Listen With Others

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Listener No 4607, Observe the Globe: A Setter’s Blog by Awinger

Posted by Listen With Others on 7 Jun 2020

As several commenters guessed, this was a labour of love for me. My Dad started taking me to watch Wigan play football in the mid ‘70s, when we were a non-league team playing Boston and Chorley and the height of glamour was the occasional FA Cup tie against a league side like Port Vale or Bradford (or even, once, first division Birmingham City, Sir Alf Ramsey and all!). To be playing against Manchester City, the reigning premier league champions and one of the best club sides in the world, at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup final was staggering enough. To see us match them on the pitch and then score a last minute winner with my Mum, Dad (now sadly departed), 6 year old daughter and other family members was a very special moment.

The original idea came from the excellent Listener 4469 by Harribobs, which had the German chancellors in clash cells. I thought doing the same with FA Cup winners would be interesting and give me a chance to get Wigan into the puzzle. I had the idea of using the first letter of number of wins to replace each winner and leave real words, and started playing around with pairs of words that would work for the various winners. At that point I was just finalising my first puzzle (the map of the US) and I wanted to get feedback on that before doing too much more, so it wasn’t until I heard that one had been accepted in late 2018 that I picked this one up.

I knew timing would be an issue. I would have to wait until after the 2019 final to be able to finalise the grid, then I would need to get it finished quite quickly to give the editors time to review it and get it published before the Cup Final in 2020, when it would likely be out of date (or maybe not, as it turned out).

The original plan was to include the last ten winners, which would have taken us back to Wimbledon, another great underdog story. I had ‘Windblown’ to ‘Own’, which I liked, to do most of the heavy lifting.

I was going to use Maloney (who took the corner) instead of Whelan, with Maloney coming down from the M of Martinez. But that made the goal too square, the crossbar was too high. I already had ‘Challan’ to ‘Elan’ as a possibility for Chelsea and spotted I could then use that as part of Whelan, and the final goal took shape. I worked on completing the bottom half of the grid around it, starting with fitting Wigan in where the ball crossed the line for the winning goal. I was pleased to get Man United, Portsmouth and Spurs in there, all of whom had either already been knocked out of the Cup or, in Man U’s case, it didn’t matter if they won as their number of wins would go from 12 to 13, so still a ‘T’.

The 2019 final was Man City v Watford. City’s comfortable win made life a bit easier for me – they went from F to S and I thought Watford may be tricky to get in. With the teams / wins finalised I started work on the top half. I placed four more teams leaving only Arsenal to fit and quite a bit of the grid to play with, but I couldn’t get them in. I reluctantly sacrificed Wimbledon, moved Man City to where Wimbledon had been and then Arsenal fitted. The grid was done.

While working out what the extra word messages should be I spotted that I could change the spacing in the down message and leave real words, making finding the message a bit trickier. I thought I would add the ‘thematic structure’ hint in the preamble to give a bit more help as to where the three names were to help offset this extra difficulty. The title was a nod to the old ‘Spot the Ball’ competition, given that the cross marking the Wigan clash was pretty much where the ball crossed the line for the goal. I considered asking solvers to shade hexagons / pentagons into the ‘O’ to make it look like a football, but decided this was too fiddly and open to interpretation, so the simple cross would work better.

As before, the editors did a fair bit of work on improving the clues, and I am again most grateful to them for that. The comments were generally positive; even solvers who are not football fans seemed to generally appreciate the construction. As always, the positive feedback was very much appreciated.


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