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Listener No 4465, PQRST?: A Setter’s Blog by Yorick

Posted by Listen With Others on 17 September 2017

I first constructed a grid for this puzzle over 20 years ago, and it looked very different from the finished article. Firstly, I had blacked-out squares placed in it where they would fill out the thematic items, thus making symmetry impossible. Secondly, I included a rhombus (with unequal sides!) in the same way as the other five shapes. Lastly, I had decided that entries not contributing to any item would be clued in Printer’s Devilry fashion – I’d even started writing some of these clues (my favourite being “Insane wit shot in Costa Rica (6)”) – and that for the others, wordplay in the clues would give rise to the entries but minus the letters contributing to the items.

After Hefbeet in 2015 (my first ever published puzzle) was well received, I looked through my archives for the next idea, and decided that this one was the most promising. With the benefit of experience, I realised that drastic changes were required: the blacked-out squares had to go, allowing a symmetrical grid to be constructed; the inaccurate rhombus was (reluctantly) dropped; and the clueing had to be more helpful. Use of clashing entries to create blanks resolved the first and most significant issue, and enabled me to start afresh with just the five items placed in a grid so that I could try to fill in words around them. Various versions were started and discarded before I hit on one that came near to completion. Unfortunately, it was almost too successful in that it had very few unches, which made it very difficult to resolve the final missing words.

It was at this point that the rhombus, which I’d never quite managed to shake off, came to my aid. I realised that I could sidestep the potential clashes that remained and reintroduce the rhombus by having seven entries based on wordplay rather than definition that would also indicate the letters of “rhombus”, the idea at that stage being to get the solver to write the name of this sixth item below the grid.

At last, I could get on with the clues. I particularly enjoyed finding deceptive misprints for the majority that required them, my favourite being 42ac ILIAN (as it was for several of the solvers who were kind enough to provide feedback).

All the while, the rhombus continued to niggle away at the back of my mind until it occurred to me that an accurate one could be drawn using hypotenuses of 3-4-5 triangles for two of the sides — serendipitously, there was just enough room in the top left corner to fit one in. (Another piece of serendipity came in the form of the title which was absent until very late on when I spotted the alphabetic sequence in the names of the items.) Embarrassingly though, for a former mathematician, I’d completely overlooked the fact that a diamond is also a rhombus. Fortunately, the editors spotted this, and between us we made the requirement more rigorous — though even then there were several solutions sent in with a diamond completely surrounding the rectangle (an alternative that was eventually deemed acceptable).

At least my clues stood up to the editors’ red pens relatively well, with about half of them surviving unscathed — my inexperience when writing the original clues for Hefbeet led to a bloodbath, and an almost complete rewrite being required! My thanks to Roger and Shane for their support, encouragement and contribution.

I’ve delved back into the archives for my next offering and, with a gridfill already completed, merely have to overcome a case of “setter’s block” before moving on to the clues — as ever, I look forward to the challenge!


One Response to “Listener No 4465, PQRST?: A Setter’s Blog by Yorick”

  1. Encota said

    Great blog post – thanks Yorick! I must ask, were the -IAN- on two separate rows joining to a -GLE- part of a TRIANGLE bluff, or was I imagining things (it wouldn’t be the first time!)?

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