Listen With Others

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Listener No 4532 How?: by Twin

Posted by Listen With Others on 7 January 2019

On my laptop at work I keep a spreadsheet called ‘Ideas’, where I sketch out possible themes for crosswords, most of which never see the light of day, either because I can’t get them to work or because someone else has already done them. When I thought up the idea of a grid with a TARDIS in it, and double letters for the cells within the TARDIS, I assumed it must already have been done in the Listener — after all, double letters crop up every now and then, and Doctor Who is a popular topic — but an online check suggested otherwise.

This check must not have been very thorough, as it was only later that I discovered Ilver had written Journey to the Centre in 2013 (and, as the setter’s blog here revealed, How? had in fact been the working title of that one), shortly before I began solving in earnest. Curiously, it turned out that Ilver had also had Detective Work published in the same year, with a Hercule Poirot theme; my only other Listener crossword to date was based on Murder on the Orient Express. Great minds?

The basis for the puzzle thus set, I set out trying to construct a grid. The words TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSION IN SPACE (I’ll come back to that) were slightly restrictive, as the lack of symmetrical words that could be formed within them meant that I had to bar off most of the phrase. At first I thought I could use DEMI-DEVIL across the bottom — coinciding with RELAT(IVEDIME)NSION — but I couldn’t get that to work; in the end only ADEMI or ELEMI would work in the bottom left of the grid, and I allowed myself the abbreviation EMEA at the top right. I thought that, being fully checked, this wasn’t too much of an issue.

In my brief setting career so far I have set myself rather difficult grids to create (I don’t use proper crossword software to complete the grids — which presumably wouldn’t work with double-letter cells anyhow — but I do make liberal use of the searching facility on my Chambers Dictionary app). This means that I’ve tended to end up with a few under-unched words and relatively low average word lengths, although I managed to scrape over the recommended minimum (5.51!) in this one. Completing the grid took many attempts, but I got to something I was happy with in the end.

Back to that TARDIS acronym. I became a keen Doctor Who fan in the Matt Smith era, so I was aware that DIMENSION was the preferred expansion of the D these days, and — even though Chambers has it as DIMENSIONS — I couldn’t bring myself to add in that S. Unfortunately that meant that I needed an extra letter to complete the picture (it only occurred to me very late in the day to put it in the place of the light on top, actually, rather than just completing the rectangle). This was the weakest part of the puzzle I submitted, I think, as I just claimed it was a seven word phrase — i.e. A TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSION IN SPACE — and it was Roger Phillips’ suggestion to go with ‘article on top’. The neatest possible solution to the problem, I think.

The idea of using synonyms for doctor with misprints was a reworking of an idea I’d left out of my previous puzzle (which would have used synonyms of ‘stab’). Fortunately there are a lot of synonyms for doctor in its various meanings, including words like ‘breeze’ that might set people off down the wrong track. I ransacked my Chambers Crossword Dictionary (a tome I must admit I prefer to Bradford’s, although I also dug into that) and came up with 70 synonyms. Playing around with these, I managed to get all the words I needed except a synonym that could generate the W of TWO HEARTS; in the end I went for WHO, which I think worked well enough. The overall technique was one I don’t remember seeing before — although I’m sure it’s been used many times — and I think that, particularly with ‘jawbones’ and ‘burgeon’ to set people on their way, it will have helped people onto the right track.

The final part of the puzzle was entering GALLIFREY, albeit misspelled, in the centre. It was rather early on in proceedings that I rather organically came across GALL- at the start of a word, and thought it would be a neat bit of thematic content to include the Doctor’s home planet. But it was an odd number of letters — how to get around this? Well, double-entering the central letter of the word (also the central letter of the TARDIS and the grid) seemed very neat to me, given that the Doctor himself (well, ‘himself’ when I wrote the puzzle — ‘herself’, now) has two hearts. From the comments I’ve dared to read online, this part of the puzzle doesn’t seem to have been universally popular — the word ‘pointless’ has been used — and my only answer is that I always enjoy it when Listener puzzles have multiple bits of thematic content, so I aim to do as much as I can in mine.

Thanks as ever to Shane & Roger for their excellent editing. A lot of clues needed changing for one reason or another — two were rejected as being fanciful! — and, as I’d got a lot of rather long words to clue, several adjustments were needed for space-saving purposes, including a fairly dramatic rewrite of the preamble. We had quite a few emails back and forth, and there were one or two clues that I rewrote entirely, but I didn’t lose anything too close to my heart.

I didn’t use test solvers for this puzzle (I do now), but I should thank John & Simon, who gave me ideas for SOLSTITIALLY and STONE SAW respectively. And, of course, thanks to John Green for his excellent services — and apologies that he had 27% more letters to mark than usual!
 

One Response to “Listener No 4532 How?: by Twin”

  1. Sincere apologies to Twin that this blog has appeared rather a long time after he so kindly wrote it and sent it to us – but then again, what did he expect when he opted for the theme of time travel?

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