Listen With Others

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Listener No 4556, Ambidexter: A Setter’s Blog by Opsimath

Posted by Listen With Others on 19 June 2019

Back last October, I felt it was time to find a new theme for a crossword, so I turned over in bed and reached for my old ODQ, given by my brother to our father 50 years ago (at Uludağ, a chauffeur-driven ride from Istanbul, where we were spending the Christmas week). This is rather a dated edition, and I dislike many of the entries now, but flipping through the pages the phrase “I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs” caught my eye. BRIDGEOFSIGHS is 13 letters, which I’m always on the look-out for, and I was thrilled to see the symmetry of “… PALACE and PRISON on each hand”.

I struggled a bit to find a suitable grid-fill, trying different shapes for the bridge, but with a little help from a friend (thanks, Shirley!) a respectable grid fell into shape.

Obviously, “palace” and “prison” had to be on opposite ends of the bridge, but that created difficulty with a symmetrical fill, and I soon realised that having the prison below the level of the palace was more logical anyway. The condemned were not just led across the bridge sighing, they were then presumably taken down to the cells.

Meanwhile, I needed a hidden message. “ISTOODINVENICE” rang nicely, and I just needed to suggest the author. Rather than Lord Byron, I rather liked GGBYRON which I hoped might cause a little confusion, recognising that whatever I did, many of the old hands would be complaining that the puzzle was too easy.

I thought the puzzle needed a little more than just highlighting BRIDGEOFSIGHS, so I wondered what was the name of the canal beneath. Of course I’d been to Venice 60 years ago, and had my first pizza at Harry’s Bar (pizza in Rome at that time was still mostly plain pitta bread dressed with oil and salt) – and recalled the name of the canal, Rio di Palazzo. [ahem! The internet may have helped at that point, tbh.]

I was also reminded of a story my mother often recounted: my parents were on their way to Venice by sleeper train (she was due to launch an oil tanker there, as one does). Leaving my father in their compartment to dress for dinner she explored the train, reserved a spot in the dining car and returned to their carriage. Banging on the locked door, she called out, “Are you ready yet?”. The door slid open and a suave Milanese gentleman answered with an eager smile: “Madam, I’m always ready”. Do I need to add that it had been the wrong door? Or that they all enjoyed a convivial meal together in the “Voiture Restaurant”?

I thought “palazzo” would be difficult to conceal in the grid, but was amazed and delighted to find that “LAZZO” is a word in Chambers. It was then easy to hide “RIODI” and “PA” symmetrically elsewhere.

Initially (having already got 2 zeds!) I aimed for a “pangram”, as I often do [it helps me decide which words to choose from the list offered by QXW], and I was pleased to have “latte” in the top row, as well as “vino” further down. But this, along with with “Judaic”, forced the word “Lund” at 3dn. I didn’t want a little-known Swedish town, so I went with the fill as shown. As far as I can remember, there’s still a Q in the final grid?

I’m not very keen on the clue-writing part of the exercise (who is?) but I reckoned I had, for the first time, a puzzle worth offering to the Listener team. I’m very grateful to them for the quiet way they tweaked or re-wrote many of my clues and prepared the puzzle for publication without a painful gestation period.

Cheers!

Opsimath.

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