Listen With Others

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Listener No 4619, Six-pack: A Setter’s Blog by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Listen With Others on 6 Sep 2020

Sometime last year I decided that it was about time I returned to my own subject of physics for a puzzle. Casting around for possible ideas, I read an article on the Standard Model of particle physics, which classifies the various fundamental particles (of which the famous Higgs boson is the most recently confirmed example), and describes the relationships between three of the four fundamental forces of nature (the missing one being the gravitational force). The thought came that quarks – with their different “flavours” of “up”, “down”, “top”, “bottom” “strange” and “charm” (or “charmed” as Chambers would have it) – could form the basis for a puzzle, with different answers being entered in accordance with the different quark flavours.

When I was studying physics in the late 1970s / early 1980s, the concept of quarks was still relatively new, with definite proof of their existence having been achieved not so many years before. These days, most people (thanks to Stephen Hawking and others) are aware of the term “quark”, and have at least some notion of what a quark is, so I hoped that the subject wouldn’t be too esoteric for a puzzle.

In diagrams and discussions of the Standard Model, the six quarks are often paired as up / down, top / bottom, and strange / charm. This suggested the idea of using sets of “double” clues, with one set for each of the three pairings; and for each double clue, the two answers entered in a manner representative of the two flavours for that set (e.g. top / bottom = top or bottom half of the grid, up / down = answers entered either going up or down). For the strange / charm pairing, the term “strange” suggested jumbled entries, and with a bit of a stretch of the imagination, so could “charm”: however, I really wanted all the entries to be real words, so I decided to try to make the answers for this set anagrams of other real words that would form the entries. I decided also to include the “corrections to misprints” gimmick in the clues in this set to yield the term “flavour” as a hint to solvers, with the idea in my mind that these clues would constitute the “charm” group (although the puzzle didn’t make this explicit).

Additional constraints were that I wanted the different flavours to appear thematically in the final grid, along with the theme-word “QUARKS”. Oh, and also somehow to acknowledge the two physicists, Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig, who independently proposed the existence of quarks in 1964.

Writing everything down like that makes it seem like quite a lot of stuff to fit in, but anyway, I set to work trying different grid lay-outs and different entries that would give me UP, DOWN, TOP, BOTTOM, STRANGE and CHARM in appropriate positions and formats in the grid: for the latter pair, GARNETS and MARCH were obvious anagrams for the jumbled entries representing their flavours. I’m not quite sure why I decided on the 14×11 grid format – I think it was probably because I wanted the theme-word QUARKS to be at least horizontally central (hence an even number of columns), but found a 12×12 grid too restrictive (and I’m not really so keen on 14×14 as a rule). In fact the grid construction was not so onerous as it might be imagined it would be: I found that the jumbled entries, despite the need for them to be anagrams of other words, gave quite a degree of flexibility to the grid construction, and the final grid (which always grows “organically” with me rather than being fixed at the start of puzzle development) actually turned out in the end to be reasonably “Ximenean” – sadly a characteristic I don’t always manage to achieve!

At some point during the construction process I decided that the names of the two physicists could be derived by solvers by unjumbling letters from indicated cells in the completed grid, so I just needed to ensure that the necessary letters – including Z and W – were present somewhere in the grid.

With a completed grid, I turned to the process of writing the double clues, and this proved to be quite tricky. Each double clue needed to yield a pair of answers whose grid entries were appropriate to the pair of quark flavours represented by that clue set: however, I didn’t want it to be obvious that each double clue from Set 1, for example, yielded one answer entered in the top half of the grid, and a second answer entered in the bottom half – I felt this would give the game away too easily. So my first version of the puzzle had no indication of where any of the answers went, other than the fact that – within each set – the answers to the first part of each double clue were in “normal” order. Spare a thought, then, for LWO’s very own Encota, who somehow – in these almost impossible circumstances – managed to test solve the puzzle (and, even more remarkably, is still on speaking terms with me! 😊) As always, Tim gave me some very helpful comments and advice, as a result of which a much better – and fairer – final puzzle emerged, which was duly sent off to the Listener editors.

The thought of the reaction this puzzle might get still gave me quite a bit of angst, but in the end, I think it went down fairly well with solvers. The two main points of contention seemed to be: (i) the difficulty of understanding the preamble; (ii) the large number of different dictionaries referenced.

Regarding the first of these points, Tim – in his test-solver’s notes – had indicated that the preamble to my original version of the puzzle could be made clearer. I duly set about writing what I hoped would be a better preamble: I think it probably was a bit clearer than my original, but it turned out to be roughly the same length as this blog! Roger Phillips, in his review of the puzzle, managed both to clarify the preamble further and shorten it to the published length; but even so it still took a bit of careful reading and thought to get clear in the mind. Hopefully it didn’t put too many solvers off.

For the second point, I was rather shocked when Roger pointed out to me that the term “side lobe” isn’t included in any “standard” dictionary other than the OED. In my work as an engineer / physicist in a large automotive company, the term “side lobe” is so familiar to me that, when I saw it was an anagram of “obelised”, I used it without even thinking to check that it was included in dictionaries. So, along with the other Collins and ODE references, it wasn’t too good: but thankfully, Roger kindly let it go. In hindsight, I should have omitted the ODE reference, since “Foggy Bottom” also appears in Collins, and this would have reduced the number of dictionary references to two, rather than three. However, I didn’t: hopefully, again, nobody was too put off by my dictionary mania 😊.

Chalicea told me a lovely story about Murray Gell-Mann that – if nothing else – proves (if ever such proof were needed) that he was a human being as well as one of the great minds of physics. Gell-Mann coined the term “quark” for the fundamental particles he postulated the existence of from an obscure reference (one of many!) in James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake. It’s interesting that another of Joyce’s works – Ulysses – was the topic of the previously published Listener puzzle – I’m not sure if this was a deliberate juxtaposition on the part of the editors!

As always, my thanks go to the Listener editors, Roger and Shane, for their unstinting efforts in getting these puzzles ready for publication each week: and to the many setters and solvers who have sent me generous and kind comments regarding Six-pack – it really does mean a lot to me, so thank you.



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