Listen With Others

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Listener No 4523, A Tale of Two Cities: A Setter’s Blog by Wan

Posted by Listen With Others on 28 Oct 2018

I only came across the play about three years ago and immediately thought it would make for a good theme, if only because it is the source of the saying ‘cloud-cuckoo-land’. I had just driven some solvers mad trying to find birds in a Listener (The Other Letter) so filed it in my ideas folder to tackle later. On top of that I wasn’t really sure how to play it out. Fast forward a couple of years and I decided to try out QXW having read a number of good reviews from setters; I normally use Crossword Compiler and am very happy with it. The first thing that struck me was how easy it is to create words from clashes. In fact my first reaction was that it is too easy and ruining the art of setting. I soon came off my high horse and accepted that it just meant we can use it as a tool but go beyond what it can do itself. I decided to have a go at The Birds using QXW with the challenge that the first letters of birds formed from clashes would have to leave real words, and would have to spell out the theme above a cloud-shaped CLOUD-CUCKOO-LAND. Furthermore the grid would have to be Ximenean in respect to the dearly-missed Radix to whom I owe so much.

It did prove quite a challenge, and I won’t embarrass myself by admitting how long it took me, but when I did manage it I still felt perhaps I could do a little more so introduced IRIS, the interloper. I really liked the idea of having IRIS interlope and have solvers evict her, as in the play, but I wasn’t sure whether to just have her evicted from the grid, or moved to outside that city. I settled for the latter simply because it would prove that solvers knew who they had evicted. I am not sure whether that was the right decision or not as replacing an arbitrary word (GRIP) seemed a bit weak.

Initially I had ATHENS in full in the centre at the bottom of the grid, however, when making some adjustments to remove a couple of accidental birds I realised that it contained HEN. I thought it might be amusing if the HEN had gone to the city in the sky and I glanced at the top part of the grid, which at that stage would have been pretty much impossible to change, to see that I had YSHEND as an entry – it was clearly meant to be! It took quite a bit more tinkering to arrange the bottom part of the grid so that it would contain real words with ATHENS in full, not necessary I know but I like such touches. Finally a bit more tinkering to remove yet another accidental bird in the bottom part of the grid – it is odd how easily thematic material you don’t want can appear by accident in a grid, yet thematic material you do want is hard to fit in!

I thought the gimmick to provide ARISTOPHANES in the clues had to be the same thematic gimmick as the clashes in the grid. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a bird beginning with I that anagrams to one word, but I decided it was still better sticking with it than introducing a different gimmick. The clues went through the editorial process with few changes, which is testament to the generosity of Roger and Shane on my earliest submissions. When I look at the comments on my first Listener it is a wonder it wasn’t rejected, but instead they went beyond the duty of editors to explain in some detail many of the nuances of Listener clueing. I am very grateful.

My thanks to Artix and Dysart, who are terrific testers. My thanks too to all the solvers who took the time to write comments; they are really appreciated.

Until the next one hopefully.

Best wishes,


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