers – eXternal and my dad, thanks both. Feedback seemed good and after a few tweaks it was ready to go. I’ve been solving the Listener for many years, originally learning the ropes with my dad and now solving with my wife (and still my dad at Christmas), so I was never going to send my first puzzle anywhere else. I’d already settled on the pseudonym Apt, which I use for my website (free puzzles!). It comes from my Twitter handle @aPaulTaylor, which in turn comes unsurprisingly from my real name Paul (A.) Taylor, and the fact that with such a common pair of names I can hardly lay claim to being the Paul Taylor. The puzzle sent off, I forgot about it as it made its way through the Listener’s eye-wateringly long submissions queue (it took longer than I expected, even taking into account etc…)

As may have been fairly obvious, solvers were originally supposed to provide the title I AM A STRANGE LOOP, written in the hole in the middle. This requirement was quite rightly removed by the editors, since non-internet-enabled solvers shouldn’t be expected to hunt through the library for what was essentially an ‘extra’ for the puzzle. I hope most solvers did find the book though and so understood the ‘strange loop’ of the title (also, the grid looks like a polo mint — I don’t know if anyone noticed this).

At the time of setting I hadn’t actually read any Hofstadter, and still haven’t Godel, Escher, Bach, but I’m currently reading I am a Strange Loop, and am pleased to discover it’s full of the same sort of ridiculous recursion as embodied by Hofstadter’s Law.

Setting my debut Listener has been a great experience, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who’s thinking of having a go. I hope Polo is the first of many!

Paul (Apt)

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