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Listener No 4682, Round Table Man: A Setters’ Blog by Banjaluka

Posted by Listen With Others on 14 Nov 2021

Round Table Man started out as a germ of an idea about 2 years ago. I had read the Larkin poem An Arundel Tomb and it struck me how it would be ideal as a theme for a crossword. At first the only idea I had was that the final completed grid would have a heart highlighted to symbolise its famous final line, “What will survive of us is love.” Prior to Round Table Man, I had never set a Listener crossword before and so had little idea of how to go about turning a promising idea into a Listener quality puzzle. I tried to form a grid that brought in some of the elements of the poem, but I never could get it to the point where I was satisfied with the outcome.

I am a keen but inconsistent solver – I will try one or two Listeners a month and probably finish just over half of them. I first came across the Listener crossword around 10 years ago, when I was asked to test solve a Listener by a new setter. That puzzle ended up as Listener 4182 Breach of Contract by Ron (now setting under ‘Eck).’Eck is an old friend, and we had a long history of enjoying crosswords together. We had often sat in a café/pub solving the Araucaria prize puzzle in the Guardian on a Saturday, and over the years he has slowly dragged me towards solving the tougher Listener and Magpie style puzzles.

When the pandemic locked us all down at home, ‘Eck suggested it might be fun to jointly set a puzzle. We tossed a few new ideas around, but nothing seemed to spark any excitement. I thought that maybe that the idea I had had rattling around for a few years might come into being if I had help from a more experienced setter.

An Arundel Tomb is a rich source of thematic material that could be incorporated. With an end point of a heart decided on, it was a question of what else should appear in the grid and how could we slowly let the solver in on the theme. It seemed right to have ‘The Earl’ and the ‘Countess’ to be lying side by side, as described in the poem. We discovered that while Larkin describes “It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still / Clasped empty in the other”, the actual tomb in Chichester Cathedral has his right-hand gauntlet clasped empty. We chose to not worry too much about which way round they lay, taking our cue from Larkin’s “error” and ended up placing the countess on the left of the grid and the earl on the right.

It was then a case of finding how much of the “little dogs”, “Latin names”, “endless altered people”, etc from the poem we could fit in and still describe the required heart at the end. Very quickly, ‘Eck came up with a grid that miraculously included all the elements you see in the final grid. It took a few iterations of trying various names that could be jumbled without their last letter, as well as finding recognisably Latin names to go around the base.

We worried about the balance of taking advantage of the poem and overdoing it. Reading Larkin’s poem again, I see even more lines or elements that on a different day could also have formed part of the crossword: “…their faces blurred…”, “…time has transfigured them into Untruth.”

Writing the clues was the fun bit. ‘Eck and I have different styles, but I found in the end we complemented one another quite well. I always wanted to give a variety of difficulty of clues. As someone who struggles with the harder puzzles, I always like there to be something solvable at a first pass so everyone can enter something in the grid to start them off. ‘Eck loves adding more and more layers of complexity. By sharing and collaborating, I hope we found a nice balance to the puzzle. We started by taking half the clues for a first run through and then we just went back and forth over WhatsApp, debating and improving one another’s clues for several weeks. We enjoyed sowing various red herrings in the puzzle. We had references to the Wizard of Oz in the clues and in the grid, as well as ‘Eck’s sneaky use of novel as the signal to anagram the puzzle’s title. We hoped these might have distracted people temporarily from finding the correct subject matter.

We were both genuinely pleased with the final effort and were happy that both our helpful test solvers as well as the Listener vetters seemed happy enough with the construction and did not want to change the basic premise. We had two major challenges come back. One was around length – the preamble was long given the number of extra elements we were including (clashes, extra letters, extra words etc) and we were pushing the overall maximum space limit. The vetters rewrote some of the longer clues and pared back a number of others. This was done very skilfully and both ‘Eck and I liked the edit. The second challenge from the vetters was removing some of the more risqué clue surfaces that were in our original version. These were also fair. The original clue for 23d should never appear in print!

A number of people have asked where the name Banjaluka comes from. When we were (a lot) younger, ‘Eck and I were looking at a large map of Europe and thought that Bosnia & Herzegovina’s second city would make a great name for a rock band. We decided then and there that one day we would form such a band. Sadly neither of us have learned to play any instruments, but when we needed a combined setter’s name this felt like the only appropriate choice.


One Response to “Listener No 4682, Round Table Man: A Setters’ Blog by Banjaluka”

  1. Brock said

    Great puzzle, interesting blog.

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