Listen With Others

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Listener No 4602, Ahead of the Game: A Setter’s Blog by Apt

Posted by Listen With Others on 3 May 2020

The idea for this puzzle came from nothing more profound than the random thought that it might be nice to do something involving an optical illusion. This was before the great face/vase puzzle by Hurón, which came out just about as I was finishing off this one. Searching through a list of illusions I came across the duck/rabbit picture, which seemed like it would lend itself well to the Listener treatment. I found what seemed like the original version of the picture, and after a bit of messing around in Microsoft Excel I convinced myself that you could create a decent representation of it guided only by a few cells in a 12×12 grid. (I’m a particular fan of 12×12 Listeners; there are not nearly enough of them, any bigger and I find even when you’ve put a dozen answers in it still looks intimidatingly like you’ve barely started.)

I remember struggling for a little while with exactly how the mechanics of the puzzle would work, but talking it through with my wife (and Listener solving partner) Katie on a pleasant walk around Hollingworth Lake, I settled on the idea pretty much as it ended up. Looking back now I can’t at all remember what about it I had difficulty with, which hopefully is an indication that the final product fitted together quite nicely. I’m particularly fond of how the clashes giving the two definitions mirror the ambiguity in the final illusion. By a stroke of luck, Chambers had good definitions of the non-animal senses of ‘duck’ and ‘rabbit’ that were both twelve letters, so I could use them verbatim.

The twelve main clashes were specified by the theme right down to which letter was in the across clue and which in the down, and in addition to including the words DUCK and RABBIT in the grid this meant it was fairly constrained, at least for my grid-filling skills. But I got a fill in the end — and even managed to sneak a couple of Xs in there (I always feel a pang of disappointment with myself when the Statistics panel in Crossword Compiler announces “Unused letters: JQXZ”.)

Since the solver has quite a few clashes to contend with, whose letters probably can’t be deduced from the theme until very late on, it’s probably good that the clues themselves were all normal. It also made writing them a relatively painless experience — though the word ‘relatively’ is very important there (I started to slightly resent past me for putting those Xs in…).

I hadn’t intended it as a springtime-themed crossword, but expert scheduling from the Listener team gave it an extra Easter-rabbitty flavour. I hope it provided some amusement during an unusual bank holiday weekend.


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