Listen With Others

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Listener No 4646, Life: A Setter’s Blog by Hawk

Posted by Listen With Others on 7 Mar 2021

“Life” was my first published crossword – I’m not connected with another Hawk who set an Enigmatic Variations puzzle in 2018. I was confident the puzzle would be fun to tackle, as it’s the kind I enjoy solving myself, and I’ve since received some very nice comments – notwithstanding what people here might post! I’ve heard that Listen With Others is a tough crowd 🙂

It was based on an unpublished puzzle I devised about 10 years ago. Its 25 clues were pairs of synonyms leading to two words, where the solver had to deduce that one of the answers had a different letter inserted into the middle of the other (eg Tarmac/Fugitive leading to Runway/Runaway). As the final step, the solver had to construct question 26 by reading alternate inserted letters, and then solve that. Well, adapting this was the idea, but the crossword drifted somewhat from this blueprint. I realise now that Listener crosswords, like shopping trollies, develop a mind of their own.

Using different centres as a theme, I thought of Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – a quote that handily appears in the ODQ, so it couldn’t be rejected as ‘cult’. The 29 letters didn’t lend themselves to a grid figure immediately, but the Valentine’s Day heart allowed me to do this neatly inside a 13×13 grid. It was just possible to compile a symmetrical grid, and one attempt handily resulted in 50 entries. I couldn’t avoid the two under-checked five-letter entries, unfortunately.

I initially chose double clues to keep the overall word count down. I’d originally planned to have the extra words in a particular order so clue 26 was derivable in some way from their centres, but this would have been too restrictive. There was however enough freedom in the choice of extra words to have clue 26 hidden elsewhere within their letters. An additional misprint in each paired clue would keep the theme and mechanics hidden for a little longer, and, as I hate long grid searches, I hid the required figure in circled cells.

The preamble instructions for all these gimmicks were eating into my 500-word target, so I tried to be concise with the clues. This may have been to the detriment of their surface readings – “Like James Joyce after a session on the Guinness”, someone later described.

I had just missed a Saturday Valentine’s Day, but thought the one on Sunday in 2021 might be acceptable, and submitted the puzzle in November 2019, well in advance. The vetters’ reports were positive, but they rewrote some of the clues for style, as I had unwittingly placed too many of the extra words at the intersections between the two clues. I love the Pelé and Metamorphoses clues, but we have to thank the Listener editor for those.


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