Listen With Others

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Listener No 4632, Heads and Tails: A Setter‘s Blog by JFD

Posted by Listen With Others on 13 Dec 2020

With only two Listeners under my belt so far, I can hardly claim a pattern but – as in other areas – I find that the initial inspiration comes a great deal harder than the subsequent execution (not that the latter is easy either!). The puzzles that I most enjoy solving tend to have some concealed literary theme, so I am always on the lookout for quotations that could provide the basis of a puzzle. This one came, as ever, serendipitously but, once I spotted it, the die was cast. Clearly an N for C substitution was going to be required and I took the early precaution of checking Chambers to confirm that ‘change’ could encompass both giving and receiving.

Once I had started on this path, the degrees of freedom were always going to be limited. I had the idea quite early on of having the handkerchief drop to the bottom of the grid and, by the time I had managed to conceal both Desdemona and Cassio (each requiring a crossing word that could support either a C and an N form) there weren’t too many more choices to make. The biggest struggle, f course, was to find words to fit in the grid which contained neither a C nor an N – these seem to be in very short supply when you need them.

Encota asks whether it was Iago’s villainy that enabled him to remain untouched by the literary changes. Nothing so clever, I fear: I was pleased to fit him in at all, and grateful for the lack of a C or an N to complicate things further. As for Emilia, I had originally planned to include her thematically by clueing an E as ‘Emilia’s entrance’. However, this had to go. Not only was space at a premium, but Roger quite rightly pointed out that ‘entrance’ for ‘beginning’ is archaic.

There were some complex negotiations with Roger over UMAYYAD: I was pleased that my treatment of MAYDAY survived the cut but my attempts to include more thematic material by way of ‘Moorish wine’ did not, on the basis that – as Roger correctly pointed out – ‘though the Umayyad dynasty ruled Moorish Spain, they weren’t themselves Moors’. But at least Paul Robeson’s classic portrayal of Othello survived. And, although it wasn’t thematic, I was pleased with goolies/goalies and delighted that this clue went down so well. The other admired clue, based on tricky/treaty, was entirely Roger’s!

Many thanks to the editors for their patience and help and especially to Shackleton (John Guiver) for test solving the puzzle and making some really helpful comments and witty clue amendments. He wasn’t very keen on my use of the wrong letters rather than the corrected ones, as he felt this makes life too easy for the setter. I have to say that, having subsequently (spoiler alert) tried the alternative, I now agree with him!


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