Listen With Others

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Listener No 4557, Choice Words: A Setter’s Blog from Serpent

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 Jun 2019

I started setting barred puzzles almost five years ago. My third attempt was based on the phrases THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE and MARGARET THATCHER. Having learned a lot in the intervening years, I decided to revisit the theme.

I thought it would be interesting (and thematically appropriate) to construct the two thematic phrases from fragments obtained from words of the form AorB, with the requirement that removal of “or” and the fragment left a real word that would be used in either a grid entry or a clue. This posed some pretty tight constraints on across entries (not least because I wanted the affected entries to appear symmetrically in the grid) and down clues. As always, Qxw was equal to the challenge of finding a grid-fill.

Writing the clues for the across entries was straightforward – they were normal clues after all. Writing the clues for down entries was obviously more challenging. I started by partitioning MARGARET THATCHER into fragments that looked as though they would appear adjacent to “or” in a reasonable number of words or in a specific word that seemed useful and used up a few letters (such as GRECo-rOMAN). I then used Qat – another indispensible setter’s tool developed by Quinapalus – to find candidate words of the form AorB, being particularly interested in words that could be used as wordplay indicators (such as HorACE for A).

My efforts to retain good surfaces in the presence of a fairly demanding clue gimmick meant a few clues needing some editorial tweaking, but I’m pleased to say most of the basic ideas survived intact. Thanks, as always, are due to Roger and Shane for their efforts and the many improvements they made to the puzzle before publication.


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