Listen With Others

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Listener No 4668: Impossible Construction by Serpent

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 Aug 2021

I can’t remember how or why I came to see a 6×6 word square. But I do remember thinking that it would be really neat if such a square could be embedded in the middle of a puzzle grid. I then decided that I wanted to have a solution grid in which bars framed the word square. The basic design of the puzzle flowed quite naturally from these requirements: it would have to be a carte blanche and some entries would have to be jumbled.

These features of the puzzle meant it would require a substantial amount of cold-solving and therefore be tricky to solve. I imposed 90-degree rotational symmetry on the grid in order to mitigate some of the difficulties presented to the solver by a carte blanche puzzle with jumbled entries. I also decided it would be nice to have four 7-letter entries framing the word square and to use the clues for those entries to provide a thematic hint. I decided to use an existing word square in which the first entry was CIRCLE – I liked the idea of “squaring the circle” and using the title Impossible Construction.

At this point, I began to look for a suitable grid-fill. I use Qxw for this purpose – its free-light feature and the option to have jumbled entries made it relatively easy to explore the possibilities. I imagined that it might be difficult to find a grid-fill, given the constraints, so my first attempts used the ukacd.txt dictionary. These preliminary efforts confirmed that a grid-fill was possible, so I then tried a much smaller dictionary – the one I tend to use for blocked puzzles – to see whether it was possible to fill the grid with common words. (Again, I thought it would be helpful to the solver if the grid entries were not obscure.) After some fine-tuning, mainly to remove plural and inflected forms, I had a grid in which almost all the entries were familiar.

Writing the clues was relatively straightforward as only four clues made use of a gimmick. However, hiding the words PROMISE TO SETTLE UP in four specific clues was non-trivial, especially ensuring that the two shorter words could be the only possible extra words in their respective clues.

The feedback from my two long-suffering test-solvers (thanks, as always, David and Norman) was very encouraging, so it was time to send the puzzle to Shane and Roger. I was very pleased with their feedback and the fact that the clues didn’t require much tweaking. The preamble, however, did require a few significant changes. Many thanks to the editors for their efforts in improving the puzzle ready for publication.

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