Listen With Others

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Listener No 4491, A Dreadful Puzzle: A Setter’s Blog by Dysart

Posted by Listen With Others on 19 March 2018

I’m not one of those people lucky enough to be nihilophobes (a Dysart coinage for this blog). I have a few pet aversions (one being selfies) and one phobia – that of heights. I feel distinctly uncomfortable venturing onto the balcony of my friends’ thirteenth-floor apartment to admire the sea view (if I suffered from triskaidekaphobia I probably wouldn’t even venture into the apartment). A few years back I climbed around one hundred very steep steps to the top of a temple in Ayutthaya only to find that I froze when I turned round to start the near vertical descent. The only way I can cope in such situations is by the somewhat inelegant technique of going down backwards. And when I toured Zion National Park in the US two years ago nothing would have induced me to climb up to the dizzy heights of Angel’s Landing. Just watching bits of that video makes my stomach churn.

Over the years I’ve come across some odd phobias, in one case of the colour red (though there doesn’t appear to be a word for that). I’ve yet to meet someone suffering from dromophobia, a morbid fear of crossing streets, which must make life somewhat of a trial. In some cases it was the word rather than the condition that intrigued me, such as astrapophobia (thunder and lightning) or taphophobia (being buried alive).

On to the puzzle. The main idea was to exploit the fact that many of the prefixes are anagrams of other words. When I checked the text search in the 2005 Chambers CD ROM I found 91 phobias, the prefixes of twenty-two of them making real words when jumbled. I like thematic items to be placed symmetrically if at all possible, and the 23 options available made this possible. The breakdown was nine four-letter choices, ten of five letters, three of six and one of seven. Five couldn’t be accurately conveyed by a single word, so had to be discounted. The singleton (ORNITHO-) dictated the start of the grid, a seven-letter word in the centre of a row or column. The six-letter option I didn’t use was SCOPTO- (fear of being looked at – problematic for someone in an identity parade). Four five-letter prefixes and two four-letter ones would make a good balance of word lengths. Besides the aesthetic appeal of symmetry there was the bonus that it could help solvers identify the thematic clues if they noticed the symmetry early enough.

My grid requirements were a perfectly Ximenean symmetrical grid, preferably no three-letter words and a respectable average word length. Constructing the grid was easier than expected. My first attempt to place the thematic entries resulted in a useable grid using Sympathy’s autofill. It was at that point I thought of ANDY CAPP. I’m not an avid cartoon fan but I see him every day on one page of the English-language newspaper in my foreign domicile, and he seemed an apt figure for ergophobia. That entailed a bit of shifting around of thematic entries. The other two endgame elements emerged in the course of experimenting with different grids. I could see I could get FEAR in the final grid, and the P of PANTO seemed a good starting point for PAIN. On reflection it would have been neater if WORK, not PAIN, had been the thematic word excluded from clues, to match the comic character. I rather regret not doing that.

I often spend longer on the clues than on the grid construction, and that was certainly the case here. I made a conscious decision to provide Shirley with some boozy material for her blog, so the puzzle would definitely not be an alcohol-free zone, but there were plenty of opportunities. The main difficulty was neatly camouflaging the extra words in clues, dividing them equally between across clues and down (to extend the puzzle’s symmetry).‘Heights’ and ‘crowds’ were particularly difficult, and ‘work’ and ‘everything’ moved homes several times before eventually becoming permanently settled. It was also important that there were no intruders, and I’m grateful to test solvers for identifying the odd word or two that could have been seen as an extra.

The title I used was more or less the first that occurred to me. I realized that it was an invitation to anyone who didn’t like the puzzle respond with “Yes, it was,” but I was prepared to risk it, and so far I’ve seen only one such comment.

One solver commented that I could have had a tenth item, CYNOPHOBIA (dogs) if 34 had been CYNO (which I could have clued as CONY) I deliberately avoided that because it would spoil the symmetry and would have meant one short thematic entry crossing two others , leaving only one cell from a normal entry. If I’d managed to maintain symmetry by squeezing in a symmetrical partner there would have been two such entries, breaching a principle I observed throughout the grid construction that none of the nine jumbled entries should intersect.

I’ll leave you now with one more phobia I discovered today that may affect some people next month and again later this year– paraskavedekatriaphobia. It’s not in the mainstream dictionaries but can be found in online non-standard ones. Greek scholars will be able to work it out.



One Response to “Listener No 4491, A Dreadful Puzzle: A Setter’s Blog by Dysart”

  1. shirleycurran said

    Dear Andy,

    A Dreadful Blog – many thanks`! We are just back from the Paris dinner (where we had the honour of receiving the Solver Silver Salver and presenting Shackleton with his fourth AGC) and I’ll attach the statistics that I used that show that your Edwardian Pioneers was in the top 30 last year.   It was snowing in Paris so you are probably far better off where you are! Yours, Shirley Shirley Curran             > Message du 19/03/18 11:00 > De : “Listen With Others” > A : > Copie à : > Objet : [New post] Listener No 4491, A Dreadful Puzzle: A Setter’s Blog by Dysart > >

    Listen With Others posted: “I’m not one of those people lucky enough to be nihilophobes (a Dysart coinage for this blog). I have a few pet aversions (one being selfies) and one phobia – that of heights. I feel distinctly uncomfortable venturing onto the balcony of my friends’ thirte”

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