Listen With Others

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Listener No 4567, Going Concern: A Setter’s Blog by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Listen With Others on 2 Sep 2019

Some solvers will probably by now be aware that the world of nature is a subject close to my heart, and one that I’ve drawn on for a few puzzles over the years. I had some trepidation about submitting another puzzle with a nature-based theme to the Listener editors, but hoped that the general subject area would be sufficiently broad to allow for it without its eliciting too many groans of “Oh no, not again” amongst solvers!

The theme of Going Concern is creatures that either have, in relatively recent times, become extinct, or are in danger of becoming so. When I mentioned that I was thinking of creating a puzzle on this theme, my son – always pragmatic – said to me: “But why are you concerned about it? Creatures have always become extinct.” True as far as it goes, of course, but surely there has never been a time when the activities of one species has threatened the survival of so many others on this planet. Going Concern was first compiled over three years ago, long before the recent (May 2019) report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services confirmed that one million species (animals and plants) are now threatened with extinction as a direct result of human activities:

Thankfully, many people are now waking up to the crisis, so perhaps the threatened massive decline in the Earth’s biodiversity can be averted. Sadly, however, this enlightened group does not include some of our socalled leaders.

Well, off the hobby-horse and on with the puzzle. Since the puzzle’s theme is essentially about things disappearing, it seemed appropriate to use “disappearing-type” clueing gimmicks. Four creatures which have become extinct in relatively recent times: BAIJI (C21st), QUAGGA (C19th), HUIA (C20th), and AUROCHS (C17th), are formed in the grid from letters missing in the wordplay of clues (with the odd letter from crossing unclued entries included).

With the exception of the baiji, all of these extinct creatures are listed in Chambers (though Chambers still optimistically describes the huia as “probably extinct”). The baiji, or Yangtze River dolphin, became “functionally” extinct during the first decade of the 21st century, due to the increased industrialisation of the Yangtze River. Although it is not impossible that there are a few examples of this species still living in the Yangtze River, they almost certainly could not be sufficient to enable the species to be saved from extinction. The last confirmed sightings were in the late 1990s, and a 2006 survey failed to locate a single baiji.

Eight unclued entries are examples of creatures which are currently threatened, to a greater or lesser extent, with extinction: AXOLOTL, KATIPO, SAIGA, BONOBO, RHINO, KAKAPO, SAOLA and FOSSA. All of these are listed in Chambers, although, with the exception of the kakapo, their threatened status is not indicated.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species classifies species into one of seven categories ranging from Extinct down to Least Concern (with two additional categories covering species for which there is insufficient data for evaluation, or which are still to be evaluated). The unclued entries in Going Concern are creatures falling into one of three Red List categories: Critically Endangered (axolotl, saiga, rhino [some species recently extinct, others, such as the Javan rhino shown above, on the verge of extinction], kakapo, saola), Endangered (katipo, bonobo), or Vulnerable (fossa). Since some of these creatures are not well known, the puzzle’s preamble indicates the unchecked letters required to form their names.

The remaining clues each contain an additional word which must “disappear” prior to solving the clue. The second and penultimate letters of these words spell out a (slightly contracted) line from T. S. Eliot’s poem “Choruses”, derived from his pageant play “The Rock”: “WHERE IS THE LIFE WE’VE LOST IN LIVING?” I hope that solving Going Concern may have led one or two solvers to seek out and read at least the first verse of Eliot’s poem, which to me seems even more relevant today than it would have been 85 years ago when “The Rock” was first performed.

As ever, many thanks to the Listener editors for their unstinting efforts in getting these puzzles ready for publication week by week; and also to those solvers who have kindly sent me notes of appreciation for Going Concern: these are always most encouraging and very much appreciated.


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