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Listener No 4694, Follow the Directions Again: A Setter’s Ramblings by Artix

Posted by Listen With Others on 6 Feb 2022

Sometimes things just fall into place; sometimes they take time. This one was a bit of a slow burner. I hadn’t had a puzzle in the Listener series for a while and had nothing to send them which I thought ‘worthy’ enough.

And then one Monday night, at the start of the essential weekly quiz trinity of Mastermind, Only Connect and University Challenge, I suddenly remembered the hue and cry all those years ago. I was only 17 at the time, had taken my “A” levels that summer and then passed my Cambridge entrance exams. And then on to the scene came Fred Housego, with just one “O”-level to his name, a London cabbie, astounding us all on Mastermind. I (and the rest of the nation) were gripped: 18 million people watched his triumph just before Xmas 1980. It made the front pages of the papers. He became a celebrity.

And so how could one commemorate this, the most watched “final” since 1966 (and only next to be outwatched by Dennis beating Davis on the black)? The first inkling of an idea came: how the word TAXIDRIVER was so beautifully suited to be converted into the word MASTERMIND.

But that wouldn’t be enough, surely? So, let’s develop the TAXIDRIVER theme even further. Any other famous cabbies? Perhaps, not, but the much admired Scorsese film of the same name that I’ve watched multiple times over the years (I was too young to watch it when it came out but my eldest brother, a film buff, soon made me go to see it … he was really into it) … but what a shame that ROBERT DE NIRO is one letter longer than FRED HOUSEGO … but maybe we could have an element of deception, the film being the red herring, the cabbie the true goal?

Several grids later, I was happy(-ish) with the outcome. Along the way, I’d started upon and then rejected YOU TALKIN TO ME being replaced by TOWER OF LONDON along the bottom row; maybe squeezing the two letters of DE into one cell so that they could be overwritten by Fred H; and quite a few other ideas… and then, lying in bed one morning, I struck upon the idea of a sequel to my earlier Follow The Directions (Westward Ho!) Listener. Seemed truly apt… as that’s what taxi drivers do (most of the time) … follow directions ….

But if it was going to be a Listener, it’d need a clue gimmick … and maybe a tad more … why not follow the directions, modify them, then follow them again? … both leading to plausible solutions … gimmick could change them from DOWN to ACROSS and the “A” and “R” of tAxidRiver/mAsteRmind were already there in place! So “A” and “R” could be part of AcRoss … which would have to be found in grid … which had to be rejigged (yet) again to make neatly symmetric circled cells …

… sometimes, I do wonder whether setters are normal people or not …

… but okay, so I’m happy with the grid. Know what I want to happen. Manipulations required. Two journeys, different directions, leading to a TAXIDRIVER becoming a MASTERMIND

I spent a lot of time wording the preamble. Really carefully. Off to my testers – who gave back terrific feedback, for which I thank them enormously. And great encouragement. They liked the idea. Of course, a few clues were too Artixesque, too “out there”, so I had to temper them down a bit (or render them solvable, as my testers would tell me).

Off to the Listener editors: oops, rather more of my clues were too Artixesque for their liking. A number of simplifications, concisions, adaptations, … And much discussion, back and forth, forth and back, about the exact wording of the preamble…. It did change in the end, but not so materially. Anyhow, many of you have already solved the puzzle, so I am glad it wasn’t undoable… and I do hope that you all enjoyed the journey(s) as much as I did!


Geneva, January 2022

[I hope that ‘Ramblings’ is not going to be the new LWO word for ‘Blogs’. Ed.]


One Response to “Listener No 4694, Follow the Directions Again: A Setter’s Ramblings by Artix”

  1. davey said

    thank you for the ramblings Artix. i was briefly convinced that ‘TAXI DRIVER’ was going to turn into ‘DEER HUNTER’, and that the six circled letters would somehow represent the chambers in the famous russian roulette scene! perhaps an unintentional red herring but one that took a while to shake

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