Listen With Others

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Listener No 4518, Game Box: A Setter’s Blog by Poat

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 Sep 2018

My previous Listener was number 4422 in October 2016, based on a hunt for the golden jewelled hare of Masquerade – solvers were required to ignore various false trails, and highlight the word HARE hidden in the preamble. I’ve set a few crosswords over the years, but none generated such controversy as this one. Personally I remain proud of it and wouldn’t change a thing, but I do acknowledge that a lot of would-be solvers were frustrated and annoyed by the surprise denouement, as indeed many of them expressed quite trenchantly online at the time.

The elusive creature is still frequently mentioned in internet forums (usually as “that bloody hare”); it featured regularly in Shirley Curran’s solving blog for over a year; and it was commemorated in chocolate form at the Listener dinner in March 2017. I don’t mind a touch of notoriety, but it did start to get a bit much.

So I thought my next Listener submission should include GOLDEN and HARE prominently as a rueful nod to all that heartache. Playing around with Chambers, I realised the words could both form part of different ducks. A hunting or shooting theme came to mind, so I started the search for apposite quotes to embellish the puzzle. Not much in ODQ, but internet research came up with a very suitable line from Wodehouse. It can also be read as a playful appeal for solvers not to be too harsh on setters (luckily I have a thick skin).

I’m not sure how other crossword setters operate, but I have a spreadsheet listing dozens of sketches for puzzles that may come good, alone or in combination, many years later. This theme seemed to tie in with a long-standing idea, the old Waddingtons game Black Box: entries could at a stretch represent guns taking pot shots from various points at their targets, some ricocheting here and there if not making a direct hit. So I set to work on a grid fill, this time unaided by setting software (which cannot handle the entry method as far as I know).

Earlier attempts included appealing answers like NORMAN BATES, SUGARGLIDER and KAHIKATEA, but they came along with too much short fill, or either insufficient or excessive cross-checking. I decided to allow re-entries, so that shorter grid components like NOS, ERS and HAS could form segments of longer words, and eventually ended up with the final format. Then the habitually laborious process of writing clues, though it seemed harder than ever to come up with coherent surface readings thanks to the combined answer threads.

Research into the quote delivers a cautionary tale about trusting the internet. Virtually everywhere online, it is said to originate from The Adventures of Sally, but a full-text search failed to confirm that. Instead here is a fuller extract from the Wodehouse short story, Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court:

“He had got thus far when he perceived that the young woman was aiming at him something that looked remarkably like an air-gun. Her tongue protruding thoughtfully from the corner of her mouth, she had closed one eye and with the other was squinting tensely along the barrel.

Colonel Sir Francis Pashley-Drake did not linger. In all England there was probably no man more enthusiastic about shooting: but the fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.”


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