Listen With Others

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Listener No 4698, Late Arrival: A Setter’s Blog by Aragon

Posted by Listen With Others on 16 Mar 2022

It was a friend who introduced me to Tom Lehrer many years ago, in particular The Elements, which Paul claimed he could recite all the way through.

I am not sure what prevailed on me in 2021 to attempt a puzzle based on the song, but whatever it was, I found myself wondering if it would be possible to produce a final grid where several lines from the song could be represented by their elements. I very soon found that this would probably be a non-starter. Then I had the idea that, perhaps, it might be possible to anagram some of the entries into lists of chemical symbols. I experimented with the first line, and found that ABASHLESS could be rearranged into the symbols for antimony, arsenic, aluminum (sic), selenium and hydrogen! And most people might remember ENRON (oxygen, nitrogen, rhenium, and half a nickel). Judicious use of unchecked squares in a lower row made for an easier accommodation of the other half a nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium etc. And so things progressed, the idea coming to me to use the fact that at a performance of the song in the late 1950s, the one I am most familiar with (see below), Lehrer mentions the fact that his song is already out of date due to the discovery of lawrencium.

Why not add this element somehow to the puzzle as the “late arrival”? Solvers would be indoctrinated into the theme by a message from misprints comprising the last two lines of the song, with its Lehrer trademark cringeworthy rhyme:

These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard
And there may be many others but they haven’t been discarvard (ouch!)

I had one clue too few for this, so it quickly seemed appropriate (and indeed helpful) to change “ones” to 102 and do number misprints for three clues.

However try as I might I could not think of a clue for MIRADOR that used the number 2. I sent the puzzle to the vetters with three consecutive clues containing misprints in the wordplay (a device I normally consider rather unfair) the middle one of which for MIRADOR was as follows:

Aim rod carelessly — end of fragile belvedere! (7)

…but with an alternative that relied on knowledge of a 2019 Uruguayan documentary! I discussed with my “guinea pig” Dimitry various ways around this, one idea being to use CII for 102, I am nevertheless glad that the editors decided to go with misprinted definitions throughout, Uruguayan documentary and all.

The whole process from conception to submission took, from memory, less than a week. The puzzle in the end appeared almost a year to the day from its original sending to poor Shane and his burgeoning in-tray. But isn’t it good news for the rest of us that the puzzle thrives in this way!

As for myself, I can’t hope to match Paul’s feat of memory, but I suspect those first two lines will be burned into my brain for good!


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