Listen With Others

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Listener No 4680, Manhunt: A Setter’s Blog by Shark

Posted by Listen With Others on 31 Oct 2021

Ideas for puzzles come from all sorts of places: an interesting word, phrase or definition; a recently read article, book or publication; an area of interest, hobby or past-time; or perhaps just divine inspiration. Once the theme is chosen, the tricky bit is formulating that concept into a crossword, particularly one that will be fun to solve, and having a finale that ultimately gives satisfaction to the solver (ensuring the effort was worth it).  

When I came across the two-needle telegraph, the diagonal and vertical lines that could be used in the grid as a code, the backstory of how the murderer was caught, the interesting incomplete alphabet and the fact we have generally all heard of Wheatstone from the Playfair cipher, made this concept too good to put aside.

I started by creating the size of the grid. I wanted the height of the grid to be the usual 12 or 13 with each row decoding to a letter. GARB OF A KWAKER was the obvious choice from the telegram and the encoded letters could be adjusted to create a reasonable crossword of rows. I then decided to use the letters split by diagonals to lead the solver to the theme. This was restricted to 27 letters and so A MURDER HAS GUST BEEN COMMITTED AT seemed apt. It then seemed logical to have SALT HILL hidden within the grid to complete the above phrase.

At this point the grid was already very constrained, but after quite a few hours of adjustments, I got the presented grid. I tried my hardest to get TAWELL hidden and to be highlighted as a finale, especially as the theme is based partly on him. It is a manhunt and so surely he should appear somewhere. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. However, on balance I felt it was worth keeping him in disguise just to round off the puzzle, even if it may have appeared a potentially unnecessary added extra at the end. I never know how much of the grid people spot in terms of Easter Eggs, but for those that may have missed it, the grid uses all the letters of the cipher … effectively a pangram in code (there is no J, Q or Z).

I really wanted this puzzle to go to the Listener, but the nagging doubt the editors might mention the Internet being required to solve it, was in the back of my mind. I therefore searched my local library and found two books on the subject, one about Tawell and the other about the telegraph, so I had my retort waiting. And so it turned out that I did indeed have to play that card, but there was still a reservation by the editors that the only lead-in to the theme was the beginning of the telegraph and so there had to be another way to help solvers. I then decided to use the five normal entry clues to assist. The downside being that some will now get the theme too early, but this did not seem to detract from the overall solve and I am over the moon by the positive feedback sent in by solvers.

Shark puzzles do tend to be (unintentionally) at the harder end of the spectrum, so this appears to be one puzzle where the hard work has indeed paid off. Glad you enjoyed it.



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