Listen With Others

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Listener No 4513, Lost in Translation: A Setter’s Blog by Ottorino

Posted by Listen With Others on 19 Aug 2018

I set a weekly general knowledge at my local golf club and a couple of years ago, I asked the question, “Which major European country uses the same alphabet as we do but without 5 letters”? I hadn’t known the answer but it surprised me that none of the 47 quizzers did either. It also seemed odd that one of the missing letters is X, so common in Latin.

A few weeks later, it occurred to me that there might just be a crossword in this piece of trivia and as my mind is usually a desert when it comes to original ideas for crosswords, I started to write down some ideas before I lost confidence in the theme. At the very least, I reasoned, Listener solvers usually appreciate learning something new and if my quizzers were typical, this was something new.

The first idea that came to me was to make the answer to 21 (either across or down) “Letters”. That led me to decide that there would be 40 clues, 20 across and 20 down so that whatever treatment I gave the clues, all 20 acrosses or all 20 downs would be affected and the 21 would be made up by adding 1 of the others. 20 fitted neatly as I could then use each of J,K,W,X and Y 4 times.

I experimented by adding each of these letters to potential clue words but at about that time I thought of “Lost in Translation” as a decent title so it was sensible to have removals rather than additions. It resulted in some rather clumsy clues and the Js were particularly troublesome. I eventually had to settle for all 4 Js being the initial letter. I then realised that the clue for 21 (which turned out to be a down clue) must contain an example of each of the 5 letters to be excluded. This seemed daunting so I was pleased to come up fairly quickly with “eg, Jess and Ken, Ruby Wax off tele…star cast!” for LETTERS.

I toyed with the idea of presenting all clues in alphabetical order of their answers but I couldn’t justify it except to make the puzzle more difficult. I compromised by presenting the down clues in alphabetical order of answers to allow me to incorporate the instruction to solvers to insert only one number: 21 for the answer LETTERS. In line with this, only the bars would be provided in the grid.

I was aware that the successful solver at this point would know the 5 letters to be omitted and might realise that 21 was the number required but could submit without having made the Italian language connection. I decided to have ITALIA as an answer as well as ITALY. Of course, ITALY has one of the discarded letters but I could see no way to get over that so I inserted the other 4 discards as clashes.

Finally, I felt that there should be no incidences of JKWXY in the clues except for the ones that solvers were instructed to remove.

Having completed the grid and most of the clues, it struck me that it would be a nice touch if all 21 letters of the Italian alphabet appeared at least once in the final grid. I tried for some time to achieve this but without an almost total rewrite, I couldn’t manage it and I resolved never again to ask a quiz question to which I didn’t know the answer!


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