Listen With Others

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Listener No 4654, Unicycle: A Setter’s blog by Remus

Posted by Listen With Others on 3 May 2021

“I can avoid being seen if I wish, but to disappear entirely, that is a rare gift!”

– Aragorn son of Arathorn


This puzzle was a collaboration between me, a newcomer to the rarefied air of Listener puzzles, and Twin, Listener setter extraordinaire and current holder of the Ascot Gold Cup for his puzzle Tip-Top Condition (if you haven’t come across this puzzle, I suggest you make like Gollum and seek for it unceasingly). We decided early on that The Lord of the Rings would be a good theme, Twin having recently completed the impressive feat of reading the entire book within 24 hours (he cantered home in a breezy 21 hours and 9 minutes, leaving ample time to peruse the appendices). Rings being Os seemed like the obvious way in, and we quickly settled on The One Ring being the only O in the completed grid. After a lot of back and forth, we eventually decided on vanishing ringbearers, aided by the fact that BILBO, GOLLUM, and FRODO all feature Os. Sauron also carries an O, but since he appears not to become invisible while wearing it we banished him to the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.

Then it came to building the puzzle, and I felt rather like a hobbit who, having spent a comfortable life in the Shire (in my case writing gentle Quick Cryptics for the Times), suddenly finds oneself in a much bigger and scarier world, full of strange devices and obscure languages (or misprints and Spenserian vocabulary). Fortunately in Twin I had a guide in the manner of Gandalf – in fact a rather more patient guide than Gandalf as he didn’t call me a Fool of a Took when I sent him grids that didn’t work or clues full of Os. Eventually after much toil we reached Mount Doom (are you getting tired of these analogies yet?) and cast the puzzle into the fiery chasm of the Times Saturday Review. So a hearty thanks to Twin for patiently guiding this Listener rookie through his first barred puzzle (it was a great experience) and I’m looking to seeing some of you at the next Listener dinner!


What is there for me to add – apart, of course, from disclaiming some of the wilder compliments thrown my way by my co-setter? Like John, this was a new experience for me in that I’ve not set a crossword in collaboration before, and it was a lot of fun – a combination of shared online spreadsheets, potential or semi-potential grids emailed back and forth, and the occasional Zoom session to get us over the line. In previous crosswords I’ve had some great reviewers, but working like this meant that weaker or overly ambitious clues could be struck – or improved – as we went, and some of my favourites came from an idea one of us had that was then honed between us. Possibly my favourite of all, for LENIN, took about half an hour to put together painstakingly between us on Zoom – after we had to replace LET IN to avoid the Os in ‘(5; two words)’.

I had remembered that omitting a particular letter from all clues was something done a few times before in the Listener – but it had slipped my mind until late in the day that one of the most recent examples of that was Chalicea’s excellent Difficulty, where the Os were missing – and indeed where O represented a ring, albeit in that case one that an owl and a pussycat were hunting for, rather than Sauron. Call it an homage? As in that case, Roger & Shane were very helpful in removing Os, including getting rid of the words ‘Across’ and ‘Down’ and suggesting that we change our title, initially proposed as Page Boys.

From reading online comments it seems that The Lord of the Rings is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope for those solvers who are fans – either of the book or the films – there was some added enjoyment, and perhaps the reference to Sam in 1ac would have set them on their way more speedily. For anyone who has not yet attempted the book, I encourage you to spend more than one day on it.

Thanks as ever to Roger, Shane & John – and, of course, to the other John.


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