Listen With Others

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Listener No. 4512, Putting The World To Rights: A Setter’s blog by Charybdis

Posted by Listen With Others on 12 Aug 2018

Given the chaotic nature of the intermediate solving gridfill, you might not be surprised to learn that this puzzle’s setting was equally chaotic — if not more so. If, on the other hand, you fondly imagine things proceeded with insight and logic on a straight path towards completion, prepare to be shocked!

I set this puzzle in August 2016 during a 10-day let halfway up a small mountain outside Grazalema in Andalucia. The wonders of no internet distraction!

For no obvious reason I decided to make something (if I could) of all four opening lines of Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming. Nothing less would do. What that something would be I had little idea beyond some sort of spiral of the first line and vaguely some other ‘stuff’. But possibilities brewed, festered and fermented at all hours of the day and (more often) night as I tried to make something workable out of what I soon came to realise was an unfeasibly complicated text. Not once but twice, major sessions began by waking at 3am and making slow caffeine-fuelled progress on some new possibility having already, yet again, abandoned the puzzle for good.

The Second Coming by W.B.Yeats is one of those poems that I almost, but not quite, know by heart. At one time I found it simply powerful and disturbing but I now think it’s all a bit portentous, to be honest. Written in 1919, Yeats wasn’t in fact predicting Hitler or Stalin or ISIS or Trump or… but merely more of the Irish ‘troubles’. Which arguably makes it just a superior version of Private Fraser’s “We’re all doomed”.

Anyway, maybe inspired by the vultures that wheel around in Andalucia, those opening lines gyred around endlessly in my head day after day:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

The final puzzle hardly resembles any of my first thoughts beyond line 1 appearing in a [square-cornered!] spiral.

Early thoughts were:

  1. Bring the falcon home to the middle of the grid? Maybe somehow use substitution between GYRe and GYRfalcon (not etymologically connected, incidentally).
  2. “THINGs fall apart”. line 1 contains a cryptic example of itself: “turning and turninG IN THe …”.
  3. Put a jumble of ‘mere anarchy’ (loosed) upon the letters THE WORLD in the grid.
  4. My Chambers ROM reminded me that a GENTLE is a trained falcon; and it sits nicely in the centre of the gyre (the G.NT.. being already in place from my gyre of line1 as part of the word TurNinG). Which would undo the situation in line 2 as things start to hold together again.
  5. Solvers having to correct that G IN TH to THING and that G.NT. to a second THING?? (already the germ of the idea of undoing all the doom in Yeats’s poem and putting ‘the world’ (the grid) to rights is growing in strength).
  6. I reduced my 13×13 grid to 13×12 at this point so a 3×2 block for GENTLE could fit the exact centre.

It was days later (at 3am!) that I realised the ‘obvious’ fact that GentLe and CentRe took such a similar form and could be exploited, so the falcon returns to the centre once more where it belongs.

As for “Mere anarchy is loosed”, this obviously begged for a suitable anagram treatment. Using the Clue Workshop Wordplay Wizard function on Sympathy, the apt ARCANE RHYME jumps out at you at #6 in an endlessly long list. I knew this had to go in the puzzle. If I was debunking Yeats’s gloom (if that was going to be the entire theme), then this dismissive description of it fitted the bill again. Lacking Wifi connections, what I didn’t know until my observant puzzle-tester (Ploy) pointed it out a month later, was that Ifor, in Best Way Round (Magpie 147, March 2015) had used the identical anagram to illustrate the same line. I still feel mortified by that coincidence and offer my humble apologies to Ifor. I’m glad that in other respects our thematic paths diverged.

Meanwhile, with GENTLE/CENTRE in the middle, I couldn’t make the letters of THING (‘falling’ apart) work there any more. But ‘Gentle’ took me on a wild goose chase into Dylan Thomas country and not going gentle into that good NIGHT (a second THING to fall apart). Indeed, if the title became “No Good”, for instance, and GENTLE flies to the middle, you might find yourself left with “DO NOT GO (…) INTO THAT (…) THING” (anag. ‘night’). A temptingly admonitory addition to the grid perimeter?

This idea and variants came and went repeatedly and in the end they went since too complicated and tangential.

Alas, already at this stage the grid looked too stuffed with uncooperative letters for a conventional gridfill and, given the ‘MERE ANARCHY’ as justification, I only now considered getting out of the hole I’d dug myself by the extreme ‘resort’ (ahem) of using jumbles. What I didn’t appreciate was the new layers of chaos that decision would bring.

But, if playing with jumbles, I had new freedom in the grid. Why not bring Dylan back after all?: TONDO (do not) TOOTHING (go into th) HATTING (at night) LADY (dyla) MONTH (n thom) and something with AS in it, giving the Dylan quote. But that didn’t survive long either. And it would mean real words, so no longer an anarchic grid.

Oh! And a minor detail — solvers still had no way of discovering what poem and lines were the theme!

