Listen With Others

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Listener No 4575, White Becomes Black: A Setter’s Blog by Augeas

Posted by Listen With Others on 27 Oct 2019

Watching Field of Dreams again earlier this year, I was moved to consult Mr Google to remind myself of the facts behind the Shoeless Joe Jackson story. When I remembered that it had happened in October 1919 it was evident that a puzzle had to be set, and (if accepted) published a mere 7 or 8 months thenceforward.

If ever there was a nice man innocently caught up in the machinations of others brighter, and more devious than he, I’ve yet to learn of it. This blog isn’t the place to rehearse what happened beyond the bare facts. Some members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the 1919 World Series, allowing the Cincinnati Reds to win. There was a court case and, on the steps of the court legend has it that a shoe-shine boy uttered the plea. Sadly there is no evidence whatever that such a thing happened, but it’s a good story, and I wasn’t going to let facts stand in the way of it.

The clue gimmick of leaving out various forms of footwear was pretty obvious, and it was far too difficult to find items the first (or any other) letter of which would spell the plea – so it had to be the first word of those clues. Filling the grid – which I do by hand, using nothing more complicated than a pencil and a rubber — was made tricky by the need to have JEFFERSON tracking down the leading diagonal — it was serendipitous that his three names all started with the same otherwise awkward letter. Landis, the Baseball Commissioner who refused to re-admit Jackson to the professional ranks, and thus to allow him the chance of entering Baseball’s Hall of Fame, had to occupy the last, and in this context lowest, across place, and I was determined to have him removed. My initial instruction was that he should be “excised, leaving real words”, but the Editors in their wisdom (with which I have to agree) judged that such a requirement would give JEG problems. So just erasing him had to do. (I am unaware of any film commemorating Mr Landis, and were there to be one and were I to see it I doubt if I would weep at it.)

The clues were (as usual) judged to be too easy. Too easy for whom, I wonder? The Listener has always sought to publish puzzles with varying — widely varying — degrees of difficulty and I have no problem with my puzzles being at the “entry” end of the spectrum. If Augeas leads as many solvers onto tougher meat as, in a different (and more financially rewarding) context, Jo Rowling has led millions of kids to the joy of books, then I shall feel I have succeeded.


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