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Listener No 4611, 24 Across: A Setter’s Blog by Merlin

Posted by Listen With Others on 5 July 2020

The starting point for this puzzle came when I was playing about with ideas for clues. I realised yellow = chicken and submarine is a kind of sandwich and “Yellow Submarine” and “Chicken sandwich” both had 15 letters. Maybe there was a basis of a puzzle with clashing letters, alternative choices leading to the two phrases. The obvious idea for the clashing cells is a diagonal, but 15 x 15 is too big for a barred Listener puzzle. Maybe a submarine shape and get the solver to shade it yellow, but that did not work. Then I thought Yellow Submarine is a film as well as a song. FILM has exactly the right number of nodes, consists entirely of straight-line sections and has four letters, so I could place one in each quarter of the grid. And it has a tenuous connection with chicken sandwich.

So I started with a 12×12 grid and placed the clashing letters in the appropriate squares. The first thing I noticed was that there were quite a lot of clashes in columns 3, 4 and 9, so I looked for a pair of 12-letters words to go in the symmetrically-opposite columns 4 and 9, using TEA. There were not many words that fitted, but by an amazing coincidence one of the fits for column 9 was Eleanor Rigby! Up to then it had just been a feasibility study but at that point I decided to definitely go ahead. The original release of Yellow Submarine was as a double A-side single with Eleanor Rigby, and I could use that to hint at the theme.

I filled the grid, starting with the answers containing clashes, which proved reasonably straightforward. I deliberately used fewer unchecked letters than usual, especially in the answers containing clashes.

The next task was to come up with a message from the clues. After a bit of experimentation I came up with “Does eight down give hint to theme? The reverse”, which was suitably cryptic. Next I had to decide how to get one letter from each clue. I am very fond of misprinted definitions, which I find tends to lead to interesting clues, so I tried that first. I wrote down the answers in order (with alternative possibilities in a few cases) with the target letters to see if I could come up with a misprinted definition for all of them. I managed it eventually. Eleanor Rigby + E was actually one of the trickiest and another awkward one was cleric + E. There was a long list of clerics in Bradfords but the only ones with an E that could be misprinted were abbé and curé where the accent was problematical.

Once I’d sorted out the misprints, writing the clues was quite straightforward. All that remained was to come up with a title. By another remarkable coincidence, “roll” was one of the answers, which described the other thematic phrase, so I used its clue number as title.

I asked a friend to test-solve it and he agreed “but I’m not spending more than 3 hours on it”, remembering my Sherlock Holmes puzzle from years ago with a fiendish endgame. He didn’t finish it in the allotted time, but I decided to send it in anyway after re-checking the clashes and misprints.

About a year later I was told it had been accepted and the editors had made a few changes. Most of them were minor but they replaced my unsatisfactory clue for cleric by a brilliant one with divine misprinted as diving. Why didn’t Bradfords have divine in the list of clerics, I wondered. They had also changed my clue to “roll”, presumably to make it harder to solve,as it linked to the theme.

One Response to “Listener No 4611, 24 Across: A Setter’s Blog by Merlin”

  1. Encota said

    An interesting setter’s blog – many thanks Merlin!

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