Listen With Others

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Listener No 4723, Faux Pas: A Setter’s Blog by Tringa

Posted by Listen With Others on 28 Aug 2022

I am impressed by how other setters’ blogs describe in a very orderly and logical manner how they came to construct their puzzles. In this case, once I had the idea, the process consisted mainly of just a lot of trial and error with pencil and eraser. There were actually not many choices for the thematic entries. MOUSEHOLE was initially a favourite, but proved too difficult to accommodate. In any case, it would have introduced the need for some additional explanation, since recent editions of Chambers insist on it being two words rather than one. HAYLE was also attractive, being a Spenserian word for “welfare”, but lost out to BUGLE, which fitted first. OTTER and CAMEL seemed to hint at a nice idea involving rivers, but again, more explanation would have been required. 

The three middle columns pretty much fixed the size of the grid as 13 x 13, which is generally the maximum, and the aim of getting in seven thematic entries meant a lot of short words to make everything fit. The average entry length came to exactly 5.5, which is the minimum normally acceptable. I could have increased it fractionally, but only by introducing a couple of very obscure spellings, which I always dislike. As a result, the puzzle needed a particularly large number of clues.

The ‘double’ clues were a bit of a challenge. I generally found it was best to start by trying to think how two suitable definitions could be worked into the same sentence. 

The final result had more clashes than I would have liked, with the rule about which letter to discard becoming a bit inelegant. I blame the letter J for this: it is hard enough to work one into a puzzle, but to have two moving around was very awkward. On the plus side, the unwanted letters spelling out “A GRAVE AND MONSTROUS ERROR” seemed particularly appropriate, even justifying adding two clashes that were not essential. The device of using the asterisks, to give some indication of where the clashes were, added to the length and complexity of the preamble. However, I think that without it, solvers trying to tie up the final grid might well have given up in frustration. 

With a complicated preamble and large number of clues, it all became a tight squeeze to fit into the space available. I am grateful to the editors for slimming down my rather wordy original version of the preamble. In the process, it was necessary to cut out the point that recognising the thematic entries would guide solvers as to their location in the grid, but I hope that this was self-evident. I did originally want to end by simply saying “Tringa trusts that a final instruction is unnecessary”, but perhaps this was a bit too cheeky. 

Some solvers have commented that the theme is similar to that of a puzzle published elsewhere about a year ago. This is a result of the time it can take between submission of a puzzle and its appearance; I submitted Faux Pas in March 2021. 

I am glad that many solvers seem to have enjoyed the puzzle, even if it did end up feeling a little bloated (perhaps appropriately, given the subject). Future puzzles will definitely be put on a diet!

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