Listen With Others

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Listener No 4515, Way Out: A Setter’s Blog by Verbascum

Posted by Listen With Others on 2 Sep 2018

I find the hardest part of creating a Listener Crossword is coming up with a suitable theme. As someone who is science-orientated, I’d had black holes at the back of my mind as a possibility for some time. Perhaps I could have a final stage where the solver has to cut out the centre of the grid, but I hadn’t really come up with anything concrete.

In 2016 I listened to The Life Scientific on Radio 4 featuring Roger Penrose (who incidently originates from Colchester where I have lived for nearly 50 years). I had read his books and been to a talk he had given in a pub in London, attended by about 15 people, where he spoke about the ideas in his book Cycles of Time.

After hearing the radio programme I decided I should reread this book and in doing so came across the term Schwarzschild radius. It struck me as the kind of phrase which might be suitable for corrected misprints in clue definitions, as it wouldn’t jump out at the solver until most of the letters were discovered.

Penny Drop Moments are often talked about in relation to solving Listener Crosswords, but they are also important for the setter. I knew that the Schwarzschild radius is that of the Event Horizon and I noticed that Event Horizon has 12 letters and so could be represented in a ‘circle’ of cells in the grid. At this point I started to look for other phrases which I could hide in the grid. I thought of Hawking Radiation, perhaps radiating out along diagonals from the centre, but again the penny dropped. Hawking Radiation is 16 characters long, so it could fit in the next ring out from Event Horizon.

Creating the grid was very much trial and error. However, whichever positions I chose as the starting points for the two phrases I couldn’t complete the grid. This led to me to consider using clashing entries in some cells, giving me more choice for grid entries and eventually it all came together.

Writing the clues is the least arduous task, I just love playing with words letting the mind drift whilst thinking of ideas. I know from feedback from my previous Listeners that my clues are not the hardest. I tend to sacrifice difficulty for surface reading and hope that I can occasionally bring a smile or even a chuckle to the solver. I think my favourite clue was Edmund’s time as king – the middle part of one year, roughly. The Edmund referred to is, of course, Spencer, but it was especially pleasing to Google ‘King Edmund’ after I had written the clue, only to discover that he reigned from April to November 1016.

It is almost a year since I submitted the puzzle, during which time Stephen Hawking died. A great man, who I also saw giving a lecture, this time to a packed house at the Albert Hall. RIP.

Alf Mullins (Verbascum)


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