Listen With Others

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Listener No 4732, Remembrance: A Setter’s Blog by Alchemist

Posted by Listen With Others on 30 Oct 2022

I have learnt a lot in setting my first crossword; in particular, the feedback from the vetters Shane and Roger has been invaluable, but — as I’m sure many first-time setters find — the very first lesson is not to overstretch oneself! I was originally going to have the three Forgotten Things as anagrams to be unscrambled and Phlebas just to appear in the grid, but my insistence on the results being real words meant that finding so very many words which would work with both letters proved impossible — even Phlebas himself was only jumbled a little bit in the end!

One thing I was triply careful of was to make sure there was an entry point for a jigsaw-type puzzle with no clue numbers, so that some actual crossing words could be used to solve the crossword! “ABASHMENT” was my main solution to that — the only 9-letter answer, knowing from the clue order it must start somewhere near the beginning of the alphabet, and a relatively easy clue (and, at the risk of blowing my own trumpet, my favourite clue of the whole puzzle in terms of elegance!), but the four 7-letters in combination with the two 10s and the one actually clued 13 were also possible entry points. A friend of mine reported that he got in from the bottom left, whilst my father (who introduced me to the Listener many years ago, and with whom I was exceptionally smug when telling him why I couldn’t help with this one!) started with the 9 and with “CHEATING ON” (another clue whose surface reading I liked).

A lesson I have taken particularly to heart (the reason for most of Shane’s changes to my clues!) is never to imply direct equivalence if the wordplay doesn’t result in the light!  For example, my clue “Misguidedly write clue, revealing handbag” implied that the wordplayed answer with an extra letter e.g. “RETICULE + [W]” and the light “RETICULE” were identical. Shane’s correction — “Write clue about handbag” — doesn’t make any such claim. That was only one of many! Shane was kind enough to preserve something close to the surface reading wherever possible.

There were some much more significant changes, of course, which may interest prospective setters — my original clue for “UNTOLD + [O]” was “Indescribable treasure held back by United Nations diplomat at first”, but Shane thought that “treasure” and “loot” were not sufficiently synonymous; my original clue for “PLAN + [A]” was “Article after friend’s scheme”, which I liked for its deliberate ambiguity between the possessive and the abbreviated “is”, but that “is” was its downfall, implying — as I mentioned earlier — direct equivalence! (As an aside, I’d have been perfectly happy as a solver to work with that, which is why it came as quite a surprise to me that it didn’t pass muster! I might even suggest that the vetters add that to their “Clueing errors” page!)

People who solve my debut puzzle and find it to be a Waste Land reference which avoids either the first or last lines of the work may suspect that I am a particular student of Eliot… but in fact there’s a rather roundabout route to this theme. My first encounter with Phlebas the Phoenician was in the title of Iain M Banks’ first science-fiction novel, “Consider Phlebas”, without which I might not have read any of the Waste Land at all. The reason that Death by Water and its unfortunate, for want of a better word, protagonist in particular is memorable to me is a consequence of those arcane workings peculiar to groups of friends by which particular phrases or references become overused in-jokes! That the centenary of the Waste Land’s publication was coming up in the near-ish future (I compiled this around Christmas 2020) was a lucky coincidence, albeit one I was perfectly happy to make use of in asking for a particular date for my crossword. “Remembrance” did seem the perfect title, though — the surface theme of forgetfulness and the stanza’s theme of mortality combined in one word.

There were other possibilities for my first submission, of course, over which T S Eliot won out. I’m actually a mathematician, and the only reason I didn’t start with a maths puzzle — always my favourites! — is that, at a rate of four per year, I would be far less likely to get published than the average of forty-eight word-based crosswords per year. There were also Latin and Russian sources I considered which I was forced to discard because I didn’t want to be reliant on a particular translation.

Time, I think, to start considering my next submission — I’ve got an idea for a clue/entry method I haven’t seen yet, but I have no idea whether it will survive contact with reality…

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