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Listener No 4726, Red Applause: A Setter’s Blog by Crash

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 Sep 2022

After 50+ years of attempts at solving The Listener Crosswords (and earlier Azed, Ximenes) I thought I would try my hand at setting. ‘Red Applause’ was my fourth submission to The Listener (the first also being a 50 year anniversary puzzle, for the moon landing in 1969, which admittedly fell far short of The Listener standards) and first published. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Listener vetters, particularly Shane, who has been unbelievably diligent in offering help with my education as a prospective setter for The Listener.

At first some apologies. Requiring solvers to ‘colour’ white on a white background is my ‘faux pas’, not an oversight unfortunately as I was well aware of the requirement I was imposing. Luckily all attempts at differentiating between the ‘black’ and ‘white’ chess pieces have been accepted. A second apology is necessary in that most, if not all, were forced to seek help from Google, not only to confirm the topic, but more specifically to confirm the last move made by Fischer, albeit that the instruction for the move was accessible. As commented by some, precisely how to execute the final move on paper (or cutting and pasting) can lead to ambiguity, another apology needed, but again all attempts at representing the final move have been accepted provided that the wQ is shown at f4. Chess aficionados or not, solvers were anticipated to be aware, or seek out, the chessboard nomenclature such that the square f4 was identifiable. As pointed out by some diligent observers, constraining the ‘circles’ to the 8×8 central portion (within the 12×12 full grid) gave an early clue to the chessboard construct, for which I have no apology merely taking this learning for subsequent puzzle setting. A final apology: as with several other puzzles from time to time, a requirement for solvers to erase most of a filled grid after much hard work at solving clues is unfortunate, albeit necessary to reveal or lead to an endgame task.

After failing miserably with an attempt at a moon landing anniversary puzzle in 2018/2019, in early 2021 I set to find a new memorable anniversary sufficiently far in advance such that I could compile a puzzle and through the vetting process to get it in the queue at just the right time (in this case) for a July/August 2022 publication. I am myself not a chess aficionado, but in 1972 I was very well aware of the historic Reykjavik matches between Fischer and Spassky and this proved ideal given the lead time.

For those who are not familiar with the details of the Fischer-Spassky matches, and the strained US-USSR relationship at the time, it was massively out of character for Spassky (USSR) to have stood and applauded Fischer (US) for his win in game 6, which brought me to the title of ‘Red Applause’. It was not until I started this blog that I found the Youtube video “The Applause” | Fischer vs Spassky | (1972) | Game 6.

There is also this link at World Chess Championship 1972: Game 6 (Fischer vs. Spassky) to play each move or fast-forward to the end of the game and indication of the final move. It occurred to me that I could present solvers with a small endgame task, more than just the static positioning of pieces. What followed proved to be a substantial challenge as a setter.

For those of you who are not familiar with setting crosswords, letters like Q, K, and B are to be avoided like the plague, and in this case an additional 9 P’s all in the confined space of an 8×8 grid (within the larger 12×12 grid) plus the ‘K’ in Spassky forced me to consider entries both forwards and backwards in the grid (which as an aside provides a nice extra challenge for solvers). By happenstance I ended up adding another Q (SQUARE/QUEASIER) so I have only myself to blame!

The challenging tasks I set for myself were:

  1. To compile a grid with the end game clearly represented (including the names Fischer and Spassky – symmetrically and on the correct side of the board), and the only way I saw to do this was to require solvers to delete all filled cells except for the letters/names as shown in the solution
  2. To compile clues in such a way that I could offer instructions, on the one hand to require solvers to erase only those filled cells necessary, and secondly to signal solvers to make the final move – this led to both misprints/corrections in clues and clue endings as signals.

I began with the final grid and worked backwards. I had to reach beyond Chambers for PEQUOTS, RIMPLE, and PAIR UP and whereas the latter two were known to me and probably most, I learnt some interesting history when researching PEQUOTS (these folks originated in Connecticut, not too far from where I live)

Clueing eventually proved more difficult than filling the grid. Misprints/corrections proved to be relatively easy to manage, however as I had chosen to compile an instruction using clue end letters I realized that I set myself the task of clueing 4 A’s, 3 I’s, 2 F’s 1 V and 1 Q as last letters in clues. Here again an apology and some words of gratitude. The clues in Red Applause include more than the usual number of place names (driven largely by the clue end letter requirements), to those whose saw this as atypical and strained, my apologies. During the vetting process wherever Shane/Roger edited my initial clue submissions, they too were constrained with these same clue end (and misprint) requirements (e.g. QUM where I had used WUM – both obscure although QUM less so). Kudos to Shane/Roger for their exemplary editing, particularly to help with the surface sense of my efforts. STARTRAP proved quite tricky to define (particularly with a needed misprint MEALS for MEANS), and yet I am particularly happy with the clue to 9. down and the inclusion of Popeye/Spinach eater. I tucked away for future use Q = a drug (trichosanthin), and E = a person on the dole.

A big thank you for those who took the trouble to send letters, e-mails etc + comments on and, not only offering kind words but many with constructive commentary (+ some criticism hopefully addressed above).

A final observation/learning. Those more experienced and/or diligent solvers clearly scan the puzzle/preamble/clues at first looking for macro signals (here the 8×8 grid where the circles are located was admittedly a dead giveaway). I will not only be more diligent myself as I tackle the weekly puzzles but bear this in mind for my next offering, which coincidently is about to filed!.

Crash was an affectionate nickname for my mother who passed in 1992.


One Response to “Listener No 4726, Red Applause: A Setter’s Blog by Crash”

  1. Brock said

    Very famous game, of course, and if anyone still had their copy of The Times from the previous week, they could have seen it featured in David Howell’s chess column on the other side of Piccadilly’s Carte Blanche

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