Listen With Others

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Listener No 4564, There and Back: A Setter’s Blog by Stick Insect

Posted by Listen With Others on 11 Aug 2019

I’m pleased this puzzle made it to publication for two reasons: I was seven at the time of the first moon landing and, like many people of that generation, the Apollo programme was a big part of my early life which still excites my admiration even now. The other reason is this puzzle started life as my first attempt at a Listener submission and was originally planned for the fortieth anniversary, so it’s good that it’s now seen the light of day.

I started solving the Listener in the early 2000s and went to the 75th anniversary dinner in 2005, which was open to all comers (I was nowhere near an all-correct solver then). That introduced me to a few setters and I ended up sitting near to Roddy Forman (Radix) who asked if I was going to set anything. To be honest, solving seemed hard enough and I’d never even considered the possibility, but the seed was planted. The Apollo theme as mentioned above was close to my heart and perhaps inevitably then became the basis of my first idea. I worked on that in 2007, using pencil and paper: if there were electronic aids available then, I was ignorant of them, so my attempts at grid filling were laborious. I was able to get all the twelve names in and arrange them to provide the anagram of “one giant leap” but only by making all the entries jumbles. A start to grid filling could only happen once about three-quarters of clues were solved and, not surprisingly, I got a fairly swift rejection from Derek Arthur, one of the then editors. Derek however took a lot of time to explain the problems and to provide a good deal of encouragement to try again and it was very satisfying for me that he accepted my first published Listener in 2010.

Fast forward about four years and my early use of Quinapalus’ marvellous QXW crossword construction software. I remembered the Apollo idea and the “one giant leap” possibility and wondered if it could be resuscitated. After a bit of playing around, I decided it couldn’t be done with only conventional entries but it could be done by reversing some (one of the programme’s helpful features). That seemed appropriate given the return journey and suggested the title There and Back too. I decided it would be more elegant if exactly half the entries went forward and half back and was able to achieve that with a little more trial and error.

Having got something workable, I decided I should sit on it and wait for the fiftieth anniversary, so it was another three years before I submitted it, two years ago in an attempt to give myself the best chance of bagging the slot. Shane and Roger made their customary multiple improvements, and the puzzle was accepted a few months ago.

My thanks to all those who’ve blogged and commented on the puzzle and it’s nice to know that the theme meant something to a good number of others too.


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