Then, toying with the letters of W.B.YEATS, I realised it contained a ‘rough’ form of BEAST. Nice! (“And what ROUGH BEAST, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” I don’t know. Donald Trump? But I digress.) An internet search of ‘Rough beast’ would reveal the theme poem to the solver. (Wouldn’t it, I hoped? And fortunately, Yes). ROUGH BEAST, WHY NO HEART? was short enough to confirm W.B.YEATS via ‘extra letters’, somehow ‘Coming Second’ for thematic consistency. Sorted.

Except not at all sorted. I got in a right old tangle in fact. I still wanted the whole grid to be jumbled at this point (mere anarchy) but I wanted G IN TH to resolve itself to THING, and I wanted MERE ANARCHY to appear, unjumbled, And to transform itself somehow into ARCANE RHYME. So I wanted everything to be jumbled, but some parts not jumbled all at the same time. Might as well square the circle and have the moon on a stick while I was at it.

I tried various things but finally realised I’d end with a complete dog’s breakfast of jumbles/real words. So I abandoned the ‘THING’ idea. Definitely go for jumbles throughout the grid! This turned out to be ridiculously easy for the setter, would be horribly hard for the solver, and would have no redeeming payoff beyond highlighting the gyre.

So, a rubbish ending, and a job half done. The text of line 1 was there in a gyre, and I could undo Yeats image by making GENTLE appear in the middle, but the mere anarchy is still depicted and not undone and we haven’t even got ‘arcane rhyme’ appearing anywhere. How do we deal with that?

Well, I came up with ideas, but on inspection they all crashed and burned. I even had a thought, at one point, entailing every jumbled entry having two different anagrams. Eg clue → SPRITE → jumble (eg PRITSE) → eg RIPEST in final (all-real-word) grid. Somehow this clearly impossible idea was meant to reveal first ‘mere anarchy’ and then (‘coming second’) ‘arcane rhyme’. I think I was in a fever of delirium by this point!!!

Eventually I realised an obvious solution: “Abandon the puzzle entirely, delete all traces of it! Have a jug of sangria!”

And then another 3am awakening as it hit me — just maybe not impossible.

I’ve discovered that filling a grid with jumbled words is very easy indeed. (But it clearly breaks a rule of setting that I hold dear and try to observe: The setter should always have to work harder than the solver.) But suppose I managed after all to create a ‘normal’ real word grid that included ARCANE RHYME down the side and the letters in the gyre in their correct places?

Suppose then that I created the same grid but with MERE ANARCHY down the side, and the unchecked letters in across words unaltered. Down entries could be entered in a flexible number of jumbled ways. Was it possible to arrange them so that across words could also all represent jumbles of words? And for you to have ARCANE RHYME replacing MERE ANARCHY?

And would that really work, if it could be done? Would the jumbled “merely anarchic” Yeatsian grid which solvers managed to reproduce really change into the (ahem) ‘gentle-hearted’ and orderly one I desired?

As you’ll know if you solved it, yes. The idea works. I finally had a lucid logical insight! Suddenly I knew my destination. But could I get there? I can never trumpet the wonders of Sympathy software highly enough. Suffice to say that this grid would have been impossible without it. It was still a close-run thing. I see that I saved 34 files at different stages of gridfill on that last day alone and it took me from 04:19 to success at 22:04 and, until the last couple of minutes, I was completely unsure whether it was possible — there were quite a few dodgy almost-dead-ends — but we got there.

Even so, as successful solvers will know, there are ambiguities in the interim jumbled gridfill. To be honest, I tried at length later on to remove them but I could not. And then I thought: “Well, that really IS anarchic!” And so long as solvers genuinely go as far as is possible (which turns out to be essential, although you can use the hidden message carefully as a guide to see what’s happening) then the important thing is that an unambiguous ‘proper’ final grid emerges in the end.

As I never did manage to show “Mere Anarchy” loosed upon the letters of “THE WORLD” in the grid, the last step before clue-writing was actually the title “Putting THE WORLD to rights”, making a sort of equation between the world and the contents of the grid.

So there we are. Simple really. I did also have lots of tapas and tinto de verano and read and went places so this isn’t quite such a sad and geeky life I lead as it sounds! Anyway, my “What I did on my holidays” homework is now finished. (I wonder if anybody has read this far! :-D)


5 Responses to “Listener No. 4512, Putting The World To Rights: A Setter’s blog by Charybdis”

  1. Encota said

    A really interesting blog, Charybdis – many thanks!

  2. Steve said

    That was a fascinating read for a terrific puzzle — although I find myself perversely pleased to know how much you suffered in setting after the difficulty I had in solving it. It turned into a very hard sudoku for a while (if that cell can only be AN and so can that one, the other three cells must be GGI – etc) but it was a delight when it all came together at the end. Thanks.

  3. charybdis said

    Thanks for those comments. Yes, I definitely suffered with this puzzle too!! 😀

  4. Ifor said

    …although one or two of us had an advantage as regards the transformation of 1d. As you rightly point out, our treatments were very different, so the apology was generous but unnecessary (and congratulations to Phil for spotting the coincidence – I hope he broke the news diplomatically!)

  5. charybdis said

    Thanks for that, Ifor, and your own geneous response. If I were religious I think I would feel shriven. 🙂
    And yes, Phil was diplomatic! 🙂

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