Listen With Others

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Listener No 4710, Surprised: A Setter’s Blog by Sabre

Posted by Listen With Others on 29 May 2022

When trawling through Chambers solving puzzles of others, any interesting word encountered with clueing potential gets inscribed onto the endpapers. This gives a good source of useful entries when constructing a grid. It became time to use “amblyopsis” – ‘a mile at sea, possibly’ was scribbled next to it — and “freeboard” with ‘before’ occurring as a nice jumble. “Peach-bloom” was also there as an interesting word, though with no indication of how to clue. The idea of an ‘old-fashioned’ Listener presented itself; no use of Google, no searching for objects in a filled grid, just normal clues with a tricky method of entry (which in fact harks back to the Sabre debut puzzle where every entry had to be reversed, though admittedly not with a carte blanche grid). This allows much more latitude for an interesting gridfill. A convoluted theme (been there, done that) can impose severe restrictions on unthematic entries, leading to a 13×13 grid with a slew of 3,4,5 letter entries, not providing the best solver experience.

In any event, “Surprised” was the result. Clues were honed over a long period, with re-visits every couple of months for a year or more. And were tweaked further by the editors: the super clue “Radical round boards not having instruments” [santoors] was one such improvement.

The title caused some vacillation. “What’s up?” or “Throwback” (reference to earlier Listeners, and the debut) were rejected as giving too much away too quickly. In fact I finally rejected anything with “up”, “over”, or “back”, settling for “Surprised” with an allusion to being taken aback, though realised many would not see that connection.

Thus, an old-fashioned Listener (maybe I prefer “classical”) which could easily have appeared in the 1970s. But, hey, that’s when I cut my Listener teeth!

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