Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

Listener No 4692, Whodunnit?: A Setter’s Blog by Kruger

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 Jan 2022

According to Dave Hennings’s excellent Crossword Database, “Whodunnit” has been used on eight previous occasions since 1989 as the title for a thematic barred puzzle – four of these in the Listener series alone. All but one of these has centred on the nefarious deed of murder or some other means of untimely death and all have naturally had different thematic treatments. I’ll be amazed if the title doesn’t feature again at some time in the future.

I started on my own version of the theme a few years ago based on the Cluedo® board game which was a great childhood favourite. Unfortunately I was beaten to it by Ranunculus in January 2016 (as EV1210) so reluctantly had to abandon the idea half way through compiling it.

During the numerous Covid-induced restrictions and lockdowns of 2020, I started watching box sets of various TV detective series and (apart from eventually making me quite adept at guessing the various culprits at an early stage in such shows) this resurrected the urge to set a puzzle based on crime. Naturally, using the title “Whodunnit” was inevitable. But I needed a novel method of using the theme rather than the “who killed whom with what and where” approach. So, in an all-too-rare moment of inspiration, I hit on the idea of replacing the names of detectives in the grid with the actors who played them.

Which detectives to use and how many? As any setter will testify, substituting grid entries while maintaining real words is no easy task so I decided that four (of reasonable lengths) would be the most I’d be able to manage. Even with only four, and despite much trying, I regrettably found it impossible to maintain any semblance of grid symmetry while also maintaining an acceptable average entry length and unch model.

I thought that there had to be four criteria for which detectives to use:

  1. Both the detective and actor had to be of the same word length to allow grid substitution.
  2. They should be reasonably well known.
  3. The same actor should have played the part throughout.
  4. It would help if their names had alternative references to disguise the theme.

An extensive Google search came up with only four possibilities (though I may well have missed some) – Bacchus, Frost, Wycliffe and Taggart. While the first three fitted all the criteria, Taggart unfortunately did not meet criterion 4, but I felt there was little I could do about that.

The detectives obviously had to be entered into the grid in the first place to allow substitutions to take place. Therefore, having them as unclued was not practical but using wordplay only was. I also thought that giving clues in alphabetical order of answers was an additional way of delaying the identification of the theme.

With the odd exception, my thematic puzzles are usually considered to be at the easier end of the spectrum – especially so for the Listener series. I don’t set out to try and produce a puzzle of any specific level of difficulty and, of course, degree of difficulty is very subjective in any case. I just hope that my version of “Whodunnit” provided an enjoyable solve for the majority.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: