Listen With Others

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Listener No 4572, Don’t Tell: A Setter’s Blog by Poat

Posted by Listen With Others on 6 Oct 2019

The world of thematic cryptics is probably more accustomed to Victorian nursery rhymes than the drug-fuelled outpourings of amoral sexually-fluid libertarians such as William Burroughs, but I had always been intrigued after reading a couple of his books as a teenager. Finding out more about his cut-up technique gave me the germ of an idea a while back, and then in 2017 Victorian Opera mounted a production of The Black Rider in Melbourne. Fascinating – the back story was a treatment of the Freischütz legend, but recalled the tragic events of Burroughs shooting dead his own common-law wife Joan Vollmer, supposedly during a game of William Tell. So I reckoned that finding the title could constitute the endgame, subject to certain manipulations of parts of the grid in accordance with that technique.

I set to work allying grid movements with the workings of the seven thematic clues whose answers would give a hint to VOLLMER. Long-standing solvers might remember an old puzzle of mine (Listener 3983) which delivered W B YEATS in a similar way. Some of the new words here after manipulations (e.g. BERG-ADDER to BERGANDER) were suggested by the handy Quinapalus pattern-matcher, and a few fragments of GUILLAUME/WILLIAM TELL somehow found their way into the grid.

There were no circled cells initially (an improvement wisely offered by the meticulous Listener editors), and I was uncertain whether solvers would be able to track down the solution from the letters of VOLLMER alone – I can’t say I had heard of her before doing the research. However, the first draft was ready just in time for my trip to Kenya, attending the first African-based WESPA Scrabble championship in November 2017.

Fortunately there were two top-level Listener solvers also making their way to do battle in Nairobi, and we were on the same pre-tournament safari in the Masai Mara (see pics). I imposed my puzzle on them as testers and got some useful feedback – thanks are due to David and Esther, though I should really have let them spend more time enjoying their choice of beverage by the pool. Before too long we were all doing battle in the Laico Regency, and then the caravan moved on…but I will still associate this puzzle with Kenya.


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