Listen With Others

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Listener No 4697, White Rose: A Setter’s Blog by Filbert

Posted by Listen With Others on 27 Feb 2022

A couple of things have spiked my interest in John McEnroe in recent years.  One was a film, ‘John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection’ that I saw at my local cinema on its UK release in 2019. It’s a quasi-documentary constructed from footage shot at the French Open in 1984 that shows, almost exclusively, McEnroe in close-up on court, hitting balls, stalking, glaring, raving etc.  There are a few examples of line-call disputes, and watching these, it came as a revelation that his anger was not gamesmanship or (only) brattishness, but righteous and even justified. It really seemed like he was the only person with his eye on the ball. But it may that my view is warped, as the other thing that endears him to me is having developed, rather late in life, into a puny foul-tempered left-handed tennis player myself. 

I was writing another tennis puzzle around that time, an ordinary blocked one, and ‘on the line’ had struck me as a useful phrase that applied to tennis as well as having an everyday meaning. An initial idea for expanding that into a separate puzzle involved many different types of ball.  Solvers would have to discover ‘that ball was on the line’ in order to know where to place balls in the grid in relation to a particular line in it. I played around with that but quickly realised that I had bitten off more than I could chew, it being my first go at a barred puzzle. 

Leaving the multiple balls, and focussing instead on the McEnroe quote, I realised that court lines easily translated into a grid and would provide a structure to build on. Putting SERVICELINE in, CHALKFLEWUP going down from the C was an obvious possibility, and after that it was a case of fiddling around with the grid to ensure that the number of clues matched the letters in ‘that ball was on the line’, and trying to find a way to include ‘you cannot be serious’. 

The clues with the extra definitions came about because it was clear that the change from ‘you cannot be serious’ to ‘come off it’ would have to be spelled out, and doing it that way would give those who hadn’t heard of superbrat a chance to find it just by identifying the possible changes.   

Getting the ball in the right place was a requirement from the start. I would have preferred to leave only words in the grid but the change from O to K proved impossible.  However, I did come up with an alternative ending that leaves the words intact. It involves realising that K could be potassium, or kalium, and then seeing that the letters of kalium are spelt, save for the I, in columns around the ball (potentially where the chalk might have spread to), save for the I, which would need to be written in the same square as the O representing the ball.  The solver would write the I in the cell with the O of HALO; by bisecting the ball or not with the I (i.e. the line), the solver could choose whether or not the ball was in or out.  Simples!  Unfortunately/fortunately, even without a word limit I was unable to explain it so that my very patient test solver Alan could work out what I was on about, and his sensible advice was to drop it. 

I occasionally solve Listener puzzles but have never sent any in and was quite unaware of all the checking and the feedback. That was a lovely surprise, for which many thanks if you gave some, and sorry if you got any red ink. 

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