Listen With Others

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Listener No 4596, CRNT: A Setter’s blog by Twin

Posted by Listen With Others on 22 Mar 2020

Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938. Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. Robin first appeared in 1940, the Flash in 1956, Spider-Man in 1962 and Iron Man in 1963. I first appeared in 1985, and I mention all these dates, tongue-in-cheek, because I know that the superhero theme is not of interest to all Listener solvers (and also that I’m bringing down the average age of Listener setters a little), but my point is – there’s been time to get familiar.

Actually, this puzzle was in part my revenge for all the poetry I’ve had to look up over the years. I’m a fan of superhero movies – I’ve also dabbled in the comics a little – and I thought that, if I’ve got to google the works of Robert Browning, John Keats, William Blake et al, it’s only fair that I point the Listener community towards Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne & Barry Allen. Also, the Superman emblem is familiar, I think, to almost everyone – there is a case to be made that he is the most iconic fictional character of the 20th century – so even those solvers who can’t tell their Captain Marvel from their Wolverine should still be able to enjoy that, I thought.

The idea of converting alter egos to superheroes was a fairly obvious one – although the mention of ‘disguise’ in the preamble came very late in the day – but I wanted to do a bit more than that, which is where the idea of highlighting the famous S came from, even though I wasn’t initially sure how to go about achieving that. An early attempt to have every cell in it as an S was always doomed to failure, and stabs at spelling out a message were not very hopeful, in part because of the non-linear shape. Eventually I hit upon the idea of using letters from KAL-EL, which helpfully gave me a couple of vowels and a couple of consonants to work with, and I started by trying to enter superhero names in the grid with those constraints, and without being too obscure. In the end I only managed five, with HULK not quite managing to make the grid, which was a bit disappointing but probably inevitable (and I was fortunate to be able to get AIGUILLETTE across the middle in the pattern I needed). Understandably, most solvers seem to have back-derived the answers to the thematic clues after entering the superhero name, rather than solving the clues first.

Using additional letters in wordplay is a tried and tested technique, and not particularly imaginative, but I’d never tried it before so it was partly a personal challenge to see if I could do it – particularly as I wanted to avoid using extra words yet again. It’s a fun technique and I can see why it is so often favoured – it also allowed me to get a further nod to the superhero genre with Thor being involved in 12a, and reference to my beloved Beatles in ‘Improve Let It Be’.

The title seems to have left a few people scratching their heads, so for anyone still scratching: it’s Clark Kent without the letters from Kal-El (which, in case you haven’t googled, is Superman’s birth name). I came up with it when I noticed the large crossover between the two names, and I thought that I should have a reference to the mild-mannered reporter somewhere in the puzzle – I was considering changing the title, but was reassured when one of the editors spotted what the title meant before discovering what to highlight, and it helped his journey through the puzzle.
One last point that went possibly undetected by all: Superman’s birthday is (usually) 29th February, hence the date of publication. Tenuous, perhaps, but may have raised a smile somewhere.

Thanks to my test-solvers (Apt & Trelawney), the editors and of course to John Green.


One Response to “Listener No 4596, CRNT: A Setter’s blog by Twin”

  1. Steve Tregidgo said

    I quite agree: it’s very nice to have a theme I can understand without Google (in the very next non-numeric after having to identify a century-plus old poem). I was very impressed with the grid (and I twigged to the title, but not until it was all over).

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