Listen With Others

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Listener 4488, I-spy Choices: A Setter’s Blog by Xanthippe

Posted by Listen With Others on 25 Feb 2018

The idea for this puzzle started a number of years back. I’d just watched a Bond film at the cinema and was taken by the fact that James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer had first and surnames that started with the same letters. More than that, the first two are spies and had 4 letters in common – this suggested to me a puzzle in which there were two equally valid solutions. However, I would need the authors, as well as the spies, for the two lengths of the potential solutions to be the same. Serendipitously using I L Fleming and R Ludlum gave both solutions at 18 characters long. Even better, the option of overlaying them so the ‘L’ and ‘M’ coincided minimised the number of clashes that would need to be engineered to 9.

Next, I needed a way for the solver to distinguish the correct spy. Having mulled this over for a while and got no inspiration I decided that a quote with ‘ambiguity’ appearing in the grid would be a good way to resolve the ambiguity. On searching the index of ODQ there was only one entry for ‘ambiguity’ but this was not appropriate. Again serendipitously the part of the quote listed for ‘ambiguities’ seemed particularly appropriate as it would describe what the solver would do. Adding the source to the grid was necessary to help solvers identify the quote (for those that spent ages searching the grid for the quote, my apologies, this was not my intention – my hope was that, for those that realised that there were two equally valid choices, solvers would realise that to resolve the choices part of the quote would have to cross one of the dual letter cells and that ‘ambiguities’ would stand out and they’d then check ODQ).

I-spy Choices came next as the title for the puzzle. As some of my previous puzzle attest, I like games and like unusual grids. I spent some time trying to fit the thematic material into a grid that was in the shape of an eye. I played around with using half cells (along the diagonal) to make the shape more realistic. In the end it was resulting in a very wide grid that I wasn’t sure would be acceptable. I wasn’t convinced by the look of the ‘eye’ and don’t think I got a grid fill. Obviously it could have been done with a big enough grid. So I shelved that idea and reverted to a normal grid.

I chose Bourne rather than Bond as the correct fill figuring that Bond was slightly better known and would trap more of the unsuspecting. In the process of filling the grid I noticed it was close to a pangram and decided to make it one. Pleased with my filled grid, I started cluing. To my horror, some way through this process I realised that I’d made a mistake and had an ‘E’ and ‘M’ clashing in the authors’ names where they shouldn’t be (see row 11 in second diagram)! The air went blue but fortunately for me it could be saved without too much rework at the expense of the pangram.

Once I had the title I decided to give the solver the first letter to clue answers in the same way as the game. I thought it would be a different thematic gimmick to not include the first letter in the wordplays (remembering not to have any clues which had link words like x for y or x from y as not appropriate with such a gimmick). I did wonder for a while whether to have the Romeo and Juliet clues as ‘R See preamble (5)’ and ‘J See preamble (6)’ particularly as they are the phonetic code words and therefore defined by the start letter but decided against it.

Ordering of the clues was dictated by the self publicising acrostic (longest entries starting with each letter) and then ordered alphabetically by length. Where there was more than one answer with the same start letter and length I ordered alphabetically on the second letter of the answer. I doubt that many if any noticed this ordering, or were helped by it, but I like a logical reason for how to ordered clues in a puzzle without numbers.

Thanks as ever to Roger and Shane for all the work they do to ensure that puzzles in the Listener series are high quality and fair. My aim is to entertain – I hope I succeeded.



2 Responses to “Listener 4488, I-spy Choices: A Setter’s Blog by Xanthippe”

  1. Steve said

    Thanks for this puzzle. I have been doing The Listener only occasionally (usually for a few weeks each quarter as I wait for a numeric), and this was the first one I’ve tried since getting a copy of Chambers — and what a difference that made to me. After initially cursing you for a jigsaw with clashes (which I thought would unfairly limit the logic I could apply to the fitting), I realised after trying some obvious arrangements that there weren’t many traps to fall into. I was delighted to have completed the puzzle, spotted a spy and author, and R&J, no quote but never mind. Not until I read this blog did I realise there were TWO SPIES (and that I had of course seen the wrong one). In retrospect I should have understood that the presence of the quote had a purpose; I shall remember this in future!

    Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed it (both the I-spy clue device, and the jigsaw), and despite failing in the endgame I must applaud you for the trap. Cheers.

  2. Steve Foulds said

    Hi Steve

    Thanks for your comments and I’m glad you enjoyed the puzzle.

    You’re right Chambers is a must – some years ago I got the app on my phone so don’t revert to the book very often. The app is very good for searching for words with ? for wildcard letter (it also has some other search features that are useful for compilers).


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