Listen With Others

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Listener No 4733, Entry Form: A Setter’s Blog by Nudd

Posted by Listen With Others on 6 Nov 2022

Having been asked for a setter’s blog for ‘Entry form’, I need to try to jot down something of interest, but frankly it’s more a case of ‘thought of it, did it’. Anyway, let’s have a go:

Having produced a couple of recent puzzles which necessitated recourse to internet searches for at least some solvers, I thought it would make a nice change to offer an old-style Listener making no such demands on anyone. It struck me that one involving a touch of simple encoding might be a reasonable way to accomplish this whilst still maintaining a bit of interest throughout. I also aimed to offer some kind of symmetry in the grid, having been obliged to deviate on previous occasions to accommodate the likes of Magritte’s ‘pipe’ and the Uffington white horse.

If I remember rightly, the germ of my idea was a puzzle years ago (probably by Radix?), which used a Playfair code in which the encoded form of a handful of words was also a real word. I wondered if I could manage something similar but for many more words and using another device like a Caesar shift. I decided that in order to maintain interest, I’d need to generate enough such words to account for at least a quarter of the clues — so step one was to identify candidates.

Easier said than done!

I am no programmer, so I started by unearthing a website, dcode, which allowed me to chuck large chunks of text / random words into a box and have them encoded by various length shifts to see if any real words dropped out. All very tedious and fairly unproductive — I was lucky enough to come up with a small number of candidates by that means but could see it might take years to generate plenty for my needs. Eventually I resorted to trawling the internet more thoroughly and found a couple of sites on which people had discussed the same real-word possibility and offered a few examples. From those, supplementing my earlier feeble efforts, I put together a list of about 40 pairs of various lengths and those ended up as the basis for my puzzle.

Early efforts suggested that I might manage the 25% thematic target. In fact after a bit of juggling without doing too much damage to unching conventions, I managed to accommodate 14 of the thematic items giving me a tidy 2/3 1/3 split. My biggest regret is that I came very close to crowning my symmetrical grid with a symmetrical distribution of those words, but try as I might I could not quite achieve the double without reducing the number. Anyway, that was about it – I opted to use clue first letters to indicate the degree of Caesar shift, and managed a message from the 28 normal clues. End of story.

Thanks as always to all who have provided feedback in various forms. It seems that many ended up resorting to some reverse engineering towards the end to identify answers and confirm entries … but that’s exactly what I ended up doing when I test-resolved the editors’ proof, having forgotten in the meantime how a couple of my own clues worked.

As a footnote, it’s a shame that a lot of the words I unearthed were never used – so if anyone could use them in some other way, here are a few I had to abandon:


And that really is the end.


One Response to “Listener No 4733, Entry Form: A Setter’s Blog by Nudd”

  1. Alan B said

    This site does not get many comments, but (just before this puzzle is no longer the top one on the home page!) I’d like to post this short comment in a hurry to say what a fantastic puzzle this was. I don’t get time to try every Listener, but this was I think the third in a row that I did attempt (and complete), and I thought it was brilliant. I’m pleased to say I remember Magritte’s pipe (but had not remembered who the setter was), and that also was, in my estimation, a wonderful construction.

    I had to admire the way this technical theme was implemented, and I was very interested to read about how the setter went about finding a population of pairs of words that were possible with a Caesar shift. Discovering the theme was the most enjoyable moment while solving. I’m most impressed by the list of pairs at the end of the blog – some of them, as in the puzzle, standing out as being made up of two everyday words.

    Congratulations to the setter.

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