Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

Listener No 4475, Follow the Directions: A Setter’s Blog by Artix

Posted by Listen With Others on 29 Nov 2017

I think the Daily Mail may have been responsible. Yes, seriously. I was on a ‘plane home from somewhere and asked for a newspaper and was given a 3-day-old copy of the Mail. Old news is no news and so I quickly moved on to the Puzzles page. Amongst a wide selection, I found a simple dissection problem of a square into two heptagons…which pointed in opposite directions.

The cruciverbalist’s brain rarely switches off and I thought this must have potential. Vague prepscholic memories of Westward Ho! somehow came to mind; I’d read it some 40 years ago but couldn’t really remember much of the plot. Uncle Wiki helped fill in the gaps and produced the basis for the puzzle.

I really liked the idea of one arrow carrying Amyas Leigh westward and then him returning homewards with his new-found Indian sweetheart. And so it began.

I’ve checked my files and there were six grid attempts before the final version emerged; and, with each new grid, I seemed to be able to incorporate more and more of the key elements of the story, and also offer some help to the solver as to the shapes required.

I had thought about a clue device but, perhaps a little wickedly, there was something inside me which wanted to have the endgame all come after the grid had been completed. To compensate (in a way), maybe I could include vaguely thematic surface readings in some of the clues? Or perhaps even a direct hint to the theme (or at least the location of the story)?

I usually draft a version of the preamble before embarking on the clues. And then come back to it — normally several times to get the wording right — as the process progresses.

Then testing (thank you to both of you), some clue and preamble modifications, and then sending off to the Editors, acknowledgement, then the long wait. (It’s not really such a long wait but it always seems like it is.) Murmurs of a positive response at one get-together, then confirmation that I was getting near to the top of the pile.

As ever, there was some “tweaking” required and a few of the more outrageously Artixesque ideas had to be toned down or were just flat rejected. In every case, I am sure the final version was fairer, if perhaps not so innovative. Of course, there was a little bit of the habitual to-ing and fro-ing, gentle arm-twisting to keep the surface readings sound, even mild persuasion to accept my originals.

Quite genuinely, I thank them for their input and their patience and their tolerance. I am also flattered by the positive response that the puzzle has received from the majority of those who have commented. It’s always most encouraging. Thanks.


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