Listen With Others

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Listener No 4610, Tale of the Unexpected: A Setter’s Blog by Lath

Posted by Listen With Others on 28 June 2020

I must say in opening that the whole setting experience has been a real eye-opener to the way the puzzles are “born and raised”. I am so impressed with the meticulous process that leads to the publication and of course to the standards set by the editorial team. The Listener is definitely in safe hands.

I am relatively new to The Listener Crossword, having been introduced to it about three years ago by my new neighbour. He is a long standing fan and just loves the weekly ritual that goes with collecting and solving the puzzle in its entirety. (No outstanding parsing queries are allowed – Quite right I say!) Once I was on board, I became well and truly hooked. It is now an integral part of my weekend and sometimes of course well beyond Sunday evening.

I have never submitted a puzzle in the past to any paper or magazine. Undaunted and thanks to the guidance on the Listener website, I decided to test a few ideas out to try to achieve a puzzle of the right level of complexity, difficulty and enjoyment for the solvers. Eventually, I kept coming back to the clue swapping element as my starting point. I liked the potential hurdle that a number of swaps would present to the solver. It was on Derby Day last year as I was watching the race result being flashed up that the idea of the starting price (40/1 in the case of my puzzle) as the end result of the clue swaps focussed my mind. A big race event was now a potential theme. As it happened, the Derby gave me all the thematic elements that I was looking for.

A bit of research led me to the 2017 race and the long odds that the winner had as its starting price. The name, Wings Of Eagles, (having 13 letters) gave the option of inclusion in the grid. One of the diagonals seemed the natural home for it so that was the start of building the grid. I was mindful of the fact that someone may have already produced a Derby-based puzzle. [No 4244, At Spes Non Fracta by Chalicea about Emily Davison.] That theme was a whole lot more serious than mine so I think there is a reasonable distinction in the topic at its heart. As the grid was being built, I thought of inserting a basic shape of the course along with a phrase that would lead the solver to draw it into the completed grid. Some fiddling around led to the phrase DERBY ONE MILE AND FOUR FURLONGS intersecting neatly with WINGS OF EAGLES on the reverse diagonal. The framework of the puzzle was now in place.

>From there it was a case of completing the words in the grid and developing the clues. The idea of using the first letters of the 10 clues to provide EPSOM DOWNS came later. The original plan was to have the solver to write the whole result below the grid on completion i.e. 18 Wings of Eagles (40/1) Aidan O’Brien (Padraig Beggy) 2017. However, the space restrictions within the page put paid to that. We nagged to retain all of these thematic elements by altering the preamble and by using the vehicle of the dummy clue. It worked nicely I think to produce the trainer and jockey from the letters of the clue, with the horse’s start number being the clue number.

A lot of help and guidance from the editorial team then followed and the green light eventually led to the final puzzle appearing in print.

I wasn’t aware of the provision of feedback and statistics that I was to receive following the publication and submissions by solvers. That too has been fascinating and really underlines the Listener’s enduring appeal to so many followers. It has been a lot of fun to be a part of. I hope my next offering will also hit the spot!

One Response to “Listener No 4610, Tale of the Unexpected: A Setter’s Blog by Lath”

  1. Encota said

    Very interesting – many thanks! And Welcome to LWO!

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