Listen With Others

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Listener No 4695, Betrayal: A Setter’s Blog by Nudd

Posted by Listen With Others on 13 Feb 2022

Having been asked for a setter’s blog, I guess I’m going to need to try and remember the process – increasingly difficult as the old brain cells continue to race beyond their allotted three score years and ten.

Anyway, the original inspiration for the puzzle is not too tough to recall, as I do like to generate the occasional puzzle which offers solvers the chance to sharpen their crayons – and what better subject than a work by Rene Magritte, (alongside Maurits Escher) my favourite artist. I doubt that I could ever manage a suitable representation of anything produced by the latter, so the nice simple ‘pipe’ seemed an obvious candidate.

The process was, in theory, going to be straightforward – place a set of letters at strategic points in the grid, then assign colours to them. I also wanted to get the Magritte text into the grid, but could see no way to do that without an ugly jumble of answers near the foot of the grid to generate the necessary words. A bit of thought, and it became obvious that the text was going to need to appear outside and beneath the main grid. The cleanest way to achieve that, so it seemed, was on a one letter per column basis – which immediately fixed the necessary grid width at 18 cells. That then allowed me a height of just 8, or possibly 9, cells in order to stick to a typical Listener sized cell count.

With the grid shape determined, I then sketched in an approximate representation of the pipe which then fixed locations for the key letters. Past experience had already told me to forget symmetry, so I just proceeded to insert a few words with certain letters in appropriate locations (and consequently excluded from non key areas).

Of course, the other requirement was to find a way to tell solvers which letters to colour in. My previous ventures had used the vaguely relevant letters of the title (‘Paint my old LP’ for the Yellow submarine, ‘Must put a ghost back’ for a Halloween pumpkin) or another phrase (‘Hi hi hi, in bad traffic I fly’ for Rudolph the red nosed reindeer). That’s where things went a bit pear-shaped (or pipe shaped?). I just could not make anything remotely useful from the jumble of letters I had used to form the pipe. I therefore decided that I’d just have to dump them into a hotchpotch message and oblige solvers to unearth the whole lot in order to do the shading. Apologies to anyone thrown by the confused looking message that emerged from the clues – it was not intentional, but quite possibly helped to prolong the agony for those who enjoy to struggle.

I seem to recall that I had to very slightly modify the shape somewhere along the way due to constraints of where the letters were falling, but overall everything seemed to come out OK without too much tweaking. At some stage I decided that I’d have to use brown with grey (rather than the original’s black) in order to allow entered letters in solutions show through better. Poor John Green has a hard enough time without my obliging solvers to all-but obscure their efforts – and I know he’s going to be annoyed with me anyway for generating a puzzle with so many unchless entries. Sorry John, I know you don’t approve – I’ll try to do better if there’s a next time!

When submitting my final effort, I did make the tongue-in-cheek suggestion to the editors of a preamble hinting at a need to enter the caption in script -as in the painting – but suspected they would not want to invite another ‘buried hare’ controversy. They wisely opted not to.

My original title for the puzzle was ‘Treachery’ but it was felt that it was too direct a pointer to the painting’s title (‘The treachery of images’), so ‘Betrayal’ was consequently substituted. I did suggest that – as it was to appear in panto season – we could use ‘Oh yes it is’. That was politely declined as it was felt that my suggestion might open a philosophical can of worms.

Anyway, feedback received to date seems to be generally very favourable, so I’m pleased that it has been well received. Sincere thanks to all who have taken the trouble to comment – it makes everything so much more worthwhile for the setter.

~~ Fin ~~

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