Listen With Others

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Listener No 4706, Pedestrian Destination: A Setter’s Blog by eXternal

Posted by Listen With Others on 1 May 2022

I’d organised a thematic series of EV (Enigmatic Variations in the Sunday Telegraph) puzzles with some setters, with each of us taking one of the continents as a basis for a theme over six weekends at around the time of the Tokyo Olympics last year. Once five had been allocated, I was left with South America. I was quite happy about this, as I have visited the continent a couple of times and much enjoyed my travels.

As is often the case, I was out running and thinking over an idea for ‘The South American One’, when it came to mind that a couple of places in Peru which I visited had the same number of letters (LAKE TITICACA and MACCHU PICCHU). Furthermore, THE INCA TRAIL leading to the aforementioned Incan destination also had 12 letters. Of course, 12-letter thematic names can very nicely be incorporated in standard-sized barred grids, so I knew I had the beginnings of my theme.

When I researched this more fully at home, I realised I had attributed one too many Cs to MP. I cursed my rotten luck but soon realised I could use it in the top row of the grid as an 11-letter entry and have the 12-letter THE INCA TRAIL going from the bottom with one letter per row and finishing on the top line in the single cell beside MP. I could then use a gimmick to generate LAKE TITICACA, as an introduction to the Peruvian theme; a letters latent device with one letter per column dropping to the bottom to spell out the first location seemed a nice way of doing this.

I liked the idea of THE INCA TRAIL meandering up the grid and being revealed by the solver, so changing one cell per column/row to create this effect seemed like the way to go. If I could create non-words from the letters-latent residual entries which had one-letter misprints of real words, then it might be possible for solvers to make deductions to generate THE INCA TRAIL. I used Qxw to create a grid and found that the idea was possible using a letters-latent answer treatment combined with the free-lights facility amending those residual entries to real words. On the whole, I chose entries which had more obvious corrections such as INTERNET becoming INTRNT and thus making the correction to INTENT quite obvious, so that solvers would be able to get quite a few letters in the trail and be able to deduce the rest with the diminishing number of columns/rows available. There didn’t seem any need to flag this otherwise with some sort of message from the across clues or anything, so I just left it with the one gimmick in the down entries and normal clues.

I knew that the grid constraints weren’t too onerous, so I decided to look for a relevant entry that MACHU PICCHU could replace. I must have come across CLOUD FOREST somewhere and did a search of that and MP which confirmed the link of the biome with the location, so I chose that as the end of the trek where the destination would be revealed. In the end, this extra feature did really take the average word length of entries right down to lower than I would like, but still at an acceptable level. I thought alluding to the locations being in the same country might give too much away in the preamble, so I decided the Andean link would be the theme rather than Peru, in the end. The title ‘Pedestrian Destination’ alludes to the fact that walking the Inca Trail is a thing, but also hides the Andes in plain sight.

Some time after completing the puzzle, I realised I had used the same letter-falling device as Eclogue had used in ‘The Australasian One’ which (for boring editorial reasons) had to be in the week before or after this one in the EV. I had asked the setting team of the other continental puzzles to consult each other and not use similar device in their puzzles, as I prefer to give EV solvers variety each week. I couldn’t really use this in the EV and break my own rule and I’d sent off puzzles for my Inquisitor slots that year, so I sent it to the Listener and asked Gaston to write ‘The South American One’ for the EV, in which he coincidentally included Lake Titicaca! Thanks to the editors for publishing it and to solvers for the feedback which was very positive.

PS I think I hid the alcohol quite well, but I expect Shirley sniffed it out.

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