Listen With Others

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Listener No 4609, Where Next?: A Setter’s Blog by Harribobs

Posted by Listen With Others on 21 Jun 2020

The flexibility of the Qxw filling software gives opportunities for the setter to introduce novel structures to the grid. It’s often been some new pattern or process, rather than an interesting theme, that I’ve used as a basis for a puzzle. The device of using letter values to jump from cell to cell seemed to have lots of potential.

I initially considered a circular grid, so that jumps would loop naturally round the grid’s rings over several laps. But circular grids are discouraged, and a square grid can be regarded as a single loop, with rows linking together in a chain.

Experimenting with ‘jumping’ text led me to wonder if it could cover a whole grid, but then the result wouldn’t be any use as a crossword. Only much later did I realise that most of the words in such a grid could be given as across answers of another grid, and the remainder could be clued separately.

The main theme of the puzzle is the jumping process itself, and a trip seemed appropriate as a subsidiary theme. My chosen grid had thirty cells unchecked by across entries which could just about be filled by two destinations, and British towns fitted the bill better than international cities.

The grid was constructed by linking each letter to its coordinates and to the next letter’s coordinates . Extra controls had to be added so that the fill was spread evenly – areas packed too densely early on would create a blockage further down the line. Words were inserted in order of their length so that the smaller words could fill in the gaps left by the bigger ones. Changing the smallest word from four letters to three helped finally to complete the fill.

Creating the crossword grid with across entries taken from the ‘jumping’ text was easy using the Qxw software after enabling cycling of answers. I also figured that the two final destinations need not be clued, because they could be derived from the positions of the gaps left in the grid.

A common complaint on the solvers’ forums was that the task of sifting through the possible letter combinations to find the last two destinations was too much of a grind, often taking significantly longer than the initial grid fill. In hindsight, perhaps it would have been better, after all, to give clues to the missing towns, or give away one of the destinations in a different title – ‘Budleigh Salterton or Bust’ , say.

For me, the final grid is an interesting thing in and of itself, and was the whole point of the puzzle. I find it pleasing that the words, strung together in their scattered form, fill the whole space so neatly. Sadly, many solvers didn’t share this sentiment and expected something more – a penny-dropping moment, some connection between the locations, some hidden text.

So, disappointingly, the puzzle was not hugely popular. I’ll just have to put it down to experience.

Thanks, as ever, to the editors for their rigorous vetting.


One Response to “Listener No 4609, Where Next?: A Setter’s Blog by Harribobs”

  1. Steve Tregidgo said

    I thought it was terrific, and a superb piece of grid construction. I don’t think it needed a final PDM — I think the fact that it formed a self-verifying fill, and two long place names fit seamlessly into it, was a satisfying enough conclusion!

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