Listen With Others

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Listener No 4466, X XX XXX: A Setter’s Blog by Somniloquist

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 September 2017

I initially submitted this puzzle (my first) more than three years ago, so it’s satisfying to finally see it in print. I’d been intending to set a Listener for years and a lull at work gave me the opportunity. Naturally, as a programmer, I spent the first month writing software that could fill a grid with arbitrarily complex treatments and rules (although if I’d known about QXW, I could have saved myself some time). I’d already settled on Sir Gawain as a suitable theme: plenty of thematic material and obscure enough that most solvers wouldn’t be able to take shortcuts. The “beheading game” lent itself to an answer treatment (and to different treatments for the two protagonists) and the exchange of kisses for animals gave me a suitably obscure title and more thematic content in the grid. I also could not give up the chance to include some Middle English and managed to find a relevant quote that was fairly easy to understand and only had a single obsolete letter, thorn (þ). As it represents ‘th’ in a single letter, a clash seemed like a logical way to indicate it. At that time, the name BERTILAK, the recipient of the kisses, was also revealed in the grid.

This first version was rejected – I’d tried to cram too much into too small a grid – but Roger liked the theme and encouraged me to rework it, suggesting some changes and a new grid layout. This also reminded me that the aim is to produce something fun to solve, not just to show off how many tricks you can fit in one grid.

A year later, I found time to work on it again. I decided to start from scratch, expanding the grid from 12×12 to 13×13, removing BERTILAK, but adding THORN (as the letter ‘th’ could equally be ETH). This gave me a lot more flexibility and choice on the final words: so I could reject the grids where ten of the answers were types of rock or half of them were plurals. Once I’d got the software to fill the grid (with the movable “heads” spelling out names and a single clash), I could move onto the clues. The across clues were straightforward, but the downs, with up to three letters removed, were a challenge; it took a few weeks to get the allocation of letters to clues right so that each one was viable. The final piece of the puzzle was to link the deletion of letters to the title, rather than explicitly mention deleting letters in the preamble (as suggested by ‘Eck, who test solved the puzzle and gave other valuable advice). This required rewriting a few clues, as there were none with a single letter removed, but I think made it all hang together better. The second version made it past the vetters relatively unscathed.

In spite of all the thematic content, my intention was that solvers could complete the puzzle without searching for the story or the quotation: all the content can be deduced and the symbol/meaning for thorn is given in Chambers.

I await inspiration for my next Listener, which hopefully won’t take quite so long.

Somniloquist
 

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One Response to “Listener No 4466, X XX XXX: A Setter’s Blog by Somniloquist”

  1. I am pretty new to the Listener but now hooked. Thank you for this one. A challenging puzzle with an interesting theme.

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