Listen With Others

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Listener No 4531, Superpower: A Setter’s Blog by Shenanigans

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 Dec 2018

I’m fairly mathematically-minded, and follow a number of YouTube channels like Numberphile and Mathologer. I’d certainly come across a googol before the infamous WWTBAM episode (see below) and the idea for representing its bigger brother, the googolplex, based on the defintion in Chambers, could lead to a fairly neat bit of highlighting as the endgame in a puzzle.

The first thing to decide was what technique to use in the clues. Given that the definition had numbers as well as letters, extra ‘things’ in the wordplay didn’t seem a particularly logical way to go. So misprints it was. Now those setters who can put a misprint in the definition part of every clue in a puzzle have my absolute admiration. I suspect it needs far more clueing experience than I have. I therefore decided that the misprint could appear anywhere in the clue, either the definition or the wordplay and, for the latter, in either the indicator or the fodder. I decided to try and make it half in the definition, half in the wordplay.

That was the clueing technique sorted, now how was the grid to be presented. The final grid, with GOOGOLPLEX down the centre and the crossing 1^10^100 and TEN^GOOGOL, needed a bit of tweaking after a suggested gridfill by Sympathy. Ideally, I wanted to avoid proper names and words not in Chambers. Eventually I got there with the exception of REISHI which is in the ODE. I should also add that AGAPAE and AGA SAGA weren’t there for deliberate confusion, but just the way the grid fell out.

The original idea that I had was for GOOGOLPLEX to be provided by three words, GOO, GOLP and LEX. Unfortunately, that led either to asymmetry or too many clues — I needed exactly 46 to spell out the definition. I then decided that it would have a bar between each letter, perhaps with those erased as part of the endgame. And that is where the carte blanche came in, so that bars inserted by the solver could then be rubbed out to reveal the theme word in the grid. With clue numbers, this would then become 13 down, which was my original title for the puzzle.

Given the normal alphabetical jigsaw style, I listed the clues in alphabetical order of answer without any separation of Across and Down. Luckily for you, one of the test solvers said that it made the puzzle just too tough. After experimenting with making it obvious that the two 12-letter answers were down entries, I decided that separating Across and Down clues would be the right decision.

Then began the clueing, and it proved pretty tough, even with the misprint appearing anywhere in the clue. Some of my first stabs were fanciful to say the least. For example, PYROTECHNIST was Rising anxiety about launch of rocket; initially Kim’s absent and isn’t amused; Mighty Boosh is his creation with Boosh becoming Woosh [HYP< about (ROCKET – K(im))* + ISNT*]. I think this took about 2 or 3 hours to rework into One who creates volcanoes, say, tossing pitchstone awry without a peak with peak being the misprint for weak.

All in all, the clues took a prodigious amount of time, not because I was trying to make them difficult (I wasn’t) but to get good surface readings. With input from my test solvers, it was an educational experience as well. Sometimes short easy words were a pig and longer ones straightforward. I also made some clues deliberately easy (I think) — the hidden AMMONIA and the alternate letters for REISHI, for example. The long entries, ATTRACTIVELY and PYROTECHNIST, were also (obviously?) anagram-orientated although the misprints were tougher to spot. I also assumed that solvers would initially try these long entries down the first and last columns which would get other answers slotted in quickly. For many, this proved not to be the case.

And so the puzzle went off to the vetters, Roger and Shane. The major change they made was to have GOOGOLPLEX unclued rather than completely barred. Without any previous reputation for symmetry, I can understand if solvers didn’t immediately assume it was in the centre of the grid, although I suspect that wouldn’t have helped too much without knowing its length. The other change, courtesy of Roger, was to give it the excellent title. As far as the clues were concerned, exactly half remained unscathed, with the most of the rest having minor or medium tweaks and a couple rewritten.

In hindsight, I suppose bars in the grid and/or clues in the correct order would have been appropriate, given that the theme word was now unclued. I think I avoided correct order for clues because that would have revealed the sort of thing that was going on if 1ac were solved quickly with 1 being the misprint. Of course, that also meant that the unclued theme word was probably identified before the hidden definition and source.

As mentioned above, it wasn’t my intention when starting out to make a puzzle as tough as this obviously was, but this is the Listener after all and it was obviously solvable.

To the three testers, Ifor, eXternal and his fellow solver, thanks for all your help, especially with my understanding of clueing. To those who commented with their solutions or online (most of it favourable), your feedback is much appreciated, even the solver who would have preferred that the editors had waited until the appropriate puzzle number came up!

Finally, of course, thanks to Roger and Shane for all their work vetting, correcting and polishing the puzzle, and to John for marking entries and forwarding solvers comments. The detail that goes into every aspect of running the Listener — not just this week, but every week — was an eye-opener.



Already knowing at the time what a googol was, enabled me to enjoy the trials and tribulations of Major Charles Ingram on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The £1,000,000 question was “A number 1 followed by 100 zeros is known by what name?”, the choices being Googol, Megatron, Gigabit, Nanomol. He seemingly settled on each one in turn over the course of 20 minutes or so before finally deciding to risk the best part of a million pounds on Googol. Of course, it transpired that he had cheated, with a member of the audience guiding him to the right answer by coughing.


Putting my other hat on, Listen With Others wishes all readers




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