Listen With Others

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Listener No 4628, Keyworker: A Setters’ Blog by Harpy

Posted by Listen With Others on 1 November 2020

“Keyworker” began with a whimsical observation from HAR (= cHARybdis) to PY (= PloY).
As Harpy, we are always on the lookout for novel treatments, so when HAR happened to chance on Thelonious Monk’s Wikipedia entry he mentioned to PY “I was surprised to find this was actually his real name and that his middle name was Sphere! Any thoughts on a 3-D Harpy puzzle?” HAR meant this mischievously of course – solvers converting the solution grid into a papier-mâché ball perhaps! PY agreed that “a sphere might be pushing things!” but picked up the cruciverbal baton by noting the puzzle possibilities of two of his better known numbers, “Straight, No Chaser” and “Blue Monk”, with perhaps a colouring possibility. (Later on, HAR was delighted to discover that “Straight, No Chaser” was first recorded on his ‘actual’ birthday.)

Neither HAR nor PY was very familiar with the work of “The elephant on the keyboard” (Larkin’s description) though PY knew “Blue Monk” well, from the playing of Dav(e)y Graham, and HAR vaguely recalled “Round Midnight”.

HAR’s observation of the close proximity of the word “felonious” led us to consider depraved monks, mainly “The Monk” in “Monk” Lewis’s lurid Gothic novel and, of course, the better-known Grigori Rasputin. (Apologies to the setters Monk and Rasputin!). How we might transition between Felonious and Thelonious was not yet clear, nor even in which direction, but it looked promising. We certainly considered asking solvers to travel from Thelonious to Felonious, ending with Rasputin.

One avenue explored, and later discarded, was to connect the 1940s jazz standard “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” with Lionel Bart’s “Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be”, along with other Th/F switches. (Fat gave us thood thor fought, as did fe runes thor edh and forn.) But, despite such nice combos as thunder/funder, thermion/fermion, threnetic/frenetic etc., it made more sense to change an innocent-looking F to TH in the grid rather than the other way round, Thelonious being the destination we originally considered anyway. Fortunately, PY noted that Thelonious was a much richer end point after creating the initial false trail of Rasputin. We also briefly considered ways of using black and white cells to relate to a piano keyboard.

Looking back on the completed puzzle, the way of representing the three Monk titles looks so obvious. But it was only at quite an advanced stage that we fully realised the rebus-style possibilities. Things then developed very much into the more thematically-consistent puzzle we finally arrived at.

We’re very grateful to Roger and Shane for their careful assessment of this puzzle, which led to some useful tightening-up of several clues, and a simplification of the end-game, giving a cleaner finish.

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