Listen With Others

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Listener No 4677, Variety Show: A Setter’s Blog by Enigmatist

Posted by Listen With Others on 10 Oct 2021

This all happened in a very short space of time. My thanks are due to Roger, Shane and my test-solver – who I will forever think of in the context of this puzzle as “Poor David”. He had no letter-counts to work with, you see – and a considerably shorter preamble.

For reasons more relevant to writing topical thematic pub quiz rounds than to do with anything remotely cruciverbal, one of my regular tasks is to scour the weeks and months ahead in search of divisible-by-five anniversaries. Which is where, around the end of June, I found The Spice Girls. And learned that it was (good grief) twenty-five years ago that Posh and co announced their arrival on the music scene. Excellent material for ten pub questions – answers hiding their five real names and their five spice names – but, really, 25 years…

On another front, I was looking for a theme for the second puzzle of the year that I am duty-bound as editor to set for the Inquisitor series. Naturally I wondered about killing two-birds with one stone. Could 2 Become 1?

Looking at the cover of the debut album, released on September 19 1996, it was noticeable that the letters of the title SPICE were relatively square in appearance, and also that – aside from those letters – the cover was, bar the much smaller word GIRLS and a small gold ring, completely white. Could the album cover be reproduced in some way as the solution to a puzzle? I’d fond memories of Jambazi doing something similar with the cover of Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (Inquisitor 1307, if you’d care to Google).

Well, I opened up trusty Crossword Compiler and had a play around. For a reasonable representation of the sleeve, it looked as though the puzzle would have to be 17 cells wide and, for the sake of proportion, 12 or 13 cells deep. On the album cover, within the letters of SPICE, the images of the five performers appear. Could they perhaps be represented in some way in a solution? Maybe crossing down solutions? Possibly synonyms of ‘Posh’ etc within the letters of the appropriate length (8, 10, 5, 11 and 8)? Which of the two? Not both, presumably – wait a minute … unless clashes were in some way involved?

Cue more playing around with possibilities. It quickly became clear that the representations of the Girls could not be in sleeve order if any or all of the above were to happen. Also (Aaargh!) there’s no letter common to BABY and SPICE – so Emma will have to be used (and one other real name so that it doesn’t look like an error). And I might have to nip outside Chambers for a couple of answers. But let’s see.

What became obvious, very quickly, was that this was not going to be a puzzle for the Inquisitor series. The Listener? Surely too big for the slot with the grid size and 50-odd clues, not to mention keeping a preamble short enough to convey what information was required.

Well, I thought, I can only ask. And so, on July 1, I did – and the rest is history. Poor, poor David.

John Henderson
York, October 2021


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