Listen With Others

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Offender by Chalicea, Setter’s Blog

Posted by shirleycurran on 25 November 2018

Setter’s blog Last One by Chalicea ‘Offender’

When I ask setters for a Listen With Others setter’s blog, they regularly respond that they set the puzzle so long ago that the process has been obscured by the mists of time so, exceptionally, I decided to keep a written record of the entire setting, vetting, editing process. Who knows, it might be useful for a new, hopeful Listener setter to read about the years of work before the adrenalin moment when the final product appears in the Times.

May 29th 2016, I unexpectedly received a proof from Roger for Ad Nauseam. It was my birthday – what a fine present! (I hadn’t expected it to appear for a while). I had just sent off to the Magpie one that, with a bit of tweaking, might have replaced it in the queue (Massive) and feel that it is important to get them into the queue so needed to create one. This is the first time I have deliberately set with the Listener in mind and not simply sent one because my vetters suggested it was appropriate.

Busy for a week compiling a month of cryptic Farmers Guardian crosswords – got those out of the way, then on June 7th started hunting for a theme. I had just created ‘Absent Letter’, ‘Massive’ and had in the Listener queue ‘Predicament’, all using the idea of a letter or letters significantly placed within the grid. I worked right through ODQ looking for one more appropriate letter and, of course, found the ‘Thou whoreson zed, unnecessary letter’ the Kent quotation from King Lear. I test-solved a friend’s version of this some time ago but could see a different way of handling the theme.

My idea was a Z in the centre of the grid, composed of words containing Z all of which must be adapted to remove the ‘unnecessary letter’ from the grid. I hoped to use misprints to identify the 36-letter quotation and possibly to hide the replacing words in the clues.

Checking on Dave Henning’s Crossword data base revealed four previous crosswords on what is an obvious setter’s theme. Only one of these was in the Listener (Radix) and all handled the theme differently. One was by Ifor – one that I test solved – so I needed to clear that with him. (His went to Magpie and he had no objection to my re-using the theme). Of course, when this crossword was accepted, the editors pointed out that the theme had already appeared a number of times.

I spent the rest of the day working on a grid. 13X13 seemed the obvious size. I got up to 4.8 mean word length with seriously flawed unching and almost abandoned the idea.

June 8th – before attempting in a new format (I was considering 11X11) I fiddled for a few hours and was delighted when a possible grid with 5.51 mean word length and ‘acceptable’ unching appeared. It had Z-DNA in it, that I thought would have to be converted to C-DNA or B-DNA, neither of which is in Chambers, and C-in-C would have to replace ZINC in the submission grid. The DNA clue seemed to be a serious flaw but when I discussed the grid with husband Charles, he said “Why not EDNA? That’s in Chambers.”

Having spent a total of about 10 hours creating the grid I began work on the clues. After a couple of hours attempting to work out misprints, I realized I simply couldn’t do it and reluctantly decided to opt for extra letters produced by the wordplay. A count revealed that 19 replacement words had to be hidden in the grid, some of them very difficult to conceal (DITE, C-in-C, JEEP, LUTE, AISLE, DRIBBLED, SICEL, SATI, AGATE, EYRA) I had considered simply giving definitions of those in the clues but decided that would be messy and impossible for the solver. Then I spotted the fact that there were 51 clues and if those 19 words took 19 clues, I was left with 32 which could contain the quotation less the initial THOU (rendering it slightly less easy to spot for the solver).

I spent the rest of the day cluing in clue order (working down from the top and up from the bottom of the downs – I had to do it that way as the device required it). After about 8 hours of cluing I had 16 clues. Unusually fast for me.

June 9th. I worked all day on clues and almost finished all the acrosses, then remembered a message from Editor Shane, years ago, that required Rasputin (the Artix, Ilver, Chalicea compiling team) to rewrite about a third of our clues as we had link words in them – not permitted in the Listener when there is no equivalence between definition and wordplay (as in this case, where the extra letter device is being used). I had to back-track and rewrite, and also adjust clues that Charles, on a quick read through, rejected as ‘poor surface reading’, ‘way too easy’ etc. 

Half of the extra words were still to place so I now focused on down clues where they could be concealed and I managed to hide all but two (AGATE and LUTE) The clues were now more than 2/3 completed in two days of non-stop setting (another 8 hours or so).

June 10th. With some switching of extra words from across to down etc. I placed the last two extra words and was left with just twelve words to clue – several fairly difficult because of the z or zz in them as obviously I had already used all the Z abbreviations. I spent about six hours on these and tweaking to see that no device word was used twice. A total of four full days’ work and the first draft was ready for vetting.

June 12th I asked Artix for a test-solve. His initial reaction was ‘Like it’ but then he found serious flaws and suggested

1 That I anagram or jumble as many of the extra words as possible as they are glaringly obvious.  I responded that this wouldn’t work as only twelve will anagram, leaving a mixed bag.

2 That all the zs in the clues give the game away at once and that I remove them from the wordplay.

I spent about five hours rewriting the clues where Z appeared in the wordplay and moving the extra words around since the Z of the quotation still has to appear and clearly cannot appear where there are Zs removed. 

17 June I rewrote the preamble, changed the name from ‘The Last One’ to ‘Offender’ (since the ‘end’ letter of the alphabet has to go ‘off’ somewhere) and asked Ifor to look at it.

20th June Shark, having a free weekend since he had been the test-solver for Artix’s  ‘No Offence’ which appeared on that Saturday, test solved and gave fabulous detailed input. I spent three hours adapting clues accordingly.

21st June Ifor sent valuable input correcting flawed clues with some superb suggestions (SACRED BEETLE and JULEP – which has earned great solver approval) I spent about two hours adjusting.

22nd June. I sent ‘final document’ to Artix who found a few flaws and unfair clues. It took me one hour to incorporate all but one of his suggestions. I think it is ready to go. About 50 hours so far.

Tim King (our newest LWO blogger Encota, said he would do a test-solve. I sent him the ‘final’ version. He solved it carefully, gave it the thumbs up and suggested that I could use the letters in the two bottom corners of the grid for an extra hint to Kent. This added a final touch but caused worry for some solvers as the actual character in the play is the EARLOF KENT. Mr Green suggested, when entries were arriving with both KENT and EARL OF KENT that there should be a slight adjustment to the solution notes, admitting both as (EARL OF) KENT.

As my ‘Overseas Outing’ (St Patrick expelling the snakes from Ireland) appeared on the weekend of this year’s Listener dinner, I didn’t expect to see ‘Offender’ in print until mid 2019 (yes – about three years from compilation) so I was delighted to receive a proof from Editor Roger Phillips in late September (could it be that he was deliberately placing a relatively easy one after a rather tough one?) No rewriting was required, though Shane and Roger had vetted a number of clues and adjusted 12 of them as well as polishing the preamble. They had found the puzzle of ‘about average difficulty’ and ‘slightly easier than average’ – their comments ran to five A4 pages.

Clearly I owe thanks to those editors and vetters and to JEG for his meticulous marking and forwarding of the lovely bag of solvers’ comments and to those generous people who commented on-line or sent their encouraging words directly to me. I really was astonished that the puzzle proved to be so popular.

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One Response to “Offender by Chalicea, Setter’s Blog”

  1. Colin Thomas said

    I always enjoy the setters’ blogs and this was a great one, thanks. You didn’t mention the SPERRE / AGITATE bottom row, which I took to be a devious hint towards SHAKE / SPEARE – a lovely touch.

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