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Listener No 4724, Envy: A Setter’s Blog by Quinapalus

Posted by Listen With Others on 4 Sep 2022

Research shows that there is a significant contingent of solvers who enjoy a bit of colouring-in, and using the song ‘Joseph’s Coat’ in a puzzle seemed an ideal way to play to that audience. The song rattles off 29 colours in all: on the one hand not a very convenient number for laying out on a grid, but on the other hand large enough to set a challenge to all but the most fervent fan of felt-tips. I experimented with a few ideas but nothing came of them; and I also wasn’t happy that there was enough substance to make it a satisfying solve. I put it to one side for a while.

The serendipitous discovery that the five colours listed the first time they appear in the song coincide with the five lowest-scoring colours in snooker—even in the correct order!—solved both the above problems. I had a nice red (and yellow and green and brown and blue) herring, and a nicely composite number of colours remained. Was there an anniversary of the première coming up? Thanks to very helpful staff at the National Library of Scotland, I established that the musical was first performed as part of the Edinburgh International Festival at Haymarket Ice Rink at 8pm on Monday 21st August 1972. I tried to have the puzzle scheduled for a weekend close to the fiftieth anniversary.

When I checked the original Bible verse I was surprised to see a wide variety of translations. You can compare for yourself here. Many versions do not mention colours at all, characterising the coat as ‘long-sleeved’ or just ‘long’ (RSV). There is plenty of discussion on the topic (see for example here and here). Linguistically there seems to be no realistic basis for the ‘of many colours’ translation, and it looks like a simple error on the part of the translators of the KJV, who trusted the erroneous Septuagint and Vulgate translations rather than checking the original. As a sometime professional translator with deadlines to meet (but sadly no godly hand to guide mine) I can sympathise.

Most inexplicable is the rendering of the adjective in question as ‘ornate’, for example in the NIV. It is almost as if the translators of this version could not quite bring themselves to admit the error in the KJV and tried to find an adjective half-way between ‘multi-coloured’ and ‘long-sleeved’. Eagle-eyed solvers may have noticed that in the clues where corrected misprints yielded ‘KJ’ the incorrect forms of the misprints gave ‘RS’: an early version of the preamble used this to warn solvers explicitly against using the RSV translation.

Thanks to all who took the time to comment on the puzzle after publication: feedback is much appreciated. A few wondered about the construction of the clue to MORAG (25d):

Game connected with Glasgow postcode?

This is an ‘&lit’ clue, i.e., one where the entire clue forms both the definition and the wordplay. Now the clue also needs a misprint in its definition (but not in its wordplay): I think the only sensible way that can work is for the entire clue, with misprint corrected, to provide the definition, and for the entire clue, with misprint not corrected, to provide the wordplay. Hence the wordplay gives MORA (a guessing game) + G; and the definition reads “Name connected with Glasgow postcode?”, i.e., a possibly Scottish name.

Many thanks also to the test solver and to the vetters for all the changes and improvements they made, and to John Green for deploying his skill and judgement in deciding exactly what range of shades is covered by the term ‘azure’. Thanks too for the Listener team’s extraordinary efforts in the face of postal strikes to deliver solvers’ feedback to me in time to write this blog. And apologies to anyone left with a Chas’n’Dave earworm.

Why ‘Envy’? As one of the bloggers here has mentioned, it just refers to the green cloth of a snooker table as well as to Joseph’s brothers’ envy of his, probably monochromatic I’m sorry to say, coat.

Quinapalus.

One Response to “Listener No 4724, Envy: A Setter’s Blog by Quinapalus”

  1. davey said

    thank you Quinapalus for what i found to be one of the most enjoyable Listeners in a long time, though it was only when i went to colour in the jumbles at the very end that i clocked the red herring! i hadn’t considered the subtleties of an &lit with a misprint – i think i can just get my head around it…

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