Listen With Others

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Listener No 4568 Howsat!: A Setter’s Blog By Skylark

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 Sep 2019

Though my husband introduced me to cryptic crosswords in the Times, and we used to tackle – and sometimes complete – the Jumbo Cryptic on Saturdays, I had always considered the Listener as far too hard to solve, except occasionally when I noticed a numerical, which were great fun, when I could (very occasionally) finish them.

But when working away, my husband moved on to the Guardian cryptics with a colleague, and raved about many setters, but in particular about Nimrod. Having discovered Nimrod was one of the pseudonyms of John Henderson, I then petitioned John for a bespoke crossword to celebrate a significant birthday for my husband. I was delighted when he accepted (and produced a delightful crossword we treasure) and started attempting the Inquisitor with my husband. It took us about a week to solve.

But after a few weeks, it clicked – and I was hooked, making the Inquisitor and the Listener, and occasionally the Enigmatist too, a delightful part of my week. After a year or so, I started trying to set a few puzzles, and after encouraging feedback from test solvers, sent a couple out. But I would never have dared submit one to the Listener if John and Jane Henderson hadn’t kindly invited Neil and I to the 2019 Listener Setters’ dinner. I thought I’d be a charlatan if I hadn’t at least tried to be a Listener setter, so the night before we left for York, I submitted Howsat!

I’d been looking at significant anniversaries for my musical and literary loves, and discovered Miles Davis’s wonderful Kind of Blue was published almost 60 years ago, with the anniversary approaching in August 2019. It was reassuring to read that it was probably the best-selling jazz album of all time. Envisaging mainly blue grids, I’d been playing with grids for weeks, challenging myself to get as many cells as possible to be blue themed. At that stage, I enjoyed creating grids more than clueing. Now, I enjoy both.

Wondering about the title, I noticed that an Ashes series would also be occurring during August, so took the first track, So What, and anagrammed it into Howsat!

I was stunned and delighted when I got the acceptance email – though couldn’t help a smidgen of disappointment that Shane and Roger considered colouring so much of the grid rather tedious – but made up for it by creating spaces for Kind of Blue and Miles Davis underneath the grid. They were so helpful on editing clues. Hardly any of mine slipped through untweaked.

Also, Roger mentioned that he was disappointed my extra letters, which initially read: Evans, Chambers, Adderley, Coltrane, Cobb recording, didn’t mention pianist Wynton Kelly, who had been substituted with Bill Evans for this recording, though Davis gave Kelly one perhaps consolation track, Freddie Freeloader. I had been disappointed by this too, but had thought using DISC might be unfair, because people have bought Kind of Blue in other formats too.

I asked if it was too late to reclue the last nine down answers with extra letters: KELLY DISC rather than RECORDING, was told that it wasn’t, and that because it was originally a record, they considered KELLY DISC fine. I used Shane and Roger’s feedback to help me write hopefully improved clues for the 6 clues that needed changing. I loved exchanging ideas with Roger, emails pinging back and forth between us that day.

So thanks to all the setters who regularly delight me, Shane and Roger for their huge support and all the solvers who have taken the trouble to give me feedback. It was lovely to hear that some people had enjoyed it and that I’d inspired a few others to play Kind of Blue again, as I was doing on August 17th.


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