Listen With Others

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Listener No 4483, A Little Ray of Sunshine: A Setter’s Blog by Jago

Posted by Listen With Others on 22 January 2018

As with most Crossword ideas — especially those involved in the Listener Pipeline, which has once more become extended well beyond a twelvemonth — the exact source of the original inspiration has been long forgotten. But if (possibly faulty) memory serves, then I believe I was dozing in bed one night, trying to drift off to sleep, when I tried my occasional ploy of “thinking of puzzle themes”: when for some reason, into my head popped a dim memory of a BBC Science programme about Sir Isaac Newton and his experiments with prisms and light. I could vividly recall that part of the programme where he was focusing a narrow beam of bright sunlight (from a chink in the window-blind, I think) onto a glass prism; and then producing the visible spectrum, as we know it today. Quite why that vision came into my head, is a mystery: but then, I suppose we all owe our “inspiration” (of whatever weight or magnitude) to some mysterious workings of the subconscious…

Anyway — I then resolved, once I was more alert the next day, to try to develop a puzzle on the theme of the colours of the spectrum (but not just about the rainbow, I might add!). And so I hit upon the idea of using diagonally-spilt squares to use as “focal lines” for my light source onto my “prism”. It so happens that I am a particular devotee of the 15 x 10 grid: I came across it in the late 60’s or early 70’s, when it was used quite a bit by (I think) Jeffec or ffancy — but in any event, I have used that format for about a third of my Listener puzzles over the years. And of course, the letter-count is pretty much the same as with a standard 12 x 12 grid: 150 letters as opposed to 144: thus not so different a challenge — but its merit is that it allows (literally) greater “width” in the grid; and also, 15-letter words, if you are that way inclined, too!

I soon discovered that the consecutive words “white” and “light” added up to 10 letters; which seemed the perfect start to the left-hand side of the grid. And then my split diagonal “focal lines” led naturally to a point about a third of the way in, where I then could place the “prism” which would “split” my “light beam” into its component colours. At first, I simply sought to enter the colours as words in their own right; but I soon realised that that was far too simple and straightforward: and so I hit upon the idea of hiding them amongst “normal” words. And with seven spectrum colours, plus my “white light”, my “focal lines” and my “prism”, I soon needed the additional grid-width that the 15-square grid gave me.

The grid filled fairly readily; but I was forced to use a number of quite short words, in order to retain the grid’s symmetry, whilst also being constrained by the necessity of the entire theme. (I haven’t always used symmetrical grids: but I try to avoid giving them up, if at all possible.) I found “indigo” and “violet” quite hard to divide logically and artfully between pairs of other words; and that probably led to the use of a couple of 3-letter words in the grid.

Once I had finished the grid (and the clues!), I needed a title: and I toyed with “Spectrum” (too obvious) and “Newton’s Discovery” (too clumsy) and a couple of other more leaden efforts. Then I remembered a phrase from my childhood years, which referred (possibly sarcastically) to someone who was always bright and chirpy and never let things get them down: “A little Ray of Sunshine”. That seemed to me the perfect way to mislead solvers into thinking of enthusiasm or bright spirits; whilst being literally true to the origin of Newton’s discovery of the visible spectrum and its colours. You decide!

Then came the submission and the (long, long) wait: almost 2 years from creation to publication. But I was delighted to have it as the final puzzle of 2017: and without any serious editorial changes — apart from a few tweaks to a few clues. (Aren’t there always? Or am I just deluding myself?) One proposed change that I successfully reversed was with the up-word “lad” — where I argued to keep the word “erect” in the clue (they wanted “upright”); but that conflicted with my wordplay about the sexual undertone of a young lad “fancying” anything with a pulse: and of course, “lad” when erect is “dal” — which is a variety of pulse, in its other use. I always like to inject a bit of humour into some of my clues (I hope you’ve noticed!) and indeed, I try not to take the whole world of crosswords too seriously, at any time.

I hope that “A Little Ray of Sunshine” did indeed bring a bit of light and colour to a somewhat cold and drab time of year…


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