Listen With Others

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Listener No 4631, Seconds Out: A Setter’s Blog by Stick Insect

Posted by Listen With Others on 22 November 2020

Thanks to all those who’ve sent comments on this puzzle, which are much appreciated. A few wondered if it had been inspired by a famous NY Times puzzle where either Clinton or Bob Dole was entered depending on the 1996 election result. The answer is no, as I was shamefully ignorant of its existence. It’s a clever bit of construction so I’m glad to have been alerted to it. By a strange coincidence it was the inspiration for the previous week’s Listener. If you haven’t already seen it, Twin’s setter’s blog on this site provides a link: well worth a look. [This blog does as well now. Ed.]

This puzzle actually started from an idea in early 2016 when I thought a crossword based around the quotation “History is written by the victors” might work with the idea of losers being replaced by winners. US presidential elections seemed a good fit as it would be readily easy for solvers to check and looking at the list of losing candidates also provided a good number of real word surnames which could be clued without immediately making the theme obvious. Having got that far, I then actually bothered to check sourcing for the quotation and discovered, as with many “quotes”, that there’s no firm view on either wording or author and it doesn’t appear in the usual reliable sources. So it didn’t seem like it could be a fair theme to use and I shelved the idea.

I came across my notes for the above earlier this year while doing some sorting out – it was in the first couple of weeks of the first UK lockdown, so that may have been the impetus for the sorting. It was just about the point that Joe Biden had secured the nomination in practical terms, though not quite officially. The fact that the two main candidates would have the same number of letters immediately struck me as giving potential for either to be the final stage in a puzzle and I set to work to produce a grid using that as the centrepiece with the other winners I’d previously identified arranged around them. The symmetrical shape was serendipitous but strangely satisfying.

Of course, less than seven months from submission to publication is unusual for The Listener but I thought Biden’s relatively recently becoming the nominee gave me some excuse, so I sent it off requesting October 31 for publication and asking for the editors’ indulgence, which they were kind enough to give.

Naively, I hadn’t actually considered the possibility there might not be an agreed result in time for solvers to send entries, but as November got closer that clearly seemed to be a strong possibility. I mailed the editors, who had already considered that and come up with the “one’s best guess if necessary” addition to the preamble, which hopefully gave solvers enough flexibility, particularly those overseas with postal deadlines which meant submitting early.

Some have asked whether solvers “voted” more for Biden or Trump. I don’t have the numbers, so that will have to wait for the publication of the statistics next year However, based on the comments I’ve seen, Biden would have no trouble winning the Listener Solvers’ Electoral College.

As mentioned above, it’s great to get feedback on the puzzle and particularly helpful to know which clues worked well and which not so much, so thanks to all those who’ve done that. Overall, the favourite clue was to COX – a very nice &lit, for which the credit entirely belongs to Roger Phillips as it was one he rewrote. My thanks finally to both editors for their improvements and to John Green for his diligent analysis of entries and curation of feedback.
 

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