Listen With Others

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Listener No 4499, Silent Movie: A Setter’s Blog by Elfman

Posted by Listen With Others on 13 May 2018

Having been born in England and attracted to Ximenes and Listener crosswords as a teenager, and then emigrating at age 24 to California, it seemed almost inevitable, some 50 years later, for me to create a puzzle with a Hollywood theme.

Here in the USA, there is an organization, founded in 1883, and still going strong today, the National Puzzlers’ League (NPL), which has a monthly magazine, The Enigma, in which all kinds of word puzzles, created by members, are presented for the rest of the membership to solve. Using “National” may be too parochial, since we have members in many other countries besides the US. Listener editor, Roger Phillips is a member. If interested, you can learn more about NPL at Here in Los Angeles, a group of local NPL members and others meet every other month to solve word and trivia puzzles that we create for each other. It was at one of these gatherings that another member presented a puzzle that involved the quotation, “Strip away the phony tinsel of Hollywood and find the real tinsel underneath.” That got me thinking about using this quotation as a basis for a Listener puzzle.

With the help of TEA, I proceeded to hunt for words or phrases that had a combination of the letters of TINSEL at the beginning and end, in order to be able to “strip away” an anagram (indicated by “phony”) of TINSEL. In the end, I chose the four phrases that were used for the puzzle. Meanwhile, between sessions at the computer, I thought about possible titles for the puzzle. TINSEL can be anagrammed to SILENT or LISTEN, so after rejecting several possibilities, I thought of Silent Movie. With the etymology of movie being moving pictures, this title could almost be a wordplay clue for tinsel. Having settled upon the title, I had to think of some way for the solver to get to the quotation, and it was this choice of title that led me to think of using silent letters.

I soon found out that silent letters can be tricky! In particular, there is certainly controversy about when and when not the letter r is silent. I had a discussion with my test solver about this, and also with both Listener editors. In fact, Roger claims that the only word in Chambers with a silent r is forecastle (pronounced foksl), although ODE claims the first r in February is silent. In relation to this, I found the following websites, but I don’t know how authoritative they are:

Pronunciation Studio: “In GB English we only pronounce /r/ if it comes before a vowel sound, so it’s silent in CARD, WORK, POUR and MOTHER. In American English, though, all ‘r’s are pronounced CARD, WORK, POUR and MOTHER.” For more see ‘r – the Strangest Sound in English?’

At Easy Pace Learning, I found the claim that R is silent in “butter, finger, surprise”.

Pronunciation can be difficult, especially with regional differences. That is why I thought it a brilliant addition by the editors to include the phrase “some might say” in the preamble!

Other issues that came up:

  • The editors didn’t like using words like might or caught for a silent h, because the g is also silent.
  • My original clue for 5A was: While listening, pay to request silence with a sovereign (6). Since sh is an interjection not a verb, that was changed, and the use of sovereign was nixed because of the red herring of the silent g in sovereign
  • Is the a in enigmatically silent? Roger said he was unable to find the pronunciation for an -ically word in Chambers, but that ODE consistently indicates the pronunciation to be “-ikli”
  • To my horror, both my test-solver and the editors, when Google searching for the quote found different versions. I thought that might have been enough to disqualify the puzzle, but the editors decided to provide the enumeration to forestall any complaints.
  • For the extra words in the down clues, I originally thought of the phrase, “seen but not heard,” which I thought could be indicated by “perceived like silent movie actors,” shortened to “perceived like title actors,” and that’s how I sent it to my test-solver, but she thought “perceived” was unnecessary, and so it became “like title actors.”

I enjoyed the work involved in creating this puzzle, and I hope solvers enjoyed working on it, without too much frustration.

Leon F. Marzillier (Elfman)


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