Listen With Others

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Listener No 4729, If I Must Come: A Setter’s Blog by Deuce

Posted by Listen With Others on 9 Oct 2022

Once again I find myself trying to reconstruct a puzzle whose setting now seems in the distant past. The fossil record suggests I began work on it in earnest in mid-March of 2020, just a few days after lockdown began, and with submission to the Listener in May of that year. It’s amazing what you can achieve when the pubs are closed. 

Anyway, if you haven’t read the thematic books, I warmly encourage it. I remember seeing trailers for the (if I recall correctly) somewhat lavish TV adaptation in my younger years, but had first directly encountered the series a year or two previous via a purchase of volume 8, A Soldier’s Art, in a second-hand bookshop; after reading that I set to the series in a more conventional order (confession: I still haven’t finished; must get back to it). 

Beyond gawping at the quality of characterisation and remarkable ambition of the story arc, my mind turned, as any dedicated setter’s should, to enumerating just how it would make a rather good crossword theme. 

Its 12 volumes are a composite and crossword-friendly number; it features titles not generally known but readily accessible via internet or encyclopaedia; there’s a well-known quotation (“books do furnish a room”) which offers a hint from both provenance and subject matter; it involves a number of concepts (dance, music, time) with a wide range of synonyms, hyponyms and otherwise cruciverbally valuable associations; and, perhaps most importantly, it has never featured as the theme of a Listener-style puzzle (at least I believed at the time: some of the feedback I’ve seen has now raised some doubt in my mind). 

The trick of fitting multiple, clashing letters into a single cell I took from the puzzle Films by Schadenfreude, which appeared in the Magpie magazine in April 2019 and was at that time probably the hardest crossword I’d ever completed. Some degree of symmetry was needed to ensure solvers can easily find the 12 squares that contain multiple letters. Once I’d figured out how to fit in jumbles of the title words in in some pleasing way — and I’d like to offer a shout out to *PURGING/BIN, rejected in favour of *QUE/TIONS in the top right corner — it was just a case of fitting in POWELL and POUSSIN into the grid in jumbled form, and finding some words for music and time to scatter among the clues. The idea of having misprinted letters (as well as corrected ones) spell something out came relatively late in the day; I noted that I could almost make a useful phrase from the discarded letters, and via a bit of jiggling of some of the more flexible clues I did so. That would, I reasoned, offer a life-raft to the weary solver who’d identified most but not all of the misprints, and also allows the preamble to contain a further, unsignalled, clue to the theme. As ever, when finding a code phrase from misprints or extra letters, the trickiest and most frustrating bit for the setter is matching the phrase exactly to the number of letters available: hence AUTHORS, not the more correct but longer CREATORS.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed solving it, and were enthused by the theme. If you’re still not fully ready to commit to reading a 1.1 million-word novel, try dipping in your toe in with this excellent piece by Perry Anderson on whether Powell is the English Proust (my opinion: no, the former is far more readable), published a few years ago in the London Review of Room-Furnishings.


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