Listen With Others

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Listener No 4614, From Here to There: A Setter’s Blog by Shenanigans

Posted by Listen With Others on 26 Jul 2020

I suppose this puzzle started life nearly fifty years ago when I went to see the film The Go-Betwen at the cinema. It was based on the 1953 novel by L.P. Hartley (1895–1972) and starred Albert Finney, Julie Christie and Dominic Guard. They played, respectively, the farmer Ted Burgess, Marian Maudsley and the young Leo Colston (a bizarre coincidence!) who is the messenger between the two who are having a secret affair.

Michael Redgrave plays the old Leo and the film starts with his voice-over: “France is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” That’s interesting, I thought, wondering how these differences were going to be woven into a story. I was therefore somewhat perplexed as to why none of the action took place in France! It was some years later that I learnt that the opening line was “The past is a foreign country…”, although exactly when I thought of it as the basis for a Listener puzzle is lost to me.

The basic concept that I would use was straightforward enough, with THE PAST appearing in one of the diagonals and needing to be replaced by a specific country in the endgame to reveal new crossing entries. I wanted every letter needing to be changed, so the likes of Tunisia, Iceland and Germany were ruled out. I settled on THE PAST changing to AUSTRIA partly because, except for the middle letter, all the vowels became consonants and consonants became vowels which I thought might be a challenge for both setter and solver. The initial grid that I had enabled MASH to change to MASU and SURE to IURE. I also liked CORNEA/AURAL changing to CORNER/RURAL. Qxw came to the rescue and provided many suitable grids.

However, even with all the word changes going on, there was not really enough thematic material for a Listener, and so the second part of the quotation came into the mix with “they do things” needing to be entered “differently” somewhere in the grid. Symmetry (can one be a slave to it?) indicated two 6-letter entries, and I went for HOSTED & NIGHTY rather than HOYDEN & TIGHTS.

And so to the clueing. I particularly wanted the clues to require a fairly thematic treatment, and a letter moving from one word in the clue to another seemed a possibility. I also wanted the message to lead the solver to finding the quotation and, if possible, to avoid having the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations given in the preamble. I settled on ODQ, LP Hartley, The Go-Between as the message using 24 of the 49 clues that I needed. I also wondered if misprints in the remaining clues could spell out an instruction like Use quotation to change grid. Luckily that didn’t get very far as it would have been far too vague.

When it came to the clue with the letter Q moving in the clue for THOLOI, I realised what I had let myself in for. I can’t remember what final clue I ended up with, but it was a very complicated compound anagram. I decided to try moving words beginning with the required letter, but that was equally tortuous.

And so a bit of cheating was required. Rather than clueing the word that Qxw had supplied at that position, how about coming up with a more forgiving word? Having toyed with QI moving, I wondered if Stephen Fry could come to the rescue. Perhaps second letters of words could be used. Thus, the clue to TRIN was born: One of three seconds in QI Stephen Fry introduced (4) [(S)T(ephen) (F)R(y) (Q)I (i)N(troduced)]. Not the smoothest clue, but the best I could do.

Time to throw everything up in the air again! How about if the ODQ message appeared in the clues going alternately between the normal clues? All that was needed then was to completely rearrange the grid to ensure than TRIN was the sixth clue rather than the third! A bit more hard work and the final set of clues finally got resolved. One of the sad things about trying out different techniques is that some really nice clues don’t make it into the final puzzle.

After some valuable feedback from my test solvers (I and F), it eventually got sent to the editors. Their feedback was positive but, unfortunately for Roger, he had to make a lot of minor tweaks to the clues since the word-count indicated that they would take up too much space.

Without doubt, this was an easier puzzle than my first, Superpower, which was 18 months ago, partly because it wasn’t a carte blanche like that one. (An interesting little Cracking the Cryptic video from Mark G for that puzzle.) Hopefully solvers found the clueing and endgame entertaining.

As always, thanks to my two test solvers, to Roger and Shane for getting the puzzle into print, and to the inimitable John Green for his work as marker and statistician.

PS It seems that some solvers went for ASSYRIA as the foreign country with MASS and SAYAN (mountains) appearing. I guess that MASH/MASS was an easier change to see than MASH/MASU. My apologies for not seeing this alternative (although Assyria is a very old country). I think it fair to say that the spirit of the endgame was certainly fulfilled by those solvers. If only we’d put “…real words and phrases in The Chambers Dictionary…”.


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