Listen With Others

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Listener No 4578, Trick or Treat: A Setter’s Blog by Deuce

Posted by Listen With Others on 17 Nov 2019

The B-Word

First of all, profuse apologies to all those of you had hoped to escape the dreary repetitions of the daily news to find some escape on the puzzle page. The B-word finds its way into everything these days; there’s no escape.

The idea for this puzzle came fairly naturally. Beleaguered as we all are by the endless politicking on Brexit, I noted a strange symmetry in the legal aspect of what was going on: the continentals attempting to extract the UK from their body of law as much as vice versa.

Most crucially for a cruciverbalist, the excision in both cases involves exactly two letters, “EU” and “UK”: two pairs of letters which, a quick Chambers check showed, occurred in a decent number of English words.

Two more ideas helped make the concept complete. The half-and-half flag that has been so recently beloved of picture editors struck me as a workable grid. And of course I wanted to use the former prime minister’s excellent catchphrase; the B-word entered the OED in late-2016, albeit with a more helpful definition than simply BREXIT MEANS BREXIT.

Then comes the trick of cramming as many of the theme words in as possible. Sadly delights KABUKI, PUKKA SAHIB and BOOZE-UP fell by the wayside, leaving REUTERS, REUNIONS, DEUTERIUM, NEUROLOGY on one side, JUKEBOXES, DUKEDOM, LUKEWARM and GREAT AUKS on the other. (I briefly thought about mixing the two, through EUKARYOTES or LEUKOCYTES, but that took the complexity too far).

Sadly this phase also saw the original ambition curtailed. Jurisdictionally speaking, the left side of the grid should of course be half a Union Jack. But a grid can only be constrained so much; tucking in the diagonals made the insertion of further words unworkable. And I felt a St George’s cross could sort of be passed off as legitimate political commentary on a decision that divided the Kingdom (even if, by rights, I should have included a Welsh dragon into the grid: answers on a postcard for how to do that).

Crosswording on contemporary topics always presents a risk the theme will end up out-of-date; bear in mind I started this one some time in mid-2018. In this case I took a punt that Brexit would still be in the headlines; and I think I won it, even if 31 October proved not to be what it once was. Fortunately I managed to avoid citing the personalities who have rather disappeared from the picture, such as DAVIS; BARCLAY would as it turns out have been a better correspondent for BARNIER, but was at the time unheard of.

From what I can tell 1ac proved critical to solvers: those who saw the word REUTERS and worked back would have a big clue from the get-go; others didn’t get there until later.

From the limited feedback I’ve been able to glean, I gather some were left scratching around trying to find some yet more hidden level of meaning within the grid, after spotting FARAGE and JACOB REES MOGG. I take the point it would have been better to say those names “found,” rather than “hidden”, in the grid, given that they were hidden in plain sight: still, simplicity is nothing to apologise for; it’s often a synonym for elegance.

The original title for the puzzle, DOUBLE STANDARD, would perhaps have made it clearer what the aim was, but was rejected as the same play on words had been used in a a recent Listener puzzle, Harribobs’ International Standards Organisation; I must admit I didn’t think about the implications of this for the endgame until too late.

Most of all I’m thrilled to be included, for the first time, in the illustrious company of Listener setters. To be honest, I only tried getting into setting after hearing the excellent Desert Island Discs with John Graham, Araucaria, who confessed to Kirsty Young that he, like me, was not much of a solver. I can on a good day finish the FT daily, but a Listener is beyond me; I had always assumed that this would have excluded me from setting, in the same way my lack of footballing prowess excluded me from being England manager.

So thanks to all for your feedback! I’ll still never be England manager.


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