Listen With Others

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Listener No 4526, Quads III: A Setter’s Blog by Shark

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 Nov 2018

It is interesting how ideas come about. Quads was never called Quads until my test solver suggested it. Quads II was not called Quads II until after I submitted the puzzle to the Listener editors. I only changed that when I stumbled upon the Greek cross puzzle some time later and it was by sheer coincidence that Quads II had a “four” based theme at its core. I then requested that the editors change the title, so that a series could be formed. A quick check on Dave Hennings’ site and this Dudeney style transformation hadn’t been done.

Where does one start with this type of puzzle? One thing I did want was to include as much “four” based material to Quads III as possible to ensure the Quad theme was relevant. Clearly the grid already had this by cutting into four not once but twice, both forming new square grids. So I scoured Chambers for a final highlighting word. There aren’t many in fact, especially not starting with quad-, so TETRAMERAL seemed the obvious choice as it was 10 letters and I could split that up into separate 3/2/3/2 cells with each part in a separate aspect of the grid. It also seemed obvious that I had to do something with the reconstructed corners and highlighting GREEK CROSS in diagonals made sense. Once again these would be divided into the separate sections.

Reverse engineering is often a requirement when setting these types of puzzles. TETRAMERAL is fixed in the initial grid and so GREEK CROSS would be also. It would not be a Shark if I didn’t put the effort into making real words. I therefore concentrated on the corners ensuring I had made real words when reformed, whilst keeping a symmetrical grid. I stress to all those that might wonder: I never use any type of computer software in constructing these types of grids. This is how I first set about making the grid, with the corners highlighted to ensure that I can keep an eye on joining them up together to make real words.

A possible approach to start is separate the outer perimeter into blocks of 6 with 90-degree symmetry (i.e. splitting the E and M with a horizontal bar). I also kept in mind that I was probably going to need a 9-letter word in order to keep the average word length up, which could span two of the corners.

Once the corners were formed, the centre had to be filled. Thankfully with a little bit of fiddling, I could make it work by using the prefix entero-, which is not ideal, but saved me having to rewrite the four corners. I did not know at this point how I was going to ensure that the solver knew where to make the cuts. I think every setter needs a bit of cruciverbal luck. I noticed that the letters that straddled the edges of the cross where the cuts finished were completely different. My original grid had PERDUE instead of PERSUE and ABELIA/COURBET instead of AMELIA/GOURMET. BDEINRTU only anagrammed to TURBINED and UNDERBIT, not very relevant, but with minor tweaking revealed TERMINUS, which had every letter different and pertinent to the intersection of the cuts at the perimeter. I couldn’t be happier.

Now to the clues. I recall the late Roddy Forman (Radix), stating that if you can make a clue gimmick relate to the theme of the puzzle, it will make the puzzle so much more relevant and enjoyable. I try to do that, and have succeeded in constructing a few novel gimmicks over the years. Lines 3, which won me the POTY for the Magpie, had double letters in certain clues that spelt out an instruction that linked to double letters in the grid. I recall Mash pulling me to one side at the January Magpie do, congratulating me on how I often have thematically relevant gimmicks in my puzzles. However, in reality gimmicks can only rarely be linked to the theme of the puzzle. This one had to relevant.

This is where I have to thank (and berate in equal measure) my good friend, test solver and co-setter on occasions, Artix, for the fourth letter idea. We were in a hotel in London (those of you who read these blogs might notice a theme in that!) and I mentioned that I had created a puzzle which required a 4 gimmick. You can imagine my response at his suggestion of every fourth letter in every word. Fab… but insane! Hey, I like a challenge. Some may recollect the Mr Magoo puzzle where every clue’s words’ first letters spelt out the entry – and the clues made sense. Well, that is insane, so surely by using certain clues, I could do it. I don’t know how Mr Magoo did that puzzle, but I can tell you, it is a tricky task (and mine only had 11). By the way, I deliberately ensured it was only 11, as this was a quarter of the total number of clues (44), making another Quads reference.

But how did I lead the solver to the 4th letters? Although it is not thematic, misprints in the definition followed by splitting and incorporating letters into the wordplay, I have never seen before. I therefore thought it was worth a shot. The feedback from solvers contains several comments on this novel idea, so I would be interested to know if it has ever been done, or if I am the first to come up with this idea. BTW, I apologise to John Green for the tricky task of marking the puzzle.

Unfortunately for me it was not easy and took me a long time to perfect. Even though my ultimate goal was to achieve a puzzle that will be liked and remembered, Shark-infested waters are not for the faint-hearted, and I realise that this puzzle might not be a calm ride. However, with all the extra effort culminating in a bit of classic Dudeney, I hoped solvers would appreciate this as a Listener to remember.

Talking of Dudeney, when I spotted the grid dissection idea, I had no idea of the connection with Henry Dudeney, I just liked the idea and how it could be portrayed as a crossword. His classic Haberdasher puzzle was recreated as a POTM by Ploy in the Magpie in 2014, which I solved and is elegantly animated on Dudeney’s Wikipedia webpage. The more I read about Dudeney and his tête-à-tête with Sam Loyd, the less sure I am who invented the concept as they both have published it in respective books early in the 20th century. Here are the illustrations with Dudeney on the left and Loyd on the right.

It just so happened that in 2017 it was 100 years since Dudeney illustrated this puzzle in his book entitled “Amusements in mathematics”. I was hoping this puzzle would be published in 2017. However, one logistical difficulty after another meant that it had to be postponed. Immaterial really, as I was just glad the editors felt it worthy of publication in the Listener series.

For all those wondering about Quads IV, I am not sure I can top this puzzle and so I might have to stop at Quads III. Who knows?


2 Responses to “Listener No 4526, Quads III: A Setter’s Blog by Shark”

  1. Steve said

    Thanks for a terrific puzzle, Shark. I was very impressed with the construction — doubly so now I read it was all by hand!

    I do hope you continue the series to at least its thematically appropriate fourth entry.


  2. Keith Sutherland said

    Thanks from me too, Shark. This was my favourite puzzle of 2018 and, rather nicely, was also the first ever where I was one of the three winners. I also hope that there will be a Quads IV!

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