Listen With Others

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Listener No 4525, Market Square Fable: A Setter’s Blog by Charon

Posted by Listen With Others on 12 Nov 2018

History. Never my favourite subject at school. In fact, I tried to avoid it whenever I could. But I did learn a couple of historical facts: that our town, Melton Mowbray, was where the phrase “To Paint the Town Red” originated, and that Richard III was a bad man. All these years later, we live in a world of alternative facts, where it seems Richard III wasn’t all that bad, although I think he hogged that disabled parking space rather longer than necessary. And, as it turns out, claims for the origin of the famous phrase are numerous. This is why I’m glad I chose a mathematical route for my career, where facts are more reliable and enduring.

Mathematics was also my entry point for The Listener Crossword, tackling the numerical puzzles whenever I came across them, rarely spending much time on the seemingly impenetrable wordy versions. That was, until I found myself with a bit more time on my hands, a couple of years ago. I gave a few of them a real effort, eventually solving one or two, and then I was hooked. So much so that I decided to try my hand at setting a Listener puzzle of my own. I can’t remember the exact thought process that started this puzzle, but doodling with various ideas, I eventually discovered that “Melton Mowbray Pork Pie” could form a rather pleasing large square at the heart of a grid. The old familiar phrase came to mind as a possible addition, and remarkably it would fit, if I used the “paints” tense, and linked it in the bottom right. So I felt I needed something at the top left for balance. Looking on-line for inspiration, I came across the connection with Spring-Heeled Jack, which I don’t think I had heard before. And, well I never! It’s the right length and fits in the top left of my grid. Serendipity. (When I was researching for references later, I discovered that Henry Beresford’s link to Spring-Heeled Jack is mentioned in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.) At this stage I came up with the title “Fable” to link the pork pie and the old story, and started work on filling in a 13×13 grid.

After much effort, I was able to fill the grid, but the cross-checking wasn’t satisfactory, so I decided to start again, from nearly-scratch. I was reasonably happy with the left side, but completely scrapped the right side. One of the entries I had on the left was PELE, and musing about whether I could fit his full name into the grid led to the final form of the puzzle, because once I discovered that EDSON ARANTES DO NASCIMENTO could be linked with the pie, I had to have it in my grid. As a result, I had to switch to a 14×13 grid if I wanted to keep some of my earlier work, and I modified the title, to emphasise the relevance of the squares.

I managed to get this new grid filled in, with what I thought was a reasonable amount of cross-checking, and sufficient average entry length (even discounting the longest entry), so moved on to the clues. The fact that Pele ended up as clues 4 and 5 was coincidence, not design, but I spotted the possibility of linking them together with the inclusion of “foreshortened”, which, together with the anagram for 4, are my favourite clues. The final polish for 4 was when I changed “supreme” to “par excellence” in order to have 24 letters on either side of “curiously”. Is it just me, or does anyone else read this clue and see an image in their mind of “Christ the Redeemer”?

I had tried to get some local references into the puzzle, first as grid entries, then as clues. The historic buildings “CORN EXCHANGE” and “ANNE OF CLEVES” wouldn’t find a place for themselves, though. I did succeed in crowbarring Anne of Cleves into one of the clues, but that didn’t make it past the editors, so I was left with just the mention of Waterford in the clues. On my recent trips back to the town, I have noticed that there is a yellow sign for a new housing estate: “Waterford Heights”. The legend lives on.

Having submitted my puzzle at the start of the year, and hearing that there was quite a queue, I sat back to await the editors’ fearsome judgement. As a first offender I think they have treated me with leniency, and it is a great feeling to see the puzzle make it into print. So, thanks to the editors for their efforts in getting my puzzle published, as well as all the other Listener puzzles that I have enjoyed tackling. And thanks to the good people of the town, I hope that at least one of you has managed to connect the dots.



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