Listen With Others

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Listener No 4653, Descent: A Setter’s Blog by Gnomish

Posted by Listen With Others on 25 Apr 2021

Shirley Curran’s blog (another excuse for a celebratory tipple – cheers!) reminds me again of earlier adventures in crossword compiling. My first was published by Derek Harrison under a different pseudonym (Ea). Then things got interesting – the second of the Magpie puzzles gained some small notoriety for containing a remarkable error in the treatment of the theme. I missed it, the editors missed it (possibly befuddled by my previously displayed competence) but solvers were happy enough to point it out, usually with great politeness. Maybe A Gnomish Published In Error (or similar) was duly emblazoned on the front cover of a later issue.

The long break I’ve had since has not been spent manually filling Descent’s grid with its jumbles, and I find it hard to account for why I stopped solving and setting. The Rake’s Progress descriptions have occupied that 14 x 11 grid in exactly those positions for all that time – it was the disruption caused by the pandemic that got me looking at it again.

Its inspiration probably came via the Stravinsky opera (I’m a musician) and the fact that a family member is an academic for whom Hogarth looms large. The coincidence that every scene description has an R or an E is not wholly remarkable, but was enough to get me going.

A sense of the rake’s “progress” seemed essential to do justice to the theme, with the descriptions participating in the descent in their narrative/numbered order. It proved impossible to retain row order for the descriptions in the desired eleven-row grid (four for RAKE plus seven for the subsequent stages) having settled on the scheme involving the R and E of RAKE.

This was the puzzle’s second version, as the previous one proved far too vague and difficult to be suitable. I’m very grateful to the solver who struggled through it.

FALLING THROUGH was chosen over CHALCOGRAPHIST as it enabled a thematic clue. The working title was Rogue’s Gallery, and Slippery Slope the other title considered. Descent seemed simultaneously more neutral and more arresting.

The editors tamed the submitted preamble and, after a last-minute appeal, reinstated an aspect of it I hadn’t handled well, doing so with great skill. Many clues, for a variety of reasons, were tweaked or rewritten by them. Thanks to them and also to the people responsible for QXW, without which I could not have produced this puzzle. It’s a very powerful piece of software, and a pleasure to use.

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