Listen With Others

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Listener No 4705, Latitude 10: A Setter’s Blog by Puffin

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 Apr 2022

I had wondered about the efficacy of using “opposites/antonyms” in clues for some time* so, when in 2015 I had submitted and reserved a publication date for my one and only puzzle “Sharp Work” (No 4472), I started to develop the concept. The very word “opposites” always calls my attention to the oft-used phrase “opposites attract” and consequently “opposite poles attract” from the fundamentals of magnetism. This led me to visualise a BAR MAGNET (with its poles appropriately positioned) in the centre of a grid, the use of antonymic definitions in one of the clue groups and the axiom in the other. My initial title was ALLOW REPELLENT, “opposite” to BAR MAGNET.

My overambition and inexperience in both clue and grid construction was soon exposed so, fuelled by my frustration at the unexpected postponement of “Sharp Work” for a year, I put it down for later consideration and – dare I say it – neglect. However, after watching the fantasy “The Terror” on TV, I became fascinated with the 19th century explorations of the NW Passage and Antarctica and Michael Palin’s very readable book “Erebus” offered up a huge amount of material on the searches for the two Magnetic Poles. This led me to look for a means of deriving Ross’s full name from the clues.

Problems with clueing and grid construction persisted so I sought help from my regular mentor/checker, a frequent Listener setter. As a result, the “extra letter in wordplay” device was employed in both sets of clues and the Ross element of the theme was enhanced by unclued names associated with him, appropriately positioned in the grid. EREBUS and TERROR sprang to mind (two ships and two Antarctic mountains named after them), BOOTHIA is the peninsula on which Ross raised his flag (and named it after the gin manufacturer who sponsored the expedition) and FRANKLIN towered over everything with his huge participation in and influence on all the explorations.

Finally, with polar exploration now more prominent but “opposites” still the central theme, I changed the title to represent the “opposite” of each of the (approximate) latitudes of both Magnetic Poles (80o).

There was one feature of my original clues which displeased the Editors. I had overlooked that, when using the extra wordplay letter device, it is necessary to avoid any suggestion of identity/equality when linking wordplay and definition. For example, my original 1a was “Uneven glue in my cap makes rope with soft centre”; the final version has no linking word. More experienced setters may recognise this syndrome. A lesson learnt.

Despite having been a solver for over fifteen years, I am still astounded at the dedication and assiduity of John Green in his checking and compilation of feedback and statistics, so this blog gives me a chance to say A BIG THANK YOU to him for all he does for us mere mortals. Also to the Editors for their 24/7 commitment and their patience and feedback when taking on clues such as mine; and finally to my long suffering mentor who, probably unsurprisingly, prefers to remain anonymous!!


*I had overlooked that Kea, no less (!), had used opposites in 4226. There hadn’t been one for some 20 years before that!

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